Dog attacks a worrying part of outdoor life

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IT IS a pleasure to walk in the countryside with our dogs particularly in the spring when nature is bursting into life.

It was shocking to see the devastation experienced by sheep farmers particularly in the north of the country, early in the spring resulting in the loss of thousands of ewes and lambs due to the heavy snow fall and freezing temperatures.

Mother Nature can be very cruel but there is little we can do other than accept the consequences and hope such phenomena don’t happen too frequently.

There is another threat sheep farmers have to cope with increasingly which is equally shocking. The instances of dog attacks on sheep and their lambs are escalating to epidemic proportions. The heart-break faced by shepherds and farmers who find countless corpses ripped to pieces and strewn across the fields is devastating.

There is not only the financial loss but the despair of seeing the sheep and their lambs which they have cared for and brought into this world torn apart by someone’s family pet, which is totally unacceptable.

It is, of course, not always possible to keep complete control of our dogs; I am guilty of losing mine from time to time when they decide my whistles are less interesting than the myriad of rabbits scurrying through our woods. I worry constantly until they are back or I have found them, particularly as my neighbour has a small flock of Southdown sheep. Many years ago two of our dogs, now sadly departed to the happy hunting ground in the sky, attacked this neighbour’s pet hens; the result of which I should not wish to repeat.

It is important to remember that however lovely the countryside is for walking our dogs, it is also someone’s working livelihood and business, often with valuable livestock grazing or crops in the fields. It is vital that we respect and appreciate the privilege of walking there and keep our pets securely under control.

To sell or not to sell, that is dilemma many arable farmers face at this time of year. If our grain has not already been pre-sold we need to decide whether now is the time to take a punt or wait until after harvest hoping the price will have improved.

Despite very little UK winter wheat sown last autumn, and what was has had a tough time coping with slugs, rabbits and torrential rain, the grain merchants are offering lower prices than last year. Most of 2012 wheat made at least over £200 per ton which made growing the crop worthwhile. So far this year’s wheat prices are looking decidedly modest so it is a case of wait and see hoping things will improve.

It seems that in the USA where they have had similarly cold wet weather things are now looking up and warmer drier weather is forecast for next week. This caused a dramatic slide in prices on both sides of the Atlantic. It is predicted that American farmers will now begin planting corn (maize) now that the threat of over-night frosts has receded. The amount of maize planted in the USA and the predicted yield has an immediate effect upon UK and European wheat prices. The International Grain Council predicts a sharp increase in global maize production with a subsequent 10 per cent hike to a record 930 million tons. That on top of last season’s remaining stock levels being significantly high has added to the dip in predicted prices for wheat.

So, do we take up an offer now as grain merchant’s call to tell us the current price is the best we shall get, or do we tough it out in the hope that they have got it wrong and the price at harvest or later in the year will recover considerably?

I have never been one to gamble, I am much too mean and the thought of losing my bet has never been an attractive prospect. However, pitting my wits against the grain merchants and the global market is something that I find intriguing and challenging.

This week we shall be voting in the county council elections which seem to come round increasingly frequently. The more I see of local politics and those who do their best to represent us on local issues, I become increasingly uneasy that party politics appears to be driving the agendas.

If it were up to me and it clearly is not, I would abolish party politics for all county and district elections and only allow Independent candidates to stand for office. That way I would hope that we would get the best people for the job, and the electorate would not be swayed by party politics and loyalty. And while I was about changing the system I would suggest that we return to the days when councillors undertook the job on a voluntary basis, and scrap all payments and expenses. The system worked well in the past before Tony Blair decided to meddle.