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Coping after the snow

Advice for dairy farmers | Advice for beef farmers Advice for sheep farmers Advice for tillage farmers

 Stay Safe

  • When tending animals carry a mobile phone and let people know where you are.
  • Check in at appropriate regular intervals.
  • If attending to animals in remote locations, a second person should be in accompaniment.
  • If searching for animals in snow, wear high visibility clothing so you can be easily seen.
  • Be careful around the farmyard when clearing up after the storm.
  • Falls represent the single biggest threat during any clean-up period after such storms and appropriate care needs to be taken to avoid such occurrences.
  • Any attempts to remove snow from roofs of farm buildings should be avoided.  
  • Repairs to buildings and equipment should be carried by appropriately qualified personnel.
  • With a thaw there will be significant volumes of slush and water to deal with, so it will be particularly important to ensure drains and gullies are clear to prevent flooding of tanks.  

Animal Welfare

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine’s 24-hour animal welfare helpline continues to be monitored and this will remain the case over the coming days. Members of the public with any concerns can contact the Department’s helpline on: Call Save 0761 064408 or 01-6072379

Advice for dairy farmers 

  • Check water supply for leaks around the farm, particularly if water troughs in fields were not drained for winter. 
  • Do a quick calculation of silage reserves. Allow:
    • 400kg per head fresh silage per week housed for cows/ in-calf heifers
    • 180kg per head fresh silage per week for youngstock
    • For example, a herd with 80 cows and 35 maiden heifers will need 80*400 + 35*180 = 38.3 tonnes per week housed. Where silage reserves are tight, it is better to take action early to stretch supplies. Speak to your advisor for options.
  • Increase concentrate feed levels by approximately 2 kg/head/day when milking cows are indoors
  • It may seem impossible after the week just gone, but the priority is to get the milking herd to grass as soon as possible. Once the snow has cleared, keep a close eye on weather forecast and check ground conditions daily. Be ready to go to the drier paddocks on the farm. A few hours at grass every day makes a big difference.
  • When soil temperatures increase and soils dry out spread fertilizer N (40-50 units/ac)
  • Monitor SCC and mastitis closely. All cows should be pre-stripped at each milking to ensure early detection of mastitis.
  • Calf sheds will begin to come under pressure in many yards from this week on. Catch up on registrations and BVD tagging, and move bull calves out promptly. 
  • See also Coping with snow: tips for dairy farmers

Advice for beef farmers

  • Check all troughs around the farm especially those that are distant from the farmyard. There may be burst pipes/fittings which will lead to water wastage and increased bills.
  • Spring will be 2-3 weeks later than anticipated. If fodder stocks are already low then farmers should consider feeding some meal (2-3kgs) to lengthen forage supplies.
  • For autumn calved suckler cows wean now. This will decrease feed requirements and you will be able to turn out the weanlings to graze the grass that grows hopefully soon. They won’t be accompanied by the heavy suckler cow that will poach wet ground and also eat valuable grass.
  • Ensure that slurry goes out land with low grass cover when conditions allow. This will give relief to tanks that are full (or almost full) and will accelerate growth without souring grass that has built up over winter.  Take care with run off etc off fields flowing into waterways if spreading.
  • When ground conditions allow get fertilizer out at 35 units n per acre to drive grass growth into April

Advice for sheep farmers

  • Check all water sources to eliminate leaks and ensure that all sheep have access to water
  • If water sources are frozen, break and remove ice to ensure that sheep have access to liquid water
  • Ensure young lambs have access to shelter.
  • If grass supplies are below 4 cm, waterlogged or snow covered provide supplementary feed.
  • Pregnant twin bearing lowland ewes  outdoors with limited access to feed require 1kg concentrate supplementation split in two feeds daily. Single bearing ewes and hill sheep require 0.6kg of concentrate supplementation per day. 
  • In areas difficult to access there is a role for the provision of feed blocks/buckets to supplement sheep outdoors.
  • Lactating ewes with limited access to grass (below 4 cm, waterlogged or snow covered) require 1.5kg of concentrate supplementation per day split into two equal feeds.
  • Where stock have no access to grass a roughage source in the form of hay or silage should be made available.
  • Prioritise any grass available to ewes with lambs at foot
  • Provide Magnesium supplementation (In feed, bolus or mineral bucket) for lactating ewes during periods of adverse weather to guard against grass tetany
  • Apply 25-30 units of N fertiliser once ground conditions and weather conditions improve.

Advice for tillage farmers

  • Snow cover levels varied across the country.  Snow depths or the duration it has been lying on the ground will not be sufficient to damage crops.  Flooding melt waters may cause some difficulties.  As soon as it’s safe to travel in fields check drain outlets and key field drainage points
  • Temperature were low but not low enough to cause widespread damage to crops.  Winter sown oats are the most at risk of frost damage.  Walk vulnerable crops in the coming days to assess if any damage has occurred.  Consult your local advisor if damage is suspected
  • Most sprayers were indoors and had anti-freeze in their systems  however check sprayers for frost damage in plenty of time before crop operations resume
  • Soil is now very wet and will need to soak/dry out before any ploughing can resume

Grassland advice

The recent snow has increased the physical and mental challenges facing farmers and their families at an already busy time of the year.  The snow event we’ve just experienced will have checked spring grazing/grass supply by up to two weeks. 


Paddocks will be wet once the snow melts so you have to be prepared to graze drier paddocks, with good access, and lower covers.  However at this time of year, they tend to dry quickly so be ready to get milking cows and young stock to grass once the snow melts and conditions allow. 

  1. Assess available grass supply – target AFC for 1st March is c.700 kg DM/ha. The target for 10th March is 55% of the grazing area grazed by then.  This is now unlikely to happen on many farms. 
  2. Recovery - the paddocks grazed in February should have a cover of 300-400 kg DM/ha by March 10th.
  3. If the recovery is below target or less than 1/3 of the area has been grazed by March 1st, extend the end of the first rotation to between 10th and 15th April.


Aim to apply fertilizer N in mid-March once soil temperature increases and soils are trafficable:

  1. Where the second application if N is being applied, spread 40-50 units of N/acre or the equivalent in 18:6:12 if P and K are at index 1 or 2 (subject to nitrates limitations);
  2. Where this is the first application of N, apply 50-60 units N/acre.