East Anglian livestock farmers battle to keep animals healthy during ‘worst conditions in 50 years’
Farmers were out in force across East Anglia this week, battling the elements to tend their livestock and help stranded motorists as the icy chill of the Beast from the East gripped the region. CHRIS HILL and SARAH CHAMBERS report.
Livestock farmers faced some of the worst weather conditions in living memory as they battled to get food and water to their animals – even overcoming roads blocked by abandoned vehicles.
Sheep farmer Tim Crick, based at Benacre near Lowestoft, has a large flock grazing across fields stretching from Great Yarmouth to the River Orwell.
He and his team made regular checks on the sheep to ensure they could get access to their feed and didn’t stray as snow drifts covered barbed wire fences used to pen them in.
Mr Crick, who faced two road blocks along the A12 to get to sheep at Toby Walks at Walberswick following the worst of this week’s snow storms, said he managed to get through using side roads and fields.
“We’re not doing too badly,” he said. “The sheep are on winter vegetables at the moment. It’s just a case of making sure they have enough to eat. The snow will drift over the feed and it also drifts over the fence.”
Mr Crick said the animals were in good health, and the ewes are not due to lamb until April – but if the cold spell continues it could have knock-on effects for feeding and grazing later.
Andrew Foulds, whose sheep herds span Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, described the conditions as “character-forming”.
“These are some of the worst conditions I have had in 50 years of doing this job,” he said. “But we have got a superb team of good, young shepherds who go out in all weathers and get the job done.”
North Norfolk farmer James Runciman, a member of the NFU regional livestock board, said: “Getting out to animals is the most difficult thing – it has been tractors everywhere.
“The most important thing is keeping the animals insulated, fed and watered. As fast as I could fill a tank the hose froze up again. I had to keep getting the lamps out to melt it.
“With lambing and calving it is important to get the animals in because you don’t want new-born animals outside, they need to be in the warm and dry.
“You have the added pressure that the straw price is double or more what it was last year and is fairly scarce. Everyone is doing their best because you can’t take risks where welfare is involved.”
Jeremy Buxton, who keeps a pedigree herd of Hereford cattle at Eves Hill Farm in Booton, near Reepham, said: “The big challenge is keeping the trough full and the water flowing.
“All of our water pipes have been frozen and this time of year has been particularly challenging because many people are coming into lambing and calving, so you cannot leave animals without water. That is the main challenge.
“Everything takes longer in these conditions, and everything else goes out of the window. The animals are the priority. I have done nothing else this week – except pull cars and vans out of snow drifts.
“It is difficult, but it is not unenjoyable. You just get on with it.”