As the nights draw in, farmers need to be ready for every eventuality, ensuring that businesses are prepared for the winter ahead.
Our British Farmer and Grower magazine team put together some key reminders for the November edition to help safeguard farms and ultimately keep farmers, their families, staff, livestock and machinery safe.
Plan to protect your farmland
Flooding can be devastating to farm businesses and over the past few years parts of the North and South of England have been battered by the elements. For the 2007 and 2013/14 floods alone the costs racked up to £50 million and £19 million respectively, only reiterating that the need to prepare your farm for the worst is paramount. In order to plan before a flood, always keep an inventory of stock, machinery and tools that are on your farm, as well as listing key contacts such as suppliers that need to be reached if you’re cut off, to ensure business continuity and reduced loss of earnings. Minimising the impact is massively important – stockpile useful materials to keep floodwater at bay such as sandbags and pallets to raise stock.
Are you prepared? The NFU’s flooding checklist
Have an early warning system that gives everyone time to act. For example, sign up to the Environment Agency’s Floodline on 0345 988 1188
Identify chemicals and fuels that could contaminate floodwater and consider how you will move them to a safe place
Move livestock from flood-prone buildings to higher ground as quickly as possible – well designed and maintained handling facilities will make dealing with stressed livestock easier
When you’re hit with a flood, regularly inspect water supply and feed stocks for contamination, and don’t use feed that may be contaminated or water damaged
Account for livestock after the flood, identify missing animals and inform neighbours
Take photographs as evidence to show the extent of flooding, in case a recovery fund is established.
Fuel and slurry: The Big Five
1 Make sure you have enough capacity for slurry storage to see you through the bad weather. Check rainwater from guttering is not directed to the slurry store, as it can use up vital capacity.
2 Check fuel tanks regularly as cycles of cold and warm weather can lead to pipes fracturing. Water getting into fuel tanks can cause separation and bacterial growth, so consider getting the tanks checked before taking a delivery of fuel.
3 Buy fuel in advance for heating purposes if possible. This avoids price spikes and ensures there is a reserve.
4 Ensure you have enough fuel for when supplies can’t get through to the farm.
5 Do not spread muck or fertiliser on frozen ground. Nutrients are unlikely to permeate the ground and could cause water pollution as the nutrients on the ground will be washed away.
The will of the winter weather
Share weather information with others by uploading it to the Met Office’s weather observations website. This shows how the weather is varying across the UK, which could be invaluable for other farmers.
You can use the NFU’s weather toolbox on to find links to information such as flood forecasts. And remember, severe ice and snow can bring down power lines, so have a contingency plan in place for losing electricity – which could be for days.
The free national 105 telephone number allows customers to report issues, get information on power cuts, report damage to electricity power lines and substations that could be dangerous. Where there’s a serious and immediate risk, call the emergency services on 999.
Agricultural buildings have collapsed under severe snow, so ensure your building is not showing signs of buckling, distortion or corrosion. If you have concerns, get it checked by a structural engineer and don’t use it until it’s certified as safe.
Do not work at height on windy or frozen days. If you do, ensure you take proper precautions to ensure a slip doesn’t result in a potentially fatal fall. In 2015/2016, falls from working at height was the second biggest cause of fatal accidents in farming, accounting for 21% of deaths.
If the severe weather is making it difficult to get supplies to animals, you can contact your local NFU office or local Trading Standards for help and support.
Healthy herd, happy herd
Pneumonia is the biggest threat to housed livestock, which can lead to reduced daily liveweight gain and impaired carcass quality. On-farm investigations show that cattle lungs are more susceptible to pneumonia compared to other animals, so it’s important to keep an eye on cattle, especially heavily muscled breeds with smaller lung volumes.
Many things can contribute to pneumonia. These include:
- Higher stocking rates. Increased heat or moisture from animals, means a higher risk of infection. There is also greater social stress at water points and feeding troughs.
- Immunity is influenced by nutrition. Vitamin E and selenium deficiency, for example, has been linked with pneumonia.
- Bedding, moisture, air quality and draughts. Keep gutters and downpipes in good condition to avoid excess water entering the building.
- Air flow. Ensure fresh air flows through a building, though not at animal height.
- The main pathogens are respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza-3 (PI-3), infection bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVD). These can be controlled through vaccination, and failure to do so can increase the risk of bovine respiratory disease (BRD), which in turn, increases the risk of pneumonia.
- The pathogen Mycoplasma bovis has been associated with pneumonia outbreak. There no vaccine for mycoplasma, and has to be treated with antibiotics. If you suspect something is wrong with your herd, speak to your vet in the first instance, and don’t wait for an outbreak.