Following a spate of dog attacks on farm animals, leading rural insurer NFU Mutual is urging dog owners to keep their pets under control when they visit the countryside over Easter.
Known as ‘livestock worrying’, the attacks can result in horrific and often fatal injuries. Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress of the chase can cause sheep to die and miscarry their lambs. Over the Easter period, sheep with new-born lambs are especially vulnerable as they are often grazing on low-lying fields close to footpaths.
NFU Mutual estimates that farm animals worth £1.2million were savaged by dogs in the UK last year.
New research by the insurer has revealed that 87 per cent of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with over 60 per cent letting them roam off the lead. Shockingly, 6 per cent of those surveyed admitted that their dog had chased farm animals in the past.
Less than half (43 per cent) of dog owners said their pet always came back when called – and 9 per cent admitted their dogs are so disobedient they never come back when called.
Rebecca Davidson, Rural Insurance Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “These attacks cause tremendous suffering to animals and are devastating for farmers and their families who have to deal with the aftermath. Much of this heartbreak could be prevented if owners kept their dogs under control – either on a lead or secure in gardens – whenever farm animals could be nearby.
“For small farmers in particular, livestock worrying has a huge impact. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.”
The insurer is also increasingly concerned by reports that many attacks are being caused by dogs which have been let out in gardens and escape to attack sheep in neighbouring fields. NFU Mutual’s research has found that 52% of owners allow their dog to go outside unaccompanied while they are not at home (up from 43% last year), and one in six admit their dog has escaped from home in the past. With many families staying in holiday cottages close to the countryside, the insurer is urging people not to leave their dogs outside while they are out and to check that boundaries are secure.
NFU Mutual is providing farmers with signs warning dog walkers that livestock are grazing in fields and is calling for people to report any sightings of out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.