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Farming

Expert tips on dogs and livestock

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Livestock worrying: Early training is important

THE FUW caught up with Bryony Francis, a dog behaviour consultant, Clinical Animal Behaviourist and Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), who spoke at the Animal Welfare Network Wales livestock worrying seminar, hosted by the FUW at the end of last year.

Bryony has been running a behaviour practice in South Wales and the Marches since 2002 and lives in farming country near the Black Mountains with her husband and a Jack Russell Terrier.

Here is her advice for dog owners when it comes to livestock worrying:

With various access rights, walkers and dogs share the countryside with the farm animals and wildlife that live there. We all want to enjoy it. Yet science shows that any new arrival causes stress to livestock and, of stimuli investigated, a dog is the most aversive stimulus that you can present to sheep.

In short, as soon as you take a dog into a field of sheep, you are likely to cause stress to the sheep regardless of how you and your dog behave after that. Stress can cause illness and injury, and therefore has serious consequences for the welfare of the livestock and the farmer’s livelihood. Owners and walkers of dogs have responsibilities under the law and, under some circumstances, farmers are legally entitled to shoot dogs that endanger their sheep.

Dogs inherit some behavioural tendencies and acquire others. The domestic dog is a predator, with hunting behaviours altered but not eliminated through breeding. A dog’s desire to engage in these hunting behaviours varies from breed to breed and from individual dog to individual dog. Most dogs learn early in their lives to enjoy chasing things.

In dog behavioural development terms, the socialisation period between 3 and 15 weeks of age is a sensitive phase of social development providing a window of opportunity where experience of sheep might set them up for friendly, calm interactions.

That said, like all socialisation, it is a lifelong exercise requiring skilled positive handling and knowledge of both species to maintain good behaviour between dog and sheep. If your dog has not encountered sheep before or will not encounter sheep on a daily basis, then you are well advised not to invoke interest in sheep at all. Otherwise, you may ‘awake’ in your dog exactly the predatory chasing behaviour you are trying to avoid and it is much harder to stop than it is to prevent in the first place. Instead, please manage your dog on a lead and at a distance which will not disturb the sheep.

If your dog has already gained access to sheep and become over-interested, the first thing to do is to keep your dog away from sheep, whether or not you are accompanying it (a significant proportion of livestock worrying takes place without the dog owner’s knowledge. If your dog has free run of your garden, make sure it’s secure).

The second is to find a specialist, qualified behaviour counsellor and discuss a management plan and realistic goals. Whoever provides this should be an expert in the behaviour of the particular livestock species and able to recognise and respond to any sign of distress in livestock as well as in people and dogs.

Inappropriate advice and methods may worsen your dog’s behaviour and can result in welfare problems for livestock and dogs. Registered clinical animal behaviourists, such as APBC Members, have achieved the highest academic and practical standards in the field of animal behaviour: they can help dog owners to use positive reinforcement techniques, away from livestock, to teach your dog to walk calmly on a short, loose lead and to focus their attention on you regardless of distractions.

If your dog hasn’t seen livestock before, and there is no need for it to see livestock, consider keeping it away. Where possible, avoid walking your dog in fields containing livestock. If you can’t avoid fields containing livestock, give the livestock plenty of space. Keep your dog on a short lead and focussed on you.

You’ll be doing the livestock a favour and possibly preventing a behaviour problem in your dog.

Farming

Alpaca settle in on Welsh hills

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A HERD of alpaca at Aberystwyth University’s upland research centre welcomed two new arrivals during the Covid-19 lockdown.
One male and one female baby alpaca, known as cria, were born at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Platform and are settling down to life in the Cambrian Mountains.
They are the first cria to be born on the University’s land and to be registered under the centre’s new stud prefix ‘Peiran’.
Peiran Champagne and Peiran Cosmopolitan join a small herd of alpacas who arrived at Pwllpeiran in October 2019 as part of a new research project.
Scientists want to see whether the South American alpaca is suited to life in the Welsh hills and could provide new opportunities for uplands farming.
These long-necked animals, similar to the llama, are renowned for the quality of their fibre (wool) and are happy to feed on low quality grasses which are often snubbed by sheep.
The research project is being led by Dr Mariecia Fraser at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Centre, which is part of the University’s Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
“These are changing times for Welsh upland farming, with the next round of support payments expected to push for a shift away from primary agricultural production towards nature conservation and carbon reduction. In setting up a research herd of alpacas at Pwllpeiran, we want to test whether the alpaca could offer hill farmers a viable alternative to sheep.
“As well as producing high quality fibre, camelids like alpacas have evolved adaptations to enable them to live off poor quality tussock grasses in the Andes, and are happy to tuck into invasive grasses such as Molinia. These forages grow in abundance on the Welsh uplands but tend to be shunned by native sheep. We’ll be looking at the impact of their grazing and how well they could fit in to traditional patterns of farming here,” said Dr Fraser.
The establishment of the initial research herd is being funded by the Joy Welch Educational Charitable Trust, which was set up by the Aberystwyth alumna in 1988.

