There have been several occasions where we thought spring had arrived only for our hopes to be dashed by another 'Beast from the East' as the media call the cold snaps from eastern europe. They have occurred at what is normally the busiest time of year, both for arable as well as stock farmers.
Stock farmers with sheep have been worst affected as most lamb in March. A large percentage of farms, particularly on the hills, lamb outside whereas lowland farms tend to lamb indoors but put ewes and lambs out to grass within a day or two. Young lambs after the first 24hrs are surprisingly tough and can cope with extremely cold weather, but cold wet weather can frequently cause hypothermia very quickly. It may appear that the sheep should be brought back indoors but the remainder are constantly lambing with up to 20% of the flock lambing in a single day and these must be cared for and housed. In the hills, generally the farms do not have sufficient under cover space to start with.
Another cause of death is simply being buried in the snow; sheep tend to settle tightly to the ground and hope to 'wait it out'. Unfortunately they get buried and cannot escape. Again it may seem easy to find and rescue them, but searching hundreds of acres of drifts up to 3 metres deep is not an easy job.
The cold, wet spring has meant additional feeding for cattlle and sheep which would normally be eating a bit of grass along with a top-up of barley, concentrates, etc. Many farms are currently dangerously low on both feed and bedding and the price of both has increased markedly. I had barley sold for uplift in May but the buyer asked if he could take it in March, such is the demand.
On the arable side, the land has been too wet since December to travel to spread fertiliser or spray. It would not matter much as the soil temperature has remained below 5°C which is the minimum for soil activity to commence. In simple terms crops, like grass, have not started to grow. Spring sowing has been delayed with nothing that I am aware of having been sown. Normally we expect to be sown by the end of March but this year we haven't started and about a week of dry weather would be required to reduce soil moisture allowing it to be cultivated.
For this location the temperature was an average of 1.9°C below normal and rainfall was 330% of normal for March.
On the positive side, the barley store is almost empty and the wheat pile is disappearing fast - all going for livestock feed. There are 300 tonnes of wheat to go in May but I think the shed will empty earlier than normal this year.
There was a brief dry spell at the end of March and although the ground conditions were not good, a little N+S (26% Nitogen, 36% Sulfur) fertiliser was applied to almost all crops just in case the weather improved - which it didn't, with 92mm rain in the following week.
Wildlife has not fared much better than farms in these conditions. Normally most species of bird have nesting well under way. I have seen a few sparrows and blue tits half heartedly carrying nesting material but these a nest spots inside buildings - nothing is apparent in trees hedges etc. The Kestrels laid their first egg last year on 7th April, but this year have only recently started to investigate the nest box. There has been a large influx of Jackdaws (possibly due to the weather) and these cheeky birds are causing upset to the 'locals'. We continue to feed the wild birds and they have been extremely hungry for the last month and probably need to get into breeding condition quickly. A bit like stock farmers, I have used almost 50% more bird food than last year.
It looks as if the bird seed plots, normally sown in May, will be sown just after the spring crops this year.