The number of dead sheep cleared from farms hit by the recent snow blizzards has now topped 20,000 — and many more are still to come.
Department of Agriculture officials last night said 20,000 animals had been collected from farms across Co Down and the Glens of Antrim.
Of those 15,000 were lambs and 5,000 ewes.
Meanwhile 623 dead cattle have also been collected, of which 223 were calves under the age of three months, the officials told Stormont’s Agriculture Committee.
Dead animals have now been collected from 790 farms and renderers have received 1,450 calls from farmers seeking to have animals cleared under a state-funded disposal scheme set in motion by Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill.
Officials said 289 farmers have now been approved for aid under the scheme, while 23 were found to be ineligible and 11 are still being dealt with.
However, sheep farmers have warned that animal carcasses are still scattered across the uplands hit by the worst of the blizzards and many of these will still not have been retrieved by the time the scheme comes to a close on April 19.
Members of the National Sheep Association have called for the carcass collection to be extended beyond that date.
John Blaney of the National Sheep Association said farmers are in the middle of lambing at the moment and don’t have time to spare to scour the hills for carcasses.
Meanwhile, there are still deep drifts of snow in some remote areas where animals are still buried.
“Probably it will be into May before we can get the full extent. It’s very difficult to get the full picture,” he said.
DARD officials said 70 of the sheep farmed by Greenmount College at Glenwherry were found but 70 are still missing.
Deputy chief veterinary officer Robert Huey said he would be advising the minister that the postcode application scheme for dealing with carcasses end on April 19 but the scheme be kept open for exceptional cases.
Many of the animals still missing are likely to have made for the shelter of walls where it is likely their remains could be found in groups in various stages of decomposition, he said.
Many of the ewes that survived being buried in the snow aborted their lambs, the National Sheep Association said.
“The electricity was off, the telephone was down, we had no radio, no TV, no way of communicating with each other, let alone people outside the area. Once the animals had had four or five days of starvation, they were ravenous. They had no access to water and they stopped eating. The silage that was dropped to them was a godsend and probably saved thousands of sheep.”
John Blaney, National Sheep Association