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Is Sheep Worrying a Problem?

Lamb and sheep hiding behind a tree

It’s that time of year again, over the next few weeks newborn lambs will begin to appear in the fields.  As an owner of livestock it is a tiring time for me but also an exciting one.  The beginning of lambing signals the move out of Winter into Spring.

However, in many parts of the UK, farmers will also be concerned as incidences of sheep worrying will increase. This will be due to an increase in lambing and visitors to the countryside with the nicer weather.

Is Sheep Worrying a Problem?

Keep your dog on a lead to help with the incidences of sheep worrying

Last year it seemed that the incidences of sheep worrying had hit new highs.  Is this really the case?  Has increased reporting and the use of social media to highlight these dreadful attacks, given a false position?

I think it’s a little bit of both.  People are getting out and about more and enjoying our great countryside, which is the way it should be.  With increased numbers of visitors coming into contact with livestock there may well be a higher incidence of problems. Also social media has become the way for news, good and bad, to travel very quickly.  Higher audiences, than say a newspaper, are reached and they may repost on an incident which occurred a week ago.

Rules of the Countryside

There is no reason at all why all parties should not be able to enjoy the countryside.  Natural England have produced a leaflet on The Countryside Code Here are a few simple rules to follow when with your dog around livestock:

  • It should really go without saying but only follow public footpaths across farmland, please don’t wander onto private land.
  • Keep your dog on the lead around sheep.  The most obedient dog has the ability to ‘go deaf’ in it’s excitement and follow its instinct for chasing sheep.  Sheep will run from dogs and dogs will naturally chase.  I’ve seen it many times.  Each time the owner reports how their dog is normally so good at coming back.
  • Gates – if you open a gate whilst on a public footpath, please close it.
  • Pick up poo. Commonly held misconception is not to pick up dog poo in the countryside.  This misconception, it has been reported, may be costing the average cattle herd £3000pa due to Neosporosis.  This is a parasitic infection dangerous to cattle and to dogs. Although cattle may not be present in the field now, many farmers will rotate their animals around their fields.
  • Cattle in the field may present an altogether different scenario. it is worth remembering that cattle can be extremely inquisitive.  Unlike sheep, cattle are likely to wander over and take an interest in you and your dog.  Dog walkers have been killed in scenarios with cattle and dogs clashing.  The current thinking is to unleash the dog and both make your way safely and calmly out of the field.  Thankfully problems like this are rare.

Sign warning public to keep dogs on a lead as sheep are grazing

There were some great awareness campaigns last year for countryside visitors by the likes of NFU and Farmers Weekly. There was also coverage on TV with Countywide so hopefully the message is getting through.

What’s the Law on Sheep Worrying?

I’ll end this piece on a serious note.  Sheep worrying is a criminal offence.  The dog owner may be prosecuted and Section 9 of the Animals Act 1971 provides that the owner of livestock, the landowner or anyone acting on their behalf, is entitled to shoot any dog if they believe it is the only reasonable way of stopping it worrying livestock.

NB You are advised to check current legislation for guidance and advice relating to any of the matters contained herein.

January 23, 2018 This post was written by Categories: Dog Advice Tagged with:
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