The National Farmers Union (NFU) is urging dog walkers to #takethelead’ during the Easter holidays.
The union says thousands of sheep and cattle die as a result of injuries caused by dogs every year, and livestock worrying costs the industry an estimated £1.6million.
But the NFU says this figure is just the tip of the iceberg, as many losses are uninsured and often unaccounted for.
The warning comes as pastures are full of ewes grazing with their newborn lambs and ewes that are due to give birth. NFU adviser James Osman said: “Over the Easter break, the NFU is reminding people to keep dogs on a lead, rather than letting them run freely because livestock may be nearby.
“Dogs naturally have a chase instinct and they can inflict the most terrible bites on sheep which can die slowly and painfully of their injuries. Pregnant ewes can also abort their lambs if chased by dogs.”
Earlier this month, Sussex farmers took to the beauty spots of the South Downs to raise awareness among dog owners of the need to keep dogs on a lead near livestock, supported by the South Downs National Park Authority with its #takethelead campaign. It follwed a number of dog attacks on livestock at Cissbury Ring.
In January, farmer Caroline Harriott was horrified after three of her 55-strong flock suffered deep puncture wounds consistent with bites to their heads and necks. One also suffered leg injuries while another’s throat had been ripped open.
And there was another attack in March – just a week after a farmer-led event highlighting the problems of sheep worrying had been held at Cissbury Ring.
Mr Osman said: “Dog attacks on livestock should be avoided at all costs. They can end in tragedy both for the farmer and for the dog owner whose pet can legally be shot by a farmer if it’s chasing sheep or cattle.”
If a dog worries livestock, the dog owner or the person responsible for the animal at the time is guilty of an offence under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 and may be sued for compensation by the farmer.