Sheep worrying concerns

Rural insurer NFU Mutual is mounting a new campaign urging dog owners to keep their pets under control, as horrific attacks on sheep and other livestock continue to take their toll on farmers in the North East.

Friday, 1st March 2019, 12:12 pm

Although new research shows more dog owners are putting their pets on leads when livestock are nearby, the insurer is increasingly concerned by reports that many attacks are being caused by dogs which have been let out in gardens, escaping and attacking sheep in neighbouring fields.

According to claims figures from NFU Mutual, farm animals worth more than £400,000 have been savaged by dogs in the North East over the past four years.

Known as livestock worrying, dog attacks on farm animals can result in horrific and often fatal injuries. Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress of the chase can cause sheep to die and miscarry their lambs.

The peak time for attacks is from January to April, during the lambing period, which coincides with the period when families visit and stay in the countryside over the coming months.

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The research by NFU Mutual reveals one in six owners admitted their dog had escaped from home. However more and more people (52%) are allowing their pets to go out in the garden unaccompanied when they’re not at home (up from 43% last year).

According to the research, 87% of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with over 60% letting them roam off the lead (down from 64% in 2018).

If there is a sign warning dog owners that livestock are in a field, more people (95%) are putting their dogs on the lead than in 2018, (90%). However, the number of dog owners who said their pet had chased livestock in the past was 6%.

Most dog owners (61%) would try to stop a dog chasing a sheep in the countryside and supported measures to crack down on the problem of livestock worrying. Three quarters of dog owners said they would support heavy fines, 66% would support a ban on dogs from livestock fields during lambing season, while 57% would back laws enabling DNA testing of dogs and 42% would support owners being banned from keeping dogs if their pet had been involved in an attack.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Insurance Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “While it’s encouraging news that more people are putting their dog on the lead while out in the countryside, dog attacks are still at a very high level. We are receiving increasing reports of local dogs escaping from homes and attacking sheep, either because their owners do not know or do not care that their dogs are roaming wild and causing havoc.

“Thousands of sheep are being killed and horribly mutilated by dogs and we will be redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the issue, and helping police to bring owners of dogs which attack livestock to justice.

“As the insurer of nearly three-quarters of the UK’s farmers, we are sadly all too aware of the heartbreak and distress that dog attacks cause. For the North East’s small farmers in particular, livestock worrying is devastating because it has a huge impact on their livelihood. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.”

With many families expected to visit the countryside over the coming months, the insurer is urging dog owners to keep their pets on a lead at all times in the countryside and for people to report out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.

Advice for dog owners:

Always keep dogs on the lead when walking them in rural areas where livestock are kept

Be aware that even small lap dogs can attack and kill farm animals

Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to local farmers or the police

Familiarise puppies with farm livestock from a young age to reduce the risk of them attacking sheep or cattle as adult dogs

Don’t let dogs loose in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby