Lift your lamb survival – Best practice predator management

Learn how to best manage foxes and wild dogs and deal with their impact on livestock businesses and communities.

Jo Cameron:

Welcome, everyone, to tonight's webinar about best practice predator management. My name's Jo Cameron, I'm the regional manager for the Southwest Victorian Meat and Wool Team from Agriculture Victoria. Tonight's webinar is proudly supported by BestWool/BestLamb.

Jo Cameron:

BestWool/BestLamb is a partnership between Agriculture Victoria and Australian Wool Innovation Limited, which provides a network for facilitating information exchange, enabling producers to implement improvements in key aspects of their business.

Jo Cameron:

Our presenter, Greg Mifsud, will be using a PowerPoint presentation during tonight's seminar. Everyone has been sent an email with a PDF copy of that presentation. If you are with us tonight using your phone, you will need that in order to follow the presentation, and Greg will let you know what slide number we're on. For those of you using the webinar platform, the presentation will appear in your browser.

Jo Cameron:

After the presentation, we would be grateful if you could complete a short survey as to ensure that we're providing you with right information at the right time in the right way. After the seminar, you'll be redirected to the survey. For those of you joining us via phone, you will be sent a link to a survey via email. We'd appreciate it if you could complete that tonight after the seminar or tomorrow morning while the event is still fresh in your mind.

Jo Cameron:

This seminar is hosted and managed tonight by Redback Conferencing. Our Redback operator tonight is Jordan, and he is here to ensure the seminar runs smoothly. There will be an opportunity to ask questions after the presentation and this will be managed by our Redback assistant, Luke. If you're participating tonight on the webinar platform, you can type your question into the questions tab on the screen, which is a dark blue hand icon on the right hand side of your screen. If you're joining us tonight by phone, Luke will provide some instructions later on how to get your question in the queue.

Jo Cameron:

So tonight's agenda, Greg Mifsud, the National Wild Dog Management Coordinator from the Center of Invasive Species Solutions will give us an overview of predator ecology and best practice techniques for management within farming enterprises. Greg has extensive knowledge working with farmers and communities on collaborative approaches to the management of predators and dealing with their impact on businesses and communities. I'd like to thank Greg for his involvement tonight.

Jo Cameron:

I'll now hand over to Greg to continue with the presentation. Over to you, Greg.

Greg Mifsud:

Thank you, Jo. Look, firstly just like to acknowledge I guess, the industry groups that fund my national position, you've probably seen most of those at the bottom of the screen, but, AWI, MLA, Wool Producers Australia, Sheep Producers of Australia, Cattle Council also chip in, and Animal Health Australia also funds the project. So they've kindly provided the funds to allow me to conduct this work in a role nationally to assist landholder groups managing predators from around the country.

Greg Mifsud:

But tonight, I'll move on to the next slide in a minute, but we'll be talking primarily about managing foxes in Victorian landscapes, I'll also cover off a little bit on wild dog management, but wild dogs require a bit different management than foxes. Foxes primarily impact on certain stages of lamb production, primarily at reproductive stages in lambing, whereas dogs, which is why they have such a huge impact on sheep production particularly, is that they will have impacts on all age groups and all classes of sheep from lambs through to ewes, to wethers to rams, so their management requires much more intensive longterm management than foxes. Foxes can be managed to limit the impacts to the assets that you're trying to protect, which in this case is probably lambs, at certain periods within your annual property management plans, but also in terms to their ecology.

Greg Mifsud:

So if we move to slide number two, it's probably nothing new to most of you but, foxes arrived in Victoria back in the 1850s, I grew up in Ballan, just outside of Ballarat, and these things were introduced down near Werribee and they spread fairly quickly across the country and now occupy 70% of the place. They spread very fast on the back of the rabbit movements across the country back in the early 1900s and are found basically in just about every landscape except for the arid north and tropical north of the country where the climate conditions are probably far too difficult for them to exist.

Greg Mifsud:

Their impacts are varied, but estimates nationally on their impact to the environment and the economy, it's around $227 million, but that's probably fairly conservative based on the economic models that are used, and as is pretty well known, foxes are also implicated in some of the major declines of our native species, particularly mammals and other small insects, reptiles and birds.

Greg Mifsud:

They're primarily carnivorous but, they're also very effective scavengers and feed on a range of carrion and also rubbish, which gives them a propensity to be managed through our baiting programs. They breed once a year, primarily between June and October depending on what part of the country you are in, but juvenile dispersal occurs in late spring and continues on until the next breeding season, and it's at that time that we can target control some of... to target some of those juvenile animals moving through the landscape. And their dispersal, unlike dogs which can be quite extensive, dispersal in foxes is usually relatively small and less than 50 kilometers, that is dependent on the population densities in that location, and also is highly dependent on how much food's around, so more greater food availability, the more foxes it can support and the less need there is to move. So once again, it's all highly variable and we'll talk about that as we move forward.

Greg Mifsud:

But progressing on to slide three, fox densities. I've had to adjust the red lot, I used to have another terminology there, but I went with, "Could be a lot more out there than you think". The average density for foxes in Australia in most landscapes is around four per square kilometer. That can increase, as I said earlier up to... we've had some estimates at around seven per kilometer for areas around Orange in New South Wales. But if we work on the average of four per kilometer, in a circle that's a two kilometer radius around that homestead in the green there for instance, which is 13 square kilometers, we're looking at around 50 foxes. If you increase the diameter of that circle to three kilometers, which increases your area to 76 kilometers, you're looking at around 312 foxes. And if you go out further to 10 Ks away, you're looking at densities up and around 1250 per square kilometer.

Greg Mifsud:

So from a management perspective, that means that we have to put out enough controls to manage at least four foxes per K, and if you haven't got an extensive coordinator program around you, then we need to look at sustained control to manage foxes that might move back into your property after you undertake your control program.

