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Saturday 21 April 2018

'Hardly a blade available': Fodder fears rise as sheep farmers face lamb losses after new snowy weather

And grass growth in Leinster and Ulster 50pc below normal

Cold snowy conditions mean a shortage of spring grass for sheep to feed on (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Cold snowy conditions mean a shortage of spring grass for sheep to feed on (Gareth Fuller/PA)
IFA president Joe Healy

Claire Fox

Fears of increased sheep losses and localised fodder shortages intensified this week in the wake of the latest cold snap.

Heavy snows blanketed much of Wicklow, Wexford, Kildare and Meath, as Ireland was again hit by cold Siberian winds.

The scramble for fodder has resulted in keen competition for supplies, and the price of good quality small square bales of hay and straw has hit €4/bale in the west.

With the lambing season in full swing sheep farmers are battling heavy losses as restricted housing means most farmers had ewes and lambs back out on the land for the latest weather event.

James Curran of Meath IFA said farmers in the county were generally losing "one to two lambs" a day.

One Meath sheep farmer told the Farming Independent that he lost 150 lambs during Storm Emma when his shed collapsed due to the snow.

Lambs will have been affected by the latest cold snap, farmers say (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Lambs will have been affected by the latest cold snap, farmers say (Gareth Fuller/PA)

John Brooks of ICSA called for the government to compensate farmers who suffered severe sheep losses as a result of the recent weather.

"If you see all the good that farmers did during Storm Emma with clearing the roads, this should be balanced with compensation for farmers who suffered extreme lamb losses," Mr Brooks said.

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Meanwhile, demand for fodder across the south and east has intensified over the last week as poor growth and difficult ground conditions prevented dairy herds and beef stock being let out to grass.

Teagasc's PastureBase service shows that grass growth in Leinster and Ulster is running 50pc below normal levels at 4kg/ha/day.

With stronger demand for fodder and feed, IFA president, Joe Healy, has renewed his call for a "meal voucher" scheme for affected farms. Mr Healy said the current fodder transport subsidy had not worked.

"It was very clear from early on that the transport subsidy was not working; there is far too much bureaucracy involved and farmers are forced to jump through too many hoops to access support," Mr Healy said.

"A meal voucher system is the simplest solution to the grave situation, and Minister Creed needs to act immediately to properly support affected farmers," he said.

Feed traders report strong demand for baled silage in the Border counties of Cavan and Monaghan, and into Northern Ireland.

Brendan Joyce of INHFA said €45 per silage bale was being quoted in the west, and that the quality of these bales was generally poor.

The market for small square bales of both hay and straw is also brisk, with a collected price of €4/bale being paid for both in Clare and south Galway over the last fortnight.

In the UK National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said "It’s been much later, people are really getting into the throes of lambing, and we’ve certainly seen problems with shortages of silage and the cost of it.

“Normally you’d expect at this time of year to turn sheep on to some fairly new grass growth high in protein and energy, but there’s hardly a blade of grass available.”

Even when the cold weather recedes it could be up to six weeks before the grass really gets going.


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