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‘Don’t blame Foxy’

by John Tierney

Dear Editor,

At a recent Teagasc National Sheep Conference a paper was presented on the opportunities to reduce lamb mortality on Irish sheep through identifying risk factors and causes.

The main finding revealed in the paper was that the highest percentage of lamb mortality occurs in the first week of life. 

Data shows that 74% of lamb mortality occurs within the first three days of life, with 43% of lamb losses occurring at, or prior to birth, and close to 60% within the first 24-hours of life.

The main causes of lamb mortality are down to infection and dystocia (slow or difficult labour or delivery) at 52% combined. 

The fact that most of these losses are preventable if a strict sheep management regime was in place is an indictment of sheep farmers’ approach to lambing.

In their lack of applying lambing management practices sheep farmers are aiding unnecessary lamb deaths.

The research paper further outlined that 88% of Irish farmers use individual lambing pens but only 40% of farmers clean and disinfect these pens after each ewe. 

Allowing lambing to take place in a potentially dirty lambing pen is an act of maternity terrorism.

Based these scientific findings can the lie that the major cause of lamb losses on Irish sheep farms is the result of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) be removed from common belief.

The fox killing industry from gun to hound has created and developed the myth that foxes are the ruination of the Irish sheep industry. 

They claim that as part of sensible sheep management fox hunting hunters must be allowed entry to your land to terrorise and kill foxes over a protracted time period.

Blaming the fox for lamb deaths is too easy for sheep farmers.   It is a tough world out there for foxes.

Made tougher by the fact that under existing Irish wildlife legislation, the fox is a non-protected species.   

It is a target species for a somewhat miserably inadequate group of deeply malevolent fox hunters. 

Now that we know that lamb mortality on Irish sheep farms is an in-house livestock management issue, can we agree that saying that fox predation is a major cause of lamb deaths on Irish sheep farms has all the scientific accuracy and depth of reciting the Little Bo-Peep nursery rhyme.


John Tierney
Campaigns Director
Association of Hunt Saboteurs
PO Box 4734
Dublin 1

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