Distracted dog owners and out-of-control pets place sheep at risk of horrific and fatal injuries

A South Tyrone farmer, who runs a flock of sheep in Clogher Valley, has spoken out after enduring the loss of highly valuable sheep due to repeated dog attacks.
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The latest incident resulted in the death of a pedigree Texel ram valued at £3,500. The farmer was alerted to the attack by a walker who had seen an Alsatian and a small terrier breed dog chasing sheep.

After finishing milking, the farmer checked the sheep only to discover his highly-valued pedigree tup was missing.

A home-reared ram was found lying hurt with blood on him and a broken leg and had to be put down.

Across the UK dog attacks on farm animals cost an estimated £1.8m in 2022. Image: NFUAcross the UK dog attacks on farm animals cost an estimated £1.8m in 2022. Image: NFU
Across the UK dog attacks on farm animals cost an estimated £1.8m in 2022. Image: NFU

The missing Texel ram wasn’t found until the next day. It had been chased down a steep ravine and was dead.

In an earlier incident, the farmer’s son checked the sheep and found a ewe which had been attacked and seriously injured with its udder torn. The ewe and its two lambs died.

The County Tyrone farmer runs his flock of cross-bred and pure-bred Texel ewes, used in embryo transfer research, over 90 acres in the Clogher Valley.

He said: “We’ve had a series of incidents of our sheep being chased – it’s now an ongoing situation.

This sheep was attacked on a UK farm.This sheep was attacked on a UK farm.
This sheep was attacked on a UK farm.

Dog owners seem to be more responsible so far this year. However, we have had incidents where dog owners seem to think they and their dogs can do what they like. Last year there was a dog off-lead – which I saw chasing the sheep up the field.

“I approached the owner and asked her to put the dog on the lead. She said she would report me to the police for harassment.

“In winter we also get men young men with lurchers out hare coursing. The dogs are allowed to chase sheep leading to abortions. They’re not the sort of people it’s safe to approach.”

He continued: “The autumn and winter months are most worrying time for us. When the ewes are carrying lambs they are at risk of miscarrying if they are chased and once the lambs are born they’re a target because they run around and dogs like to chase anything that runs.”

NFU Mutual’s latest survey of over 1,100 dog owners released today (Tuesday 7 February) found that despite 64 per cent of owners admitting their dogs chase animals, almost half (46 per cent) believe their dog was not capable of injuring or killing livestock.

Many dog owners are unaware that even if their pet chases sheep and doesn’t make contact, the distress and exhaustion can cause a pregnant ewe to die or miscarry or separate lambs from their mothers.

Nearly two thirds of owners (64 per cent) say they let their dog roam off-lead in the countryside. However, almost four in 10 (39 per cent) admitted that their pets do not always come back when called.

The UK’s leading rural insurer estimates that farm animals worth £165,000 were severely injured or killed by dogs in Northern Ireland last year, with NFU Mutual calling for dog owners to ensure their pets are under control at all times around livestock as lambing season gets underway.

Across the UK dog attacks on farm animals cost an estimated £1.8m in 2022.

Martin Malone, Northern Ireland Manager at NFU Mutual, commented: “It’s clear that a significant number of dog owners in Northern Ireland are blinded by their love for their pets and believe that they would never chase, attack or kill livestock.

“We’ve heard reports from farmers that dog walkers are becoming more distracted, often on their mobile phones with their pets out of sight, and seemingly unaware of the carnage their dog could cause.

“The Covid-19 pandemic saw a huge boom in dog ownership as many people purchased puppies for the first time, yet these may not have been trained properly or be familiar with farm animals.

“It is concerning that these now fully-grown dogs will be visiting farmland as we get into spring at a time when pregnant ewes and new-born lambs are vulnerable.

“That is why we are calling for dog owners to be responsible and accept their pets, however friendly, are capable of chasing and attacking farm animals and should be kept on a lead when walked anywhere near livestock.”

Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president, William Irvine, added: “Livestock worrying is an ongoing concern for our members, that has heightened even more due to the increase in dog ownership and new visitors to the countryside for recreation since Covid-19.

“Our farmers are custodians of the countryside and they take care of the areas that the public enjoy with their dogs. The findings from the survey on dog owners’ attitude and actions is difficult reading for farmers. With spring lambing approaching, ewes are heavily pregnant and any chase by dogs no matter how small can result in a ewe aborting her unborn lambs, with injury or death causing lasting impacts on the flock and serious losses for farmer.

“No matter the breed or size, every dog is a threat to livestock and owners need to be extremely cautious. It is essential that dog owners make sure their dog is on a lead at all times and ensure that they have complete control. This is the only way to ensure no harm comes to livestock and that walkers and their pets can enjoy the countryside peacefully.”

In Northern Ireland, local council dog wardens investigate and respond to livestock attacks as per the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, Art 28.