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A worrying time of year

Living

DANGEROUS TIMEFarmer’s dread this time of year, when stray and uncontrolled dogs roam the fields, worrying and attacking sheep.

The vet's view

Conal Finnerty

“Ah John, will you let poor Rover in, he’s whimpering at the back door. It’s an awful night out there!” John opens the door and Rover runs in to take up his regular position stretched out in front of the fire. Nobody in the house realises that just ten minutes previously, Rover was terrorising the neighbour’s sheep and newborn lambs. Rover by name and by nature.
As we look forward to the return of spring and all the beauty of nature’s rebirth after the long winter, it’s wonderful to start to see new lambs playing in the fields this time of year. Yet this brings with it its own set of worries for our sheep farmers, as they dread the potential for yet another year of losses due to attacks from stray and uncontrolled dogs roaming the fields, especially in packs under cover of darkness.
‘Sheep worrying’ occurs when dogs chase sheep, injure them and/or kill them. Every year, it is estimated that thousands of sheep and newborn lambs are lost, either during such dog attacks or because they have to be put down afterwards due to the severity of their injuries.  
Dog owners have the legal responsibility under the Control of Dogs Act to ensure that they have their charges under control at all times. (This is especially crucial in spring, when there is so much temptation around in the form of frisky lambs gambolling about in the fields.) Indeed, it is now a legal requirement to ensure that your dog is microchipped, has a dog licence and is wearing a collar with its owner’s details on it. You must also know where your dog is at all times, particularly at night.

What you can do
To ensure the safety of sheep and new lambs this springtime, always have your dog on a lead when you’re out and about, especially in the countryside and in the vicinity of flocks of sheep. Even the sight of a dog on a lead can startle pregnant sheep and cause her to abort her lamb; it can also cause stress-related illness in sheep at this vulnerable time.
It is vital that your dog is secured at night when sheep flocks are particularly vulnerable. Many sheep go into labour and give birth under the cover of darkness (sadly, us vets know this out-of-hours behaviour all too well!). Always keep a watchful eye when you’re out and about, especially around fields where flocks are kept, and report any instance where you see loose, unsupervised dogs anywhere near sheep.
Spring is the most wonderful time of year, where nature shows us her true greatness, yielding rebirth and new life. In the case of livestock, and in particular pregnant sheep and newborn lambs, don’t let the ‘innate’ nature of dogs to destroy this wonderful spectacle. Remember, it is instinctive in every single dog – even a couch potato – to chase if given the opportunity.   Know the law and your responsibilities as a dog owner, and enjoy spring 2019.

Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.

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