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Cost of dog attacks on farm livestock has reached record levels, says insurer NFU Mutual

PUBLISHED: 12:10 12 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:10 12 February 2018

Bloodied and stitched, a ewe which survived an attack by a dog in Attleborough. Photo: Bill Smith

Bloodied and stitched, a ewe which survived an attack by a dog in Attleborough. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant

The cost of dog attacks on farm livestock has risen to record levels, according to rural insurers - prompting the launch of a campaign urging owners to keep their pets on a lead in the countryside.

Incidents of “livestock worrying” reported to NFU Mutual rose by 67pc across the UK in the past two years, with the total cost to the farming industry in 2017 estimated at £1.6m. In the East of England, the cost of claims has leapt from £4,000 in 2015 to £11,000 in 2017.

The insurer also surveyed more than 1,000 pet owners earlier this year, with the results revealing that 60pc let their pets them roam off the lead in the countryside, and 7pc admitted their pets had chased livestock in the past.

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

Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, which insures nearly three-quarters of the UK’s farmers, said: “Attacks by dogs are one of livestock farmers’ worst nightmares. In addition to the suffering to the animals, attacks can have a severe financial impact.

“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 £1.6m last year.”

Between January and April 2017, when pregnant ewes and newborn lambs are often grazing on low-lying pasture in areas more accessible to walkers, NFU Mutual’s figures show the average cost of claims more than doubled compared to the rest of the year.

Mr Price added: “While attacks can be caused by dogs ranging from the smallest pampered pets to the largest, fierce-looking animals, we are hearing that large husky breeds are involved in a lot of the recent cases.”

As well as issuing advice to dog owners, NFU Mutual is advising farmers to check their stock regularly, put up warning signs and to ask local people to report any sightings of out-of-control dogs.

ADVICE FOR DOG OWNERS

• Always keep dogs on the lead when walking them in rural areas where livestock are kept.

• Even small lap dogs can attack farm animals.

• Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to local farmers or the police.

• Familiarise puppies with farm livestock from a young age to reduce the risk of them attacking sheep or cattle as adult dogs.

• Don’t let dogs loose in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and worry sheep grazing nearby.

ADVICE FOR LIVESTOCK FARMERS

• 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.

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