Farmers battle with freezing farms as big chill continues

Farmers battle with freezing farms as big chill continues

Farmers battle with freezing farms as big chill continues

Eamonn mcfadden

With the ongoing thick layer of snow on fields around the county, farmers are struggling to carry out even the simplest duties during what is traditionally a busy time of year.

With most fields still under several inches of snow coupled with icy rural roads, transport and water shortages are just two of many problems they are facing in dealing with the ongoing cold snap.

Many livestock farmers are being forced to keep cattle and sheep indoors in an effort to make feeding and lambing easier.

Well-known sheep farmer, John Russell from Ballymaleel, Letterkenny, says getting deliveries on to farms, as well as produce off them, is proving one of the biggest challenges as treacherous road conditions continue to prevail.

He says one of the main concerns is having enough water and feed to sustain animals.

"Silage stocks are going to run low from mid-January to the beginning of April where as this year now your silage is likely to run low in March time, before they start to lamb, so you'll have to buy in extra silage. I'd say that will drive prices but last summer was a good summer and there was a lot of silage saved so there is stuff about but at the same time it's going to leave it that stock and the price of grain have gone up as well so feed costs will be dearer.

"The longer you could keep them at grass the better," John explained.

He says sheep require much less water than cattle so any beef producing farms are having to spend "half the day" drawing water or thawing out water pipes.

He says they currently have 170 sheep outside with up to 420 ewes inside at the moment.

In a double blow, John who also runs the popular Letterkenny Karting Centre near his family farm on the Ramelton Road, has had to face many cancellations at the centre at a time of year that is also traditionally one of the busiest with many Christmas parties taking place in the run up to and over the holiday period.

With a half a mile of track at the centre and with just 150 metres indoors he says they have been forced to close it but they aim to have it up and running again, weather permitting, for the holidays period just after Christmas.

He says like many other local businesses, the cancellations he had to endure has a knock-on effect on the local economy.

"We had 150 booked in for Saturday and that was all wiped out. A large group of them were coming from Kesh and were supposed to stay over in a local hotel. There were a lot of people booked but the weather ended all that," he said.

Dairy farmer, Keith Roulston from Manorcunningham, says the weather has made all aspects of farming "exceptionally difficult" at present.

"It has been making everything exceptionally difficult. All the things you would normally take for granted such as milking machine freezing and re-freezing as quick as they can melt, everything is a challenge. The weather we are having is worse than the Baltic areas and countries like Latvia and Liechtenstein. They are getting the weather we normally get.

"It's hard for people to get out to go to the super markets but it's difficult too to get milk off the farm and producers find it difficult to get meat to the factories. We are all having to make adjustments."

The former chairman of the Donegal IFA says the one positive to come from the bad weather was that it keeps many troublesome animal diseases from spreading.

"It has been a bit of a chore and if you are lambing sheep at the minute then it doubles the work but the cold weather does kill bacteria and keeps viruses at bay so every cloud has a silver lining," he added.

John Russell watches his sheep as they feed in sub zero conditions. Photo Brian Mc Daid 1912bd311