Villages and towns cut off by heavy snowfalls have seen farmers use tractors as snow ploughs, but they are facing mounting problems of their own that will only get worse the longer the current conditions last.
A spokesperson for the Yorkshire and North East branch of the National Farmers’ Union said: “Some farmers are saying that this is the worst snow they have seen for 20 years. Everyone is working around the clock to battle the conditions, from getting milk tankers in because they have limited storage for the milk from their herds, to trying to get to their sheep and keep water lines running for cattle.
“A lot of farmers will have brought their sheep down to lower levels but there is a risk they will get buried depending where they are taking shelter.”
Tim Price, a rural affairs specialist at insurer NFU Mutual, said: “Farmers across the UK are facing huge difficulties to look after livestock in the worst UK-wide winter weather we have seen for over a decade.
“In the areas which have had heavy snow and temperatures falling below -10C, farmers are facing a massive challenge to get fodder to sheep and cattle which are out in the fields or housed in remote buildings.
“We haven’t seen such cold, prolonged temperatures for a generation. With temperatures not rising above freezing during the day, the risk of pipes freezing in homes and farms is very high.”
He said that over the next 48 hours, it is important to keep an eye on depth of snow on roofs and to move vulnerable livestock inside if snowfall turns wet and slushy and roofs appear at risk.
Neil Heseltine, who farms at Hill Top Farm in Malhamdale, described the conditions as “horrendous”.
“This is probably the worst drifting I’ve seen since we got a freak storm in April in about 1982/83. There were a lot of lambs on the ground on that occasion so this has come at a better time of year for most but there will be some casualties.”
Yorkshire shepherdess Amanda Owen, who farms at Ravenseat, more than 1,300ft above sea level, said: “It’s just unbelievably bad. We took some of the sheep down from the tops and the snow is really deep, the sheep won’t go through the drifts.
“When we open the curtains and look out, there is only snow. The roads are blocked.”
Sir Gary Verity, the chief executive of the tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire, was battling against the weather to deliver lambs on his farm in Coverdale.
He said: “We’ve got a struggle on our hands. We’re right at the peak of out lambing and it’s not conducive to it at all.
“We’re relatively fortunate in that we can get most of our sheep inside but there are still some out.
“There will be lots of people with hundreds and hundreds of sheep who will be ‘overblown’ today. They’ll be out digging trying to find them at the back of walls.”