Farmers battle the big freeze to help animals survive the winter

Elizabeth Barber feeding some of her sheep on a snowy field near Wymondham Abbey

Elizabeth Barber feeding some of her sheep on a snowy field near Wymondham Abbey - Credit: Annabel Barber

Norfolk's livestock farmers have been working around the clock to keep their animals fed and healthy during sub-zero winter temperatures.

While the more hardy animals are durable enough to withstand the cold, the covering of snow on grazing land has limited food sources, while frozen pipes and troughs have affected drinking water supplies.

Elizabeth Barber, who breeds pedigree Charollais sheep at her family's Cavick House Farm near Wymondham, said this week's freezing conditions have meant making regular trips out to feed hay to animals in the fields, and running round with kettles of hot water to thaw frozen pipes in the lambing sheds.

"We finished lambing in January so normally we would have those ewes and lambs outside eating the nice lush grass, but we have had to bring them inside because the lambs can catch pneumonia and other illnesses because their mothers cannot access the grass to produce the milk," she said.

"We have to bring them indoors and give them extra food, which means using more straw, more haylage.

"For our ewes due to lamb in April they have got no access to grass at all, so I am having to go out twice a day to give them haylage to make sure they have got enough nutrients for the lambs growing inside them. 

"Our pipes have frozen too, so I have been running around in the morning with kettles of hot water."

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Tony Bambridge, who keeps a herd of Lincoln Red cattle on the Blickling Estate, tweeted a photo of his animals wearing straw "coats" as the snow fell outside their shed.

Lincoln Red cattle wearing barley straw 'coats' in wintry weather

Blickling farmer Tony Bambridge took this picture of his Lincoln Red cattle wearing barley straw 'coats' in wintry weather - Credit: Tony Bambridge

He said although they were hardy enough to stay outdoors, they had been brought inside since October as they poach the wet grazing marshes.

And good bedding and nutrition are key components in keeping them warm and healthy during the winter months, he added.

"My animals are housed but if people see animals outdoors, they are quite hardy," he said. "If you give them the choice they would rather be outdoors.

"They have got a really thick coat and if they have got good nutrition they will keep warm.

"We bring them indoors and use the barley straw. To make the straw bed nice and fluffy I use a spreader that takes a big heavy bale of straw and breaks it up and spreads it around - and I have learned that the cows love to stand underneath it to get a straw coat. They will graze through that bedding and there will be a bit of grass in there too.

"The other thing is keeping them hydrated, making sure they have fresh water. In a couple of places we have had freezing water in the troughs so we have to go and break the ice to make sure the animals get enough to drink."

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