Rayner Reckons

Oct 15

Problems with foxes

Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014

This week I had a phone call from a new client who has taken on a small farm in NSW.  Its an exciting time for them, as they are starting a small beef herd, and are looking to enjoy a new direction with the purchase of their farm.  As well as running a few cows, they have done the usual things many new farmers do such as planting a veggie garden and they also had some chooks.

I say had, because until this week they did have chooks. Sadly a fox has taken most of their chooks over night! 

I reckon we have all had a similar experience at some point in our farming life.  As a small child I remember my grandparents having a fox take their chooks, and even last year the pet chooks of my local fire station in town were all taken by a fox.

The impact of foxes on agriculture is often considered in the destruction they cause to sheep and goat production, chicken & egg production and even occasionally with horticulture.

There is no denying foxes cause a huge amount of damage every day in Australia to agriculture and to the native wildlife on our farms and in our bushland.  I saw some research that suggests a fox eats about 400grams of food a day.  About a 1/3 of that will be made up of farm livestock, 1/3 from pest animals like mice or rabbits and the final 1/3 from wildlife. 

But foxes will eat 100% of their diet from whatever is easiest to catch!  The research went on to state foxes will make up to 50% of their diet from farm livestock and the losses in lambing flocks range from 10 - 30%.

The problem is, there are plenty of foxes!  Current estimates suggest fox populations have about 4 foxes per square kilometre. As you can see from this picture, that means that within 5km of your home there's around 312 foxes!

If you have sheep, goats or chickens, this alone should get you thinking about your control measures!  

The thing is, many cattle people don't really think foxes pose much of a problem to their enterprises, and so are less likely to participate in control programs.  

I reckon its vital to be involved.  Firstly effective control can only happen across properties, as we all know foxes can move through fences!  Secondly it will help protect the native wildlife that lives in your area.

While these are both good enough reasons to be involved, foxes do have a production impact on cattle!

There is a parasite known as Neospora Caninum which is responsible for abortions in cattle.  On the north coast of NSW, Neospora Caninum is thought to be responsible for over 30% of all abortion losses in both beef and dairy herds.

Cows become infected by this parasite after eating eggs of the parasite that may be passed by a dog or another carnivore, such as a fox.  Dogs and foxes are thought to become infected with the Neospora parasite after eating infected foetal tissue or afterbirth.  

Foxes are opportunistic feeders, and during calving will take advantage of after birth as well as praying on vulnerable calves if they get a chance.  And while foxes may not always kill calves, the fact that they could be spreading a parasite like Neospora means they are having an impact on herd fertility by reducing the number of calves born in your cow herd.

So next time you see a fox, just remember there is likely to be another 49 of them within a 2km radius of you! Any one of those foxes, and most likely all of them, are having a direct impact on your agricultural business, as well as on the wildlife you enjoy seeing when you are out working in the paddock.

I reckon we all need to take a greater role in controlling foxes, and hopefully minimising the problems they bring down on us every day!  


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