Vet Carolyn Baguley explains the importance of controlling sheep when out walking with your dog.
With spring lambing well under way and hikers starting to venture out in to the countryside with their dogs at this time of the year, sheep farmers are on high alert for dog attacks that can wreak havoc on their livestock.
Although most dog owners are responsible, an estimated 15,000 sheep were killed by dogs last year. SheepWatch UK is encouraging all farmers to report dog attacks and sheep worrying.
The Effects of Sheep Worrying
Dogs chasing sheep can cause extreme stress, even if they don’t bite the sheep.
Sheep can bunch together, crushing each other against fences. They can die of shock later in the day, or it can cause them to abort their lambs.
116 sheep died through sheep worrying on a farm in Sussex in 2016. Not a single sheep had suffered a bite from a dog, but from crushing and shock.
As well as the sheep themselves, the effect a sheep attack has on the farmer can be devastating. It can cause, stress, anxiety, loss of income, depression and much more
Dog Attacks on Sheep
The puncture wounds from a single dog bit can be deep and often fatal.
Dog attacks may be by accompanied dogs (where their owner is out walking their dogs, but has no control) or by unaccompanied dogs (those who have escaped or strayed from their homes). It is thought that most dog attacks are by unaccompanied dogs.
There is no breed of dog that is more likely to attack sheep. All dogs, even the cutest, fluffiest and friendliest dog are a risk when loose around sheep.
Sheep worrying and dog attacks on sheep are crimes. They can result in large vet bills for the farmer, who can legally pass them on to the dog owner to pay. Dog owners may be liable for compensation for any damage to the sheep. The bill may run to thousands of pounds.
Dogs that are worrying or attacking sheep can legally be shot. No farmer wants to shoot a dog, but they may have no choice if their flock is at risk.
The Number of Attacks and Worrying is Rising
The number of incidents where dogs are worrying or attacking sheep seems to have risen. This may be due to better reporting, or it could be because there are more dogs in the countryside.
Either way, the present number of attacks is huge. It is a welfare issue that affects both dogs and sheep and needs to be addresses urgently.
If you are a farmer, it is important that you report dog attacks to the police and insist on getting a crime reference number. Police forces are starting to take sheep worrying and dog attacks much more seriously.