Farmers send livestock to slaughter early due to drought
Dairy farmer Abi Reader has already sent four milking cows to slaughter and she’s planning to send four more as the cost of feeding them soars.
The record summer heatwave has put huge pressure on farmers like her.
Meat and milk producers, like salad and vegetable growers, say it is having a “crippling impact”.
Their concerns are on the agenda at a “drought summit” where the president of the National Farmers’ Union will meet government representatives.
The NFU says it is “seeking urgent action” to address the impact of the dry weather, despite heavy rain in recent days, which has provided some potential relief.
Representatives of farming organisations, The Environment Agency, Natural England, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and farming charities RABI and Farming Community Network are expected to meet Secretary of State for the environment Michael Gove to discuss how to mitigate the impact on food producers.
Already farmers growing lettuce, peas and carrots have warned of shortages if the hot weather continues. The forecast is for high temperatures to return on Friday.
For livestock farmers the lack of rain means animals can’t just be put out to pasture as usual.
Near Cardiff in Wales, where Abi Reader farms her 180-strong milking herd, grass is usually green and lush throughout the summer, she says, but the heat has dried it to a crisp yellow.
It’s costing her £210 a day to keep them fed using silage and hay.
“We’re breaking into winter stocks, that’s the frightening thing,” she says. It doesn’t make economic sense to feed so many.
So they’re “shedding passengers” - cutting down the number of mouths by sending cows to slaughter that would in better circumstances have continued milking. Two were cows that aborted calves due to the stress of the hot weather.
“We’ve lost a lot of money on them. The cheapest option is get rid of them and cut our losses,” she says.
Ms Reader says she’s not the only farmer taking this course of action. It was hard to find a slot for them in abattoir, she says.
John O’Farrell, who runs an abattoir in Camarthenshire, Wales, says many farmers are culling animals earlier than they would normally, following a bad grass growing season due to the harsh weather in March, which delayed the start of outdoor grazing, followed by the heatwave.
“Our volume of work is considerably higher than we would expect at this time of year,” he told BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today programme.
“Farmers are taking the view if the animals are to be culled it’s best to cull early.”
The same factors are having an impact on beef and sheep herds too, according to Nick Allen from the British Meat Processors Association.
“The first thing we noticed was people sending lambs in for slaughter at slightly lighter weights than normal,” he says. “The moment they’re running out of grass on the farm they get rid of them earlier.”
He says if farmers go into winter short of feed and relying on expensive concentrates it will push up costs and could result in lower overall production of UK meat and milk.
“It could translate into meat being in shorter supply and prices having to go up because the cost of production is going to have to go up, without a shadow of a doubt,” he added.
At Wednesday’s meeting, National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters will raise a range of issues resulting from the lack of rainfall.
She will say the weather has created “extra volatility and pressures” on farmers and will discuss what can be done to help mitigate the impact of the ongoing heatwave in particular in terms of ensuring water supplies to farms.
The NFU would like to see more flexibility for farmers to apply for a licence from the Environment Agency to take water from rivers to irrigate crops. It would also like to see more opportunities for access to public supply water when there is spare capacity in the system.
“I know many areas of the country experienced thunderstorms and heavy rain last weekend, said Ms Batters.
“Unfortunately, that hasn’t mitigated the many issues farmers are experiencing currently from availability of water and lack of forage and feed,” she said.
Source: BBC Business