Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Terry Hayes

It’s helping farmers grow

New South Wales sheep producer and 2010 Biosecurity Farmer of the Year finalist, Terry Hayes, was a pioneer of biosecurity farming practices long before he knew what the term meant.  Over the past four decades he has been heavily involved in plant and animal health measures that have helped improve the lives and businesses of many farmers and rural communities across the country.

Being a third generation farmer on his grazing property at Middle Arm, near Goulburn in the Southern Tablelands, Terry grew-up on the land understanding his father’s fights and frustrations with ongoing rabbit control. However, it was during the mid 1970s and 1980s that he was involved in his own biosecurity project to control hydatid disease—a serious condition carried by tapeworms causing cysts in the internal organs of humans, which can reduce the value of livestock. It is a preventable cycle caused by dogs eating offal from sheep and passing the tapeworm eggs on to people.

Terry says the successful program taught people to feed prepared food to their dogs, worm them regularly and to adopt good hygiene practices.  It resulted in widespread behavioural change throughout the region, with hydatid disease virtually dropping off the radar in the Goulburn area.

Terry’s next, and most high-profile, contribution to biosecurity was his committed involvement with ovine Johne’s disease (OJD).  After his flock tested positive for the disease in 1995, Terry became frustrated by the regulatory process and lack of information available to producers, and worked to find his own information, solutions and networks.

He became actively involved in a local producer group that enabled producers to talk openly, which he believes was “a very important part of the disease management process”.  He was also a producer representative on the New South Wales OJD Advisory Committee.  For a number of years Terry travelled extensively throughout New South Wales and to South Australia, talking with animal health experts about OJD and sharing his experience with other producers.  From 1998 to 2004, Terry formed an agreement with researchers from the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute and became heavily involved with extensive trials on his property, many which can be attributed to underlying much of today’s knowledge of the disease.

According to Terry, a great deal of fear and division was generated in rural communities during the early OJD days, mostly due to lack of knowledge, poor communication and misunderstanding the impact the disease had on real-life farming businesses.

“I think there is a very serious lesson in the way which we manage disease, and we need to understand it’s not just about eradication or accepting and managing the disease. It’s important to realise that diseases like OJD can not only do great financial damage to people, but they can do very great psychological damage to people as well,” he said.

Although it might sound like a contradiction in terms, Terry’s experience with OJD has been an extraordinarily positive one.  After implementing a rigorous vaccination program in 1998, and every year since, he has been able to keep the disease at very low and manageable levels.

“At the time, vaccination was my only tool to manage the disease.  Since I’ve been vaccinating, my flock has returned to profitability, my lambing percentages are close to 100 percent, my wool production is good and I’ve got on with the business of running a self-replacing merino flock the way it should be run,” he said.

Although it might sound like a contradiction in terms, Terry’s experience with OJD has been an extraordinarily positive one. After implementing a rigorous vaccination program in 1998, and every year since, he has been able to keep the disease at very low and manageable levels.

“At the time, vaccination was my only tool to manage the disease. Since I’ve been vaccinating, my flock has returned to profitability, my lambing percentages are close to 100 percent, my wool production is good and I’ve got on with the business of running a self-replacing merino flock the way it should be run,” he said.

Since 2006, Terry has been able to divert his attention to his latest biosecurity project—his involvement with the control of serrated tussock. The invasive South American weed was first noticed on his property in 1957, and has become a significant problem across parts of New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria.

Terry says it is estimated that 1.5-million-hectares are infested with the weed across New South Wales alone.  “When this plant is mature and is allowed to go to seed, it can produce between 100,000 and 200,000 seeds a year and those seeds are capable of impacting properties within a 30-kilometre radius, and it has absolutely no biological control here,” he said.

After researching regulatory processes in Victoria to control the invasive plant, Terry helped establish the NSW and ACT Serrated Tussock Working Party to tackle the management of the weed head-on, and has now helped convince the New South Wales Government to fund a coordinator to manage an information and eradication program in these areas.

“If nothing is done, serrated tussock will just take over and dominate the landscape.  I would suggest it will leave country that won’t be capable of running any livestock at all, and that includes native animals,” he said.

Being actively involved in various biosecurity projects has been a natural progression for Terry throughout his farming career.  He encourages more farmers to be aware of biosecurity issues and management on their own farms and in their communities.

“From a biosecurity point of view, I think the whole nation has got to become much more aware of these issues.  We can’t just keep dropping our guard because we must engage in free trade—we must look at biosecurity from a point of view of maintaining the integrity of our produce.  And that is a message to be understood by the broader community, rather than just the farming community.”

Terry hopes that being a finalist in this year’s Biosecurity Farmer of the Year awards helps demonstrate how farmers can apply simple and effective biosecurity solutions to protect their businesses and help them grow well into the future.