A hill sheep farmer has said that a dog attack that left 20 ewes dead and more injured and missing is “like a death in the family”.
Bridget King and her husband, Stephen Ryan, from King’s Yard, Co. Tipperary said that the incident on their 150ac outfarm in Crohan has been “heart wrenching”.
It is understood that the stray dog involved is also responsible for the deaths of 10 more sheep in the Knockmealdowns, close to Newcastle.
Stephen Ryan told Agriland that he got an awful shock when he discovered the sheep kill last Thursday afternoon (December 16) while bringing four of his ewes to join the rest of the flock.
“I saw a ewe lying inside the gate and there was blood around her throat. Then I saw another one dead about 10yd up from me, but she was warm. I reckon that she was only just killed.
“I had all of those ewes with the ram for the past month and I only put them onto the outfarm two days before they were killed. It is just a total disaster,” he said.
Stephen said the stray dog that he believes was involved in the sheep kill ran away when it got his scent.
“I am just scared the dog will come back,” he said.
“It was absolutely horrific. It is like a death in the family, but it is outside the door,” Bridget King said.
The farmer noted that there is no guarantee that the remaining ewes, who survived the dog attack, will keep their lambs.
“When the sheep see you they are spooked, they are not content,” she said.
Bridget King and Stephen Ryan welcome walkers from around the country at their farm, which is south of Galtymore, the highest peak in the Galtee Mountains.
Bridget said that incidents involving dogs and livestock on mountains are happening countrywide; because of this they do not allow walkers to bring dogs with them.
“People have to take responsibility for their dog. There are people going up onto the mountain with their dog, leaving them off the lead and they do not care what the dogs are doing. It is reckless,” Bridget said.
“Hill sheep farming is a way of life and it is a tradition that is handed down from generation to generation. I have grown up with sheep all my life.
“It is heart wrenching that this has happened to us because we are farming there 13 years and we never had an incident like this.
“We have bloodlines lost in that kill. Those are sheep that I cannot go out to the mart and buy, they are homebred and cannot be replaced.”
Bridget said that they are constantly worried about the flock now:
“We are not resting at night, it is affecting the whole family. I have two children, they are not right after it.”
The farmers are appealing to anyone who was in the Crohan West to Knockmeal area of the Knockmealdowns over the last week, to contact An Garda Síochána in Cahir on: 052 744 5630.
“The smallest piece of information that people can give to gardaí will help,” Bridget said.
In the wake of the incident, Mountaineering Ireland, the national representative body for hillwalkers and climbers, has issued an appeal to dog owners not to take dogs onto the hills over the Christmas and New Year period.
Access and conservation officer with the group, Helen Lawless told Agriland that the organisation has had a policy for the past 20 years that people should not take dogs onto the uplands without prior permission from landowners.
She said that even in that scenario the dog must be kept on a leash and under control at all times.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, people who are new to the hills do not understand landownership or land use.
“Many dog owners do not understand the stimuli that a dog will be exposed to on the hills. I have seen people calling their dog in vain; once the dog gets a response from livestock or wildlife, it is very hard to get them to come back,” Lawless said.