Key advice for livestock farmers in light of Status Red weather warning

Farmers have been advised to take particular protective measures in relation to livestock following the severe weather this week.

This is all the more relevant following the issuing of a Status Red weather warning by Met Eireann this morning (Wednesday, February 28) for: Dublin; Kildare; Louth; Wicklow; and Meath. A Status Orange warning has been issued for: Carlow; Kilkenny; Laois; Longford; Wexford; Offaly; Westmeath; Cork; Tipperary; and Waterford. Both warnings are valid until noon tomorrow (Thursday, March 1).

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Farmers can consult advice issued by the Office of Emergency Planning as part of its ‘Be Winter Ready‘ campaign.

Livestock will survive for a period of time without food, but animals will show signs of dehydration if left longer than 24 hours without water.

Farmers are advised that the most vulnerable groups of animals to a water shortage are dairy cows, animals on high concentrate diets and animals fed hay, straw or other very dry feeds.

Dairy cows must have access to drinking water at all times. A cow producing 30L of milk and being fed a silage-based diet requires 75-90L (16-20 gallons) of water per day.

Finishing animals on high levels of dry feed – such as high concentrate diets – should always have free access to water. An animal consuming 10kg dry matter of dry feed will need 60L (13 gallons) of water daily.

In the event where an adequate water supply cannot be provided, concentrate feeding levels should be reduced and livestock should be put on wet silage fed to appetite.

Once the water supply is restored, it is important for these animals to be introduced to meals gradually. Reducing mineral intake may reduce the demand for water, particularly in sheep.

Farmers are also reminded that if livestock’s access to water has been restricted and then suddenly made available, over-drinking or water toxicity can cause health problems and even fatalities in extreme cases.

It is best to allow gradual access to water initially, when animals are extremely thirsty.

Out-wintered stock

Cattle can cope with low temperatures provided they have plenty of feed. Even young calves are not seriously affected by low temperatures if they have shelter from chilling wind and driving snow/rain.

Water supply is a huge problem with outdoor stock; farmers are reminded that surface ice needs to be broken twice per day.

Sheep are the largest group of out-wintered stock:
  • Ewes in early and late pregnancy have higher energy requirements than those in mid-pregnancy. These ewes should get a supply of forage (hay or silage) and about 0.5kg meal/day where there is a blanket of snow and no grass available;
  • Ewes in mid-pregnancy will get adequate energy from hay or silage, fed to appetite;
  • Sheep need access to water where dry feeds (hay/meals) are fed. Introduce meal gradually to avoid acidosis;
  • Forage should be fed in a round feeder or behind a feed barrier to avoid wastage.
  • Meal should be fed in troughs or on a packed line of snow – this can be made by tractor or quad driving on the snow and forming packed lines. Feed the concentrate, preferably as nuts, on the packed lines of snow.

Farmers have also been warned that heavily frosted brassica crops (kale, rape, etc) consumed at a high rate will cause scouring, digestive upsets and even death in severe situations.

Brassica crops are normally grazed in-situ and in most cases could be expected to have thawed by midday, when the strip wire can be moved and animals fed.

It is advisable to not to feed brassica crops if frozen and to bring in silage or hay in round feeders. If the feed allowance from brassicas is limited, it is recommended to bring in extra fodder to match the reduced intake.

Farmers have been asked to avoid feeding frosted beet, as it contains oxalic acid – which can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities.

The severe frost could also damage fodder beet that is stored outside. Outdoor clamps of beet should be covered with straw and an old silage cover to prevent freezing and keep off fresh snowfalls.