The National Sheep Association (NSA) is calling for dog owners to keep close control of their dogs while out and about over the holiday period.
There has been a spate of attacks on sheep by dogs in the run up to the Christmas break and there are concerns that rates will rise as people use their free time over the holiday to enjoy walks with their pets.
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker says: “NSA wants everyone to get out and enjoy the countryside over Christmas, and we know that many people like to take their four-legged friend with them. But it’s vital that dog owners understand their responsibilities when walking their dog in rural areas. That means keeping dogs on leads around livestock and making sure dogs are under close control at all times.
“This is a particularly sensitive time of year. At Christmas time, most flock’s ewes will be in the early stages of pregnancy. Chasing by dogs can cause the ewes to abort or reabsorb their lambs, even if the dog does not catch the sheep. It may look to the dog owner as if their dog is having harmless fun chasing, but the damage caused is very real and can have a huge financial and emotional impact on sheep farmers.”
Sheep worrying by dogs represents a serious animal welfare issue and a major problem for sheep farmers, and incidents are on the rise. Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that 1,074 attacks were reported to the police in 2013, up almost 50% from 2012.
Mr Stocker says: “Sheep worrying can have horrific consequences. Some of the damage is very visible: sheep can be savagely killed and injured by attacking dogs. But worrying can also cause serious harm that cannot be seen, including severe stress, reduced conception rates and abortion.”
One farmer who has recently suffered the consequences of sheep worrying is Susan Harmer, who farms near Lewes, East Sussex. On the night of 4th December, her flock was attacked by more than one large dog. The next morning, Mrs Harmer arrived to find 29 dead and wounded ewes. Several had had their limbs torn away from their bodies, while others had had their lips ripped off. Nine sheep died as a result of the attack, three remain in a serious condition, 17 required treatment for their wounds and one missing sheep was never found.
But the full extent of the damage to Susan’s flock only became apparent when her pregnant ewes were scanned last week. Of the sheep that had suffered the attack, 12 had lost their lambs.
Susan says: “We have had four dog attacks this year, this recent attack being by far the worst. Dog owners should be aware that all dogs are capable of chasing and attacking sheep and realise that they can be prosecuted and fined by the police as livestock worrying is against the law. I would ask all dog owners to be responsible and to keep their dog on a lead in the countryside where there is livestock and in sight at all times. I would also like to ask them never to turn their dogs out to exercise themselves and to make sure they cannot escape from gardens and go roaming.”
Mr Stocker adds: “The countryside is a workplace for farmers, but with a little shared respect it can be a wonderful resource for everyone.”
Information and advice on sheep worrying for dog owners and farmers is available at www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners.