Cost of livestock attacks doubles to £285,000 in Wales

Dog attacks on livestock set Welsh farms back by a total of £285,000 last year – more than double the year before.

One in six owners admits their dog has escaped from home – sparking concerns that unsupervised pets may be attacking livestock.

The figures compiled by rural insurer NFU Mutual estimate that in 2018, worrying cost UK farmers an estimated £1.21 million, with the peak time for attacks between January and April – during lambing.

As a result of its findings, NFU Mutual is mounting a new campaign urging dog owners to keep their pets under control.

The insurer which works with three-quarters of farmers, estimates that the total cost of livestock worrying to the UK farming industry exceeded £1.2 million last year.

Across the UK

The estimated cost of livestock attacks to UK agriculture in 2018 based on claims reported to NFU Mutual is as follows:

  • Scotland: £162,000;
  • Wales: £285,000;
  • Northern Ireland: £37,000.

The total cost in England totalled £730,000. Broken down as:

  • North West: £90,000;
  • East: £26,000;
  • South West: £211,000;
  • Midlands: £212,000;
  • South East: £73,000;
  • North East: £118,000.

New research shows more dog owners are putting their pets on leads when livestock are nearby. However, more and more people (52%) are allowing their pets to go out in the garden unaccompanied when they’re not at home (up from 43% last year).

Known as livestock worrying, dog attacks on farm animals can result in fatal injuries. Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress of the chase can cause sheep to die and miscarry their lambs.

In numbers

According to the research, 87% of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with over 60% letting them roam off the lead. Although, that figure was down from 64% in 2018.

If there is a sign warning dog owners that livestock are in a field, 95% of people said they put their dogs on a lead – up from 90% in 2018.

The number of dog owners who admitted their pet had chased livestock in the past was 6%.

Almost two-thirds of dog owners (61%) said they would try to stop a dog chasing a sheep in the countryside and supported measures to crack down on the problem of livestock worrying.

Three-quarters said they would support heavy fines, 66% would support a ban on dogs from livestock fields during lambing season, while 57% would back laws enabling DNA testing of dogs. 42% supported owners being banned from keeping dogs if their pet had been involved in an attack.

Livestock worrying is a UK-wide issue that is being tackled on a national basis, with North Wales Police chairing a livestock offences group on behalf of Chief Constables of the UK.

Along with key partners such as Government, NFU Mutual and the NFU, North Wales Police are working hard to fully understand the issues that cause an attack to occur. The group are also advocating the updating of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock Act) 1953 to reflect modern day agriculture and the powers the police require to bring offenders to justice.

PC Dave Allen, rural crime officer at North Wales Police, said: “Livestock attacks are devastating affairs for all parties. Any dog of any size and any age can just suddenly attack livestock. The livestock keeper can lose their livelihood and the many years of stock.

“The pet owner risks losing a much-loved member of the family and also hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds in compensation to the victim.

“As a full-time North Wales Police Rural Crime Officer, my advice to pet owners is: know your breed and its requirements, secure your boundaries (most attacks come from escaped dogs) and use a lead when out in areas you suspect livestock is present.”

Merfyn Roberts, senior agent at NFU Mutual in North Wales, added: “For small farmers in Wales 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.

With many families expected to visit the countryside over the coming months, the insurer urged dog owners to keep their pets on a lead at all times in the countryside and for people to report out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.

Advice for dog owners

  • Always keep dogs on the lead when walking them in rural areas where livestock are kept;
  • Be aware that even small lap dogs can attack and kill 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 attack sheep grazing nearby.