NFU Mutual launches sheep-worrying awareness campaign

Heavily pregnant ewes and young lambs are being put at risk daily, according to a new NFU Mutual survey, with almost two-thirds of dog owners letting their pets run off the lead in the countryside.

The survey of more than 1,100 dog owners also found 39% acknowledged their pets don’t always return when called, while 64% admitted their dogs will chase animals.

Almost half of respondents believed their own dog would not injure or kill livestock, but many were unaware that the distress of being chased, even if an attack doesn’t take place, can still lead to in-lamb ewes aborting.

See also: What to do if you’re a victim of… sheep worrying

The findings have prompted NFU Mutual to launch a new campaign, to encourage dog owners to keep their pets under control in the countryside.

NFU Mutual is urging dog owners to prevent issues by:

  • Keeping dogs on leads near livestock, but letting go of the lead if chased by cattle
  • Reporting dog attacks to the police or local farmers
  • Being aware that small dogs can still lead to the distress, injury and death of livestock
  • Supervising dogs in gardens near livestock fields.

Hannah Binns, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “It’s clear that a significant number of dog owners are blinded by their love for their pets and believe they would never chase, attack or kill livestock.

“We’ve heard reports from farmers that dog walkers are becoming more distracted, often on their mobile phones with their pets out of sight, and are seemingly unaware of the carnage their dog could cause.”

Ms Binns said the Covid-19 pandemic saw a boom in dog ownership, but many of these pets may not have been trained properly or be familiar with farm animals.

In 2022, industry figures found £1.8m worth of farm animals were either killed or severely injured by dogs, with the Midlands and the South West the two most affected areas.

Case study – Devon dog attack

In May 2022, 18 lambs were killed by two dogs that had managed to get into a shed and surrounding fields at a farm near Holsworthy, Devon.

A further 25 lambs survived the attack, but struggled to improve condition afterwards.

Terry Priest with his wife and daughter in field with sheep

Terry Priest with his wife and daughter © NFU Mutual/Terry Priest

Sheep farmer Terry Priest said: “There were a couple of dead lambs in the fields, but most of them were in the sheds. It was heart breaking, particularly for my wife and daughter, as they do most of the lambing and rearing, and look after the animals if they are sick.”

Mr Priest said there is not much you can do to stop other animals like dogs getting into the fields.

“I just wish people would keep their animals under control, using muzzles if need be, to keep them well away from livestock,” he said.

The insurance company settled the claim for the 18 lambs lost in the attack and also paid out for a previous incident at the farm when five ewes and six lambs were killed in a separate dog attack.

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