Greg Mifsud:

So moving onto slide four, impacts. You know apart from the in your face lamb survival issue and primary predation, attacks on live lambs and to a lesser extent adult sheep in foxes, but we're also seeing considerable amounts of disease being spread as well as parasites in some populations, which impacts on reproductive success and ewe health, so they're some of the lesser known impacts. But from my experience and working with collaborative groups of blowers around the country, there's also I think a range of lesser known secondary impacts that working with AWI and MLA through BestWool/BestLamb to try and investigate, and these are the increased risks of mis-mothering from stress after lambing from high predator numbers and activity. As we know, Merino ewes aren't the best at mothering up at the best of times and they're even worse when we've got twins on the ground. So any additional stress in the paddocks from high numbers of foxes floating around looking for a cheap feed or the odd wild dog floating around, or even pigs in some of our northern areas, could be enough just to cause that mis-mothering of that extra lamb, which is always going to end up reducing our reproductive success and our weaning rates.

Greg Mifsud:

We also see in some places that continual harassment of your flock by, particularly wild dogs but also pigs, can cause reduced fleece weights and affect growth weights, particularly if you've got lambs and you're trying to put weight on for sale. And we also see in some locations where some of these predators, like foxes and particularly dogs in arid environments where they take up residence on a water point, can greatly affect the grazing movements of your stock and force your sheep and other livestock into areas of the paddock that are potentially less productive, and lack of water also affects their growth rates and reproductive output. So there's a range of lesser known impacts that we probably overlook, but I think in time we need to start looking more closely at what those effects might be.

Greg Mifsud:

So if we move on to slide number five, this pie graph has been developed by Savine Schmoeizi from Siro and it's based on some data there from Refshauge et al, but it provides a pie graph of the various causes of lamb mortality that were detected through the AWI sentinel flocks, and I think BestWool/BestLamb and DPI Victoria had a bit to do with these, and there's no surprises there that dystocia, stillborn, birth injuries cause considerable impacts on reproductive success. Primary predation from foxes in terms of killing live lambs equates to about 7% in these studies, however, in talking to people involved in those sentinel flock trials, some properties did experience up to 20% lamb mortality to primary predation, but because the data was collated over a number of years and then averaged out across those years, those figures came back to 7%.

Greg Mifsud:

So annually your losses through primary predation could be much higher depending on the densities of foxes in those locations, also will depend significantly on ewe conditions, a lamb's condition at birth and seasonal conditions. So it's something to take into account, that it could be much higher than the industry standards currently predict. But the other factors I'd like to indicate is that additional 30% as a result of the starvation, exposure and then there's another, and once again, this just highlights the potential for high densities of foxes or predators in paddocks, to be causing some of that mis-mothering that I talked about previously, and then the secondary results being the starvation or exposure and death regardless.

Greg Mifsud:

The pictures on the side there, just trying to determine the causes of death. The top slide there, that lamb with his ears chewed off and tail chewed off, is classic external signs of fox predation, but if you go to the extra level of opening the carcass up and having a look inside, you can see in that middle one the lungs of a young lamb, the top lung is pink and it's been aerated so, it's had oxygen pumping through the tissue and as such, it's likely to have been killed by a fox after it was active and on the ground running around. Compared to the one below that which is still dark, it hasn't had any blood really or air pumping through that tissue, and it's possible been stillborn and then chewed on as carrion by a fox. And then down below, it's probably a bit hard to see in the slide now, I think you've got it magnified, but you've got the intestines there with milk in the small intestine, it quite clearly shows that the animal has been alive, there's been suckling, it's probably suffered a mortality to the cause of predation.

Greg Mifsud:

So if we move through in terms of what do we do? What are the current control techniques available to us? If we move to page... Sorry, slide six, our current control techniques haven't really changed a lot in the past 150, 200 years. We're still using baits, we're burying them and we've got a variety of baits available to us now compared to the good old days. Our shooting is probably one of the aspects that has had some major technological advances from high-tech callers now compared to the old button whistles we used to shoot foxes with a 22 with, back in Ballan when I was a kid to high intensity spotlights, and now we're moving to this thermal imaging scopes which allows us to pick up a lot of foxes that we don't generally see in a spotlight. And from what I've been told, for every one you see in a spotlight there's possibly two or three out there that never look at the light. So these new technologies, although expensive, are providing us with additional options to pick up those other foxes that we don't see when we're out in the paddocks.

Greg Mifsud:

Additionally, on the next slide on seven, we've still got exclusion fencing, they're much more high-tech now than the old rabbit wire fences we used to have. They're particularly effective for wild dogs, provided that we maintain their integrity. They're reasonably effective for foxes, although foxes will climb unlike dogs, and I've seen foxes back at home on a deer farm climb over an eight foot fence, so regardless of having fences in place we still need to apply some form of patrol inside those fences to limit any foxes that might get through those defenses.

Greg Mifsud:

Trapping, and I'm not going to talk a lot about fox trapping today because it is a fairly specialized discipline, but traps have changed significantly from the good old days of serrated jawed leg-hold traps and rabbit traps, we've moved further along the lines of the fur trade and internationally recognized and approved traps that are used in Europe and North America. They generally have rubber jaws on them, otherwise they're offset, so there's a gap between the steel jaws so that we don't see them crushing the bones on the legs of animals, and they're generally a lot smaller so, rather than hit high up on a leg bone like the old lane's dog traps, they get the animal just above the foot and utilize the thickening of the foot and the toes beneath that to stop the feet coming out. So very effective, much more humane and at this point in time we've got a lot more leeway with animal welfare groups in terms of their use.

Greg Mifsud:

We've also looked at guardian animals for a range of situations and landscapes and they all work to varying degrees for different species of predators depending on where you are and how much effort you put in. Alpacas, that I've seen used for foxes work quite effectively in small groups and small paddocks, aren't so good for wild dogs and they tend to panic at the sight of more than one dog, so various success there. Guardian donkeys have been used in various places to reasonable effect, once again there are some tricks and knacks about getting that to work. One donkey is usually all you need within a paddock, if you put anymore than one donkey in there they start to hang out together instead of keeping an eye on stock so, once again it's not fail safe. And then there's been a lot of press about guardian dogs and their use, and from my experience they can be quite effective with foxes, once again in small paddocks. They're quite reasonably effective with wild dogs in certain areas, but once again, it varies significantly on the number of stock, the size of the paddocks, the landscape.

