Livestock worrying – an increasing threat

04 April 2019 - Elizabeth Nichols

As Easter approaches, there are pictures everywhere of lambs in the fields. But for livestock farmers, spring lambing can also be one of the most perilous few weeks of the year. Dog owners who allow their animals run off the leash near livestock can unintentionally pose a great danger to pregnant ewes.  A dog worrying a sheep can cause considerable distress, bring on a miscarriage, and in an extreme situation the sheep can die of fright, even if the dog has not made contact with the animal.

Across the country livestock worrying is an increasing threat to smallholders and farmers, and many dog walkers appear unaware, or even unconcerned, of the grave danger that letting their dog run free in a field of sheep may pose. As anyone who has owned a dog knows, even a normally obedient dog can sometimes run away when let off its lead, and within a matter of seconds it is out of sight of their owner. But this is exactly the scenario where a dog’s primeval behavioural instincts can take over, causing them to chase after the cattle or sheep, nip at their heels, and even to bite the animal. To the dog – and possibly their owner – they are playing with another animal. But for the sheep being harassed, it might as well be a wolf; in a matter of minutes a flock can be put under grave stress, which can result in injury and death to sheep and unborn lambs.

Dog owners who are caught allowing their animals to worry sheep can be fined up to £1000 plus compensation for the death or injury of the sheep. They may also be ordered to have their dog destroyed.

Insurance cover is widely available on specialist smallholder and farming policies to cover financial losses following a dog attack on livestock. However this will not lessen the emotional impact for a dog owner whose pet may have been put to sleep after a sheep worrying incident, or for the farmer who has had to deal with the aftermath of injury and death to their animals.

The obvious answer to this problem is to educate dog owners to take responsibility for their animals and keep them on a lead when walking them in the countryside. But for farmers, the latest technology has opened up additional ways of keeping track of livestock to remotely monitor their movements, as well as their health and wellbeing.

Scrutton Bland work with a range of agricultural partners who may be able to help rural businesses lower the risks from such attacks. There are options available which can help you track and monitor your livestock as well as your fields and farm perimeters as well as setting up geo-fencing so that you can monitor any breaches on your farm, even where there is no physical fence. This may in turn help to lower your insurance premium.
Our experience within the agricultural sector means we can work with you to identify and measure the risks facing that your rural business and help you to take suitable steps to address them. With access to leading markets, we can offer discounts on your insurance policies, and the savings on premiums may even offset the costs of the installation of the risk reduction equipment.

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