on 10 July, 2015

Lamb Predation 

DEFRA study says  'Not significant'.  Are foxes a significant predator of livestock? The importance of fox predation on lambs is fiercely debated because it is very difficult to determine whether a lamb was killed by a fox or whether the fox was merely acting as a scavenger on an already dead animal. Paragraph 5.14 of the Burns Report

estimates that less than 2% of otherwise viable lambs are killed by foxes in England and Wales. On the basis of current evidence, the Government does not consider foxes to be a significant factor in lamb mortality nationally (see The Burns Report, paragraph 5.12). However, it does recognise 

Are foxes a significant predator of livestock? 

The importance of fox predation on lambs is fiercely debated because it is very difficult to determine whether a lamb was killed by a fox or whether the fox was merely acting as a scavenger on an already dead animal. Paragraph 5.14 of the Burns Report estimates that less than 2% of otherwise viable lambs are killed by foxes in England and Wales. On the basis of current evidence, the Government does not consider foxes to be a significant factor in lamb mortality nationally (see The Burns Report, paragraph 5.12). However, it does recognise that foxes can cause serious local problems to farmers and landowners, and that, as a result, many take measures to control local fox populations, as well as responding to individual incidents of fox predation. Foxes may also cause localised problems to free-range poultry interests. The Act does not prevent farmers and landowners taking action to control foxes. The exemptions will allow this to be done with dogs (subject to strict conditions), and there are numerous other lethal or non-lethal methods which they can use. What the Act does do is prevent the practice of setting one animal on another for sport or entertainment, which many people consider to be cruel.

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Fox predation of lambs on hill farms

The evidence presented here summarises published work (1) and relates to question 11 in Alun Michael MP’s document Hunting with dogs – issues of cruelty, utility and process.

The study was based on data collected between 1993 and 1996 from two Scottish hill farms, one in Midlothian (farm 1) and one in West Perthshire (farm 2). Whilst the study relates to Scotland, the conclusions are relevant to hill farming areas in England and Wales. Data were collected on a number of characteristics of potential relevance to the fate of the lambs, including the birth weight, birth rank, and maternal bonding score. Overall lamb mortality rates from birth onwards were 10.2% for farm 1 and 9.3% for farm 2. Over the four- year study period, 16 lambs were confirmed as killed by foxes in total, and 13 of these were from farm 1. The average rates of confirmed fox predation were 0.6% for farm 1 and 0.2% for farm 2. The maximum annual financial losses to confirmed fox predation were 1.5% at farm 1 and 0.6% at farm 2. The average proportion of total lamb mortality accounted for by fox predation was 5.9% at farm 1 and 2.2% at farm 2. The results indicate that the rate of fox predation on lambs is low, and that addressing other, more important, causes of lamb mortality is of far greater significance for both the economics of production and animal welfare.

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What is the level of damage inflicted on livestock by foxes?

On two study areas in west Scotland, Hewson (1984) found that the percentage of “definite” or “probable” fox kills were a minimum of 1.3, 1.8, 0.8 and 0.6% of the lambs estimated to be born between 1976-79 respectively. This compares with overall estimated mortality (loss of lambs at June marking) of 49, 26, 26 and 26% respectively for the four years. Details of causes of lamb loss were not reported. Foxes tended to select lambs less than 5 days old, although were known to attack a lamb up to 10Kg in weight. “Predated lambs were larger and in better condition than those dying from other causes,” although predated lambs may have been vulnerable due to other causes, such as poor defence by the mother or in the early stages of succumbing to disease. Fox control took place at both sites.