Kangaroos have converged in their thousands in the Upper North, in numbers that are impacting farmers’ land, bottom line and mental health.
The drought faced by Peterborough graziers this year has been severely compounded by a kangaroo influx that is “out of control”.
Mark Ludgate, Peterborough, hit the panic button at Easter and decided to agist most of his sheep in Vic, in the hope of preserving pastures through the dry spring.
This has since become a futile endeavour with ever-increasing kangaroo numbers.
“I have had 80 per cent less sheep for four months now and arguably my paddocks should have been recuperating or at least holding, but they look just as hammered as the ones next door,” he said.
In December, mobs of Western Greys migrated to the area and in the past fortnight, thousands of small red kangaroos have moved in and cleaned up any feed left.
“I would have about 1000 roos on my place everyday in mobs that vary from 60 to 600. They’ve hammered the land to the east and are now making their way west,” Mr Ludgate said.
Pressure has been put on fencing infrastructure and watering points, with sheep more often on the road than in the paddocks, and kangaroos and emus eating the hay farmers pay $250 a tonne to $300/t for.
How to get on top of them quickly is an unanswered question as the impacts stretch far beyond the bottom line.
Lorna Goodridge, Terowie, has been running cattle for more than 80 years and said she had “never seen kangaroos this bad”, even through the drought of 1981.
Neighbour Barry Clapp has exhausted both his destruction permit and himself in trying to get on top of the numbers at his Terowie property, where he has been cropping since 1973.
“I had a permit that said I could shoot 125 reds, which we did in two nights,” he said.
“I don’t understand where they have come from. We got hit with a tsunami of red kangaroos, nearly all the same size, over about a fortnight, and they don’t think they came down on a Greyhound bus, so surely someone knew this was coming?”
Mr Clapp raised his concerns with the Jamestown Show’s Ag Industry Q&A panel at the weekend, which included Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
Mr Clapp said he had shut down one third of his property in an attempt to conserve the soil and that permits were inadequate and took far too long to be processed.
He also expressed disappointment that there was no warning of the kangaroo problem.
“It seems kangaroo management is not even kangaroo monitoring,” he said.
The problem was causing serious stress, if not depression, among the community.
“It is honestly getting people down and I’m loosing sleep over it,” he said.
Mr Littleproud said there were 45 million kangaroos in Australia, with numbers skyrocketing in pastoral areas because of improved watering points for livestock and a reduced market for kangaroo products.
Nathan Chapman manages Tuilkilkey station and said he didn’t know where to start tackling more than 10,000 kangaroos competing with 2500 sheep across more than 20,000 hectares.
“You drop a bale and have to stay there while the stock eat to keep the kangaroos away,” Mr Chapman said.
Mr Ludgate said farmers were “fighting a losing battle which is going unnoticed”.
Department of environment and water sustainable industries manager Anthony Freebairn said places like Orroroo, Peterborough and Terowie experience localised increases in kangaroo numbers, particularly where feed and water is available in the transition between pastoral and agricultural land.
Mr Freebairn said DEW encourages landowners to use a professional harvester to reduce kangaroo numbers and said kangaroo meat processors in SA are currently seeking carcasses.
DEW also suggested that landholders contribute to the management of kangaroos on their land by purchasing tags, which would lead to more kangaroos being harvested on their land.
Commercial industry unviable
SA once had more than 200 commercial shooters supplying the kangaroo meat market, but the cost of doing business is no longer viable and has affected kangaroo numbers.
One Jamestown-based shooter – who has been involved in the commercial kangaroo harvesting industry for 14 years – said there were only about 20 shooters left in business.
They said with a 14 kilogram minimum weight, and a preference for bucks, a lot of kangaroos are left behind.
“To give you an idea, for a male at the moment we are getting 79 cents/kg, 40c/kg for a doe. It’s $1.60 for the tag – less $1 for the bullet – then you have diesel to get it to the chiller,” they said.
Department for environment and water representative Anthony Freebairn said all meat processors in SA will purchase both male and female kangaroos but bucks do receive a premium, which turns the harvest bias towards males.
Mr Freebairn also stated that the commercial kangaroo industry has struggled in recent times with low prices and rising costs and encouraged pastoralists and farmers to work with DEW and the industry to find solutions.
Figures from the 2018 Quota Report show only a small portion of the annual allocated kangaroo cull quota are actually being harvested.
Mr Freebairn said it is reflective of the returns and high operating costs associated with harvesting in regional SA, and experienced by the industry.
Speaking at the Jamestown show, Primary Producers SA executive chair Rob Kerin said there was a desperate need to get more kangaroo shooters on the ground, and to lift the low commodity value of kangaroo.
He said impediments to this were the expense of licences and tags for kangaroo shooters.
Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey said only 55 per cent of the quota was harvested each year because there were not enough shooters, and the markets were falling away. He said while the numbers that farmers had to deal with could only be controlled by extermination, it seemed senseless when they could be put to use.
“It’s good meat and the leather is top quality so we need to be better at selling that message to the Australian public and to the world,” he said.
Mr Freebairn agreed that more needed to be done in terms of marketing the unique Australian product.