Greg Mifsud:

The image that's there is from a sheep property in northwestern Queensland, used to be the northernmost sheep producer in the country, up on Hughenden on Flinders Highway, as you can see extremely open country and the dogs can see the sheep from one end of the paddock to the other and can see any signs or threats of danger to wild dogs, and are pretty quick to respond. But once we get into Victoria and some of those areas where we've got broken country, a lot of timber, we've got undulating landscapes where sheep are moving around in smaller groups, it's much harder for them to manage to protect all of those stocks. So once again, varying degrees of success and the application has a fairly large impact on how they work.

Greg Mifsud:

And then we've got canid pest ejectors, which are a relatively new tool that we've had registered in the last five years, and I'll talk a little bit more about that later, about their advantages and how in the Victorian landscape they can be very useful.

Greg Mifsud:

So moving onto slide eight. In terms of developing a control program, there's some really key issues here that I want to talk about, particularly from a wild dog management perspective and a collaborative perspective, but being proactive instead of reactive is really the key. Implementing control before predators have an impact is ultimately your best form of defense, leaving control until after foxes are in paddock or lambs are on the ground really isn't going to be of any advantage to you. And once again from a wild dog management perspective, trying to manage them before they start killing is the key to the success of any program.

Greg Mifsud:

Being targeted is extremely important, more is not necessarily better, and chucking out more baits for the sake of it isn't necessarily going to mean you're going to have a better outcome in terms of predator management. And where you put those baits is going to have a fairly large impact on the consequences in terms of whether they get taken or not, and I'll talk a little bit more about that further in the presentation. From a fox management perspective, we know, and research has shown, that we need between five to 10 baits per 100 hectares depending on the density of foxes we've got, and in most agricultural areas that's probably the minimum. Once again, have to be careful about how close you place them, if you place them too close foxes can and will pick up more than one bait and can hide another bait, so you want to place them at least 250 meters apart so there's a fair bit of room between bait, so they don't get to find too many in a short distance.

Greg Mifsud:

Once again, effective management of both wild dogs and foxes requires the use of all forms of control. And primarily, if we can get the assistance and work together with our neighboring properties, then that's going to have a significant benefit to our lambing. And normally for control techniques like guardian animals might be part of your mix, depending on what suits your property management and depends on your production type and your location. So no form of control should be excluded, but I will say that no single form of control will manage a problem either. And shooting alone, and I put this here because I'm an avid hunter, but all the properties where I hunt and shoot, we still get problems with animals even after we shoot, so shooting alone is not the golden bullet, there is no golden bullet unfortunately in pest management.

Greg Mifsud:

So I'm here to talk about a range of tools that you can apply as part of an integrated program. It is effective, and I will say this, that particularly with the new technology coming out, it's extremely effective for picking up those animals or those foxes that avoid your other forms of control. But you should be aiming at using cost effective techniques first, and baiting is one of those, it's extremely effective and provides you with 24 hour patrol when you're not in the paddock with a gun, there's still control in place. And we need to be safe to ban working dogs and manage those risks, not just to your working dogs, but if you've got non-target animals, which in this case could even be the neighbor's dog. So following best practice, adhering to the procedural guidelines for the use of 1080 bait and also just being careful with where you put traps or even where you're shooting, to make sure that those risks are mitigated to the best of your ability.

Greg Mifsud:

And once again, monitoring, and I like to emphasis monitoring because it's not something we do a lot of. We monitor our weaning rates and we monitor lamb, but keeping an eye on what your pest population is doing is going to have a significant impact on just how many lambs you get on the ground. And once again I'll talk a little bit more about that as we progress in the presentation. So if we skip on to slide nine, there's now a range of baits and bait types available for fox management in particular. I'd suggest to mix things up, I think some of the biggest mistakes to make with baiting programs is using the same product over and over again. I don't know about you, but I don't like eating a chicken schnitzel five days a week when I'm at the pub, I like to mix it up a bit, as well as a different beer off the tap.

Greg Mifsud:

So mix up the baits, put some different stuff out there. The bait manufacturers now with manufactured baits, providing a range of products. You can see there, there's the De-FOX baits, which are a bit of a salami, they're a sausage type bait, and that's made by Paks International, we've got Animal Control Technologies that are producing dry liver baits, they also got the traditional FOXOFF baits, they're now doing dried meat baits with fox drink 1080 in it, we've also got FOXSHIELD, which is made out of carp of all things. But for those areas where you've got large numbers of carp in your tributaries and people fishing and chucking carcasses out on the banks all the time, it could be a very effective bait to use at certain times of year when you've got foxes that are used to eating carrion and chewing on carp carcasses.

Greg Mifsud:

So from that perspective, mix it up a little bit. And we've also got a new bait on the market, well a new toxin on the market called PAPP's para-aminopropiophenone, I'll have a little bit of a chat about that later. But once again, I can't highlight enough the necessity to follow guidelines and directions for use. There's significant pressure on 1080, there always has been, so we really need to make sure we use it properly and according to those directions so that we don't risk having access to it in the longterm.

Greg Mifsud:

So moving onto slide number 10, I included this because I wasn't sure how familiar people were with 1080 and where it comes from and why it's so valuable to us as a nation, but there's a lot of pressure on 1080 and a lot of negative social media about it based on its use in America and also in New Zealand, where they use it consistently for... well, New Zealand for herbivore management. At the dose rates that we require for carnivore management here in Australia, there's virtually no native animals that we can impact with this stuff. It's a naturally occurring compound that occurs in native plants, there's about 39 species of plants all up around the country. That map there just indicates the distribution of where those plants occur. It's a naturally occurring poison, so obviously it's eaten and broken down by bacteria and microorganisms in the soil.

