It has been a very disappointing start to 2018 for one local cattle breeder who has had to have a young heifer destroyed as a result of an attack by dogs.
Libby Clarke, from Magheralin, spoke about the incident which happened in September and involved up to a dozen dogs. The heifer sustained injuries during the incident and despite receiving treatment and being allowed ample time to improve she has had to be slaughtered.
Libby, who is very well-known in agricultural circles and indeed received the Farming Life and Danske Bank Woman of Agriculture Award just a few months ago, said the whole matter had caused much distress and upset.
The heifer, which was in calf, had been purchased by Libby at Allams late in 2016 at a cost of £3,200. She was selected by Libby for her excellent quality and was given to her children, Lucy and Kate, who named her Moonlight.
However Libby explained it is the frustration that so little can be done to prevent incidents such as this that is making the situation worse.
“One Sunday at the start of September over a dozen dogs - hounds and lurchers - came across our fields, up through the garden and round the front of my house,” explained Libby.
“Usually dogs like this would be on command to a whistle or call but the three owners were about a mile away so the dogs were out of their control.
“The cattle were visibly disturbed by the dogs and were bunching together and climbing over one another to get away. The heifer that sustained the injury had slid down a bank through the fence on to the road trying to get away.
“My daughter and her pup were in the yard at the house and she had to lift the pup with the dogs running round her. It was very upsetting for her as she felt threatened by the invasion of so many dogs.”
Libby, who was attacked at her home a number of years ago by an intruder, explained that she called the police who attended the scene.
When she informed the dog owners that the police had been called they returned to their vehicles, but she managed to block the vehicles in until the police arrived.
However, Libby explained there was very little the police could do as no immediate damage had been caused nor had the individuals set out to cause damage to her property.
She continued: “The police seemed as frustrated as I was - the injury to the livestock would be a civil matter,” she said.
Libby said the injuries suffered by the heifer had gradually got worse and she couldn’t be housed as when on a hard surface it was more difficult for her to get up, and she became very lame. The injury was caused as a direct result of the animal trying to escape the dogs.
“The heifer suffered a bad strain trying to get away from the dogs. She was treated with anti-inflammatories but sadly she hasn’t responded to the treatment and the vet says we have no choice but to put her down. She was in calf so that really is a double loss,” she said.
“If you lose an animal to sickness or when calving it is different. This is upsetting because it is totally needless.”
Libby says the feeling of having people roaming through your land without permission is upsetting and not acceptable on any level.
“Having been attacked before we have CCTV cameras in operation and signs warning against trespassing. But when you live in the countryside between rural crime and people feeling they can wander through your land at will farmers are more vulnerable than ever before.
“These dogs were in my garden. If I went into someone’s garden with dogs I’m sure the police would remove me but fields are treated differently.
“This farm is our home and our place of work. Strangers walking through your property or place of work would simply not be tolerated in any other industry or sector, so why should farms be any different?
“We have public liability insurance to protect us against people who shouldn’t be there getting hurt, even though they have no business being on the farm in the first place. If cars had been coming when the cattle broke out onto the road when the dogs spooked them someone could have been killed. It’s about time dog owners were held responsible for their actions more fully.
“The whole thing has caused much hurt and upset for us all,” she added.
In response to the incident, the Ulster Farmers’ Union said everyone is a loser when it comes to a livestock worrying.
UFU legislation chairman James O’Brien commented: “Clearly in this incidence it had a devastating impact and the farmer had to bear the financial cost. For dog owners, if the dog is identified, it may be destroyed and the owner pursued for costs.
“The UFU continues to encourage pet owners to be mindful of the serious impact their dogs can have and to ensure their dogs are kept away from livestock at all times. We have also called for councils to be more proactive in tracking down the dogs and their owners who are responsible for these incidents. Disappointingly, the prosecution figures do not show them to be overly successful.”