Northern livestock worrying costs hit £16,000 in 2017

The cost of livestock worrying has risen by almost a quarter in Northern Ireland in the space of just two years.

Rural insurance firm NFU Mutual said its latest figures indicated dog attacks on livestock cost £16,000 (€18,000) in the region in 2017; it compares to £13,000 (€14,700) in 2015.

But, despite the uplift of nearly 25%, the region remained one of the least affected; across the UK the cost of worrying has risen to £1.6 million (€1.8 million) a year.

£1.6 million across the UK

Scotland was the worst affected part of the UK, where worrying cost £51,000 (€57,500) in 2017 compared to £11,000 (€12,400) in 2015 – almost five times as much; while in the midlands the cost had nearly doubled.

Over the same period, the average cost of a claim rose by over 50% – to nearly £1,300 (€1,470).

A spokesman for NFU Mutual said the cost of claims had reached a “record level”. Across the board, the cost of livestock worrying claims has increased by 67% in two years.

New campaign

New research by the insurer has revealed that over 80% of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with almost two-thirds letting them roam off the lead. Worryingly, 7% of the dog owners surveyed admitted their pets chase farm animals.

With many families expected to visit the countryside during half-term and the Easter holidays, the insurer has launched a campaign urging dog owners to keep their pets on a lead at all times, and for people to report out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.

However, despite work being done to raise awareness of the issue, it seems the message has not got across to many members of the public.

In a campaign video put together by the NFU, one farmer said: “People get aggressive when you challenge them – when you tell them to put their dogs on their lead.”

‘Only part of the picture’

Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “For small farmers in particular, livestock worrying is devastating; because, it has a huge impact on their productivity. 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 number of incidents reported to NFU Mutual shows only part of the picture, as not all farmers have insurance in place to cover livestock worrying and based on claims to us, we estimate the cost to agriculture was £1.6 million (€1.8 million) last year.

To help reduce the risk of a dog worrying attack on your sheep or cattle, NFU Mutual advises the following:
  • Check stock regularly in case any have been attacked;
  • When possible, keep sheep in fields away from footpaths;
  • Put up signs warning dog owners to keep their pets under control on your land;
  • Maintain fences, walls and hedges to make it more difficult for dogs to get into grazing fields;
  • Report any attacks to the police immediately;
  • Ask neighbours to alert you if they see attacks or loose dogs near your livestock.