Lambing season is upon us, and it’s time for us to give walkers an annual reminder of our responsibilities in this area. Lambing season runs from now until the end of April, and as plenty of walks in Sligo traverse farmland, hillwalkers are asked to be mindful of the following guidelines.
- Keep dogs under control. Every year, lambs are lost to dog attacks, and sheep miscarry due to being chased by dogs, so we ask anyone who is out for a walk with their dog to ensure that it is on a leash at all times when crossing farmland where sheep graze. On certain walks, such as Knocknashee, the Keash Hill Trail, and sections of The Sligo Way and Miners Trail & Historical Way, for example, walkers are asked not to bring their dogs on these walks while lambing season is underway, but in all instances where you are walking your dog, it is important to keep them under control at all times. Even a playful dog, which generally shows no signs of being aggressive, can pose a serious threat to nervous livestock.
- Keep dogs locked up at night. Especially if you live near farms, it is important that you can account for your dog’s movements during the nighttime, when most attacks take place on sheep. Every year, this problem arises around the country, where terrified ewes and their lambs are attacked by dogs – with the result that sheep kills happen all too frequently. Remember that not only should you ensure that your dog is secured, you are also liable for any damage should your dog be involved.
- Close gates after you. Many farmers are happy to have hillwalkers traverse their land, but it goes without saying that there are obligations on walkers to ensure that they don’t interfere with the running of the farm. In the case where a walker leaves a gate open behind them, this can mean that livestock may roam from one field to another. At any time of year, this would be an inconvenience to the farmer, but especially at this time of year, double check that you’ve left the gate or stile as you found them.
- Report any activity. Should you be out for a walk, and see a dog roaming the countryside, it is important that the proper authorities are contacted. In Sligo, it’s best to get in touch with the Sligo Dog Warden via the front desk at Sligo County Council on 071-9111111 and there you can report the location and description of the dog.
- Pick up your dog’s mess. Sometimes we think that we shouldn’t clean up after our dog when out for a country ramble – it’s not like the footpath, right? Wrong. While most responsible dog owners always pick up their dog mess, it’s still just as important when you’re out in the country. Dog mess can carry risks of infection, such as worms, which can be passed on to livestock so remember to regularly worm your dog. Make sure you dispose of your dog mess in a poo bin, or if one isn’t available take it home.
- Train your dog. It goes without saying that your dog needs to understand that you are the boss, and that when you call or whistle, that they return to you immediately. But it is surprising how many owners leave this simple instruction to chance. So, train your dog to return to you when you call, and have a bag of dog treats with you when teaching these commands. The earlier you start with a dog the better they will respond, but a dog of any age should respond to instruction, and by treating a dog with kindness while letting them know who is in charge, you should have many years of walking in the countryside ahead of you both.
- It’s not just during lambing season. While the focus of this article is to highlight the dangers loose dogs pose to ewes that are in lamb, there’s a broader picture that we need to consider. We share the countryside with lots of different species, who inhabit the fields and hedgerows around us, even the air above us. Birds nest at different times of year, and especially for birds that ground nest, it is important that owners are aware of times of the year when this happens and where you are likely to have birds nesting on the ground along your regular walk. There’s some good information on the Birdwatch Ireland website, and if you check out your local branch which may have a social media page, you’ll more likely find information that is directly relevant to you there.