Diseased carcasses removed by truckload
Farmers facing desperate times as livestock decimated by fodder crisis
Cattle and sheep are dying on farms as the lack of grass and replacement fodder is leaving animals more vulnerable to disease and infection.
Official Department of Agriculture figures put the number of mortalities of cattle in the first four months of this year at 152,000. That is up 36,000 on the mortality rate for the same period in 2012.
The department's animal-welfare helpline has received 860 calls though its early warning system.
One knackery in the west – Greene's of Ahascragh in east Galway, which serves an area stretching from Roscommon to south Galway, has reported a 100 per cent increase in activity, with queues of lorries forming to unload carcasses.
Winter hasn't ended yet over huge swathes of the Irish countryside and the shortage of grass and fodder has left tens of thousands of farmers in desperate straits – despite the mammoth logistical operation of importing thousands of tonnes of French hay and British silage.
As religious vigils took place in Cork and Kerry and special Masses were heard in Mayo last week, praying for better weather, the true extent of the crisis became clear.
Last year's disastrous summer and a six-month winter this year will now cost the economy €1bn.
IFA deputy president Eddie Downey told the Sunday Independent: "It's the single biggest crisis in Irish agriculture for years, in my view, and it has been understated just how bad it is.
"What is strange is that there are pockets of the country still in crisis, while in other parts ground conditions have improved because of drier weather. But along the entire west coast and into the north-east, around Cavan, Monaghan and even north Meath, it is very very bad.
"The paradox is that in some parts of the country they have managed to cut silage. It's not a bad crop – not wonderful, but not that far behind the norm."
Another contributory factor is the increase in the number of cattle in the Republic, which has risen sharply in recent years due to improved prices. There are now more than 300,000 extra cattle in the country, compared with four years ago.
According to Professor John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth, the problem is the stubborn anti-cyclones that have become "locked" over Ireland, bringing with them northerly and north-westerly air flows (cold polar air), rather than the warm moist air from the south that usually comes at this time of year.
"This has been very sustained this spring – really from the beginning of March you had a tendency for the anticyclones to become entrenched in position."
Professor Sweeney said it was still unclear why this was happening.
"Whether it is due to something that is 'gone' in our climate as a result of climate change or not is open to speculation. There is some research linking the location and weakness of the jet stream to the south with the removal of the summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean."
He added: "It is very tentative as yet, but it is being suggested that the loss of all that shiny snow and the warming up of the northern ocean is reducing the need for our depressions to whistle by us as normal. Instead, it is making the jet stream weaker and a bit more inclined to get locked in strange positions.
"That is just one suggestion but it really is too early to label a cause."