Is your farm ready for winter?

As snow falls across the region, Department of Agriculture (DAERA) advisors have warned that spending time preparing for winter could save a lot of problems in the future.

The Met Office issued a yellow warning lasting until 6:00pm on Saturday for snow and ice, covering all of Northern Ireland as well as parts of Donegal and Monaghan and Britain. In addition, it’s expected that strong winds will also hit the north coast this weekend.

Patrick Taggart from the agri-food support branch at DAERA said: “Even if we are spared severe weather on this occasion, now is the time to prepare your farm for a range of potential winter problems:

  • Frozen and burst pipes;
  • Snow;
  • Interruption of water supply;
  • Flooding;
  • Difficulty in moving materials or stock around the farm;
  • Problems with deliveries to or collections from the farm.

“Consider the main risk areas and work out how you would deal with severe weather and how it would affect your ability to provide water, food and shelter to your animals.

Keep a close eye on the weather forecast so that you are able to take appropriate action. Carefully consider whether you need to move animals to lower ground or fodder stocks to a more sheltered location. Will farm lanes become unsafe in the event of snow and ice?

“If so, consider the need for marker signs at the edges and/or alternative routes. Keep main access areas ice-free or salted to avoid potential accidents that may involve humans, animals or machinery.

“If milk collections are suspended, have you extra storage capacity in place? If feed deliveries can’t get through, have you sufficient feed stored to cover your requirements for three days?”

Water

Taggart added that the importance of water supplies should not be underestimated and suggested farmers stockpile at least one day’s worth of water.

He said: “Clean water is an essential input on all farms but its supply may be interrupted by frozen or burst pipes.

“On dairy farms, livestock drinking water accounts for between 50% and 75% of all water usage, with lactating dairy cows drinking around 100L a day.

“Water is also needed for cleaning and hygiene. Intensive pig and poultry units are very dependent on water supply and at significant risk from a welfare perspective if fresh water is not available. You should aim to have at least 24hrs of water stored.”

Official advice

Carefully consider and, where necessary, take action on the following points:

  • Make sure you know the layout of pipes within your land. This should be recorded on a map.
  • Know where your stop valves are and make their location more obvious by marking them with one of NI Water’s free stop valve tags. (Available by contacting Waterline: Telephone: 03457 440088; or email: [email protected]).
  • Have you isolated water supply to areas of the farm not used during winter? You may need to install new stop valves to make this possible.
  • Keep a supply of relevant fittings to repair any leakages.
  • Know where your meters are located and check them regularly. An unexpectedly high reading could indicate a leak and should be investigated.
  • Inspect troughs not in use at this time of year. Consider turning off the water supply and draining the trough. (A trough stop valve will enable the water to be stopped without having to do so at the meter.)
  • Ideally, underground pipes should be buried at least 750mm below ground level.
  • Ensure any pipes within buildings are insulated and protected from livestock.
  • Ensure that all tanks, pipes and pumps are in good working order and not leaking. Fix dripping taps.
  • Have the name and contact details of at least one SNIPEF (Scotland and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers Federation) registered plumber easily available in case of an emergency.
  • Keeping farm watercourses clean will help ensure that water flows easily away following a thaw, thereby minimising the risk of flooding.

To report a water supply problem, contact NI Water on: 03457 440088 or email: [email protected].

“Some time spent now, preparing your farm for the unexpected, could save you a lot of problems in the future,” Taggart added.