Managing Feral Animals

Rachael O’Brien, Manager Biosecurity and Extension, Queensland

Feral animals are often a burden to livestock production as they can damage infrastructure, foul water sources and compete with livestock and native species of wildlife for fodder and water. Without management feral animals can have an impact on both productivity, profitability and the environment.

When developing a biosecurity plan producers often ask how they can manage feral animals when they cannot keep them off their property. The answer to this question isn’t about keeping feral animals off a property all together but more so about managing their impacts by reducing the damage caused by feral animals in a way that is both practical and cost effective.

Each producer will face different challenges when it comes to managing feral animals, therefore it’s important to find and use options that work for you. There are four main steps in managing feral animals:

  1. Define the problem and assess the impacts

The first step in feral animal management is to identify the species that you have and what impact they are having on your business. This is a critical step because not all methods of feral animal management will work for all species. It is important to first identify the problem so you can find a solution.

  1. Researching current management options and set objectives

There are many ways that livestock producers can manage feral animals, depending on the species and the objectives. The first decision to be made is whether or not the program is an eradication or a control program. Eradication or control measures available to producers include fencing, trapping, baiting, shooting or removing problematic animals, to name a few.

One of the most effective management solutions for pest animals is exclusion by fencing your property where practical. This may not be achievable for all producers, so the first question is to consider whether this is an expense or a necessity. Fencing large areas might be costly, but will it pay for itself in the short or long term? If you are losing large amounts of livestock or having livestock injured by predatory animals, will these eventually add up to the cost of a new fence? If your answer is ‘yes’ and you are able to fence your property then you should consider it as a long term solution. If fencing your entire boundary is not an option, are pest animals impacting on your business through predication at a specific interval? For example are you losing juvenile livestock at the time of their birth? The solution here may be to partially fence areas to put livestock during these times. If you already have existing pest proof fences you must maintain them. Fences will only be effective if they provide a barrier between your livestock and the predator.

If you cannot fence your property consider implementing a feral animal management program. This may involve baiting, trapping, shooting or removal programs. If you are considering baiting options there may be assistance through your local Natural Resource Management group or council. There may also be private companies available in your area that specialise in feral animal management. It is important to consider the biosecurity risks that this option may have on other areas of your business. For example, if you employ a contractor to control feral animals and they are bringing their own vehicle on to your property what impacts may this have on your weed populations? It is worth having a conversation with contractors on how this can be managed before they come onto the property.

Managing carcasses is important to managing carnivorous feral populations as it eliminates a potential food source. Where practical you should dispose of carcasses or try to put them in a location where you can then manage for feral animals, such as a burial pit.

  1. Plan your program

When you have decided on a feral animal management solution it is important to determine how this will look on your property, including your budget and how you will physically implement your program. Consider what technical aspects will make your plan a success for your area, approximate costs, time frames that your program will run for and how you will measure its effectiveness.

  1. Implementation and review

The final stages of a pest management plan are to implement the program and then review it. Reviewing a program is critical to assess whether or not it achieved the outcome you intended and can be done against the objective measures that you set out in Step 2. If your program was not a success, reviewing the program allows a critical assessment of the operations and the opportunity to make changes rather than continuing with a program that is not meeting your objectives.

Feral animal management is diverse but control should always be assessed against the impact that feral animals are having on production and your environment. Which program you implement will depend largely on the impact feral animals have on your area, your objectives and your budget. For more information about pest animal management please visit the PestSmart website.