Livestock ‘worrying’ poses big risks to farmers, dog owners

Livestock “worrying” — when farm animals are scared, chased or harmed by other animals, such as dogs — has always been a major problem for farmers and ranchers. Now, new reports show that incidents of livestock worrying are on the rise in places like Scotland, where sheep raising is prevalent.

In Scotland, police statistics now show that instances of livestock worrying have more than doubled in the past decade, reports The Press and Journal. Last year, 175 cases were reported, compared with 81 in 2008.

“It is a particular issue for people who farm close to urban areas,” said Peter Chapman, a member of the Scottish Parliament. “For many, the risk from dogs is just too great and will make anyone think twice about keeping livestock.”

Earlier this month, 37 lambs were killed and 28 injured in Scotland when two dogs attacked. As a last-ditch effort to save the herd, the lambs’ owner shot the dogs. Now, a 34-year-old man has been charged in connection with the incident.

In what has been called “the worst sheep worrying case in living memory,” 116 sheep died last year from shock or crush injuries when something — suspected to be a dog — backed the herd into a corner against a fence. Many of the sheep were pregnant, and resulted in a loss of of approximately £17,000 (around $23,000 USD).

“This can be absolutely devastating for farmers,” said Chapman. “We are talking about people’s livelihoods here. The consequences can be very serious indeed.”

With dogs so often being the culprits, countryside dog walkers are urged to keep their pets on leashes and to take every step possible to ensure their dogs don’t escape from the yard or home. Likewise, farmers are encouraged to use signage indicating when sheep are in the area.

Keeping dogs restrained is best for them, too. A 2017 survey conducted by the United Kingdom’s National Sheep Association found that 55% of farmers said that the most effective way to protect their sheep in the middle of a livestock worrying situation was to shoot the offending dog — which is legal, under such circumstances. Around 30% of worrying cases result in the attacking dog’s death.

Shooting may seem like a drastic response, but it’s a last resort in situations that may result in enormous damages when action isn’t taken. Livestock worrying can result in more than wounds from dog bites or scratches, according to the National Sheep Association:

  • Being chased can drive animals into dangerous situations, like becoming tangled in fences.
  • Pregnant sheep can miscarry from injuries or the stress of being chased.
  • Lambs separated from their mothers face the risk of starvation or hypothermia.
  • Shock and fear alone is enough to kill in many cases.
  • Financial costs to farmers include veterinary bills, loss animal life and productivity, loss caused by a disruption to normal farm routine, and the loss of property if fences or other farm staples are destroyed.

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