Cold weather animal death toll rises to 44,000 across Northern Ireland
Around 44,000 farm animals died following recent cold weather in Northern Ireland.
Massive snow drifts in parts of counties Down and Antrim left sheep stranded in remote areas and British and Irish relief helicopters were brought in to air lift feed.
Stormont Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said around 44,000 fallen animals had been collected.
"I have obtained Executive agreement to hardship funding measures to assist farmersworst affected by livestock losses arising from the recent snow storm," she said.
"The first element of this is that my Department will pay for the costs of collection and disposal of fallen stock from the farmers most severely affected. This relieves those farmers of a potential cost to their business and protects both the environment and animal health by encouraging the proper disposal of fallen stock."
Some of the worst snow to affect the rural community for years fell at the end of March and the ground remained treacherous well into April. The Glens of Antrim and the Mourne Mountains in Co Down were particularly badly affected. Power supplies were cut off, phone signals down, and emergency services had to transport food and medicines to some people in isolated areas using military helicopters from the RAF and Irish Air Corps.
Farmers have reported damage to fences and sheds while thousands of animals which froze or starved to death have been recovered.
The Agriculture Minister intends to bring to the Stormont ministerial Executive proposals for a hardship scheme.
"The hardship scheme will be specifically for livestock losses and help to mitigate the costs of the livestock losses that have been sustained by farmers arising from the snow storm," Ms O'Neill added.
This will be capped at a maximum of 7,500 euro (£6,320) per farmer, including the collection and disposal costs of the fallen animals.
Farmers who have fallen stock collected and disposed of during the period April 2 - April 19 by approved renderers will be eligible for the hardship funding.
The minister added: "The hardship 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."