With Easter set to see an increase in visitors to the countryside, NFU Mutual is reminding dog-owners to be extra vigilant at a time when sheep and lambs are at their most vulnerable.

The warning comes as Welsh farm animals worth an estimated £883,000 were severely injured or killed by dogs in 2023, more than double the 2022 cost, latest figures from NFU Mutual reveal.

Across the UK, the estimated cost of livestock worrying soared by nearly 30 per cent to £2.4 million last year.

At the same time, NFU Mutual’s recent survey of over 1,100 dog owners found more people were letting their dogs off leads in the countryside last year than in 2022, 68 per cent and 64 per cent respectively.

Worryingly, less than half (49 per cent) said their pet always comes back when called.

Almost eight percent admitted their dog chases livestock but 46 per cent believed their dog was not capable of causing the death or injury of farm animals.

It comes as the NFU Mutual-backed Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill is making its way through parliament, aimed at improving powers available to police in dealing with dog attacks on livestock.

Owen Suckley, NFU Mutual Manager for Wales, said: “The Easter holidays is a great opportunity to explore the Welsh countryside, but people must remember these idyllic rural destinations are working environments, key to farmers’ livelihoods and home to millions of sheep and new-born lambs.

“This year’s lambing season is well underway across the UK, and farmers are understandably worried that an influx of out-of-control dogs this Easter could cause unnecessary carnage to new-born lambs out in the fields with their mothers for the first time.

“All dogs are capable of disturbing, chasing, attacking and killing farm animals, regardless of breed, size or temperament.

“That’s why we are urging everyone exercising their dogs in the countryside to keep them on a lead wherever livestock may be nearby but to let go if chased by cattle.”

Rob Taylor, Wales Rural and Wildlife Police Crime Coordinator and NPCC Livestock lead, added: “It’s really simple advice, walk your dog where you know livestock isn’t present and always use a lead. Enjoy our countryside responsibly with your dog, ensuring you can both visit and enjoy it together again.”

More than 80 sheep were killed in two frenzied attacks on Alun James’ remote Welsh farm in spring 2023.

The first attack was witnessed by Alun’s mother. She managed to drive the dog off-but it left a trail of carnage behind with ewes and lambs dead in the field.

Some of the surviving sheep’s’ jaws were so badly injured that they couldn’t eat, and they had to be put down. Other sheep and lambs were driven into the nearby river where some drowned. Altogether, 36 sheep were killed in the first attack.

Six weeks later another attack took place in the same 45-acre grazing ground. 50 sheep were killed or swept away in the river despite Alun’s desperate efforts to save them from drowning.

Alun believes both attacks were carried out by a single large husky-type dog from a nearby property.

Although it was never proved to be responsible for the attacks, this dog has now been rehomed. 

“The attacks were horrific and left us shaken to the core,” said Alun. “My mother saw the dog attacking our sheep and breaking their necks by tossing them into the air.

“As well as causing horrific suffering, it’s left us in a state of shock.”

Alun keeps 1,500 Welsh Talybont ewes on his 300 acre farm near Llangadog in Dyfed.