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I Hope The Law Changes On Livestock Worrying

Earlier this year, a law was proposed to increase police powers to protect livestock from being chased and attacked by dogs but sadly it ‘fell’ before the general election.

This meant the Government didn’t have time to progress the bill through parliament to make it law.

I’m really hoping the new UK Government will introduce similar legislation to strengthen and update the law on what’s known as ‘‘livestock worrying’.

As an animal lover, and the RSPCA’s expert on sheep and cow welfare, I’m very concerned about the effects of livestock worrying.

Sheep Can be Injured and Killed in Dog Attacks

When sheep are chased by dogs, they can fall and injure themselves, they may also panic and hurt themselves trying to run through a barbed wire fence. If the sheep are caught and attacked by dogs, they can suffer bite injuries, potentially causing them pain and suffering.

But it’s not just physical injuries, that can be a danger to sheep, as prey animals, severe stress from being chased can actually cause them to die; pregnant sheep may miscarry, and newborn lambs can become separated from their mothers, causing both of them to suffer when that important bond between them breaks down.

Attacks on sheep can happen at any time of day or night so, even though farmers check their animals regularly, injured or dying animals may be left suffering for hours if not discovered quickly.

Worrying Has a Huge Impact on Farmers

I’ve spoken to sheep farmers who’ve discovered sheep with horrific injuries, sometimes near death and suffering terribly. Unsurprisingly, they get very emotional and it’s upsetting to hear. But for farmers, there’s also the financial impact if animals die as a result of a livestock-worrying incident, as well as the cost of vet treatment.

Although they’re larger, cattle can be affected too, typically dogs will chase the cows and nip at their heels, potentially causing panic and the risk of tripping. In these cases, there’s also a risk to human safety. If the dog’s owner or other people are in the field, cattle can become defensive and charge, knocking people to the ground and potentially trampling over them. 

It’s also a big issue from a dog-welfare point of view. In some situations, the owner of the livestock has the right to shoot the dog, obviously not something any of us wants to happen.

How Dog Owners Can Help

We like to think our dogs won’t chase or show interest in livestock but even for well-trained dogs, instinct can easily take over. Before you know it, they’re chasing a herd of terrified sheep. So if you have a dog, the best thing to do is keep them on a lead when you’re walking near livestock.

Even if you’re on a path you know well, some animals might have been moved into a field overnight or since you last walked that way, it’s always best to be cautious.

Reports have shown the majority of incidents happen when dogs have escaped from a garden and their owners aren’t around, so check your hedges and fences are secure, and never leave your dog unattended in the garden if there’s a risk of them getting out.

This isn’t just about preventing livestock worrying, escaped dogs can be hit by vehicles, stolen, or face an aggressive interaction with another dog.

Take Notice of Farmers’ Signs

Farmers can help by putting up signs at entrances to fields to let people know there’s livestock in the area. It’s also worth keeping signs up to date so dog walkers are more likely to take notice of them.

I’ve seen messages from farmers on local Facebook pages, letting people know they’ve moved livestock to a particular field, ensuring dog owners are aware and can be extra careful.

If you’re walking in the countryside and see a dog chasing livestock, call the police first of all. You can call 999 if the incident is still in progress as it’s classed as an emergency. Once you’ve called the police, try to contact the farmer, there may be a sign on the gate with the farmer’s number.

Alternatively, if you search for ‘farm’ on your mobile phone’s map application, it may show contact details for local farms, even if the person you call isn’t the owner, they may well know the correct person to contact.

About the author

Holly Gower

Holly Gower is the RSPCA’s Expert on the Welfare of Sheep, Cows and Goats

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