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Farming

Beef calf registrations increase

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NEW figures released by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggests that the number of beef calves registered in Wales in the first five months of 2020 is the highest it’s been for several years.
Across Britain there has been an overall rise of 1.2% in calves – both dairy and beef – registered between January and May 2020, compared to the same period last year. In Wales the figure is higher, with an increase of 3.1%.
According to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) the statistics reflect a range of factors, including a trend of producing more cross-bred calves from the dairy herd.
Some of the beef breeds and cross breeds showing the biggest increases in terms of calf registrations in Wales include the Aberdeen Angus (up 11.7%) and Hereford (up 4.8%), whilst both Charolais and British Blue registrations are up just over 4%.
The 2020 figures are a contrast to the last five years, where BCMS calf registration data has indicated a flat picture in the Welsh beef registrations.
HCC market analyst Glesni Phillips said, “These figures could show a positive sign for the future of the beef industry in Wales, and reflect broader trends in both the beef and dairy sectors.
“This comes despite the beef sector being hit by uncertainty in recent times. A combination of market conditions led to low farm-gate prices last year, and demand fluctuated widely in the early stages of the Coronavirus lockdown as pubs and restaurants closed their doors.
“However, we’ve seen encouraging consumption figures throughout Britain in the second half of the spring, with great support from consumers for home-produced beef, with its high standards of welfare and environmental sustainability.”
One high-profile new entrant into the beef sector is international rugby referee Nigel Owens MBE, who has recently started his own ‘Mairwen’ herd of Hereford cattle in Carmarthenshire.
“Having worked at Wern Farm Drefach when I was younger it had always been a dream of mine to keep my own herd,” said Nigel, who has built up to around 30 cattle so far on a 116-acre holding, “and if anything the lockdown has given the chance to get things up and running more quickly, as we’ve been able to get on with fencing, hedge-laying and developing our soil and pasture.”
Nigel added, “Each breed has its supporters, but from an early age I recall visiting my uncle and aunt’s farm, Pentwyn in Llannon, who had a Hereford bull running with the dairy herd. My cousin Helen and Gwyndaf near Aberaeron who run the Creuddyn Hereford herd have also been a valuable source of advice. For me, the cattle have a calm nature and calve easily. They’ll also produce good-quality meat which is important as we develop the business in future.”

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Farming

New edition of Welsh meat ‘Bible’ launched

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HYBU Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has launched the latest edition of its ‘Little Book of Meat Facts’, the annual digest of facts, figures and trends for the nation’s lamb, beef and pork industries.
Among the key figures in this year’s edition were that Welsh red meat production was worth an estimated £690 million in 2018, compared with £677 million the previous year.
In 2019, total throughput of cattle and calves in Welsh abattoirs stood at 147,600 head, with total beef production totalling 42,900 tonnes (up from 40,000 tonnes the previous year). Throughput of sheep and lambs stood at 3.3 million head, with total sheep meat production totalling 63,400 tonnes, compared with 60,800 in 2018.
France remained the largest destination for lamb exports, but with important growth in trade with Germany which is now in a clear second place. Beef and lamb exports were mostly to Europe, although with significant trade to other markets in the Middle East, East Asia and Canada.
The Little Book also contains information on what kinds of meat British consumers are buying and from which retailers, as well as data on key industry measures such as carcase classification.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said; “We usually launch the Little Book of Meat Facts at the Royal Welsh Show, so that farmers and other stakeholders can browse the latest statistics.
“Of course, this year that’s not possible, so we’re launching it virtually and making it available on our website.
“What all the statistics show is that, despite uncertainty surrounding Brexit and now of course the disruption of COVID-19, the red meat sector is hugely important to the Welsh economy. It’s the backbone of rural communities, and also employs large numbers in auction markets, processing and the supply chain, as well as supporting brands which are symbols of our nation’s high-quality food across the world.”

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