With Easter set to see an increase in visitors to the countryside, NFU Mutual is reminding dog-owners to be extra vigilant at a time when sheep and lambs are at their most vulnerable.

The warning comes as Welsh farm animals worth an estimated £883,000 were severely injured or killed by dogs in 2023, more than double the 2022 cost, latest figures from NFU Mutual reveal.

Across the UK, the estimated cost of livestock worrying soared by nearly 30% to £2.4 million last year. In just one devastating attack in West Wales over 80 sheep were killed in spring 2023.  

At the same time, NFU Mutual’s recent survey of over 1,100 dog owners found more people were letting their dogs off leads in the countryside last year than in 2022, 68% and 64% respectively*.

Worryingly, less than half (49%) said their pet always comes back when called.

Almost eight percent admitted their dog chases livestock but 46% believed their dog was not capable of causing the death or injury of farm animals.

It comes as the NFU Mutual-backed Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill is making its way through parliament, aimed at improving powers available to police in dealing with dog attacks on livestock.

Owen Suckley, NFU Mutual Manager for Wales, said: “The Easter holidays is a great opportunity to explore the Welsh countryside, but people must remember these idyllic rural destinations are working environments, key to farmers’ livelihoods and home to millions of sheep and new-born lambs.

“This year’s lambing season is well underway across the UK, and farmers are understandably worried that an influx of out-of-control dogs this Easter could cause unnecessary carnage to new-born lambs out in the fields with their mothers for the first time.

“All dogs are capable of disturbing, chasing, attacking and killing farm animals, regardless of breed, size or temperament.

“That’s why we are urging everyone exercising their dogs in the countryside to keep them on a lead wherever livestock may be nearby but to let go if chased by cattle.”

Rob Taylor, Wales Rural and Wildlife Police Crime Coordinator and NPCC Livestock lead, added: “Sadly, we continue to witness the behaviour of irresponsible dog ownership in our rural areas with people allowing their pets to freely roam where sheep are present, with the obvious tragic consequences.

“By not using common sense and the appropriate care for your pet, you risk seriously injuring or killing livestock, a criminal conviction and a heavy fine.

“It’s really simple advice, walk your dog where you know livestock isn’t present and always use a lead. Enjoy our countryside responsibly with your dog, ensuring you can both visit and enjoy it together again.”

NFU Mutual’s tips for dog owners visiting the countryside this Easter:

  • Keep dogs on a lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept, but let go of the lead if chased by cattle
  • Be aware that all dogs, regardless of size, breed, and temperament, can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals
  • Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers
  • Never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby