Farmers are calling for much stronger action to address the dreadful problem of marauding dog attacks on sheep flocks.
Reports of dog attacks on sheep have hit the headlines, just days before the lambing season begins in earnest.
Two hunting dogs were shot dead by a farmer after they savaged at least half of the 110 sheep in a flock grazing in a field at Barntown, writes David Tucker in the Wexford People.
Farm manager Gus Connick said the dogs chased the flock for several hours, killing and wounding the sheep and driving them into ditches, fences and a river where some of them drowned. Five sheep are still missing.
Mr Connick said the attack was the worst of three similar incidents within a few miles radius in recent months.
'The future of sheep farming is not looking good for me,' he said.
He said the first he knew of the frenzied attack was around 5am last Thursday when he got a call saying sheep were running in the field and the family who owned the field, could hear dogs barking.
"When we got there, we found some of the sheep had gone out over ditches and more had got down beside a big river valley in briars and trees. It was 10am by the time we found the dogs which were still killing sheep at that time,' said Mr Connick, farm manager for Camross-based Orna Foley.
He said five sheep had been killed by the dogs, others were badly injured and had to be put down, and some had aborted during the chase by the dogs, two Pointer dogs.
"There were 110 sheep in the field and about half them were attacked. It was very stressful,' he said.
"The sheep are absolutely worthless now because they are too badly damaged. They are not fit for human consumption and are not fit to breed,' he told the Wexford People.
"The dogs belonged to a young chap in a gun club. He had taken the dogs out to water, but they ran off and wouldn't return. He had gone out searching for them, but couldn't find them."
Mr Connick estimated that the farm has lost more than €7,000 as a result of the attack and the costs of employing extra people to recover the sheep and carry them from rivers and hedges where they had been driven by the dogs.
Dogs strike twice as Rathdrum man left devastated by incidents
Five sheep belonging to a Rathdrum farmer were killed in two overnight attacks by a pair of dogs last week.
In addition, a further ten sheep were injured, two severely, while the shock of the attack sent two ewes into premature labour, resulting in the still-birth of a set of twins and triplets, reports Myles Buchanan in the Wicklow People.
Farmer PJ O'Dea has been left devastated by the attack.
"This is my livelihood and it's a terrible feeling to go around your field gathering these dead and dying sheep up. You have reared them since birth, only for this to happen to them. They are harmless auld yokes and don't deserve an end like this. It's heartbreaking to see."
The first attack occurred on Thursday night at 10.30 p.m. but the dogs were scared off by two local gun club members who had permission to be on the land.
"The lads were in the field and didn't notice anything. Then they returned ten minutes later and two dogs were attacking my sheep. The dogs were at the far end of the field but they were scared off when a lamp was shone in their direction. They had already killed one sheep and damaged two others," said Mr O'Dea.
Fearful that the dogs might return, Mr O'Dea decided to take cover in the field for the night so as to protect the rest of the 65-strong flock. At 2.30am he headed inside for some warmth and a cup of tea, only to hear barking outside.
"It was hard to see because it was snowing heavily but the two dogs were back and they were like killing machines. Three more sheep were killed and another one had to be put down because of the severity of the injuries. They were killed and attacked in all different areas of the field. I had a lamp and shone it at the dogs and also took a shot at them and the noise of the gun seemed to scare them away."
While it's unknown where the dogs came from, two similar dogs, described as a black labrador and a brown or dark-coloured lurcher, had been seen wandering in the area earlier that evening between 5.30pm and 6.15pm.
The attack couldn't have come at a worse time for PJ with lambing season approaching.
"Two ewes who weren't due to give birth until St Patrick's Day went into premature labour and we lost five newly-born lambs. This could be a complete disaster for my lambing season," he said.
"I can't put any sheep back out in that field until I either know those dogs have been put down or are under control, otherwise both dogs will be back. They got into a real hunting frenzy and had a real taste for blood.
"I need some sort of explanation and satisfaction. Until then I can't use the field. Those dogs would just treat it as a holding pen where they can attack the sheep at will. People need to take responsibility for their dogs," said Mr O'Dea.
'Owners can be held responsible'
John Lynskey former IFA sheep Chairman has said dog owners need to take a much more active and responsible approach towards ownership and towards ensuring that their pets are under control at all times.
Statistics collated by IFA indicate that the problem of dog attacks on sheep may be in the order of 300 to 400 attacks per annum, with 3,000 to 4,000 sheep injured and killed. Data on dog attacks gathered by the IFA shows an average of 11 sheep killed or injured per attack.
He warned, “Owners can be held responsible for any losses involved in dog attacks, with serious financial and legal consequences. Farmers have a right to protect their sheep flock and can shoot a dog worrying, or about to worry their flock.”
The IFA sheep farmer leader said that 85% of dogs are now microchipped, according to the Department of Agriculture. He said a single database must be introduced with controls on change of ownership so as all owners are held accountable.
“To make microchipping effective Minister Creed must pull together a single database and proper controls on ownership.”
John Lynskey called on Minister Creed and the Department of Agriculture to launch a major publicity campaign on responsible ownership. He said a major TV, radio and social media campaign is required to get the message across to the 800,000 people with dogs in Ireland.