Plea to protect sheep and newborn lambs in Northern Ireland - more owners letting dogs run free

Dog owners are urged to ensure their pets are kept under control at all times when near livestock.

NFU Mutual has made the plea to local owners as peak lambing season is underway on Northern Ireland’s farms.

In Northern Ireland last year, farm animals worth an estimated £149,000 were injured and killed, it has been revealed.

Shocking statistics released today have also found three-quarters of dog owners are letting their pets roam free, off the lead, in the countryside – a 64 per cent increase on last year.

Image: NFU
Image: NFU
Image: NFU

And, almost half of owners admit their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

Martin Malone, Northern Ireland manager at NFU Mutual, said: “Behind the figures, these horrific attacks are causing unbearable suffering to farm animals and anxiety for farmers as they deal with the aftermath.

“There’s a new generation of dog owners whose pandemic puppies are coming of age and they don’t know how their dog is going to behave around livestock.

“It’s hard for people to imagine that their affectionate, family pet could injure or kill another animal and it’s not only physical attacks that can harm livestock.

“Even if a small dog chases sheep and they don’t make contact, they can separate lambs from their mothers or the distress and exhaustion from the chase can cause a pregnant ewe to die or miscarry.”

UFU deputy president, David Brown, commented: “Livestock worrying has always been an ongoing concern for our members, but it has heightened even more due to the increase in dog ownership and with more people venturing to the countryside to for exercise and recreational activity.

“It is disappointing to see such an increase in the number of dog owners letting their dogs roam free in the countryside.

“With lambing in full swing, ewes are heavily pregnant and any chase by dogs no matter how small can result in a ewe aborting her unborn lambs.

“No matter the breed or size, every dog is a threat to livestock and owners need to be extremely cautious.

He continued: “Dog owners must make sure their dog is on a lead at all times and 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.

“Rural areas are there for everyone to enjoy but as a farmer it is extremely frustrating to see dogs being let loose by their owners, especially in areas where livestock are,” Mr Brown ended.

NFU Mutual estimates the UK cost of dog attacks on livestock was £1.52m last year as pet ownership and countryside visits surged.

Mr Malone added: “Livestock attacks can have a huge impact on farmers’ livelihoods.

“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.

“We want people to enjoy the countryside and recognise the huge benefit it brings to people’s wellbeing.

“We’re simply asking for people to keep their dogs under control and on a lead.”

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

With many dog owners planning to visit the countryside during coming weeks, as the weather improves and sheep are at their most vulnerable, NFU Mutual is issuing the following advice:

- Always keep dogs on the lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if chased by cattle

- Be aware that even small dogs can chase, injure and kill farm animals

- Take special care to keep close control of dogs unused to farm animals

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