The death toll of livestock killed in Northern Ireland’s worst snowfall in decades has reached more than 44,000, officials have revealed.
The Department of Agriculture said the grim figure included 30,416 lambs, 12,553 sheep, 1,159 cattle and 34 goats.
The total is still expected to rise by a few hundred more.
The compensation scheme introduced by the Executive following the snow crisis has now closed after being extended for a week.
Most of the animals that died in the worst conditions since 1963 were in the Glens of Antrim and Mournes areas.
Farmers and other rural families were among those left trapped in their homes for up to a week last month, after days of severe weather resulted in snow drifts up to 18ft high in places.
In an Assembly answer yesterday, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill set out the terms of a hardship scheme she now plans to bring to the Executive for approval.
“The hardship scheme will help to mitigate the costs of the livestock losses that have been sustained by farmers arising from the snow storm,” she said.
Ms O’Neill said the scheme would operate under EU rules and be capped at a maximum of €7,500 (£6,400) per farmer, |including the collection and disposal costs of the fallen animals.
“Farmers, who have fallen stock disposed of during the period April 2 to April 19, 2013 by approved renderers, will be eligible for the hardship funding,” she said.
“The scheme will be framed in light of the information gathered on the extent and nature of losses, which we will build as farmers have stock removed and disposed of by the approved renderers,” she added.
At the height of March’s blizzards, helicopters were drafted in to fly relief missions and deliver supplies to farming communities left isolated in rural areas.
Farmers were unable to reach thousands of their animals left stranded in fields covered by deep snow, without food or shelter.
Miraculously, a handful of animals were pulled from the snow after 24 days on their own. However, more than 40,000 have now been confirmed dead.