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WILD DOGS: A CALL TO ARMS

BEFORE THE CALL: Jock and Lynne Burns from Warrabah, Karara, before news of the latest wild dog attack.
BEFORE THE CALL: Jock and Lynne Burns from Warrabah, Karara, before news of the latest wild dog attack. Toni Somes

YOU know wild dogs are a constant threat, when midway through an interview, a landholder rushes off because his sheep are being attacked.

It's midday on a Sunday at the Karara recreational grounds, west of Warwick, and the Rural Weekly, along with Jock and Lynne Burns are watching the Queensland Supreme Working Sheep Dog Championships when the call comes.

Just through the fence and beyond the treeline, two dogs of a different sort have been seen rushing a mob of the Burnses' dorpers.

It's a heartbreaking, but all too common, constant for the Burnses and their Karara neighbours. Before the call from a keen-eyed competitor, who was exercising his border collies when he spotted the paddock commotion, the conversation had focused firmly on the couple's biggest economic challenge: wild dogs.

They bought the 900ha property Warrabah in March and in the three months since have lost an estimated 20 head of high grade dorpers in wild dog attacks.

"We've trapped three wild dogs in that time and yet we still have a problem," Mr Burns said.

Ironically, the couple moved from the Springdale Rd region near Glenlyon Dam, between Texas and Stanthorpe, because they wanted to be closer to markets and felt Karara offered better quality grazing country.

"Our country on Springdale Rd was close to Sundown National Park and we got a dog a year there - usually in February," Mr Burns explained. "I am a realist - if you live near a national park, dogs are likely to be a problem from time to time.

"Now we border Duraki National Park and it's a major issue. But it would be a lot worse, if the blokes around Karara - like Ian Cullen - weren't putting so much effort into trapping wild dogs.

"Here there is a whole of community approach and yet wild dogs are still a constant, major problem."

The Burnses' operation is centred on prime lamb production: they run 1100 dorper breeders and turn off 40kg finished lambs, which they generally sell through Warwick.

Mr Burns comes from a long line of fine merino wool producers, but admits he made the shift into dorpers in the interests of economic viability.

He said the fertility traits of the South African breed meant ewes could - in the right nutritional conditions - produce three lambs every two years, compared with the merino's single lamb a year.

"The dorpers were also bred in the desert, so they have the advantage of being hardy and able to do well in pretty ordinary feed situations," Mr Burns said.

He is keenly aware this winter may prove to be one of those challenging feed situations if the dry conditions prevail.

"The long-term weather forecast isn't looking promising, but we're hoping we can make it through winter with the feed we have," Mr Burns said. "But it is confronting to think we have three or four months ahead of us without much prospect of rain."

If there is an upside to their current operation, it is a relatively stable market.

"A few weeks ago, we sold 40kg lambs for $115 a head, which is a fair price," Mr Burns said.

"About this time last year we were selling 30kg lambs for $30 a head.

"Now the same animal is making $75-80 a head, so it's a definite improvement."

Meanwhile, back in the paddock, the determined producer will continue to keep watch and set traps in a bid to track down the two brazen predators seen tormenting his sheep in broad daylight, just beyond the town limits.

Topics:  karara wild dogs