Shepherds on the Blenheim Estate are urging dog owners to act responsibly while visiting the Estate in the run up to lambing season.
Blenheim Estate allow their sheep to give birth outdoors, in order to give lambs the best spring grass and nutrients they need. The first lambs this year are due mid-April.
The Estate’s 900-strong flock of Scotch Mule sheep lamb later than many other farms because they are reared entirely outside on grass within the Parkland, keeping them as naturally healthy as possible.
‘The vast majority of people who walk their dogs on the estate do so responsibly, however it only takes one loose dog to cause a problem,’ said Blenheim Estate’s Head Shepherd Tom Locke. ‘Even if the dog doesn’t catch them, the stress of being chased can cause sheep to die and pregnant ewes to miscarry their lambs. It’s particularly important at this time of year as we approach lambing season for everyone to keep their dog on a lead while visiting the estate,’ he added.
As well as putting up clear warning signs across the estate, Blenheim Estate is also promoting an online ‘ThankEwe’ campaign which aims to educate owners to the potential risks of losing control of their dogs around livestock.
Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence.
This includes attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury, suffering, miscarriage or loss of produce or not on a lead or being otherwise under close control in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.
‘As dog owners ourselves we know the majority of people are extremely responsible, however each year we have to deal with some extremely distressing incidents involving dog attacks on the sheep,’ said Tom. ‘Often the owners are just not aware of the potential dangers their pets pose to livestock and are also deeply traumatised by the consequences of not being able to keep their dogs under control,’ he added.
The Kennel Club and National Farmers’ Union (NFU) have jointly put together recommendations on how to make countryside dog walks safer and more stress free for dogs, owners and for farm animals.
They advise owners to stop, look and listen before entering a field. Always keep their dogs on a short lead around livestock. Give them plenty of space and use paths or access land wherever possible.