AS THE spell of dry weather continues, livestock farmers are feeling the effects of the hot temperatures and lack of rainfall just as much as their arable counterparts.

With livestock outside, but the lack of rain both burning grass and hampering its growth, many are having to feed their stock with their hay supplies – something that they weren’t expecting, and that will have major ramifications later in the year.

Gordy Nicolson, who farms at Househill at Nairn, has been feeding his cattle for a full three weeks already. He explained: “We’re a very dry place, so we’ve been feeding our cattle hay. We’ve 80-head of cattle and they’re all getting fed now. After ten days you could see the grass going brown, and it’s obviously not getting any better.

“I can’t believe how warm and dry it’s been, it’s been serious. Luckily, we had some winter feeding left – some straw and some bales of hay – which we had considered selling, but thank god we didn’t, so we’ve been feeding them a bale of hay a day just now. We tried them with straw and treacle and they weren’t too keen but obviously if it gets to the stage of them being hungry enough, they’ll eat that too.

“The cows are in great fettle because of the better conditions, but they’re running with spring calves, and we need to make sure that they thrive as well. We don’t usually start our calves on creep feeders until now – the second week in July – but we’ve had them on them for three weeks already.”

He continued: “It’s the same story all over unfortunately. There’s going to be no such thing as second cut silage. We got our first cut in a month ago, and our hay done too, and we’ve got whole crop to do, but we’ve a field of barley that’s going to be good for nothing but the pit – it’s disappearing into the ground.

“We were lucky still to have the hay and straw from the last back end, but that won’t last forever. We’ll just need to see how the next wee while pans out.”

The problem isn’t one confined to one part of the country. A south-west dairy farmer also told The SF how he is suffering from a lack of grass on his farm. The farmer, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “We got a decent first cut silage which was a lot easier because there was no rain, but the second cut isn’t coming away at all just now.

“I’m kicking the cattle out every day knowing fine well they aren’t going to a lot of grass for grazing. You can see the fields burning more and more each day. I can’t remember when last we had a dry spell for as long as this. People complain when we have the months of rain, but weeks of no rain eventually bring their own problems too.

“From my point of view, it’s the ability of our cows to produce the levels of milk we’re used to from them. When they’re not getting the grass into them, they just can’t manage it. We’re not quite at the stage of feeding them yet but that’s a matter of days, not weeks, away, which isn’t something I thought I would be considering in the first quarter of the year!”

NFU Scotland's livestock committee chairman, Charlie Adam, who also farms at Braeside, near Cushnie, in Aberdeenshire, is matter-of-fact about the situation: “A lot of it has to do with where you are, and whether or not you’ve been lucky enough to have any rain at all, but the reality is that, generally, things just aren’t very good.

“Personally, I’m looking at a situation where I’ve made my first cut silage, which was lighter than I would have liked, and I’ve made hay and, like a lot of people, I’m looking at having to feed it to my cattle straight away.

“As far as second cut silage is concerned, the grass just isn’t growing. If it turned wet now, things could turn and improve, but the forecast as it stands isn’t looking too much in our favour.”

He continued: “From a livestock point of view, a lot of stock are reared on mixed farms that also harvest crops, and when one element of that struggles, so does the other.

“Spring barley is looking very thin, and short, and those who would usually sell their surplus of barley may be looking at having to keep it for fodder, or even at having to buy more in. This means that that cost of everything will continue to go up, which is fine if you’re the one selling, but for those that will have to buy in fodder for their stock, it’s a grave situation.

“The cost of production is going up, and people are rightly concerned over the effect that could have on the supply of cattle for the suckler herd," warned Mr Adam. "If there’s not enough incentive, the numbers will dwindle.”