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Sheep Worrying

National Sheep Association (NSA) and all its farmer-members want everyone to share in the iconic landscapes and beautiful countryside that sheep farming in the UK has played an integral role is creating and maintaining.

Farmers appreciate lots of people like their dog to enjoy the countryside with them, but as much of the UK’s rural landscape is maintained by grazing sheep there is always a strong chance you will encounter some while out with your dog.

This advice will help you and your pet have fun and safe days out without disrupting the important work of sheep farmers. You should also read this advice if you are a dog owner living in or near a farming area, as escaped dogs can be a real problem for farmers.

Dogs around Sheep

NSA aims to support farmers but also aims ensure those not directly involved in the sheep sector maintain awareness of the contribution sheep make to society and highlight areas of concern. As a prey animal, even the mere presence of an unknown dog can be stressful for a sheep.

It is every dog’s instinct to chase, even if they are usually obedient and good with other animals.

Chasing by dogs can do serious damage to sheep, even if the dog doesn’t catch them. The stress of worrying by dogs can cause sheep to die and pregnant ewes to miscarry their lambs.

Sheep fleeing from dogs are often killed or seriously injured by their panicked attempts to escape, causing untold damage to fences and field boundaries in the process.

Dogs chasing ewes and lambs can cause mis-mothering issues, with lambs dying from starvation or hypothermia when they become separated from their mother and fail to find her again.

Dog bites can cause death in sheep or necessitate them being put down at a later date, or in less severe cases considerable veterinary bills and additional welfare issues as a result of flies being attracted to the blood and leading to a nasty health problem in sheep called ‘fly strike’. Injuries to sheep can also delay the normal farming routine, be it the mating season or administration of vital medicines and vaccines.

Then there are the direct emotional and mental health consequences on the farmer/s (and usually their families) involved. All this costs money and time so any detriment to the sheep also harm the farmer’s livelihood. UK farmers work to some of the highest standards of health and welfare and are bound by legal rules and regulations to ensure standards are maintained. In addition to the issues raised above, sheep worrying is extremely frustrating for the farmer as all their hard work, time and investment can be undone in one action, completely out of their control.

It is a criminal offence to allow a dog to worry sheep. Worrying includes attacking or chasing sheep and, in some circumstances, farmers are legally entitled to shoot dogs if they are endangering their sheep. Find out more below in the ‘Staying legal’ sections below.

It is vital you keep your dog on the lead around sheep, even if you can usually trust it to come to call. If you live in or near a farming area, you must make sure your dog cannot escape from your property, as it may find its way onto land containing sheep.

To hear from farmers about the effect dog worrying has on them, click play on the video below.