Responsible dog control continues to be a major issue for all sheep farmers resulting in the loss and serious injury of their flock and the financial and emotional burden that it creates.
As recreational use of the Wicklow Uplands increases, the presence of dogs close to farmland areas and the hills used for sheep farming, requires a greater awareness of Responsible Dog Control.
Uncontrolled dogs are a serious threat to the livelihood of upland farmers. Dogs loose on the hills cause anxiety within a flock of sheep often causing them to be displaced and getting stuck in rough ground and vegetation.
One of the impacts that is often unseen by recreational users is the early abortion of lambs and in the worst incidences; dogs directly attack sheep causing them severe injury or death.
When a flock is disturbed, the loss of young lambs due to hunger can also occur if they become separated from their mother, the source of essential milk. This is not just a problem for the landowner in terms of their livelihood but it is also a serious animal welfare issue.
The problem is not limited to walker’s dogs with damage often being caused by local dogs which stray from neighbouring properties, often with their owners unaware of their whereabouts.
The farming community in County Wicklow experienced a number of serious incidents involving multiple sheep losses in 2019. This included serious incidents where newly born lambs and heavily pregnant ewes were killed and maimed. In several cases, dogs who were thought to have been owned locally were found in the midst of the attacks and destroyed onsite.
According to Brian Dunne, Coordinator of Wicklow Uplands Council:
“As the lambing season is now upon us, it is the time that sheep flocks are at their most vulnerable to incidences of worrying and attacks by dogs. Dog owners are asked to be vigilant in keeping dogs under control and knowing where their dogs are at all times, especially at night when most attacks occur”.
Mr Dunne added:
“It is also an important breeding season for ground-nesting birds and wildlife which along with sheep, can become startled by the presence of dogs”.
“By launching this awareness campaign, the Council is highlighting the role that ALL dog owners must play in tackling this serious issue”.
Wicklow Uplands Council have issued the following guidelines for all dog owners living or visiting farmland areas to ensure that they continue to play a crucial role in making them a safer place for all to enjoy.
· Please observe and respect local signage and leave dogs at home if accessing land where livestock are present or close by. Some landowners forbid dogs entirely, whereas others including the state, may request the use of leads.
· In situations outside of the home, dog owners must legally ensure that their dogs are under ‘effectual’ control at all times. Attacks on sheep can result in financial losses to the farmer, for which the dog owner can be held liable.
· The presence of dogs even with playful intent, can cause great anxiety within a flock of sheep. During the winter months this can prevent ewes from coming into season. In lambing season it is the main cause of stillbirths and miscarriages, which can occur 2-3 days after contact with dogs.
· Please respect and be aware of wildlife as the presence of dogs can disturb ground-nesting birds and other animals during the breeding season.
· Know where your dogs are at all times – attacks often occur at night, so this is also true at the homeplace.
· Report wandering dogs and suspicious sights to your local authorities.
· Make sure that your dog(s) are registered and microchipped and that a current licence is in place for each of them – this is now a legal requirement for ALL dogs.
· Dog fouling is the responsibility of the owner. Please collect and dispose of all faeces in an appropriate manner – this includes plastic bags used in the process. Failure to clean up is a public health concern and is an offence under section 22 of the Litter Pollution Acts.
· Share this advice with others.
· Enjoy and experience nature responsibly and respectfully.Reporting of Incidents:
If you witness an incident of sheep worrying or damage to livestock in Wicklow, please report it immediately to Wicklow County Council. It is important that all incidents be report as soon as possible following the incident. On 0404 -20236 Email, firstname.lastname@example.org