New Zealand shepherds stop using dogs as stresses lambs
For centuries shepherds have herded their flock with the help of their expert sheep dogs. But one man and his dog has been replaced by one man and his stick, after Tesco claimed shepherds' faithful canine companions "stressed" the sheep.
By Harry Wallop and Matthew Moore
Published: 6:13PM BST 03 Apr 2009
Tesco has told farmers, who supply the supermarket giant with lamb, to stop using the dogs unless they can be retrained to be "more considerate" towards the flock.
The shepherds have reacted with outrage, and claimed up to 60 dogs have now joined the ranks of the unemployed.
However, Tesco was adamant that one of its largest suppliers in New Zealand, Silver Fern Farms in Fairton, should stop using dogs to herd sheep into the abattoir.
Unlike in Britain, most abattoirs are attached to farms in New Zealand, ensuring the farm does not need to truck its flock down the motorway to a slaughterhouse.
The supermarket wants the shepherds to wave their arms, beat sticks or wave flags, to move the sheep into the abattoir.
The surprise order from Tesco, which comes into force next week, came to light thanks to a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph by an upset reader.
Mick Petheram, one of the shepherds, said: "New Zealand sheep are used to dogs, they know dogs. There's more stress in a human herding and manhandling them, waving their arms and beating sticks. Dogs are part of a sheep's life. This is absolute baloney."
He said that he and his fellow workers would have to sell their dogs, or worse, put them down. "We'll be desperately trying to sell them, but most of us will end up putting down three or four each. These are bloody good dogs. Taking away our dogs is like taking a hammer away from a builder; we can't do our job without them," he said.
New Zealand is the biggest source of lamb in Britain at this time of year, and it is understood that the Silver Fern Farms is one of Tesco's biggest suppliers.
It was visited by Tesco buyers earlier this year, who were "upset" at seeing the dogs "running riot", according to a spokesman for the supermarket.
The National Farmers' Union said that it was not aware of any research indicating that farm animals suffered stress because of sheepdogs.
"Sheepdogs are trained specifically to herd sheep and in some cases cattle and we have heard no problems about them being harmful to the animals," a spokesman said.
Tesco stood by its decision. "We don't have a problem with sheep dogs, but we need to make sure they move the sheep in a considerate manner, so they don't stress the sheep out," said a spokesman.
Scientists have found some evidence that if animals that are "stressed" immediately before slaughter the pH level of the meat increases, creating a pale, watery cut.
Leading animal welfare charity the RSPCA said it had concerns about the anxiety suffered by sheep as they are circled and pursued by dogs, but did not believe a ban was necessary.
Meanwhile: At a sheep workshop I attended this year, an unrulely 12 year old girl caused a lamb to break its leg as she chased the sheep around the pen attempting to catch it. Multiple lambs in the group ended up limping as she dove on animals to catch them, only to have them get away causing her to attempt to catch another. Humans cause more stress than well trained herding dogs.