Appeal for help as livestock losses soar

Farmers who have lost animals as a result of snow drifts should have carcasses collected from their farmland free of charge, say the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), as data shows sheep losses are up by almost a fifth on the same period the year before.

The organisation’s livestock board chairman Chris Sercombe wants the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) to introduce the measure in the short-term to relieve financial pressure on those whose livestock suffered.

An initial assessment of the number of fallen livestock recovered from farms in England between the start of January and the end of March shows that sheep have been most vulnerable.

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Some 61,918 sheep were lost in the first three months of this year, an extra 9,517 on the same period last year and an 18 per cent increase. The data, compiled by NFSCo, shows that more cattle have been lost this year too. The figure was up three per cent on the same period in 2012, to a total of 37,651.

Concessions are already in place to ease farmers’ difficulties, Defra said, and Farming Minister David Heath has issued guidance to local authorities explaining how to implement rules.

But Mr Sercombe, of the NFU, said: “As the snow begins to recede, farmers are uncovering more dead sheep in the snow and numbers are starting to mount in farm yards. We are receiving reports of farms with hundreds of breeding sheep that have been lost in drifts; aside from the long-term impact that losing this number of breeding animals has on the farming business, they will now be faced with a bill of several thousand pounds for disposal.”

Explaining what rules had been put in place, a Defra spokesperson said: “We know the recent bad weather has been a severe blow to British farmers, making it extremely difficult for farmers to dispose of animal carcases. During these exceptional circumstances, farmers will be allowed to bury or burn animals on the farm land.”

Rules have been relaxed on driver hours to allow extra time for deliveries of animal feed to farms and tractors run on red diesel were permitted to help grit and clear snow from public roads, Defra said.

It has asked the NFSCo to consider reduced costs for multiple collections of stock from the same farm.

Farmers are permitted to bury or burn animal carcases in exceptional circumstances, for example if a farm is devoid of vehicle access or animals are buried in snow, Defra said.

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said: “In such abnormal and extreme circumstances it only seems right that Defra covers the cost of collecting the fallen stock that perished in the awful weather conditions.

“The impact of the snow in Yorkshire and other parts of England has been equal to that in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where their governments have been quick to offer financial support.

“In addition it’s vital the Government provides reassurance that authorities will operate in a flexible and sympathetic manner when dealing with farmers who are struggling to pick up and dispose of all fallen stock.

“Some snow drifts are yet to clear and other areas are still inaccessible because of boggy ground conditions, so farmers cannot be penalised for not picking up carcases in remote and inaccessible areas.”

Michael Seals, chairman of the NFSCo, said: “What we have been doing ever since the disaster happened in Scotland in 2010 is running a disaster scheme which allows lower prices to be charged for collections.

“We have also developed a more flexible pricing structure which allows agreements to be made locally.”

The thaw means it is too early to establish a full picture of losses in Yorkshire, he said.