Livestock worrying – A farmer's rights
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Unfortunately, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) members continue to have issues with livestock worrying throughout the year.
Reports of livestock worrying tend to increase at this time of year as dog walkers use the countryside more as the weather improves and days get longer.
When dog owners are not responsible and sensible, livestock and farmers suffer unnecessarily. Ultimately, preventing livestock worrying should be down to dog owners acting more responsibly, keeping their dog under control and on a lead at all times. However, this cannot be relied on. Most farmers are dog owners themselves and make sure their dog does not stray onto neighbouring land, they know well what the consequences could be.
NFU Mutual’s latest survey of over 1,100 dog owners released on 7 February 2023, found that despite 64% of owners admitting their dogs chase animals, almost half (46%) believe their dog is not capable of injuring or killing livestock. Nearly two thirds of owners (64%) say they let their dog roam off-lead in the countryside with almost four in ten (39%) admitted that their pets do not always come back when called. NFU Mutual estimate that farm animals worth £165,000 were severely injured or killed in 2022. Despite numerous marketing campaigns on livestock worrying, dog owners continue to act irresponsibly. The cost incurred by farmers and impact on animal welfare is not acceptable. In worst case scenarios livestock are killed, and in others, the productivity of livestock seriously reduced.
Should a farmer experience a dog attack on their livestock they should first of all keep themselves safe. If possible, video or photograph what the dog is doing and the damage caused by the dog. This prevents the owner being able to deny that the dog was doing harm. Report all incidents of livestock worrying to your local council’s dog warden. Contact details for dog wardens can be found on your local council’s website.
Sometimes it is necessary to shoot a dog that is attacking livestock, but the law around this is complex and shooting should always be the last resort. Firstly, the farmer must ensure they are not using their firearm outside of what their license permits them to use it for. Secondly, dogs are considered property so shooting a dog could trigger a criminal damage charge. In order to legally shoot a dog, you must be able to show that you acted in belief that livestock were in immediate danger and that all efforts to deter the dog before shooting were ineffective. If a dog is shot, the incident must be reported to the police within 48 hours. It is important to remember that you are not entitled to shoot the dog if it has already left your property and is no longer a direct danger to livestock, even if you fear it might come back and pose a threat in the future. To protect against dog attacks, make neighbouring farmers aware of sightings of stray or out of control dogs, and ensure fields are secure with good fences and gates. Again, it is important to reiterate that shooting a dog should only occur as a last resort.