Greg Mifsud:

It leaves no residual, it doesn't persist in the environment, it breaks down to harmless compounds in water. And importantly, a lot of our native mammal species are naturally tolerant to a poison from years of evolving in Australia and chewing on leaves with this stuff, but introduced predators like foxes, dogs and cats are extremely susceptible to it. So we're using six milligrams per kilogram is enough, which is a tiny amount. And I think we did some figures in a reply to a question on notice, but across the nation we're lucky to use four grams of 1080 per hectare... I think it's per square kilometer actually, but we use extremely low amounts for predator management in the country.

Greg Mifsud:

And based on pen trials, the most susceptible native species to a 1080 bait is that spotted-tail quoll there, being held by the handsome gentleman doing the presentation, they're basically a marsupial, well almost a version of a marsupial ferret for any of you guys that had ferrets as kids like I did, except they bite a shit load harder. So that's me trying to keep my fingers away from the bite-y end. But we've done numerous trials now throughout New South Wales with aerial baiting and dogs drinking meat baits, which is six milligrams compared to four and a half milligrams for foxes, and we simply can't kill one even when we know that they're eating the baits. And I've got a couple of links there to information sheets on the PetSmart website for you to have a look at if you just want to go and have a look at just how these animals are impacted by... Sorry, how 1080 doesn't impact on our native fauna.

Greg Mifsud:

And I'm happy to take any questions later on about that if you like. But realistically, 1080 is the most target specific and environmentally sensitive toxin that we have available for pest management here in Australia, and if we lost it both our agricultural and native landscape would suffer significantly. But we've always got concerns with 1080 because it doesn't have an antidote, and as a consequence of that the predecessor to the Center for Invasive Species Solutions, Invasive Animals South, we worked with Animal Control Technologies to develop a... get a new poison registered, and if you move to page 11, that new poison is para-aminopropiophenone, but we call it PAPP for short. It does have an antidote, we called it Blue Heeler, it's actually methyl and blue, but it must be administered by a vet. However, it is still highly effective if you can get your domestic dog there quick enough.

Greg Mifsud:

The PAPP binds onto the red blood cells that carry oxygen, it prevents them from carrying oxygen and basically, animal slips into a coma, unconsciousness, and if 80% of its blood is saturated with the toxin then the animal basically falls asleep and dies. The symptoms for death are very similar to carbon monoxide poisoning in people, which you may or may not be familiar with. So there's some of the advantages. The disadvantages I guess are the time to deaths is less than two hours, it's available in manufactured baits and ejector capsules, which I'll talk about in a minute. But the two graphs that I've got there just show you in terms of animals will recover from PAPP if they don't ingest enough of it and it doesn't reach that 80% saturation level in their blood.

Greg Mifsud:

And the graph on the right just shows the two different arcs between... The one dropping down from the left down to the right hand corner is the oxygen levels in the bloodstream of a dog that's taken a bait with PAPP, and on the left hand side that is the increase in saturation of blood cells. So at around two hours your dog's basically going to have not enough oxygen in its system to keep it alive and it will pass away. Some of the symptoms though, unlike 1080 which show very few symptoms until a dog's basically passed any ability to recover, because the red blood cells are being downed, the color of the tissue around their gums and their tongue changes quite significantly from that bright pink color that we're used to and it sort of turns gray until it gets to a really dark gray color when the animal's fully... blood stream is saturated with the PAPP.

Greg Mifsud:

So if you've got a working dog, it doesn't stop from dawn until dusk, if you had a suspicion that he might have picked up a bait and he's looking to go to sleep on you when he's usually full of beans, you could take him to the vet and hopefully have the poison reversed. I will say though, because this stuff has to be administered by a vet, we do have protocols in place and vets can access that from the Australian Veterinary Association, but you need to let your local vets know that you're using this product so that they can get the antidote and have it in stock should there be an incident. So please just keep that in mind, that if you do intend on using this product and if you do have neighboring properties where those dogs have been a pain, and you think that could be a possibility, it's certainly worthwhile letting your vet know that you're using this product and put him onto either Animal Control Technologies who provide baits for PAPP, or put it straight onto the Australian Veterinary Association so they can get the procedural guidelines for administering the antidote and get some in stock.

Greg Mifsud:

So that's just a quick rundown of a couple of the toxins that we're using. And I just want to talk now about the strategies that we might employ using these baits and other tools to manage our fox numbers and manage our impacts. So we move to slide number 12, in terms of our baiting strategies, in terms of achieving the best success, coordinated programs are definitely more effective, particularly from a wild dog management perspective, where we know dogs can travel large distances in very short periods of time. It's nothing in Queensland for instance, to have dogs traveling up to 120 Ks in a night or two, and in Victoria, whilst the landscape in the northeast and east of Gippsland is much more rugged, we still know that they can move 20 to 30 Ks overnight pretty easily.

Greg Mifsud:

So working with your neighbors in a coordinated fashion and employing control over a range of areas allows us to have control in place when those dogs might move through your property. Similarly with foxes, whilst I talked about the densities earlier, so if you can work with your neighbors and reduce densities on properties over a larger area, that means you've got a much greater opportunity to limit those impacts when you're trying to protect your lambs at lambing time. I do understand though, that having grown up in Victoria with the number of landholders you've got around you, sometimes it's difficult to get all of your neighbors involved. And people have varying opinions on what to do and how to do it, and I guess the benefit of my role and the fact we've got industry funded coordinators in the northeast and eastern Victoria, those guys provide support to community groups and allow those collaborative approaches to work effectively by going around and door knocking or talking to people, and we hold a lot of field days over the to convince people to be part of something to get an outcome from the greater good.

