Dog owners warned to watch over their pets following rise in attacks on sheep

Dog owners are being warned to be extra careful while visiting sheep and lamb grazing areas. The alert also coincides with the launch of the 2024 Sheep Worrying Awareness Week on Monday 25th March.

Dog owners are being warned to be extra careful while visiting sheep and lamb grazing areas ahead of 2024 Sheep Worrying Awareness Week.

With Easter set to see an increase in visitors to the countryside, NFU Mutual has been reminding dog owners to be extremely vigilant at a time when sheep and lambs are at their most vulnerable.

The warning comes as the estimated cost of livestock worrying in the UK soared by nearly 30% to £2.4 million last year.

At the same time, NFU Mutual’s survey of over 1,100 dog owners found more people were letting their dogs off leads in the countryside last year than in 2022, 68% and 64%, respectively.

Worryingly, less than half (49%) said their pet always comes back when called. Almost 8% admitted their dog chases livestock, but 46% believed their dog was not capable of causing the death or injury of farm animals.

Importance of responsible dog ownership  

NFU Scotland policy advisor for rural business, Rhianna Montgomery, said: “Whilst we encourage the public to enjoy the countryside over Easter, we must stress the importance of responsible dog ownership.

“This time of year, is extremely important to farmers, with many in the swings of lambing. It is also a very vulnerable time for the sheep yet to lamb and those with lambs at foot. Please avoid livestock where possible, if you come across sheep with or without lambs, ensure your dog is on a lead, as this is where you have the most control.”

Farmers’ nightmare

Pauline Mitchell, a Banffshire farmer, said that despite installing hundreds of metres of double fences to protect her livestock, she is still regularly having sheep killed and injured by out-of-control dogs.   

A young, in-lamb Texel X ewe was the latest victim, found dead by a field gate with its throat ripped out less than two hours after Ms Mitchell had last checked the flock. She said: “All the sheep were crowded in a huddle in a corner of the field, so it was obvious they had been chased by a dog.  

“It’s a continual problem – we’re in a spot which is very popular with walkers, and many let their dogs roam free despite us having livestock in the fields. We’ve put in double fencing and grown thick hedges to separate our livestock from walkers, and we’ve put in hard-core trails in the most popular locations.  

“However, people still encourage their dogs to get into the fields to run round while they walk on the fenced paths. It’s very frustrating. They can’t seem to grasp that all dogs have an instinct to attack grazing animals, and even chasing them can cause serious injuries.”  

Ms Mitchell added that the worst attack on her farm happened 15 years ago when two spaniels rampaged through the grazing fields, killing 28 sheep. As well as causing a series of sheep deaths and injuries, dogs have also worried the farmer’s cattle, chasing them round fields until they smashed down fences to escape.  

Stock photo.

Awareness campaign  

The National Sheep Association (NSA) promised to intensify its work to highlight the devastating issue of sheep worrying by dogs during its week-long awareness campaign this week.

The annual campaign is timed to coincide with a period that often sees a spike in attacks on sheep. Longer days encourage dog owners to spend more time outside, often walking through fields, which are home to livestock.

The spring months are also the peak season for lambing in the UK, meaning vulnerable stock is even more at risk from being chased by dogs and physical, often fatal attacks.

The NSA’s previous work on the issue has demonstrated recurring years of increased reports of dog attacks on sheep, showing the urgent need for action to tackle this crisis that threatens animal welfare, and farmers’ mental wellbeing and livelihoods.

This year, the NSA has sought feedback from police rural crime teams across the country on their experiences of sheep worrying cases, with the aim of highlighting the need for strengthened policy on the issue and the role that police teams can have in preventing continued attacks.

The campaign will include social media activity using the campaign hashtag #LeadOn, online case studies, and content on the NSA website.

For more information on the issue of sheep worrying by dogs and the NSA’s work on this issue, click here.

READ MORE: Livestock worth £1.8m killed and injured by dogs in just one year

READ MORE: 45 sheep killed in ‘absolutely traumatic’ dog attack

Tips for dog owners  

NFU Mutual’s tips for dog owners visiting the countryside this Easter:  

  • Keep dogs on a lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if chased by cattle 
  • Be aware that all dogs, regardless of size, breed, and temperament, can cause the distress, injury, and death of farm animals 
  • Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers 
  • Never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs that escape and attack sheep grazing nearby.  

Read more livestock news. 

© Farmers Guide 2024. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use Privacy Policy

Website Design by Unity Online

We have moved!

We’ve now moved to our new office in Stowmarket. If you wish to contact us please use our new address:

Unit 3-4 Boudicca Road, Suffolk Central Business Park, Stowmarket, IP14 1WF

Thank you,

The Farmers Guide Team