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Friday 19 October 2018

'If you have any livestock out in fields, it could be very bad for them' - Artic chill strikes in height of lambing

  • Two-and-a-half million ewes will be lambing on 30,000 farms over the coming weeks
  • Met Eireann says freezing conditions could be upgraded to a Status Red warning from Wednesday
  • Some parts of Ireland could have temperatures at or below freezing for a 36-48 hour period
“If you have any livestock out in fields, young lambs in particular, it could be very bad for them,” - Met Eireann
“If you have any livestock out in fields, young lambs in particular, it could be very bad for them,” - Met Eireann

Ciaran Moran and Eoghan MacConnell

The Arctic weather front which could see temperatures go as low as -10 degrees will have significant implications for many farmers.

Met Éireann has ssued a Status Yellow weather warning until Friday, but that could be upgraded to a Status Red warning from Wednesday.

Irish Farmers Association (IFA) sheep committee chairman, Sean Dennehy, said they are concerned the weather front will strike at the height of the lambing season.

"Around two-and-a-half million ewes will be lambing on 30,000 farms over the coming weeks," he said.

Mr Dennehy said snow and freezing temperatures will be "most unwelcome" for farmers trying to tend to flocks.

Freshly lambed ewes and lambs normally spend the first 24-36 hrs inside in individual penning and are then turned out to grass during the first week but due to the severe weather forecast this week this period will be lengthened.  

Ewes and lambs will need to be retained indoors for an extra day or two in group pens.

The number one priority for farmers has to be keeping the maximum number of lambs alive and giving them the best start in life.

Every lamb saved represents a potential €80 to €100 in output value.

Many farms are already experiencing grass shortages varying from having little or no grass to having small quantities of grass that are running out fast due to an extremely wet winter.

Around two-and-a-half million ewes will be lambing on 30,000 farms over the coming weeks
Around two-and-a-half million ewes will be lambing on 30,000 farms over the coming weeks

Advice

According to Teagasc, providing the ewe with adequate feed to maximise milk yield in early lactation is critical if lamb growth rates are to hit target levels of 270-300g per day.

Where ewes are consistently grazing sward heights below 3.5cm, supplementation is required until either lambs achieve adequate intakes of creep fed concentrates (250g per head per day) or sward height increases above 4cm.

The cold front is set to sweep over Ireland with snow, ice, sleet showers and temperatures as low as -10C – but a wind chill factor will make it feel even colder.

Some parts of Ireland could have temperatures at or below freezing for a 36-48 hour period – more than 10C below normal for this time of year.

Ireland is now set for its coldest late February for a decade.

Temperatures overnight dipped below freezing at Mount Dillon in Roscommon, Knock Airport in Mayo and in the midlands.

Forecasters are predicting significant snow build-ups from tomorrow but, if heavy sleet showers and plunging temperatures combine, a Status Red warning – the most serious alert possible – is likely to be issued.

With severe winter weather due to sweep over the country this week,  additional pressure is expected on farmers who cannot get stock out or spread fertiliser.

Conditions 'somewhat similar' extended winter of 2013

While there are certain similarities to be drawn with the extended winter of 2013, most feel the weather has come early enough in the year to avoid major difficulties. 

A spokesman for Met Eireann said that while conditions were “somewhat similar”, it would be impossible to state that the weather pattern of 2013 is repeating itself. The spokesman noted that “in 2013 we had weather coming from the east as well.” 

Met Eireann has warned of exceptionally cold weather for the week with significant wind chill and severe frosts. Disruptive snow showers are expected from Tuesday onwards, particularly in the east and southeast as winds from Siberia cross the country.

“If you have any livestock out in fields, young lambs in particular, it could be very bad for them,” he said.

Don't spread slurry

Teagasc Advisor Tom Coll acknowledged that there wouldn’t be a lot of grass growth in the coming days. He was hopeful though that the ground would stay dry and not too hard. Mr Coll said “I know the conditions are going to be very cold but the lads still need to get their nitrogens out.” 

However, he said, “if there is heavy snow coming we won’t be advising to go with slurry.”  He said “it is a worry especially for sheep farmers, a lot of ewes are going to be lambing.” He was hopeful  the weather would clear up in the first few weeks of March.

'If you have cattle out by mid April you are lucky'

Leitrim based Department Officer Ciaran Clancy agreed that there would be little grass growth. In Leitrim and parts of the North West, he said, “our season is very tight. If you have cattle out by mid April you are lucky.”  He believes the main problem posed by the cold snap will be the added hunger on stock.

Mr Clancy believes traditional farming is not sustainable in the North West any longer where he said the stocking rates all around Leitrim are way below what they should be. “What you see in marts in particular in the last three winters is huge numbers of cull cows coming out,” he said. 


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