Walking The Dog During Lambing Season

With so many people getting out on Sligo’s walking trails this week and as the evenings get longer, a reminder to all that this is a busy time too for farmers. Lambing season is well underway and because many of our walking trails crisscross land where farmers have given permission to have trails developed, it’s important that we respect the few conditions that are attached to this.

Where sheep are in lamb, we need to ensure that dogs are under control to avoid them miscarrying. This can mean a number of things. Broadly we have three categories of walks. On the first of these, it’s ok to have dogs on them at all times of the year. These include beaches and other walks that aren’t on farmland. Second are those walks where we are asked to use our common sense during certain months and that are close to or on farmland. If in doubt, perhaps it’s best to leave the dog at home or to choose a different walk.

Lambing season underway at Keash, Co. Sligo – photo SligoWalks.ie

But on certain walks dogs are prohibited entirely. This condition – on the Knocknashee walking trail, for example, exists throughout the year, but particularly when lambing season is underway, other walks also fall into this category.

So what are the basics. First, check the SligoWalks.ie website to see if your favourite walk or walks are on farmland where the rules change during lambing season, then please follow this advice and act appropriately. Some of the walks, like at the Queen Maeve Trail – pictured – also have trailhead signage, which includes all of this information too. 

At a minimum, dogs need to be kept on a lead and under control at all times of the year on all walks. This is both a courtesy to other walkers and also to local farmers. And it also protects you. If your dog is off the lead and attacks another dog or bites another walker, for example, you can be held responsible. So, keep your dog on a lead, particularly bearing in mind the increase in walking numbers at this time of year, as Summer comes into view.

No dogs allowed on Knocknashee, open farmland – photo SligoWalks.ie

But where sheep and other livestock are involved, this duty of care for walkers increases. Even the sight of a dog can be enough to spook a ewe that is in lamb. There’s no place whatsoever for dogs that are off the lead when walking across farmland. So the Queen Maeve Trail on Knocknarea, the Knocknashee mountain trail, the Keash Hill trail (Caves of Keash), Aughris coastal walk and elsewhere are all off-limits to dogs at present.

And for places that remain open to dogs, other than keeping your dog on a lead and under control, the following points are also important.

Close gates. Where gates are left open this enables livestock to move from place to place and away from where the farmer has safely left them. Leaving gates open potentially puts them at risk, so double check if passing through gates or over stiles that you hear the lock click behind you.

Know where your dog is at night. Many sheep kills take place during the hours of darkness and unfortunately this seems to happen every year. These are caused by somebody’s dog or dogs that manage to escape. Even if you think that your dog has been secured, but this happens not to have been the case, you remain liable. Not only does a sheep kill lay a considerable financial burden on the farmer, but you may also be found to be financially responsible in court and your dog may have to be put down.

Signage advises on keeping dogs on leads – photo SligoWalks.ie

Report any activity – it may not be your dog at all, but if you see a dog walking on its own in the countryside, please contact the Dog Warden through Sligo County Council at 071-9111111, providing the location and description of the dog.

We often remind people to clean up after their dog, and this isn’t only for the obvious reason that it’s the right thing to do. Other animals can become infected by dog waste, particularly young animals. Also remember that dogs off leads can impact other species, not only young lambs. Many other species breed at this time of year, so a dog scampering in the undergrowth could easily come across nesting birds. Staying on designated paths, even on isolated walks where there’s no evidence of sheep at all, remember that there are other creatures that inhabit these spaces too.

All of the above sounds like a lot to take on board, but really, it’s not. We recommend that you always prepare for a walk, especially upland or to isolated locations. The safety videos on the Sligo Walks website produced with the Sligo Leitrim Mountain Rescue Team, give excellent advice in regards to safety. All we ask at this time of year is that walkers give a little more consideration and take these common sense steps to ensure that everyone – farmer and walker – can continue to share the land, to the benefit of all.