Sheep in field with female shepherd in background


A guide for farmers to deal with livestock worrying

Dog attacks on sheep can be financially costly and emotionally upsetting

For smaller farms in particular, livestock worrying is a significant problem because it has a huge impact on their productivity. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.

Here we answer some of the most important questions which farmers may have, including:

How big is the problem of livestock worrying?

Our survey* revealed that over 87% of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with over 60% letting them roam off the lead. Six per cent of owners admitted that their pets had chased livestock in the past.

The number of incidents reported to us shows only part of the picture, as not all farmers have insurance in place to cover livestock worrying and based on claims to us, we estimate the cost to agriculture was £1.21 million in 2018.

*Petbuzz Market Research surveyed 1,232 UK pet owners from 16th-24th January 2019 on behalf of NFU Mutual. 

What is being done about livestock worrying?

Livestock offences — including theft, worrying and attacks on livestock — have been identified as one of six priority areas in the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Rural Affairs Strategy 2018-2021. The strategy commits police to:

  • Reduce cases of livestock theft and worrying
  • Increase public awareness
  • Work to improve police and sentencing power.

As the leading farm insurer, we work closely with police and other rural organisations to help shape policies and raise awareness of the issues through our network of Agents in communities across the UK.

However, there’s still work to be done to educate dog owners, as the RSPCA describes in a blog about a dog attack which resulted in the loss of unborn lambs and injuries to sheep.

“One of the most concerning things was the reaction of one of the dog owners following the attack, who commented that there was no damage done as there was no blood drawn. The reality is that the stress of being chased alone is enough to kill a sheep.”

How can farmers protect their animals from dog attacks?

The good news is there are steps farmers can take to help prevent attacks on livestock. You should:

  • Check stock regularly in case any have been attacked
  • When possible keep sheep in fields away from footpaths
  • Put up signs warning dog owners to keep their pets under control on your land
  • Maintain fences, walls and hedges to make it more difficult for dogs to get into grazing fields
  • Report any attacks to the police immediately
  • Ask neighbours to alert you if they see attacks or loose dogs near your livestock.

What should you do if you encounter a dog attacking your livestock?

The National Sheep Association offers farmers the following advice:

  • Stay safe —dogs attacking animals can turn on humans so it’s important to take care and keep your distance. Throwing a toy could help distract the dog.
  • Collect evidence — if possible, use your phone to video or photograph the attack. This could be useful evidence for police and the courts to identify the dog’s owner.
  • Document the aftermath — take photographs of any injuries to your animals. If ewes prolapse or abort get photographic evidence of this too.
  • Contact the police — you should call 999 and report an attack if it is taking place or 101 if an attack has happened but the dog is no longer in the area. Reporting livestock worrying incidents will help police build a true picture of the number of attacks which take place.

Read more advice from the National Sheep Association.

What the law says about livestock worrying

Q. Can a farmer shoot a dog worrying livestock?

A. Section 9 of the Animals Act 1971 says the owner of livestock, the landowner or anyone acting on their behalf, is entitled to shoot any dog if they believe it is the only reasonable way of stopping it worrying livestock. Such action must be reported to police within 48 hours.

Q. What penalty can a dog owner face?

A. The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 states “if a dog worries livestock on any agricultural land, the owner of the dog, and, if it is in the charge of a person other than its owner, that person also, shall be guilty of an offence under this Act.” The police have powers to detain a dog suspected of worrying livestock if there is no owner present, and can also obtain a warrant to enter premises in order to identify a dog. A dog owner can be fined a maximum of £1,000 for allowing their dog to worry livestock and a court could order the dog be destroyed. Farmers whose livestock is killed or injured as a result of dog worrying can sue the owner for compensation under the Animal Act 1971.

Q. Are there any differences in the laws for Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales?

A. As in England and Wales, the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 applies in Scotland as outlined above. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 , also excludes the rights of access to those ‘being on or crossing land while responsible for a dog or other animal which is not under proper control’.

In Northern Ireland, the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983 states it is an offence to allow a dog on land containing livestock unless the dog is under control.

Read more advice from the Countryside Code for England and Wales, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, and the Countryside Code for Northern Ireland.

Speak to the experts

To find out more about insurance to cover the impact of livestock worrying, speak to your local Agent.