Foxes not a major cause of lamb losses
06 April 2004
Plastic jackets for lambs have recently been publicised as a form of protection against the elements - and against foxes.
Permit me to clarify that in the list of major causes of lamb mortality, foxes do not feature. A Department of Agriculture survey showed that 90 per cent of deaths are caused by abortion/still-birth, exposure/starvation and infectious disease. Meanwhile, in educational material published by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, it is stated that "No matter what people think, foxes seldom kill and eat lambs."
When it comes to exposure to the elements, the plastic jackets have indeed been shown to be effective in saving lambs. In trials in New Zealand (where there are no foxes), 87 per cent of lambs without jackets died in overnight storms compared to just five per cent with the jackets.
Any excuse, however fantastic, is preferred to blaming ourselves for our losses, whether sheep, bovine or equine.
The farmer who won the UK Lambing Competition in 1962 had, in the preceding decade, gone to extraordinary lengths to prove that foxes rarely kill lambs. He wrote: "During our investigations we discovered a strong link between bad shepherding and lamb losses blamed on foxes. The good farmer who fed his ewes well before lambing rarely complained of foxes. Simply because few lambs died."
In truth, foxes are not nearly as great a menace to livestock as the hunt clubs who hunt foxes with hounds. In 2001, for example, some lamb plants reported more liver contamination because of a worm that uses the dog as a host than from liver fluke. We were warned that kennel dogs (i.e. hunt hounds) can be a problem in that respect.
Contamination of pastures by hunt hounds has also caused Sarcocystosis, an incurable brain disease of sheep, to spread widely among flocks.
Liver fluke, the greatest cause of losses on farms, needs the mud snail as intermediate host. Otherwise it dies. Hoof-prints are the favourite habitat of these mud snails and farmers are advised to fence off all areas likely to provide a habitat.
Because foxhunting on horseback is synonymous with hoof-prints and livestock losses, one of the first steps towards keeping herds and flocks healthy should be to ban hunting. This would certainly help to reduce the 200,000 ewes and half a million lambs that die every year around lambing time.
More Info: Farmers and hunts
For more information on how to keep hunters off your land, please visit our Farmers Section. Also available are "No Hunting" signs to print and display on your property.