UK cost of livestock worrying rises by nearly 30%

28 February 2024


New figures from NFU Mutual have revealed that farm animals worth an estimated £2.4 million were severely injured or killed by dogs in 2023, up nearly 30% from the previous year.

The South West was the worst-hit region by cost, with dog attacks on livestock costing an estimated £359,000, followed by the Midlands (£331,000).

The news comes as NFU Mutual released the results of its dog owner survey which found that there had been a 4% increase in people letting their dogs off lead in the countryside from the previous year.

Less than half of respondents said their pet always came back when called.

“We’ve heard reports from farmers about dog owners who regularly allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside, seemingly unaware of the carnage the dog could cause, who are then horrified when an attack happens,” said NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist Hannah Binns.

“Complacency kills, though, and there have been incidences where dogs have chased, injured and killed sheep and the owner is powerless to stop it or nowhere to be seen.

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

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

‘Remain alert’

NFU Livestock board chair Richard Findlay described the new figures as “shocking” adding that livestock worrying and dog attacks “cause great stress and anguish for farmers seeing their animals suffering, in addition to the significant financial impact they also feel”.

“No matter how in control dog owners think they are, they should always remain alert and dogs should always be on a lead around livestock, especially as we approach the 2024 lambing season,” he added.

Fourth-generation farmer and NFU member John Dinnis, who runs a mixed farm near Sevenoaks, has lost more than 20 sheep to dog attacks over the years.

He said: “Sadly the situation has been getting worse. There was a big rise in dog ownership in lockdown and many people don’t understand what can happen in the countryside when they don’t have control of their dogs.”

No matter how in control dog owners think they are, they should always remain alert and dogs should always be on a lead around livestock, especially as we approach the 2024 lambing season.”

NFU Livestock Board chair Richard Findlay

The NFU has been working with the government and police leaders for a number of years to strengthen legislation to tackle livestock worrying.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill is currently making its way through parliament which, if passed, would give police greater powers to crack down on irresponsible dog owners whose pets attack livestock.

Government plans to strengthen the law on livestock worrying were stalled when the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was withdrawn in June last year. Over 20,000 people signed an NFU petition, calling on newly elected PCCs (Police and Crime Commissioners) to implement changes to legislation to prevent dog attacks on farm animals.

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

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