Pig management to handle foot and mouth

Desert Channels Queensland map of monitoring cameras.

Michael R Williams

As Australia braces itself for the potential threat of foot and mouth disease, local interest groups including RAPAD and Desert Channels Queensland have urged locals to remain vigilant and not to panic.

Desert Channels Queensland, in particular, is confident in their pig baiting and culling programs to maintain feral pig numbers which would curb the spread of the disease in the central west.

As a community, the central west’s economy is largely dependent on livestock, so the potential for destruction locally is high; however, careful management can help minimise the risk of loss of livestock.

Desert Channels CEO Leanne Kohler said managing pigs was essential in curbing the spread of the disease as foot and mouth can easily be spread between feral animals such as pigs to domestic animals if not monitored correctly.

“And there are huge costs involved in that, if there were an outbreak in Australia it could devastate the livestock industry,” she said.

“There hasn’t been an outbreak of foot and mouth in Australia since 1872, you don’t want this coming into the country at all.

“The economic impact of the livestock industry is over $52 billion, and that was in 2012, in today’s climate it’s estimated to be over $100 billion.”

Operations Manager Simon Wiggins said the animal that catches the disease would be deemed inedible as the animal’s health declines, however, the disease does not affect humans.

“There’s no animal-related sector out here that would not be affected by a potential outbreak,” he said.

“We need to be cautious but not panic.

“One of the critical elements occurs at international borders, and already at the Federal level people are not being allowed to bring in pork-based products from countries with a known outbreak.”

Mr Wiggins said now, more than ever, farmers needed to be aware of their farm biosecurity rules.

“Yes it might be about foot and mouth, but those rules also relate to weeds and other animal management,” he said.

“A heightened sense of alertness is not unreasonable.”

A major player in the foot and mouth story is that of feral pigs, DCQ already put in extensive practices in pig management.

“There’s a northern line which runs from Barcaldine to Winton to Boulia and a southern line,” he said.

“In total there are about 50 monitoring sites and they cover the critical areas where we know the pigs fill up in numbers quite quickly.

“As a part of that process, DCQ has, with funding from the Federal Government, done pest animal control work.”

Mr Wiggins said as funding has diminished, DCQ has been providing bullets and other equipment to landholders to help manage pig numbers.

“They are regularly shooting and regularly getting large numbers of pigs,” he said.

“The limited numbers of pigs people currently see, is because of the efforts of a number of dedicated landholders in the Windorah, Birdsville, Boulia area.

“With limited resources, they’ve been actually holding a very good line in areas where the pigs build in numbers very quickly.”

After recent rains, monitoring devices are saying pig numbers are increasing, however, Mr Wiggins believes the efforts of local landholders has be sufficient to manage numbers and limit disease spread so far.

“We welcome the messages from government bodies they are looking to take a stronger stance,” he said.

“But we need to perhaps pat a few landholders on the back for their efforts in managing pigs.

“We have very competent shooters and chopper pilots, they work well with the landholders—they just need support.

“What I don’t think we need is money being diverted to large monitoring programs, we already have a mature monitoring program set up.”