The extreme weather has undoubtedly made the first few months of 2013 exceptionally difficult for English livestock farmers, particularly coming on the back of the poor weather last year.
With the latest bout of heavy snow coinciding with the peak of the lambing season, some sheep farmers have suffered serious losses. Ewes and lambs have been unable to survive the snow drifts and freezing temperatures, which causes great personal distress as well as representing a cost to the business. Cattle farmers haven’t escaped unscathed, with the weather conditions causing disruption to spring calving and forcing them to delay turnout.
With the snow just beginning to thaw in certain areas, farmers are only now discovering the full extent of their losses. Keeping livestock alive continues to be a round-the-clock challenge, as access to quality grazing remains an issue and alternative feed needs to be provided.
Initial figures from the National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) show that, across the UK, an additional 19,910 sheep and 4,729 cattle died in January-March 2013 when compared with the same period last year (an increase of 15 per cent and six per cent respectively). These figures don’t tell the whole story and the total figure will certainly be higher, as in the worst hit regions animals will still be buried in the snow. With Defra, as well as the Welsh Assembly, announcing a derogation permitting on-farm burial or burning of carcases during these exceptional circumstances, we may never know the full extent of the losses.
While this situation is undoubtedly devastating for the farms affected and a severe blow for our sheep industry which has recently been through some difficult times, it’s important to keep the losses in perspective. In 2012, the UK produced a crop of 17 million lambs, and the expectation was that the crop in 2013 would be of a similar size. In light of the extreme weather and the anticipation of a lower lambing rate, this figure will now be revised down to some extent, but it currently seems unlikely that this will have a significant impact on supply.
Our hope for April is that we’ll finally see spring arrive, giving both the grass and our livestock the boost they really need.