As South West sheep farmers brace themselves for an influx of countryside dog walkers over Easter, NFU Mutual is urging owners to keep their pets under control to prevent attacks on livestock.
It’s a critical time for farmers as the spring lambing period is now well underway, meaning ewes and new born lambs are often grazing close to footpaths, which can put them at risk of dog attacks.
Many farm animals are seriously injured or killed each year in dog attacks and the issue of livestock worrying cost the region an estimated £185,000 last year, according to NFU Mutual statistics. Across the UK, the cost of dog attacks rose by over 10% in 2020 to an estimated £1.3m.
Not only can contact result in horrific and even fatal injuries, the distress of the chase can also cause sheep to die, miscarry or separate lambs from their mothers.
According to a survey of dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual, 88% of people say they now walk their dog in the countryside. The pandemic has seen a surge in pet ownership and countryside visitors, and there are concerns some will be unfamiliar with the Countryside Code and how their pet may react around livestock.
Roz Hills, South West Regional Manager at NFU Mutual, said:
These attacks cause an immense amount of suffering to animals and are devastating for farmers to have to deal with. These incidents are all so easily preventable if owners keep their dogs under control, either on a lead or secure when they’re in gardens, when livestock may be nearby.
Richard and Marilyn Tucker farm their Pedigree Aberdeen Angus beef herd and 400-600 store lambs in Kingsbridge, Devon. Situated with the sea on three sides and the South West Coast Path going around the edge of the farm, they’ve experienced horrific repeated cases of dogs chasing their lambs over the edge of the cliff.
Richard, NFU Totnes & Kingsbridge Group Chairman explained:
We used to have over a thousand sheep out on the cliffs, but we only put a small number of ewes out there now, as the lambs are more prone to go over the edge when confronted with a dog. These animals know what they are doing, they don’t just walk over the edge of a cliff – something has pushed them.
Devon and Cornwall Police are urging people to report all incidents of livestock worrying and have recently launched the ‘Take the Lead’ campaign to raise awareness and support this. If you do witness an attack on livestock it is advised not to intervene, keep yourself safe and call 999. For any other livestock worrying incidents please email firstname.lastname@example.org or report crime online.