Orkney cattle farmers struggling due to heavy rain

Unprecedented rains have left Orkney cattle farmers with their “backs against the wall” and have forced many to sell their animals months earlier than planned. 

The terrible weather in May, which was the wettest month ever recorded on the island, has meant farmers have been unable to put cattle out to graze, because the grass has simply not grown.

Instead, many farmers have been forced to use up their sileage reserves, said Malcolm Scott, manager of Orkney livestock mart. “We sold 600 cattle on a single day in June,” he told Meat Trades Journal. “Normally at this time of year, we would sell around 50 a week. But the sileage has all but vanished and some farmers have had to take their chances, even though some are getting around £400 less per head [than they would do for a bigger animal later in the year].”

“Many farmers are at a crossroads,” he added. “They don’t know whether to put them out in the fields, even though there is no grass, or take their chances and sell. Some have had to sell simply to ease the pressure on their sileage,” Scott said.

Speaking to Edinburgh-based Deadline News, farmer William Harcus said he was facing huge financial loss. “Mother nature has ruined our prospects for this year. Over the whole of the island around 70% of beef cattle are still inside. The rain has hardly stopped since November last year and we have never seen the ground so wet – they say the May rainfall was a 150-year-old record.

“We face a huge challenge in getting back to some kind of normality. And there is a knock-on effect with the number of cows that won’t be in-calf next year.”

Agriculture is the most important industry in Orkney and provides the highest percentage of gross domestic product of any Scottish county, according to promotional body Orkney Food & Drink.

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