Greg Mifsud:

And I'd like to see that eventuate over in Victoria in some point in time. But we do know that if we can get effective coordinated management programs, we've got research that shows that you can increase your lamb production by up to 20%, and once again, that's highly dependent on seasonal conditions and fox densities, but that has been recorded enough in a couple of trials. So from a management perspective, coordination is always good. Ground baiting though, principals are still the same, targeting movement corridors, those include isolated bushland areas, drainage mines, areas where you know foxes always can travel to get back to your property, so looking for those areas in advance and being proactive is important.

Greg Mifsud:

I've already mentioned the necessity for working collaboratively, but we also talk about a newer tenure principals, which basically means getting rid of the boundaries. And an example of that would be the map here that I'm just showing you, is a area just north of the border in Queensland from New South Wales, the green areas are national parks and state lands, all of the white is private country. If you want to narrow it down even further, we've got individual boundaries there, which are the lines that outline the properties. And most people consider and think about pest management on a business level and think about managing their pests within those boundaries on their property. But the reality is that if you move slide 14, pest animals think of the landscape like this, they look for areas of uncontrolled bushland, they look for areas that have got plenty of cover so they can move to point A, to point B.

Greg Mifsud:

And being concealed, they use training spines, they'll use windrows, they'll use tree plantations where they can, so we call it a newer tenure approach basically because get rid of the boundaries, and in this case in fact, that white line which is the border with New South Wales, people weren't even talking to each other either side of that line to manage their wild dogs in this situation. And those boundaries are basically just lines on maps, they're not preventing animals from moving in any direction. So our control programs from a collaborative approach need to consider the whole landscape rather than individual properties. So that's where the term newer tenure approach has come from that we use consistently in our national wild dog action plan, but it really is about thinking about landscape level control rather than individual property levels, or some other form of impediment like a boundary or a state border.

Greg Mifsud:

So that's where we come from in terms of our approach and newer tenure approaches for dog control in particular. If we move to the next one, unfortunately as I said earlier, coordinated approaches particularly with fox management in some of those regions is more difficult to achieve. So I think this is where these new tools and new approaches really come into their own. Seasonal asset protection, I think in... Traditionally when I grew up back in Victoria, fox control happened a week or two before lambing and it was one baiting period, and we hoped that we got all the foxes and do a little bit of spotlighting in between, and hope to Christ that we got them all that were there and we'd have a good lambing.

Greg Mifsud:

I think we need to move passed that and start to think about our asset protection as a six to eight week program leading up to lambing. Given the densities of foxes that we could have around us and on our joining properties, we need to get rid of the ones that are on your place and then you need to put control in place that allows us to manage those ones that come back onboard. I use the adage that with a single baiting program just before lambing, we get rid of the ones that you've got and then you're stuck in the 20 from next door just before the smorgasbord hits the ground. So if we start looking at a six to eight week period where you do a good baiting early on, get rid of them at six weeks in advance and we look at these seasonal or replacement baiting programs, which is effectively just putting baits in known or good strategic locations where foxes are likely to ring into your property, and picking them up with the baits as they come onto the place and well before there are lambs on the ground that distract them from taking the baits that you've got there.

Greg Mifsud:

Points or locations to look at are obviously isolated water points, small damns and things that are tucked into the bush or on the periphery of pasture, any vehicle tracks which provide easy travel ways, unclear bushland, any of those locations where you might have a pathway in terms of uncleared land or a creek line or something that moves from either uncleared public land or adjoining neighboring properties, they're all good places to look, put in these baits. In terms of monitoring uptake, use baits like traps I suggested there, tie them to the ground or bury them, CPE, they're also good for this, that they can't just get shifted, they need to be physically eaten or chewed to get off that wire. And then replace those baits once a week right up until you're lambing and even until after you've finished lambing.

Greg Mifsud:

I make the comment there again, more is not necessarily better. Well positioned targeted baits will get you more outcomes than throwing baits out randomly around the place, hoping that something might pick it up. The image there for those that haven't seen it, that foxes are quite petite in the way that they take a bait out of the ground, they dig paw over paw and basically just pluck baits out of the ground. When you're doing a baiting program where you've got foxes and dogs, that's a classic sign of how a fox takes a bait out of the ground. Dogs get down there on all fours and just dig the crap out of the hole and you've got something that's been completely excavated, so you can still tell even when you don't have enough tracks around to tell what's actually taken the bait out of the ground.

Greg Mifsud:

But I also highlight there that these canid pest ejectors, which I'll talk about in a minute, are ideal tools for this sort of application in terms of replacement baiting. If we move to the next slide, 16, once again very baiting techniques. You need to know where they are to replace them, so marking the sites is really important. You can either use a GPS, that bucket of old ear tags that you've got in the shed, bit of metho to clean them up and a Nicko pen, and just number them and nail them to a tree or a star picket, or a fence or whatever, so you know where those baits are always going to be and you can come back to check them. You also know where they are so you can avoid those locations with your dogs. Tethering baits as I said, is an ideal way to manage foxes taking more than one bait, monitoring the bait take using either the fan pads or looking at the way it's been removed so that you know just what's been taking those baits.

Greg Mifsud:

Once again, I highlight putting baits in spots where foxes should find them, targeting those corridors and bushland areas. And once again, if you can find those baits, going back and picking them up or covering them with a plow disc or something so your dogs can't get them before you go and muster paddocks, is important to make sure your working dogs aren't at risk. And look, I'm a big advocate for training your dogs to use multiples in paddocks where you think there's a risk where the bait might be lying around, and been working on developing a video looking at using multiples on working dogs with some of the prominent kelpie breeders down in Victoria that'll be out fairly soon.

Greg Mifsud:

So they're some of the basic principals about baiting, but I want to talk more about these canid pest ejectors, because I'm not sure that people are very familiar with them in areas of Victoria where we haven't got wild dogs. We've been trying to get these registered for wild dog management purposes for a number of years, we now have them registered, but I don't think they're being used as effectively as they could in areas with foxes. They were developed in America for coyote control, they've got a number of advantages, and I'll just go through these pretty quickly because I've got a slide next door that will give a better idea, but they basically have to be hammered into the ground, so they can't be shifted. So those concerns about foxes moving the bait to somewhere where you don't know where it is, is removed.

