With pregnant ewes and newborn lambs currently out in fields, we share advice from leading livestock organisations on how to deal with livestock worrying and attacks
The National Sheep Association (NSA) is urging sheep farmers across the UK to update themselves with the latest guidance on how best to deal with a sheep worrying by dog attack on their flock.
At the beginning of the year, many sheep farmers will once again look back having experienced an increase in sheep worrying by dog attacks on their flocks during 2021.
And despite the shorter days and colder temperatures of winter now having arrived, the threat of attacks from dogs continues, with many people still working from home.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker comments: “The past two years have brought an increase of dog walkers into the countryside as dog ownership has soared and Covid-19 has kept many people from their usual past times. This has led to many sheep farmers across the UK reporting an increase in sheep worrying attacks by dogs on their flocks. it is likely many people will once again get out and about walking with their pets, placing sheep flocks at risk. In the case of an attack happening, NSA hopes its advice available online will be useful to secure the best outcome.”
What to do after an attack
To help sheep farmers know how best to act should they suffer an attack on their flock, the National Sheep Association (NSA) recently posed a series of questions to PC David Allen of North Wales Police, who provided some important advice that all sheep farmers in the UK should be aware of.
PC Allen is a member of the Livestock Worrying Roundtable with a number of years of experience of dealing with sheep worrying cases. Having taken questions submitted by NSA members he was able to offer valuable advice on the issue ranging from what farmers are legally able to do if a dog is caught in the act of sheep worrying to how to best trace owners of straying dogs.
Q What should I do with a dog that I find worrying sheep when no owner is present?
A Personal safety must be the first concern, however, if it’s deemed safe, then try to capture the dog. If it is unsafe, then take pictures and videos, making sure to note markings and anything that helps to identify the dog. Certain distraction techniques might be used, such as shouting, waving arms etc, anything else to stop the attack.
- If you are actually witnessing an attack, then it is imperative your report it immediately via 999. This is something that we cannot stress too strongly, but “If you don’t report it, it hasn’t happened!”
The attack is a crime, so report it – this applies for all cases.
- If the attack has stopped, or the dog is no longer present, then please report it via 101, if we have a record, we can build up an event log
• If the owner is known, but not present – then a direct approach by the farmer or the police might be best, the local police do have options, from a low-level discussion and warning, through certain restrictions up to formal actions.
Additionally making the local community aware is often beneficial, especially where repeated incidents have occurred.
Q How do I find out who my local rural crime officer is and how do I contact them directly?
A Not every force has a rural crime team – the internet, eg Google, can help identify where one is in place and will provide the local contact details and enable them to be contacted online
More advice on dealing with sheep-worrying can be found on the NSA website
Sheep farmers are also reminded of the downloadable warning signs that the NSA has available on its website that can be used to inform dog walkers to keep their pets on a lead near sheep.
In addition to the traditional warning signs that the NSA has offered for several years, the Association is now pleased to also offer a downloadable sign designed by recent competition winner Max, aged nine, from Kent. Max designed his winning sign in a recent NSA children’s competition.
NSA communications officer Katie James explains: “For many years NSA has supplied free farm signs to sheep farmers to try and alert dog walkers of the risk posed to sheep and other livestock from their pet if allowed to run off lead. Unfortunately, however, NSA is aware that too often these signs are ignored. But it is hard to ignore a plea from a child and that was the thinking behind our recent competition. We were pleased to receive some fantastic entries that we believe could catch the public’s eye and shows them, through the eyes of children, the devastation that could take place if they fail to keep their dogs under control and on a lead when near livestock.”
The NSA’s dog warning signs can be downloaded from its website, here
The RSPCA is telling dog owners that there is a very simple way to stop dog attacks – keep your dog on a lead around livestock.
It is also urging dog owners to spread the word about being responsible around livestock. If anyone sees a dog attacking a flock of sheep they are urged to call the police immediately. If it is taking place then it is an active crime so call 999.
For more information, visit the RSPCA’s website to learn more about responsible dog ownership and if you’re worried about your dog’s behaviour there are also details on how to find a suitable behaviour expert.
A recent incident involving a horse and rider, which caused the rider to fall and damage to the horse’s leg was brought to the attention of the British Horse Society, which has considerable help on its website about dealing with dog attacks when riding or leading a horse. The BHS is working with dog organisations so that the needs of horses are better understood by dog owners.
Any incident that occurs while out hacking, including dog attacks or chasing, should be reported to the British Horse Society online or via its ‘Horse i’ app. Even if it doesn’t result in injury, it needs reporting so the BHS has the statistics to put its case.
Victoria Prentis, Conservative MP for North Oxfordshire, spoke of the passage of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which has now completed its Second Reading in the Commons and is in the Committee Stage.
She says: “ On livestock worrying, dog attacks on farm animals are a major concern for farmers. The Bill gives enhanced tools to the police, expands the type of livestock protected and will ensure that police can respond more effectively.”
(The livestock species will increase to include llamas, emus, enclosed deer and donkeys. New locations will include roads and paths as long as the animals have not strayed into a road).
So many organisations from differing perspectives are working together to try to solve the tragic results of a dog attack, which no farmer or smallholder can ever forget. The tightening of the Law is to be welcomed but also the education of – often first-time – dog owners is vital.
Dog attacks on sheep
The NFU also has a lot of help and information on its website and more for its members.
There are a few simple steps you can take to prevent dog attacks from happening on your land:
- Read their business guide online for detailed information on livestock worrying
- Put up signs to encourage dog walkers to keep their dog on a lead around livestock
- NFU members can order these free of charge by contacting CallFirst 0370 845 8458
- Non-members can purchase these signs from the NFU Shop
- Report any incident of livestock worrying (even if the animals are not directly attacked or killed) to the police so they are aware of all incidents in the area. There may have been other attacks or patterns emerging and your information may be vital
- Contact your insurer to discuss whether they offer insurance cover in this scenario
- Find out who your local rural crime officer is so you can use them as a point of contact for any future incidents
- If you are experiencing repeated livestock worrying attacks, consider using trail or CCTV cameras to strategically collect evidence or act as a deterrent
- Help educate your local community by engaging with relevant groups (eg local dog training class), using social media and taking part in events like Open Farm Sunday to spread awareness and encourage responsible dog ownership in your area. The NFU stresses that they have a range of resources to support their members to do this. They have a flow chart that members can access to give the precise steps of what to do in the event of an attack.
As the RSPCA says, it is quite simple. Keep dogs on the leads around ALL livestock including ridden or driven equines. That will keep other animals safe and also the dog. It’s hard to understand why a dog walker would take the risk of a loose dog near livestock when they could be safe and not sorry.