THE number of livestock found dead following the deepest snowdrifts in decades has almost doubled in recent days.
Official figures released yesterday by the Department of Agriculture (DARD) show the running total of recovered carcasses now stands at 5,888.
Towards the end of last week, just over 3,000 dead sheep and cattle had been collected by DARD-approved contractors.
The free collection scheme was implemented to alleviate some of the difficulties farmers were experiencing as a result of the worst weather crisis in 50 years.
A spokesman for the Ulster Farmers’ Union said the increasing numbers of dead animals was depressing news for farmers.
Joe McDonald said: “We expected the figure to be into the thousands but you don’t know until the snow starts to thaw just how big a calamity it was.
“I would say there are a few more to come yet, especially with the depths of those drifts. The snow is thawing, but there are those areas where there is still a lot of snow underfoot.
“The unknown factor is the aftermath – what the traumatisation of the sheep will lead to. A lot of those hill sheep are only starting to lamb now and many of the sheep will have dead lambs.
“Some parts of the Sperrins had something like this about three years ago. The snow only lasted a couple of days that time but it was bad, and whenever the sheep recovered there were still a lot of losses afterwards.
“Even though they lived through it, there were a lot of problems and a lot of sheep lost later on.”
Commenting on how the collection scheme was aiding the affected farmers, the UFU spokesman said: “There were one or two problems with postcodes [classed as eligible for assistance] but that has been all ironed out now and it’s taking in all of the areas affected.
“The scheme is easing only a fraction of the pressure farmers are facing but at least it’s one less problem to worry about.”
Mr McDonald said that one of the reasons the final number of dead animals can’t be assessed is that some areas are still inaccessible.
“A lot of those areas will be difficult getting stock out of as well as they’re in valleys and glens and hills where the only way in is on foot.
“You can’t go in with quads or tractors or anything. It’s now over a fortnight [since the snow began drifting] so to gather up those remains won’t be an easy task,” he added.
It is understood the collection scheme will continue until the problem is over.
Speaking to the News Letter last week, the managing director of a rendering plant handling the dead animals said he “never seen anything like” the aftermath of the recent extreme weather event.
Richard Moore of Linergy, said: “There’s farmers ringing us up thinking they’ve lost their entire flocks,”
DARD has a helpline which allows farmers to ask questions about whether they are eligible for the scheme on 0300 200 7852.
The arrangements are due to continue until April 15, but the deadline date could be extended depending on the rate of thaw.