Snow joke as farmers suffer winter blues

A REPEAT of last winter's chaos - when exceptionally heavy snowfalls were estimated to have brought down about 3,000 farm buildings - is on the cards, with reports already coming in of farm shed roofs collapsing under the sheer weight of snow in this early start to winter.

Matthew Scott, manager for the NFU Mutual insurance company, said last night that his company had already received 15 claims from the North-east of Scotland and about the same number from the Scottish Borders.

"So far we have had no reports of animals being injured," he said. "Often there are warning signs that roofs are about to give way with creaking noises from girders and beams bowing under the strain. This gives farmers time to get livestock out."

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Scott also warned farmers and employees to be extremely careful when trying to remove snow from roofs as accidents had happened in the past when attempts were made to clear overloaded roofs.

But it is not just the snow that is building up problems as sheep farmers are finding their 2011 breeding programmes may be delayed because they cannot get their rams out to start the mating process.

Bob Carruth, the union's communications director, said this was the time of year when rams are traditionally introduced on to the hills but the weather has knocked that schedule on the head. The problem is the disruption to tupping caused by the weather will lengthen the lambing period next Easter and also affect the number of lambs born.

Carruth added that livestock farmers, especially those on the hills were also in touch with the Union expressing their concern over the early use of valuable winter fodder stocks that most would have preferred to have kept in reserve until later into the winter.

Stephen Young, of the Borders Machinery Ring, confirmed there were delivery problems with fuel to farms. There were also problems with animal feed deliveries but at least with these, he said there was often the option of road end transfer onto tractor and trailer transport to help get through the snow.

Borders Machinery Ring members are also working for the local authority with a dozen snowploughs clearing roads and shifting snow.