'The day our farm became a killing zone'


John Joyce

John Joyce

Two weeks ago one of our peaceful fields turned into a field of death after a dog attack on a batch of ewes.

A few days earlier as I walked the fields doing the herding, I murmured to myself how well the spring was going with no major issues with the calving or lambing as we made good progress with field work. This was mainly down to the good weather over the winter and spring months and not my management skills.

Little did I know what was around the corner. As always with farming, you never know what's coming.

The story starts with me doing the usual jobs around the farmyard in the morning . It was a sunny spring morning and I was aiming to get out of the yard as quickly as possible to start work in the tillage fields. Two fields over from the farmyard I heard a batch of ewes bawling, but thought nothing of it as I jumped into the JCB to feed the cattle.

This was a batch of 40 ewes with twin lambs about a month old on good grass, so there was no need for them to be upset. As I cut the plastic off the next bale of silage I also heard the suckler cows in the adjacent field roaring as well.

I then knew there was something up and headed to the farmhouse for the shotgun and a handful of cartridges.

'These were good, strong lambs of four to five weeks old and they suffered a ferocious death'
'These were good, strong lambs of four to five weeks old and they suffered a ferocious death'

As I jogged across the first field I assumed it was just a neighbour's little house dog and that a shot into the air would put him on his way.

But as the noises coming from the field became louder, I quickly realised this was a bigger problem and the jog became a sprint.

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As I got to the entrance gate of the field I couldn't believe my eyes.

Four dogs were leaving at the other side. Lambs' bodies lay dotted around the field. Some were dead, others badly damaged with bite marks and there were even lambs lying down with stress or exhaustion.

These were good strong lambs of four to five weeks and on examination they suffered a ferocious death.

None of the ewes were hurt ,just stressed. I have had many a bad day in my farming career but this could be ranked as one of the lowest.

I believe the suckler cows saved the day. Their roars trying to protect their calves may have eventually frightened the dogs.

As bad as the attack was, I would imagine it only lasted 10 to 15 minutes, I would hate to think the consequence if the dogs were there for an hour or two.

Readers may ask what's this got to do with beef farming? I believe the four large dogs I witnessed leaving the field that morning would be highly capable of chasing a batch of suckled yearlings not long out of a shed or a group of bucket-reared dairy calves.

As farmers we are heavily regulated from environmental issues to animal welfare and everything in between.

Yet it would apply that other people living in rural Ireland don't seem to be too encumbered by regulations.

To make the case worse the dogs appeared to have headed home in two pairs in two different directions so this would suggest there are two different owners.

Over the past few months there has been a media campaign to alert dog owners on the dangers and damage their dogs pose to livestock, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears as there appears to be daily attacks on sheep throughout the country during this past winter and spring.

The big problem here is that when the dogs who attack sheep aren't shot, there is a big danger they will be back for another attack.

For now I am patrolling the boundary of the farm early in the morning and late at night and mixed a few suckler cows with young calves in with each batch of ewes.

John Joyce farms in Carrigahorig, Co Tipperary

Indo Farming