2023 saw the number of dog attacks on livestock in Northern Ireland double compared to 2022 and 2021, according to NFU Mutual.

The rural insurance company blamed complacency among some dog owners coupled with an inability to control their pets for the increase in devastating attacks on livestock.

A NFU Mutual survey of over 1,100 dog owners found that 68% leave their dogs off the lead in the countryside, despite less than half saying that their pet always comes back when called.

Almost 8% of the owners surveyed admitted that their dog chases livestock but 46% believed their dog was not capable of causing the death or injury of farm animals.

More than half (54%) felt they did not need to take active measures to prevent their dog from chasing.

If present at an attack, 57% of dog owners would intervene to stop it, 22% would report it to a local farmer and 11% would call the police.

Dog attacks

Dog attacks on Northern Ireland’s livestock cost an estimated £147,000 (€171,00) last year, a 11% fall from the 2022 cost (£165,000).

Across the UK, dog attacks on livestock were estimated to cost £2.4 million last year, up nearly 30% compared to 2022.

Martin Malone, Northern Ireland manager at NFU Mutual, said that despite the cost fall, the doubling in the number of dog attacks on livestock in Northern Ireland over the past two years is incredibly alarming for farmers.

“We’ve heard reports from farmers about the complacency and naivety of some dog owners who regularly allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside, seemingly unaware of the carnage the dog could cause, then are horrified when an attack happens,” he said.

“There have also been incidences where dogs have chased, injured and killed sheep and the owner is nowhere to be seen.

“Farmers are also living in fear of repeat attacks, which cause horrific and needless suffering to livestock and can traumatise all involved dealing with the aftermath.

“All dogs are capable of chasing, attacking and killing farm animals, regardless of breed, size or temperament,” Malone added.

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NFU Mutual is urging all dog owners to be responsible for their pet and keep them on a lead when walked anywhere near livestock.

“If there is an attack, it is important people accept responsibility and report it, to a local farmer and the local council dog wardens, so that the injured animals are not left suffering in pain,” Malone said.


Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) deputy president William Irvine said that the dog attack statistics were “horrifying” as lambing season gets underway.

“Behind every statistic is a farm family that has experienced immense trauma and financial loss due to an attack on their livestock that could have been prevented.

“It’s extremely worrying that 68% of dog owners let their pet roam free in the countryside.

“Every dog, regardless of the breed or temperament, is a threat to sheep and their owners must recognise this. It only takes a spilt second for a dog to instinctively react to sheep and begin a chase,” he said.


George Carvill, a farmer in Co. Armagh, has said that he is considering giving up his sheep flock after a dog attack left 28 lambs dead.

There were no witnesses to the incident which took place in early December and the farmers is concerned that the dog or dogs responsible will return.

George’s family has run a 90ac farm on the outskirts of Middletown for over 50 years and also finishes beef cattle.

“It was a terrible experience for me and my 16-year-old son, Frank, who looks after the sheep with me,” he said.

“We walked into the field to feed the lambs sugar beet and were shocked to see a dead lamb near the gateway. We thought it was a one-off, but as we walked through the field we saw another dead lamb, and then more and more – 28 in all.

“They had been badly mauled, and it was clear the injuries were the result of a dog attack,” the farmer said.

George and his son found another 12 lambs had been stampeded into the River Cor where they had drowned.

“We haven’t had a dog attack since 1983 – but there are a lot more dogs around now in Middletown and we know some of them are let out to roam uncontrolled by their owners,” he said.