Cattle deaths up 30% as ‘perfect storm’ hits farming sector

South Tipperary’s knackeries have experienced a massive increase in the number of dead livestock they have taken in from farms over the past three months due to the bitterly cold spring and fodder crisis that is continuing this week.

South Tipperary’s knackeries have experienced a massive increase in the number of dead livestock they have taken in from farms over the past three months due to the bitterly cold spring and fodder crisis that is continuing this week.

Poor quality silage due to a bad summer last year combined with an early winter, the harsh weather this spring and resulting shortage of fodder and lack of grass growth has created a “perfect storm” for farmers, leading to the huge rise in livestock sickness and deaths on farms across the county and entire country, according to one South Tipperary knackery owner.

Some desperate farmers have resorted to selling off their stock at marts and at meat factories to get much needed cash in to pay mounting feed bills and other debts that have spiralled over the spring months because of the harsh weather conditions and lack of grass growth.

While the weather has improved somewhat over the past few weeks, grass growth has remained slow and livestock on many farms are still being housed at night as fodder supplies get scarcer.

Over the past week, farmers have been sourcing subsidised hay imported from the UK at dairy co-operatives like Dairgold, Tipperary Co-op, Centenary, Mullinahone and Arrabawn. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has been urged by farming organisations to extend the E1m transport subsidy scheme for another few weeks and for these hay imports to be also made available at marts and other businesses selling fodder.

The knackery owner The 
Nationalist spoke to this week reported a more than 30% increase in the number of dead livestock it has taken in start of February and first week in April. It has been the biggest influx of dead carcases he has experienced since he began work in the business about 15 years ago.

His firm’s experience has been mirrored in knackeries throughout the county and country. Nationally knackeries have reported an increase in livestock deaths of between 20% and 40%

He said it has been a perfect storm for farmers, a combination of bad weather, bad silage from last year, cows coming into gestation and not getting good quality feed and poor grass growth.

“I can imagine the depression rate has risen dramatically in the farming community and financially they have been hit really, really hard,” said the knackery owner, who didn’t wish to be named.

Co. Tipperary farmer Pat McCormack, Vice President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) agreed the increase in animal deaths on farms has been a major problem compounding farmers difficulties this spring.

He said nationally 25,000 extra farm livestock had died this spring, which amounted to approximately €12.5m loss to farmers.

Mr McCormack, who farms at Greenane between Donaskeigh and Tipperary, said the busiest livestock lorries on the roads of South Tipperary have been those bringing dead animals to the knackeries.

“Farmers could have to wait two days or more to have them collected and if you bring dead animals to the knackeries you find they are packed. There are carcasses stacked up in the yard. It’s a regrettable situation.”

Mr McCormack, who is the ICMSA’s Dairy Committee Chairman, said every day he receives a number of phone calls from farmers distressed over this criss and he hopes a few weeks of good weather will make it a distant memory for them.

Glen of Aherlow suckler farmer James Walsh said he was at Cashel Mart last Saturday and there was a lot of breeding stock being sold off there by farmers at lower prices than they are worth just so they could get cash in to pay their mounting bills.

“These are breeding stock that farmers wouldn’t be selling under any circumstances. They are the equivalent of selling the hen with the golden egg. I know one farmer who sold 10 of his dairy cows to pay for feed bills.”

James has been forced to fork out an extra €2000 on feed concentrate this spring and has about 15% extra debts compared to last year. His livestock are still not out on in the fields full time. But his experience hasn’t been too bad compared to others.

Mr McCormack along with South Tipperary IFA Chairman George Mason, have advised farmers to talk to their lending institutions, co-ops and feed merchants to work out repayment plans for debts they have built up due to the current crisis.

More than 200 farmers attended an IFA meeting at the Horse & Jockey Hotel last Thursday at which the fodder crisis was discussed. A Teagasc representative advised farmers on how to deal with the fodder shortages at the meeting that was addressed by IFA President John Bryan.

Mr Mason, who farms near Ardfinnan, urged Minister Coveney to extend the fodder imports subsidy scheme for another two week and advised farmers wishing to purchase fodder under this scheme to book with the supplying co-ops and other suppliers a few days in advance.