Greg Mifsud:

These animals, they just can't physically move them once they're in the ground. There's a capsule inside the bait head, which contains 1080 or PAPP, it's sealed up so it's not affected by rain or water, so if you do get a big downpour of rain on an ejector capsule, it's not going to bother it, whereas if you've got a 1080 bait in the ground with rain on it, it's going to basically lift it out and render it useless. The other benefit of these things is you can use a range of different types of bait heads, so you can put different types of meat or lures on the head, which once again, mixing it up, shandying it up and getting them interested in different things. They're easy to install and remove, they can be disarmed and removed when your muster stock, and they can be put back in place.

Greg Mifsud:

You don't need to check them as regularly as bait, so I think the regulations in Victoria says up to four weeks, but I'd be checking them once a week regardless, just to see what's been taken and what's the densities of foxes still around. They're very target specific due to the trigger mechanism, they have to be pulled on vertically and takes about two kilos of vertical force, which not too many animals do, a lot of animals tend to pull things from the side, foxes and dogs are the two main animals that seem to pull vertically and about the only ones that can set it off. They're easy to identify if the animal's taken... been triggered, because you can see that the capsule's been released and the contents has been ejected out, so you've got a pretty good idea that something's tugged on it. And you know if it's been set of that you're pretty much in... had the poison basically ejected straight in their mouth.

Greg Mifsud:

And they don't take up a lot of room on your ute, they're quite small, their capsules are quite small, so you only need a small, red lockable toolbox on the back of your ute to cart around a few bait heads, and a hammer, pair of pliers and a few capsules. The disadvantages are that... Well, sorry. Go back a bit. Trails have shown that they're extremely effective on foxes, so we have no issues with foxes taking them. The only disadvantage is they will cost a little bit more for you to get started, they cost about $70 to $80 for a unit, but they're a bit like traps, once you've got one, as long as you maintain it you'll have it forever and a day.

Greg Mifsud:

So what the hell are they? If we move onto slide 18, so on the right hand side in that gentleman's hand is a device, is the ejector device once it's been fully put together. Above it is an image of when it's nailed into the ground and that's what you see exposed at the surface of the ground. Now, if we start from the left to right, we have those pliers, which are the setting pliers, the next to the right is the ejector unit, that is actually the cocked mechanism that is released and flows up through those little pink capsules down the bottom, and squirts the poison up into their mouth. The ground stake is what you actually hit into the ground and holds it into place, and then the image to the right there shows the ground stake that's been nailed into the ground, they way that the ejector unit fits within the ground spike, and then you screw the bait head on, which is that lure head up on the left hand corner before you put a bit of meat on it, and you screw that on and that's what attracts the animal to it.

Greg Mifsud:

The trigger, if you look at the ejector unit with the trigger, that little wire trigger sits in the re-baited section on that piston and holds that piston down. And you can see on the ground spike there's a trigger slot, you slid that unit into that slot, you move that locking ring around it to hold it in place and then as the bait head is pulled up, it catches on that trigger unit, the triggered unit is pulled down, that releases the piston, and the piston moves up through the capsule and ejects the contents into its mouth. And if you go to slide 19, this is a fairly good representation of what happens. So if you can see there on the left ground spike, everything's been nailed into position, there's a bait on the bait holder, capsule's in place, that's the orange, is the contents of the capsule.

Greg Mifsud:

This fox, which in this case must be a miniature fox because he's got a tiny head compared to that bait head, he puts his mouth or jaws around and over the top of that hole, he tugs on the bait vertically and you can see the arrows. Once he does that the trigger unit releases, the piston as you can see, the spring fires the piston, the piston goes up through that capsule and ejects the contents of the capsule which is the poison, into the animal's mouth, it's that simple. And I've got a video link there, a very good video that we developed that shows quite clearly how to use these devices, what they are, what they consist of and how to maintain them in good working order for fox and dog control programs.

Greg Mifsud:

If we move to slide 20, this is just a bit of a representation of some of the things we've been doing with landholders. We're big on running field days around the country and giving people examples, and giving them a hands on try at these devices so that they can see how to use them, give them the confidence to use something new. This is a number of photos here that show how they're knocked into the ground, using the pliers there in the first photo on the top level. You can use a piece of reo bar, or a half inch bolt to slide down the inside of the ground stake, and then you nail that into the soil, and you need to do that because you can't afford to damage the top of the ground spike where the locking ring is, if that locking ring isn't mobile, it can't be moved around, then you can't lock the device in place and set the trigger.

Greg Mifsud:

So we always use... And I'm sorry for the photos being quite small, but we always use a bit of reo bar just to knock that into the ground. You can see the next slide where we've sort of got the ground spike in there, when you move along and you can see this gentleman sliding the ejector unit into the ground spike. People say to me, "What happens if it goes of when you're screwing the bait head on?" I always say to them, "Treat it like a firearm, treat the hole at the end of that just like the end of a barrel on a rifle or a gun, and keep it pointed away from you. As long as it's pointed away from you, if the piston goes off, then the contents get sprayed away from you."

Greg Mifsud:

Not that I've pulled a trigger on a gun when I don't want to very often, but if it ever happened, you'd want to hope that you're pointing it in the right direction. So just keep that in mind. The bottom photos there, examples of different types of bait head. You see there old mate's got a bottle of Aquadhere glue and he's putting glue around a bit of soaker hose on the top of that bait head, and then rolling it around in crushed liver treats, the dehydrated liver treats you get for your dogs, rolling that around in the liver treats, and then that results in a nice liver crumb bait head, which foxes find irresistible. Foxes have got exceptionally good noses, and because of their scavenging behaviors, are really good at finding things, so anything you can use that encourages them to come to those bait heads is important.

