NI livestock worrying and dog attacks ‘at record levels’

A database of dog DNA needs to be established in Northern Ireland to help identify those dogs responsible for worrying livestock, according to the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

UFU Legislation Committee chairman James O’Brien and organisation representatives recently met with Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) officials to put forward a number of recommendations from the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC).

Speaking on the issue, O’Brien said: “New powers need to be implemented to make it compulsory for all dog owners to take steps to prevent their dogs escaping from their homes.

“There also needs to be legislation to make it compulsory for dog owners to report their dog’s involvement in attacks on livestock,” he added.

In Northern Ireland, local councils are responsible for dealing with all incidents of livestock worrying.

Last year, two dog owners received destruction orders to have their dogs destroyed – while £2,324 was collected in fines from dog owners whose pets had engaged in incidents of livestock worrying.

The chairman continued, noting: “The emotional and financial stress endured by farmers who lose stock to dog attacks is under-estimated.

“For pregnant ewes, the stress of escaping a dog attack can cause miscarriage and death. In some cases, ewes injured following a dog attack may have to be put down; that is a difficult decision for a farmer and one that can lead to costly veterinary bills.

Any attack on sheep is also an attack on the farmer’s livelihood.

He added: “The UFU would encourage all members to report incidences of livestock worrying to the PSNI and to their local dog warden as and when they occur. The PSNI should also be given more power to raid homes in order to seize dogs that repeatedly worry livestock.”

NFU Mutual has reported an increase of almost 70% since 2015 in UK-wide claims in relation to incidences of livestock worrying.

This cost the industry an estimated £1.6 million in 2017 alone.

O’Brien said: “Under the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order, 1983, it is an offence to allow a dog onto any land containing livestock unless the dog is under control. The legislation defines ‘under control’ as ‘restrained by a chain or other sufficient leash held by a person exercising proper control over the dog’.

“It also states that if a dog worries sheep (attacks or kills sheep or chases them in a way that may cause injury, suffering or financial loss to their owner) the person in charge of that dog is guilty of an offence.”

Dog owners should note that if a dog is worrying livestock, farmers have the right to kill the offending dog in order to protect their livestock.

Concluding, O’Brien said: “With the summer holidays approaching, the message to dog owners is simple.

“Keep your dog on a lead when near livestock and bear in mind that once a dog has attacked livestock there is a high probability that they will attack again.”