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High-powered Gallagher Westonfence allows full crop to be harvested

For Northern Territory watermelon growers Stewart and Cassie Younghusband, a Westonfence powered by high-Joule Gallagher energizers has allowed them to actually harvest the full area planted.

Moving to their property 10 kilometres south of Mataranka, and 100km south-east of Katherine in the Territory's far north in February 2003, they spent some time developing half the 600-hectare farm with subsurface trickle tubal irrigation.

Initially growing pumpkins and seedless watermelons, these days they solely concentrate on the latter. Produce goes Australia-wide, although not much heads north to Darwin due to its much smaller population base and market.

Bordering Elsey National Park and undeveloped land, the Younghusband's property was copping strong feral animal pressure from buffalo, brumbies, pigs and cattle, as well as wild animal incursions from wallabies and kangaroos.

Stewart says at their worst, the pests were eating through and damaging 20% of the farm.

"At that stage, we were growing about 50 tonne to the hectare, but were losing 25-30ha a year. Lost profits fluctuated, depending on the price of melon at the time, but that's way too much tonnage to lose."

Needing new options

Having tried several options — including traditional fencing — the Younghusbands knew what didn't work.

"Some of the fences we built in the past had no effect, or the roos just wrecked them and the pigs and wallabies got through. And they were also very expensive to build. You have to remember that in the middle of the dry season here it doesn't rain for six months; the only place in probably a 40km radius with water and food is our farm, so just about every animal that eats leaf was just busting to get into it."

"I know from past experience with big kangaroos that a 'wall' doesn't work — unless you're going to make it 20-foot high, and that's too expensive. So we just decided that a deterrent was the best way to go. We weren't convinced that was going to work, but we knew that even if the other ways did work, they were bloody expensive."

Stewart was born and raised on a sheep property in New South Wales, in an area that had several Gallagher Westonfences successfully keeping out heavy infestations of kangaroos and pigs.

"The thing that attracted me about [Gallagher] Westonfence is how fast it was to build, how cheap it was to build as a result of being quick to put up, and the fact that I reckon even if the roos got through it, they wouldn't wreck it. So after everything else, it was worth a go."

High power important

He and Cassie also decided they wanted to electrify it, installing a Gallagher MX7500 Energizer, which they have since upgraded to a M5800i Energizer, which has more features, including quick-scan LED fence performance lights which turn red if there's a fault or sudden load increase, or remain green at all other times.

The eight-wire Gallagher Westonfence is set up with an earth return system, because of the dry country. Four wires are hot, the bottom is an earth, and the top, along with two other wires, are neutral. Steel posts are 10 metres apart, with three Gallagher Westonfence Insulated Suspension Posts in between.

"We put quite a few wires into the bottom couple of feet, and just put all the extra money we would have spent on conventional fencing into the size of our Energizer. The size of the Energizer is really important. Having big Joules is important: you want the first hit to be a good one — not to kill them, but so that they remember how much it stung. They need to associate going near that fence with a bad experience, and an electric fence can do that if you've got enough horsepower."

Installing the fence turned out to be relatively easy.

"We were actually too busy to do it ourselves, so we got a couple of guys we knew from NSW to come up and do it. They weren't experienced Westonfence-type guys — they weren't even fencing contractors! — they could just drive a pair of pliers. In all it took about four days to put up 16km of fence — but two of those days, really, were spent figuring out how to approach it. So once we figured it out, it was actually pretty straightforward. You don't need to be much of a fencer to put them up."

Zero post movement

Stewart says once the kangaroos were trained, maintenance has been minimal.

"We snapped a few wires training the roos because they were hitting it hard; but we were straining it so you can play a tune on it: it was tight. But after they were trained, they learnt not to hit it and the rest of it was pretty much just keeping an eye on the power, any saplings going up through it or holes under it; normal fence maintenance is pretty light really."

Despite the heavy pressure, the Gallagher Westonfence Insulated Suspension Posts haven't moved since the fence was installed in 2008.

"They don't move unless you want them to: you have to unclip them to move them."

Big impact

For Stewart and Cassie, the real benefits aren't even in all the time they're saving.

Stewart says, "The time we used to spend managing roos has all but disappeared. It used to be a job someone had to do as a dedicated job. Now, it's a job that gets done while you're doing five other things.

"It's good, but it's actually not the enth gain: the biggest impact is picking all the fruit that you plant — that's the real money."

"Whether we pick all the area or not, we still have to pay for all the inputs — plants, plastic, fertiliser, and all the ops to get it done. So being able to pick the whole 160ha, and not just 130ha because the rest has been eaten out by wallabies, is where the real gain is. It's the productivity that was really bothering me, so that's an 'extra' 30ha and at 50t/ha, that we're picking."

Stewart says there are other options to protecting growing crops.

"You can grow melons around Mataranka without the type of fencing we have; it certainly can be done: you can do whatever you like if you want to throw enough resources at it, but this has definitely made it easier — and it was so easy and cost effective to put up." 

"The time we used to spend managing roos has all but disappeared. It used to be a job someone had to do as a dedicated job. Now, it's a job that gets done while you're doing five other things."