Local sheep farmer Annie Rowe near Hungerford appeals to dog owners to prevent their four-legged friends worrying sheep, especially as we come into lambing season.
As the global pandemic continues and many are faced with more time at home, the lure of a quiet walk in the countryside with your four-legged friend would seem appealing for most. Many dog owners have been enjoying the walks in the wonderful Berkshire/Wiltshire countryside and doing so in a responsible manner but unfortunately, as with many aspects of life, there are a few dog owners that have not done so as responsibly as they should.
Sheep worrying, where a dog chases or attacks a sheep, is on the rise in the UK. The National Sheep Association 2020 survey concluded that 94.85% of farmers have had incidents of sheep worrying within the last 18 months, with 49% of those incidents resulting in the death of livestock. The financial cost to farmers can range from £100-£10,000 in severe cases, with an average of £1,134 per attack.
Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence. The Act considers sheep worrying to include attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce or being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.
In some circumstances a farmer ‘may shoot a dog which is attacking or chasing farm animals without being liable to compensate the dog’s owner’. Farmers should only shoot dogs as a last resort when all other methods to distract the offending canine have failed but when it happens (and there are cases locally where dogs have been shot) it is obviously devastating for the dog’s owner.
It is in every dog’s natural instinct to chase and sometime bite pray animals, even if they are normally obedient and/or a good with children. Chasing by dogs can cause serious complications for sheep even if they are not caught. The stress caused by the chase can result in some sheep dying and in-lamb ewes to abort their unborn lambs. Sheep fleeing from dogs are often killed or seriously injured by their panicked attempts to escape.
Farming is well known to be a difficult and at times lonely career choice, levels of depression within the industry are on the rise. Suicide rates in farmers are amongst the highest in any occupation group. The risk of suicide is higher still in those working in specific agricultural roles such as rearing animals, and is almost twice the national average (ONS). This is a scary thought considering that 94% of sheep farmers have had incidents of sheep worrying; it is not just the financial pressure that can be damaging to mental health, but the emotional pressure of having to deal with such an incident, not to mention the removal of animals and the added pressure of having to care for injured ones.
Anyone that decides to take a stroll on the beautiful countryside should always be conscious of livestock in fields, even more so as we are coming up to lambing time. The countryside code makes a good evening read, for experience and not so experience ramblers alike.
Anyone wanting to learn more about sheep are welcome to follow us on social media @Ourfarminglife on Facebook and Instagram. There are regular seasonal posts about what goes in to raising and keeping sheep, along with lambing and a lot of laughs and banter in-between.