Sheep worrying a concern

Dogs prove a worry for sheep

Farnley Estates are asking all dog owners to take particular care when walking their dogs near farms or fields where sheep are grazing.

Sheep are particularly vulnerable at this time of the year, with many entering the final six weeks of pregnancy. During this period, the unborn lambs put on around two-thirds of their birth weight. Any distress at this stage can seriously affect the health of the sheep and their unborn lambs.

“Owners need to be vigilant at all times of year, and should never let their dog off the lead around sheep. At this time of year, however, the consequences of a dog chasing sheep can be particularly catastrophic,” said Paul Elgar, Estate Manager, Farnley Estates.

“Pregnancy, especially for sheep carrying more than one lamb, can lower the sheep’s calcium level, and cause them to fit when frightened. This almost always results in miscarriage and, in many cases, also in the death of the sheep,” Paul added.

Figures for 2013 show that 64 dog attacks, or chasing incidents, resulting in 15 sheep being killed, were reported to West Yorkshire police. It’s a similar picture across the UK, with 126 incidents reported in Northern Ireland during the same year.

The consequences for dogs and their owners can be equally shattering. Farmers have a legal right to protect their livestock, and in some circumstances are entitled to shoot dogs caught in the act of worrying their sheep. In addition, any person responsible for a dog that is dangerously out of control in public, or on private land without permission, can be charged under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. This carries a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment and destruction of the dog. Owners might also find themselves facing a bill, from the farmer, for damages and loss of earnings, which can run into thousands of pounds.

“Sheep worrying can be devastating for both the farmer and the dog owner. Our aim is to make sure that we avoid any unnecessary suffering to livestock and family pets by raising awareness of this issue. We’d advise all dog owners to keep to public and permissive footpaths, and bridleways, and to keep their dog under control at all times,” said Paul.

For more information visit www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners