Farmer forced to kill newborn lambs after horror attacks by crows
Distressed farmers have described having to kill newborn lambs to save them from crows feeding on their weakened bodies.
The horror stories were told by farmers six days into one of the most devastating snowfalls in decades.
James McHenry – a Co Antrim hill farmer who cannot account for 200 of his sheep, a day after a Chinook airlifted fodder to the marooned flock – said: "We saved a lamb from the hills yesterday, but the crows ate his little brother.
"I went to check on another sheep and when I came back the crows had pecked out the lamb's eyes and holes in the stomach.
"The crows are pecking out the lambs' eyes and then farmers have to slit the lambs' throats.
"It's traumatic. I cannot take it and other farmers cannot take it."
Pressure is mounting on Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill to release £1,000 compensation packages to farmers facing financial ruin.
James McHenry broke down yesterday as he learned he will have to wait a fortnight for his single farm payment to be issued.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture pointed to "a variety of issues" preventing the immediate release of outstanding payments.
A cross-party call for the Executive to pay for dead livestock to be removed from snowbound farms is also expected to be a focus of this morning's emergency meeting of Stormont's agriculture committee.
Joe Byrne, the committee's vice-chairman, has called on the Agriculture Minister to sanction the compensation packages.
"At least £1,000 payments to individual farmers would be required," the SDLP MLA said.
A Chinook helicopter continued airdrops of emergency supplies yesterday as forecasters confirmed Northern Ireland is in the grip of the coldest March in 50 years.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood revealed that councils calling in extra vehicles, food supplies or setting up temporary accommodation will be reimbursed through his department's humanitarian aid grant scheme.
The focus is now falling on the effects of the thaw, when it comes.
Ukip MLA David McNarry is calling for the Executive to set up an emergency council, similar to the Government's Cobra committee.
"After the snow... the big question is what plans are in place to cope with floods?" he said. "And what will be the price of food due to destroyed local crops?"
Presbyterian Moderator Dr Roy Patton, who has met with farming leaders, also spoke of his concern for farmers in the long-term.
Meanwhile, hill farmer Elaine McGarel is desperately waiting for the thaw to arrive. "It's total despair and total heartbreak. You do not want to get up in the morning now to see more devastation," she said.