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Wild dog control impacts on calf wastage in extensive beef cattle enterprises

Allen, Lee R.
Animal production science 2014 v.54 no.2 pp. 214-220
baiting, beef cattle, business enterprises, calves, dingoes, dogs, herds, hybrids, lactation, parturition, predation, rain, weaning, Queensland
Wild dogs (Canis lupus dingo and hybrids) are routinely controlled to protect beef cattle from predation yet beef producers are sometimes ambivalent as to whether wild dogs are a significant problem or not. This paper reports the loss of calves between birth and weaning in pregnancy-tested herds located on two beef cattle properties in south-central and far north Queensland for up to 4 consecutive years. Comparisons of lactation failures (identified when dams that previously tested pregnant were found non-lactating at weaning) were made between adjoining test herds grazed in places with or without annual (or twice annual) wild dog poison baiting programs. No correlation between wild dog relative abundance and lactation failures was apparent. Calf loss was frequently higher (three in 7 site-years, 11–32%) in baited areas than in non-baited areas (9% in 1 of 7 site-years). Predation loss of calves (in either area) only occurred in seasons of below-average rainfall, but was not related to herd nutrition. These data suggest that controlling wild dogs to protect calves on extensive beef cattle enterprises is unnecessary in most years because wild dogs do not routinely prey on calves. In those seasons when wild dog predation might occur, baiting can be counter-productive. Baiting appears to produce perturbations that change the way surviving or re-colonising wild dog populations select and handle prey and/or how they interact with livestock.