By Poppy Frater, SAC Consulting sheep and grassland specialist

As we head into winter, time should be taken to consider planning for extreme weather. We know that our winters are getting wetter and milder generally, but snow can still catch us out.

By discussing options with your farm team and/or family, various issues that could be encountered can be addressed now. These include the following considerations:

1. Soil damage. Poaching across the whole farm is not conducive to good spring grass growth or soil retention. If there are no other options, try and localise the poaching damage in the flatter fields away from water courses. The grass in these fields will be negatively affected but at least you will have the rest of the farm productive come spring.

2. Feed in reserve. Silage or hay in reserve for periods of extreme weather is worth its weight. Consider three weeks snow cover, 100 lowland ewes would require around 20 bales of silage (750kg, 25% dry matter) or 14 big hay bales (330kg, 85% dry matter), lighter hill ewes would require around 15 silage bales or 10 big hay bales. If you haven’t got this now, consider whether it is worth buying in.

3. Shelter. The most sheltered fields are often the best lambing or turnout fields, so it would be worth trying to rest them until spring where possible. Check and restore any other forms of shelter such as walls and in-field shelters. If you have spare old straw bales, it might be worth putting them out and plan further shelter belt planting whilst able to observe the winter conditions.

4. Transitions. If you do bring ewes indoors or onto hard feed, manage the transition carefully to prevent shocks to their system. Remember, no more than 250g/head/day to start with and increase by no more than 100g/day. Have shed space ready for bringing in stock quickly and check water troughs, bedding and feeding areas are clean and ready.

5. Training. Young ewes might need to be trained to eat hard feed which is worth the effort. Provide a high energy ewe roll in troughs or through a snacker and make sure they have little alternative food, i.e. on stubbles or bare fields. This is easiest with unmated ewe lambs, if they have been tupped, but wait until three weeks after the tup has been taken out.

We hope that this winter isn’t too hard going but best to have these discussions and prepare now to reduce stress and costs further down the line.