Greg Mifsud:

And similarly, I didn't really mention it earlier, but putting additives on your baits, like blood and bone and things like that, can also increase your bait uptake particularly if you're burying baits. Guys that I know often use liquid blood and bone in the old MasterFoods sauce bottle, and just put a dollop of blood and bone on the bait before they flick the soil back over, and you don't need a lot, but it's often enough just to encourage extra uptake from your baits. And now on the right hand side here is... the last photo on the right is the bait head, which is a dry meat bait that you can buy commercially from Animal Control Technologies. You can see there it's got the cap, that one hasn't been set off yet, it's got the white cap there at the top of the hole on the bait head, and it's just sitting above the dirt, just waiting for something to come along, put its head over the top and pull on the top of that.

Greg Mifsud:

If we move to page 21, a fair bit of writing on this and I do apologize, but the link down the bottom, there's a wild dog and fox baiting guide that I can send people if they're interested in one via Jo, and if you're contacting me at the end of the presentation, I'm happy to send a few of these. These maps just try and indicate areas that are worthwhile trying in terms of fox management, locations where you consider putting baits at the five to 10 per 100 square hectares. This is in a cropping situation, you got fellow crops there with a bit of grass in between and some uncleared low scrub. Once again, isolated dams in those blue areas away from habitation, away from the homesteads where they can get a drink without being seen. But tracks that travel between cropping areas on those little drainage mines and gutters, allows them to move through those paddocks without being seen pretty easily.

Greg Mifsud:

Junctions of tracks are also very good locations. Foxes and dogs will mark areas with urine or they'll take a dump in those places so that animals know that they're around. And something we work on from a dog trapping perspective, if you think about the wind direction at night, most areas have a prominent wind direction during the night time, try and put your baits on the upward side of your tracks from where that wind is going to be, so if an animal moved down a pathway it's going to scent of that bait blown towards it rather than being on the downward side of the wind and the smell gets blown out into the paddock instead of in front of its nose. That's something to consider if you're using baits on tracks in particular.

Greg Mifsud:

When you're moving into more timbered country, and this area here is up on the upper Murray River, unfortunately it's probably burnt now, but it's up near [inaudible 00:51:57], this is an area that's got wild dogs and foxes in it. They both use the same locations, and don't get sucked into the rubbish that dogs excluded foxes and cats out of bush lands and native environments, because we've got plenty of video footage of dogs walking up and cocking their leg on a [inaudible 00:52:17] only to have a fox come back a half an hour later to do the same, now a big old tomcat come back and do it an hour after he's left. So they avoid each other in space and time, but certainly don't exclude each other from these habitats.

Greg Mifsud:

So in this case here, the red stars are areas that are ideal for placing baits, once again they're in property tracks, right on the periphery of open country on the edge of the bushland. The second star on the left there, right down the bottom, there's actually a little dam tucked in there, so it's once again, another ideal spot where animals can come out of that bush and water without being seen and then be quite unaware of their presence. Anywhere along the periphery of that timbered country there on the left hand side, and then I've got some of those fire trails and tracks that go up on the ridge lines of those areas where foxes and dogs are likely to use.

Greg Mifsud:

From a management perspective in terms of corridors, these animals are going to use the easiest pathways they can to get from point A to point B, and that's why in this timbered country and bushland areas, we always target tracks and fire trails first particularly on ridges, open, bony ridges are generally where you'll find a fire track, and you'll see that the animals and all your wildlife are using those same locations. So once again, there's no need to put out heaps of baits, but target those areas the best of your ability. Down in the bottom there, those purple triangles there, once again, they're the sorts of locations where isolated patches of timber on clear property where foxes might find a den site underneath that fallen tree or something, they got easy to access to water, lambs potentially, rabbits and hares in that open country, so they're going to inhabit those areas quite well.

Greg Mifsud:

And then I've just got some yellow lines where you might consider putting control in place if you've got animals coming up off the river there and moving into your property after you do your baiting program. So just thinking in terms of those landscapes, and I'm hoping that most of you guys are thinking seriously at the moment about, "There's a creek line that goes from Joe Blow's place next door that come into my place," or like my mate down around Ballan there's got the Moorabool River that runs through his joint, and that's the super highway for foxes, so he's got 40 ejectors that he keeps on the river at all times, so if anything strolls along the river into his place, it's got to get passed 20 ejectors before it gets out the other side.

Greg Mifsud:

They're the sorts of things that you need to start thinking about in terms of this six to eight week replacement period baiting program, and that's I think probably going to be the best way to reduce the numbers of those foxes across the landscape. If we go to the next slide, number 23, I've just got some other key times to bait here and this is something to consider that's not necessarily related to your management practices or your production systems, but it's when foxes are particularly vulnerable to control and particularly baits. Late spring, early summer is when young foxes are moving out of home, they're getting kicked out of home, so odds are they're probably pretty hungry, they haven't got mom there to hunt for them, so they're going to be relatively naïve. It's the sort of time of year that you shoot foxes in really strange places like walking up the driveway towards the homestead.

Greg Mifsud:

They're good times to try and put baits out, even if you're not a spring lamber, keeping the density of the foxes down on your place all year round means you've got less to worry about when you're lambing in springtime. So keep that in mind, that late spring, early summer period with those young, dumb foxes is a good time to take a few out. The other thing that's sort of evolved in the last probably 20 years, calicivirus and Myxo's had a re-emergence in some places, but when those rabbit populations reach large densities and get to critical mass, and calicivirus runs through them or wipes them out in a few days, the foxes in that location have basically lost a food source overnight, and within a week they're going to have not too many carcasses left to feed on and are going to be pretty desperate for something to chew on.

Greg Mifsud:

So if you've got rabbits on your place and you notice that they're dropping like flies through calicivirus, it's a really good opportunity to reload your bait stations and try and pick up some foxes when they're susceptible to picking up a bait because there's not much food about for them. The other thing that we do quite often, particularly with dogs, foxes and dogs really enjoy broken earth, so if you're doing any fire trails or grating and property tracks, it's a really good opportunity to chuck some baits out in the road reels in the side of those, because they'll be moving up and down looking for any skinks or lizards or grubs or anything you've turned up with the fresh soil, so that's another opportunity.

