Wet weather has made the country more vulnerable to the explosion in the feral-pig population.
Story By Ken Eastwood
Feral pigs are in higher numbers than ever before in some areas, due to three wet summers in a row. As well as destroying crops and devastating the local ecology, they are killing and eating thousands of newborn lambs.
“The influx of pigs has been horrendous,” says Michael O’Brien, a grazier at “The Brigalows”, 30 kilometres out of Carinda in north-western New South Wales. “Last year the losses in our lambs were roughly two-thirds of our production. We only managed 1100 marked lambs. We should have had 36, 37, 38 hundred.”
Eerily, the pigs often leave no trace of the lambs – no bones or carcasses. They push over the lambs and completely devour them in just a few minutes. “We couldn’t find a skerrick of a lamb body in the paddocks,” Michael says. “That’s the telltale sign of pigs according to the veterinary world.”
Michael’s 20,000-hectare property sits in the rich country north of the Macquarie Marshes, with channels running from the marshes back to the river. It’s piggy heaven, with ample water, feed and shade.
According to feral-pig expert Steven Lapidge, a program leader with the Invasive Animals CRC, north-western New South Wales and southern Queensland, in particular, are being badly ravaged by pigs. “I’ve been working with pigs for 10 years and in places like the Macquarie Marshes they’re carrying the most they can remember, and in southern Queensland they’re the worst that they’ve ever seen,” Steven says.
The ideal conditions – plenty of nutritious feed and water – have meant sows are able to support more piglets. “We’re seeing sows with 12 piglets in tow that are almost at maturity,” Steven says. “Previously you’d be lucky to see more than a couple.”
Rebecca Morrissy, of Waggamba Landcare, based at Goondiwindi in southern Queensland, says many landholders began noticing the explosion in pig numbers in January last year. She recently saw 30 trotting down the road: “A couple of adults, and a whole lot of little ones.”
Steven says it is almost impossible to put a figure on the number of feral pigs in Australia, but research indicates that they are approaching the highest densities ever. “After years of drought they were probably around the few million mark – five million or so – but now we are seeing all-time highs, probably closer to the 20 million mark.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #83
Outback Magazine: June/July 2012