Lambs dying in their thousands as storm bites

The corpses of newborn lambs are piling up in their tens of thousands as cold weather continues to bite Southland.

Local farmer Donald McCallum says his best efforts are not enough to keep the lambs alive through the storm which has ravaged the region for the past five days.

“You try your best to get them going and the hardest thing is you can bring them in, and bring the lambs in, or get the sheep up and going, and then you put them back out and the next day they’re all dead,” Mr McCullum told 3 News.

While the financial cost continues to rise with every dead lamb, Mr McCullum says the deaths do more than hit farmers in the pocket.

“I do think its the mental cost that costs the farmer, ’cause he genuinely feels for his animals,” he told 3 News.

He says it is high time Southland gives more focus to farmers instead of the ruined Southland Stadium.

“You know, everyone’s crying about the stadium falling over, but I think there’s a lot of sheep and cow farmers in Southland that wouldn’t care about the stadium – no one got hurt.”

Meanwhile, Federated Farmers’ national president Don Nicolson says southern farmers hit by icy storms can do little but wait for a change in the weather.

“We could really use some ‘local’ warming in Southland,” said Mr Nicolson, who farms sheep at Waimatua, southeast of Invercargill.

“The snow we’ve had is the most I have ever seen in September,” he said today during a hailstorm. “After a relatively benign winter, this system has struck at the worst possible time for southern Southland as we’re lambing heavily.

“While our dairy colleagues in Southland have also taken a hit, it’s the region’s sheep farmers that are bearing the full force of this storm.”

Mr Nicolson said that while many southern farmers would lose lambs, his main concern was for the ewes that were yet to lamb.

Because the snow had not thawed quickly and there was now bitterly cold driving rain, the combination of it a shortage of feed and high energy demands put additional stress on a ewe’s metabolism before labour.

Farmers were trying hard to inject calcium and magnesium as well as glucose into the animals most susceptible to metabolic illnesses, such as milk fever caused by a low calcium levels.

“While most farms have good shelters, the sad reality is that there’s little more we can do now but wait for a change in the weather,” said Mr Nicolson, who expects his own stock losses to be as high as 15 per cent, four times more than the annual average.

“Losing capital stock is never easy to take and it’s a blow to see our improved genetics wasted,” he said.

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