Fodder crisis: ‘Hard decisions must be made now to protect welfare’

Farmers are urged to think now about how they will manage their animals’ welfare this winter as fears of a fodder crisis heighten.

Poor growing and harvesting conditions this year have left fodder in short supply.

Northern Ireland’s chief vet has warned farmers should make “hard decisions now” to preserve animal welfare standards if they are worried about their winter feedstocks.

Northern Ireland’s chief veterinary officer Robert Huey said the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is aware of the difficult situation facing many farmers.

Waterlogged fields have forced many farmers to keep cattle indoors through the worst of the summer weather.

Grass intended for silage also could not be cut across much of the region, meaning more winter feed reserves than normal have been used up for this time of year.

Remove less productive stock early

To minimise livestock feed problems in the winter and spring time DAERA is urging farmers to assess their feed stores now to ensure they have sufficient provisions for the stock they intend to overwinter.

In doing this it is important to assess both the quantity and the quality of the feed available to prevent later problems associated with poor diet.

Huey said: “It’s very important that farmers plan ahead in a year like this.

Taking hard decisions to remove less productive stock early in the winter will help conserve fodder, improve the efficiency of the farm business and ensure that good standards of animal welfare are maintained.

“The wet conditions will also have increased the risk, for example, of liver fluke, clostridial disease, pneumonia, lameness and general ill-thrift. Preventative measures can decrease these risks.

“If your livestock have specific veterinary issues or you see signs that animal health problems are emerging then contact your private veterinary practitioner as early as possible.

“Your private veterinary practitioner will provide advice to help you to protect your stock from malnutrition and distress.

“They will be able, for example, to carry out pregnancy testing of animals which will help in determining their individual nutritional needs or inform a decision to sell them.”

It comes as the last of three fodder crisis response meetings held in the north-west takes place on Tuesday night in Coleraine.

The College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) organised the series of farmer meetings to provide guidance for farmers on how best to manage feeding over the coming months.