Q Lambing season has just started on our farm and already we are having big problems with foxes attacking the lambs. There has always been a risk of fox attacks over the years but this season is worse than usual in our area. Also, for the last week or so, I have been observing a neighbour's dog that is regularly around the gate of the field with young lambs. What can I do, if anything, about a dog attacking my sheep?
A Lambing season is well and truly upon us and most farmers will be all too aware of the risks that foxes and other predators pose to newborn lambs. Legally and from a farming perspective, there is no one-size-fits-all solution but you should be aware of what actions you are permitted to take when it comes to controlling predators.
Control of Dogs
Many farmers know their duty under the law in the case of domestic animals like their cattle and sheep; liability for dogs has separate rules to those applied in the case of other animals.
For instance, in the case of injury or damage to livestock which is caused by a dog, the owner is responsible, regardless of the dog having previously attacked or having a 'mischievous tendency'.
In the case of dogs frightening/attacking sheep and causing injury either through death as a result of fright/loss of unborn lambs/death of lambs by attack, farmers can make a claim against the dog owner where they have evidence to show that the injury was a direct result of the actions of the dog.
An example would be a statement from a vet which indicates that a dog caused the injuries.
Farmers intending to make a claim must also be able to show what dog caused the injuries. This may be difficult where there has been no physical attack - only fear.
A common question which comes from farmers who have sheep in fields is whether or not they can shoot a dog which is in the midst of an attack or has attacked sheep.
The rules in relation to the shooting of dogs is set out in Section 23 of the Control of Dogs Act. The person who shoots the dog must be able to show that:
While the law clearly states that there are circumstances where an attacking dog can be shot, you should bear in mind that the priority should be to stop the dog where possible rather than shoot it, as in many cases the owner will be a neighbour.
The practice of snaring foxes has attracted criticism from some sides; however, snaring foxes in Ireland is still legal. The use of fox snares without stops or incorrect stop length is illegal.
If you have to set fox snares to protect your lambs, make sure your snares have the correct stop in place.
A stop snare with a minimum length from noose to stop of 33cm, in case it is intended to snare foxes, is allowed. Also, bear in mind that snares from some UK suppliers do not comply with the Irish Wildlife Act.
EU regulations make it an offence for a person to use any type of meat, fish, egg or other animal substance as bait to poison or stupefy birds or animals such as otters and pine martens, unless licensed to do so. This means that although pine martens can cause extensive loss to farmers, poisoning is not an option!
Currently in Ireland, the only animals that can legally be poisoned are mice and rats.
It is not legal to poison crows or foxes.
The topic of lamb attacks is one that causes much friction on farms, in the countryside and among animal rights/ welfare groups.
It is important to know where you stand legally before you act on this sensitive topic.
This article is intended as a general guide only and professional advice should always be sought for individual circumstances. No liability is accepted for errors. Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Ardrahan, Co Galway.