A FARMER has blasted ‘evil’ poachers after they set their dogs on his pet sheep to train them to kill deer.

The ewe, called Dolly, was chased until it was exhausted, then held down by poachers as lurchers bit and clawed it in what is believed to be a new illegal hunting practice.

It died ‘in agony’ 24 hours later.

Police are investigating and believe it could be linked to other illegal poaching across East Lancashire.

Ribble Valley wildlife officer PC Carl Chew said: “It certainly could be the case that this sheep has been used to train dogs how to kill deer.

“Because most sheep will run if a dog is chasing it, but a sheep isn’t as agile as a deer, though I’m sure it will happen.

“I don’t think they tend to go out for sheep. A lot of the time, poachers will go out looking for deer, but if they run into sheep, the dog will go for it.

“The dogs are released for deer, but if the dogs come back with nothing, then they’ll set it on a sheep because the dog’s all riled up.

“A lot of the poaching is for meat, but some idiots will just do it for pleasure.”

Terry Bork, owner of Animal Quackers petting farm, in Newchurch Old Road, Bacup, said he was devastated when he discovered the Ryland ewe, covered in blood and bite marks.

He said: “We found her at the gate nearest the house, trying to get to us.

“She’s a friendly sheep. She doesn’t see humans as a threat because she is petted by people at the petting farm, so she wouldn’t have run off like other farm sheep would.

“I’m so upset and angry.

“It looks like she’s been held down as the dogs have bitten chunks out of her.

“It’s evil to torture an animal like this. It’s horrific and it makes me feel sick.

“It makes you realise how evil people can be when something like this happens.

“She was at the gate nearest the house, waiting for us to come and help her.

“It was so shocking when we saw her. You would think that she’d been shawn, but the dogs had just torn her wool off.”

A friend of Mr Bork offered to pay for Dolly’s treatment by a vet from Stanley House Vets, Colne, which came to around £100, in the hope of saving her.

Mr Bork said: “She was up and eating after the attack, but I think she was just in shock, because even though she’d had antibiotics and pain killers, she died a few hours later.”

This incident is the most recent in a series of attacks on wildlife across East Lancashire.

Last month a butchered deer carcass was discovered in a field on moorland near Clitheroe. The sika deer had been disembowelled and had its head and hind legs removed before it was found by a dog walker.

In February, a roe deer was mauled to death by two lurcher-type dogs in Rimmington, and in recent court cases, Carl Harwood, 18, of Fielden Street, and Alexander Judge, 19, of Harling Street, both Burnley, were found guilty of hunting a wild animal with a dog in Chipping.

There are more than 1,000 roe deer, about 100 sika and only around 20 red deer in East Lancashire.

PC Chew said carcasses would often be sold to restaurants, hotels and pubs for between £40 to £60.

Butchers tend to pay around £150 from licensed shooters for the meat.

NFU spokesman Carl Hudspith said: “Sheep worrying is a big issue for us.

“It is awful for the sheep, some of which will have lambs at this time of year, and is terrible for the farmer as well.

“The motives do tend to change for these sorts of attacks.

“A couple of years ago when the country was facing a major financial crisis there was a suggestion people were using dogs to kill lambs for food, although this was never proven.

“I think a lot of the time it is just mindless cruelty.”

The incident happened between 10.30pm on Friday, and 6.30am on Saturday.

Anyone with information should call police on 101.