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Livestock worrying: how to protect your flocks

Sheep worrying in livestock farming is not a new challenge faced by farmers. However, the rise in dog ownership and people enjoying walks in the countryside with their four-legged friends since the COVID-19 lockdowns is putting livestock at increased risk.1

As well as a lack of awareness amongst owners about how dogs behave around livestock, there’s also the risk of spreading the fatal disease neosporosis – caught by grazing livestock from dog faeces left lying in pastures. National Farmers Union (NFU) has urged farmers to be alert and aware of animal mess left by irresponsible owners. In recognition of this growing issue, changes recently introduced in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill include giving police more powers to help tackle the problem.2

Livestock worrying, when dogs attack or chase livestock causing them serious harm, can have devastating consequences for livestock keepers, causing personal distress as well as significant financial damage. Dog attacks on livestock cost an estimated £1.6m a year.3 Even if the livestock isn’t caught, the stress caused by dogs can cause sheep to die and pregnant ewes to miscarry their lambs. Sadly not an uncommon incident. Earlier this year around 50 ewes and their unborn lambs were killed when an out of control dog chased them into a corner, where they then suffocated or died of fright.4

In a survey, The National Sheep Association collected the experiences of farmers affected by sheep worrying.  On average, each respondent experienced seven cases of sheep worrying during the past year resulting in five sheep injured and two sheep killed per attack. Estimated financial losses through incidents of dogs worrying sheep of up to £50,000 were recorded, with an average across all respondents of £1,570. 80% of respondents agreed that the rest of the UK should follow the recent change in Scottish law that sees a stronger deterrent for dog owners by stricter enforcement including fines of up to £40,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment. As well as being incredibly distressing, this causes farmers significant issues: loss of income, knock-on effects for breeding programmes, damage to property and not to mention the time and costs spent on treating injured animals.

Who is responsible?

People often assume they have the right to walk freely with their pets across a farmer’s land. Under the Countryside Rights of Way Act (CRoW), anyone can access open land for recreation. However, it states that the public are only permitted if their dogs are kept on a lead near livestock.4

Dog owners are responsible for any damage caused. The act states that: ‘If a dog worries livestock on any agricultural land, the owner of the dog, and if it is in the charge of a person other than its owner, that person also shall be guilty of an offence.’

What can you do to protect your flock?

Here are some simple but essential steps you can take to protect your livestock:

  • Boundary fences – Make sure they’re fully intact and have no holes in them that dogs can get through.
  • Notice signs – Warning dog owners to keep their dogs on a lead.
  • Footpaths – Where possible, keep sheep away from fields with footpaths.
  • Check your flock – Regularly in case any have been attacked.
  • Police – Report any attacks to the police immediately.
  • Safeguard during lambing – Farmers are permitted to close areas of public land that contain sheep to dogs for up to six weeks once a year during lambing season.

Most importantly, your insurance policy can provide cover for livestock worrying under a farm combined policy so you’re covered should the worst happen. You can find more information about our livestock insurance and farming cover here or talk to one of our farming specialists for more information.

Sources:

1. https://www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners/survey-results/
2. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/crackdown-on-livestock-worrying-in-england-and-wales
3. https://www.nfuonline.com/cross-sector/rural-affairs/rural-crime/rural-crime-news/livestock-worrying-rural-crime-hub/
4. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/open-access-land-management-rights-and-responsibilities

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