Greg Mifsud:

I see we're getting close to time guys, so I'll keep moving along, but monitoring's important. Monitoring tracks, sandy locations, road tracks, keeping an eye on what's about is important in terms of that control periods. We now have remote cameras and there's a lot of advice and guides on that, YouTube side as well as on the CRC PetSmart site on how to set up those cameras to give you an idea of what's around, but also to look at what's taking baits, and that photo down on the left there on a bait station and the two foxes in the screen there at the bottom are taking baits out of a dog baiting location in Victoria. So you can use those tools.

Greg Mifsud:

We've also developed a mobile app that allows us to record activity, and the FeralScan website has a fox scan unit, and this is what you see from the public, these are all sightings of foxes, but what you can do is download the app which then allows you to record information like your baiting program, every time you place a bait, if you enter that control button, gives you a GPS location, it tells you what you're doing and then you submit it. And what it does is, allows you to actually map where you put baits out on your property. And this is actually one of my wild dog coordinators from northern Victoria, and he's actually put baits out on his property and realized that he actually doesn't have a lot of baits for his lambing paddock size. So just gives you the opportunity to have a look at where you're actually puttying your baits in terms of effectiveness.

Greg Mifsud:

Look, these are just some summary slides here about baiting programs and 1080. Coordinator programs are ideal if you can get your neighbors working with you, but seasonal asset protection and replacement baiting programs I think are still effective. So anyway, I will probably leave it there, leave it with the last summary slide and take any questions that you might have.

Jo Cameron:

Thanks, Greg, that's fantastic.

Greg Mifsud:

Thank you, Jo.

Jo Cameron:

Thank you. We'll now open up the webinar for questions. I'll ask our assistant, Luke, to explain the process for placing your questions into the queue. Over to you, Luke.

Jo Cameron:

(silence)

Jo Cameron:

Nope. You there, Luke? While we're waiting for Luke, we might actually just move to perhaps some of the questions that have come in via the webinar, those hooked in through the webinar, not the phone. So Greg if you can hear me, one of the questions asked by Jenny, she was wondering if the CPEs are actually available in Western Australia?

Greg Mifsud:

Yes they are. You'll have to look at what the requirements are over there to access them, there's probably some training involved, but they're readily available to my knowledge through your rural outlets, you just need to go and ask them. They may need to get them in, but Animal Control Technologies is the company that distributes them and they've got a number of retail outlets in WA, I know that for a fact.

Jo Cameron:

Okay. And next question's from Kaley is, if a predator picks up a PAPP bait but doesn't reach 80% saturation and recovers, does this animal then build up resistance?

Greg Mifsud:

No it doesn't, because the toxin, the way it works in terms of binding red blood cells, there's no mechanism for resistance to occur. As you can imagine, anything that affects our red blood cells, we're going to have some sort of a mechanism or metabolism to try and manage that, and there are a number of enzymes that reverse the poison if they don't receive a full dose, so that's why it's important that they get a full dose to cause mortality, but there's no actual mechanism to build resistance to it. So no, that won't happen with this type of product.

Jo Cameron:

Okay.

Greg Mifsud:

Thanks, Jo.

Jo Cameron:

And perhaps just a couple of question that I had myself, Greg, I was pretty interested to hear in regards to the effective control, so you mentioned five to 10 baits per 100 hectares, has that always been the recommendation, or is that something that's been adjusted over time after seeing how effective a control has been?

Greg Mifsud:

Yeah. The original densities I think were probably a little bit underdone, but we've done research in the last 10 to 15 years to come up with those densities per hectare. So five to 10, I think we've had more knowledge now with new technology and radio tracking, all those sorts of research tools that have allowed us to get a better understanding of densities, and then we've also had cameras on bait sites and things like that to look at uptake. So yeah, five to 10 is I guess a recommendation that we've come up with more recently, particularly for fox management.

Jo Cameron:

Okay. And look, we do have a question from Don in regards to whether the webinar will be a recording, and if the webinar will be available? Unfortunately he was a little bit late joining us, but yes it will be available, Don, in regards to the recorded webinar and a transcript associated with it. One last question, Greg, I had too, was bait depths, not the PAPP devices, but normal baits, what depths should they be buried?

Greg Mifsud:

Look, I think in Victoria it's down to five to 10 centimeters. I think they will be under the directions of use. And look, I've seen foxes are quite adept at identifying where baits are at that depth without any problem whatsoever, so look, you'd have to double check that unfortunately, you work across the country, it varies in every state. So just refer to the directions for use that it's on that link I put in that slide and that'll give you the correct depth.

Jo Cameron:

Fantastic. And we might just try again and see whether or not Luke's available to explain the process for those that have phoned in for placing their questions into the queue. Luke, how we going?

Luke:

Sure. Thanks Greg and thanks Jo. For those of you who are on the phone, if you'd like to ask a question, you can do so now by pressing star one on your telephone keypad. We'll pause a moment to assemble a question queue. For those of you on the phone, just a reminder it's star one on your telephone keypad.

Luke:

We don't appear to be having any questions coming through over the phone, so back through to you, Jo.

Jo Cameron:

Thanks very much, Luke. That concludes our webinar this evening. Thanks again to our presenter, Greg. For those of you on the webinar platform, you'll be migrated directly to a short survey. Please take the time to fill this out as it allows us to provide you with timely information. Alternatively, if you are joining us by phone, an email will be sent to you shortly and there'll be a link to a survey associated with this. And as I mentioned before, a transcript of the presentation will be available on the registration portal in the coming days. Alternatively, a link will be provided to the registered emails which will direct you to the recorded webinar and to the transcript.

Jo Cameron:

So thank you, Greg. Appreciate your fantastic presentation tonight.

Greg Mifsud:

No worries, Jo.

Jo Cameron:

I'd like to thank everyone for their participation and wish you a good evening. Thank you.

Greg Mifsud:

Thank you.

Page last updated: 01 Jun 2021