A community effort to end the feral dog attacks which have plagued a Far North farm for more than two weeks ended in frustration and disappointment.
Brother and sister John and Anne-Marie Nilsson, who run Shenstone Farm just south of Cape Reinga, have been battling heartbreak and exhaustion as they try to protect their animals from attack.
With more than 130 stock killed so far — including a teenage girl's prized Angora goats — hunters and farmers travelled from around Northland on Saturday to help.
Anne-Marie Nilsson said about 30 friends, volunteers and Department of Conservation staff carried out a ''beat'' in the neighbouring bush block on Saturday with the hope of flushing the dogs out.
The team worked its way through the bush while skilled sharpshooters lay in wait at likely exit points along the farm boundary.
Frustratingly, no dogs were seen.
''We gave it our best, and it wasn't easy going. I don't know if there weren't any dogs there at that particular time, or if they're just too wily.''
Nilsson said, however, the support shown to the family had been ''incredible''.
Volunteers had also been helping guard their stock every night, despite the rain and bitter cold of recent days.
During the weekend one more lamb and two flocks of turkeys — which were kept for biological pest control — were killed.
As in previous attacks, some were eaten but many appeared to have been killed ''for fun''.
One more ewe died on Sunday night but a volunteer on vigil managed to shoot one of the dogs early on Monday morning, bringing the total shot on the farm so far to three.
Nilsson said she had earlier shot the dog she believed was the pack's kingpin.
She was now determined to get the pack's lead bitch but heavy rain had made paddocks impassable and hampered her efforts.
Each night the family brought stock in close to the house for protection but she estimated they had only one more night's worth of feed left. Then the animals would have to be taken out wide again where they would be at the dogs' mercy.
''So we're getting frustrated. We're just not getting ahead.''
Meanwhile the family's supporters are trying to convince government agencies or councils to take responsibility for the dogs, which they say live on a DoC-administered reserve.
Family friend Vanessa James said the Far North District Council was tasked with dog control but could only trap dogs and destroy them if not claimed within nine days.
Feral dogs were not included in the Northland Regional Council's pest management plan and DoC had advised her no poison was licensed for use against dogs in New Zealand.
James said she had written to Conservation Minister Kiri Allan appealing for help and had asked the Ministry of Primary Industries to assign responsibility for the dogs to a government agency.
Allan's office responded on Tuesday, saying the matter was the responsibility of Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
'Matter of time' before dogs attack a tourist, farmer says
A Far North farmer says it's only a matter of time before a tourist is hurt or even killed by feral dogs.
Punch Neho, who raises cattle across State Highway 1 from the Nilsson family farm where more than 130 lambs, ewes and goats have been killed in the past fortnight, said he had shot at least 15 dogs so far this year.
Some he had shot on his own or the Nilssons' property but most had been further north on Te Paki Station.
Neho said there was no shortage of dogs in the area with up to 20 threatening spat collectors on Ninety Mile Beach, near Motupia Island, last week.
Although that section of beach backed onto the Nilssons' farm he believed they were not the same dogs that were targeting their stock.
He suspected another dozen were involved in the farm attacks with a similar number further north at Te Paki Station.
''They also behave differently. The minute you fire a shot at the Te Paki dogs they're gone for a month. These ones [at the Nilsson farm] come back night after night.''
There could be another 20 dogs at Te Kao and more further south.
Neho said it was a matter of time before a tourist using one of the hiking trails in the area was attacked or even killed.
Farmers and hunters knew how to respond if threatened by dogs but a tourist might run, which was a natural reaction.
Neho believed poison was the answer but no one in the area was licensed to use it, nor was there a poison approved for use against dogs in New Zealand.
Some people opposed the use of poison but they didn't consider the suffering caused to stock or the loss of people's livelihoods.
Neho said he had been helping to protect the Nilsson farm where everyone was mentally and physically exhausted.
The nightly vigils started at dusk and ended when the dogs left the area. Yesterday he didn't get home until 10am.
His cattle were better able to defend themselves than sheep or goats and had not been attacked.
A campground and four tracks in Te Paki Recreation Reserve were closed by the Department of Conservation for five weeks earlier this year after reports of feral dogs bailing up a hunter and chasing a horse rider.
They re-opened in May after no trace of the dogs was found.