IFA threatens 'zero tolerance' for stray dogs after latest sheep kills

Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

FARM leaders have called on dog owners to control their animals after a horrific attack which left almost 60 sheep dead.

Farmer Tom Winston lost animals worth over €20,000 in a single attack after a pack of five dogs savaged his flock at a field outside Castlerea in Co Roscommon recently.

And in a separate incident the IFA's livestock chairman Henry Burns lost 14 ewes after two Alsatians attacked stock on his Co Laois farm.

The attacks bring to almost 100 the number of reports of sheep kills made since last March, when the IFA began recording attacks.

IFA national sheep chairman James Murphy said the Roscommon attack was one of the biggest he had heard of.

"The Roscommon case is absolutely horrific. Even the Laois kill of 14 is very big, normally it's three or four," he said.

"These dog attacks on sheep have been the bane of my life. This is a black day. We started compiling reports last March where we encouraged sheep farmers to ring in the details of the attack.

"The main reason we did it was to have some ammunition when we met with the Department of the Environment to talk about the problem.

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"There isn't any real guidelines on this. Dogs are not being controlled properly. Irresponsible owners allow the dog to roam around the countryside and we regularly have incidents where hillwalkers take dogs with them, and allow them to chase sheep.

"We really need to get to a situation where dogs are restricted to the environs of the owner's property, and not taken outside of that unless on the lead.

"This is a growing problem. I would say there's a dog attack on sheep every night."

The Roscommon farmer at the centre of the latest attack said he was met with a scene of devastation when he arrived at the field outside Castlereagh to find 46 sheep dead, and seven others so badly wounded they had to be put down. Another five animals were missing.

"Five dogs were involved. I shot one dog and others went off...I have never had it happen before," Mr Winston said. "I had 95 sheep and I ended up with 37, some of them had to be put down, they were still alive but torn apart."

He is offering a reward for anyone with information leading to the capture of the dogs.

Just days earlier farmer Henry Burns from Mountmellick, Co Laois, lost 14 ewes after two Alsatians attacked some of his flock.

He shot both dogs and said he stands to lose several thousand euro following the deaths of 14 of his flock of 31 pregnant ewes.

"Based on previous experience, it's likely the surviving ewes will lose their lambs or they'll be stillborn or deformed at birth."

He said he did not want to kill the dogs and hopes to trace their owners through the animals' microchips.

"As farmers we work with animals all the time. We have dogs and it's not that we don't understand that people have and love dogs, but people must realise the responsibility that comes with owning a dog," he insisted.

"Any dog, any dog at all, can become vicious when it gets into a pack," he added.

Mr Murphy warned that farmers must take a tougher stance on stray dogs and said a zero tolerance approach taken by flock owners in his area of south Kilkenny had worked well.

"If we find a stray dog, the owner is told in no uncertain terms that if it is found worrying sheep, they can expect it to be shot," he said.

He pointed out farmers were within their rights to take any steps necessary if they find a dog among sheep on their land.

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