Farmer raises livestock alarm

RECKLESS BEHAVIOUR: Hatherleigh graziers Lou Gardin and Graham Sapiatzer together with their Kelpie dog Bull, are concerned about motorists who ignore "Stock on Road" signs.
RECKLESS BEHAVIOUR: Hatherleigh graziers Lou Gardin and Graham Sapiatzer together with their Kelpie dog Bull, are concerned about motorists who ignore “Stock on Road” signs.

A HATHERLEIGH farmer is fearful of the catastrophic consequences of motorists continuing to disregard “Stock on Road” signs on the Princes Highway.

Graham Sapiatzer has seen many “near misses” between vehicles and his sheep whenever his mob is escorted across the highway.

His family has worked the land north of Millicent for more than 130 years, but the previous four generations did not have to contend with irresponsible road users.

The section of highway is rated at a maximum speed of 110kph and Mr Sapiatzer said many motorists did not drop their speed.
“There is a lot of ignorance among drivers,” he said.

“They should stop and wait as it only takes us about three minutes to get a mob of sheep straight across the highway from one of our paddocks to another.

“We always have Stock on Road signs out on the highway with revolving flashing orange lights as well as hazard lights on the ute.

“We also wear high-vis vests.

“My partner Lou Gardin and I talk via two-way radio to control sheep movement.

“We only need to do it about six times a year when the sheep need to be moved for weaning, drenching, crutching and shearing.”

The Sapiatzer family also shifts sheep across the so-called “back roads” of the farming district, but they do not face the problems they encounter on the main sealed thoroughfare between Millicent and Kingston.

“We don’t have any problems with truck and bus drivers as they slow down and stop,” he said.

“It is the drivers of cars and other vehicles and they can be of all ages.

“There was one time when I had to go and get a number of sheep out of a drain full of water because a vehicle drove in front of them as they were about to cross the bitumen.

“We won’t use our kelpie dog called Bull when we take sheep across the Princes Highway.

“It is far too dangerous for him as Bull only has his eyes on the sheep and won’t pay any attention to vehicles,” the 40 year farming veteran said.

According to Mr Sapiatzer, the law is on his side if he has fulfilled all his obligations.

“If the signs are out and the hazard lights are operating and I am wearing a high-vis vest, I believe I have fulfilled my legal obligations,” he said.

“I believe that a motorist who then collides with my sheep has to bear the cost of any vehicle repairs and dead or injured livestock.

“With sheep now worth well over $200 each, the amount could soon add up.”

Mr Sapiatzer said he was prompted to speak out as a way of educating members of the public of their obligations and alerting them to the dangers.

He also has a message for graziers about some of their practices.

“You should only put out Stock on Road signs when you are actually moving stock,” he said.

“I have noticed plenty of times in various places when these signs are left out on roadsides for several days at a time.

“Drivers will see them and slow down, but no sheep and cattle will be about.

“This makes it harder for those of us who try to do the right thing and only put out the signs when we are actually moving our stock.”

His views are supported by fellow Hatherleigh farmers Chris Skeer and Trevor Rayson, who have also worked the local land for decades.

Mr Skeer can recount harrowing episodes along the highway when he has shifted stock.

“People just don’t understand the animals,” Mr Skeer said.

Mr Rayson said he resorts to standing in the middle of the Princes Highway and waving down vehicles to stop.

He said there are particular difficulties when he moves stock across the main crossroads at the Hatherleigh township.

“There are problems there with the lines of sight as you have a curve in the highway as well as roadside trees,” Mr Rayson said.

Millicent Police Sergeant Rick Errington said drivers should show care and consideration on the roads.

“They are obliged by law to drive to the conditions of the road,” Sgt Errington said.

“They should abide by the directions of the farmer to either stop or pass slowly.”

Sgt Errington said there were obligations placed on farmers as well.

He said farmers had to move their stock off public roads without delay and had to ensure their fences were in good order to prevent any stock from straying.