The Maremma Story
Dunluce is a 46500ha sheep and cattle property 36km west of Hughenden in the Flinders Shire in North West Qld, and is owned by Ninian & Ann Stewart-Moore. It is predominantly open Mitchell grass downs with some timbered Boree country along the Flinders River which forms the northern boundary. Immediately to the north of the Flinders are basalt outcrops and plateaus which provide perfect cover for wild dogs. As many local graziers have left the sheep industry, Dunluce is now the most northerly sheep property in the Flinders Shire and therefore possibly in Qld.
By 2002, with no immediate neighbours running sheep, a less than successful 1080 program going on, and dingoes attacking their sheep almost nightly, Ninian & Ann began to consider getting out of the sheep industry also. They felt that they either had to do something different or get out, as being faced with fresh maulings on a regular basis was not something they wanted to be responsible for.
They had heard about stock guarding dogs, and Maremmas in particular, and decided to investigate the concept. It started with Google and ended up with them heading to Victoria to purchase 24 Maremmas, already bonded to sheep and ready to work. This was March 2002 and including a 2nd hand dog trailer, the outlay was around $20,000. They figured at the time that the loss from wild dogs was around $30,000pa. This included killed and maimed sheep, >40% lambings, and reduced wool production due to stress. At the time they were running around 20,000 sheep, so their capital outlay (which was more than saved in the first year) was around $1 per head of sheep. Since then dry seasons have meant a reduction down to around 12,000 sheep, and the annual outlay for dog food, worming tablets, and vet fees has been from $7,000 down to $5,000, depending upon whether they bred replacement pups that needed their needles and desexing. This is about the same as they spend on lice and worm control, but does not allow for their time input which was initially quite large as there was no precedent to follow on the scale that they were attempting, but the Maremmas management is now a part of the normal routine.
After 3 years the annual losses had gone from above 15% down to an acceptable 3% (mostly from natural causes), and Ninian & Ann believe the actual number of sheep killed by wild dogs now to be well less than 10 head pa, (There are still plenty of dingoes around). After 5 years they believe they now have the best protected flock of sheep in Western Qld and would welcome in good spirit any challengers to that claim. They can drive past a mob of sheep late in the afternoon, see a Maremma or two out there with them, and go home and have a good night’s sleep.
The main protection that the Maremmas give is that they occupy the territory. All dogs are territorial, that was the problem in the past, they would get rid of one lot of wild dogs and the next week there would be new ones in their place. Maremmas are nocturnal by habit and have a loud, deep bark. No evidence of altercations with wild dogs has been observed.
There are a number of essential elements to the success of running livestock protection dogs:
- All problems are solved by successful bonding of the dogs to the livestock that need to be protected. This process ideally starts as soon as the pups’ eyes are open and continues until around 7 months when they are mature enough to desex and be put out to work.
- Do not; do not use entire males or females in a free range situation. Keep any breeding stock under control near the house. Not only is there a risk of interbreeding, there are no other unwanted distractions and there are no downside effects.
- It is also essential to be absolutely sure of the pedigree of any dogs purchased. A half breed Maremma will look like a Maremma and have very confused and undesirable instincts.
- Do not over humanise pups as they are growing up, they will tend to want to come home to be with you and leave their stock unprotected.
It is a fine balance of being able to handle them when needed, whilst allowing them to be with their livestock as a priority.
There are many other do’s and don’ts but all negative you have ever heard, I guarantee, will be because of non adherence to these 4 points.
Ninian & Ann believe there is a huge role for using livestock protection dogs in the grazing industry now, for protecting both sheep and cattle, but it has to be done correctly or it will not work effectively.