Hill sheep farmers have failed to get ewes down from the mountains ahead of lambing this spring due to the weather, chair of the IFA hill farming committee Cáillin Conneely has said.

This poses a major threat to lambs born on the hills as they are more likely to die or be taken by foxes.

In his own area of Roundstone in Connemara, Co Galway, Conneely said that all sheep farmers are in the same position, having been unable to get ewes across swollen rivers as a result of the wet weather.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal on Friday, Conneely said that he is very concerned for his flock of 300 ewes which have already started to lamb up the hills.

Every year, by the middle of April, Conneely said that ewes would come down to lowland grass fields to lamb. However, this year it has been impossible.

Swollen rivers

"The rivers are all swollen and none of us can get any of the sheep across them. You'd give grass saved and they'd be getting meal fed to them as well and this way we're able to give a lamb a better start. At the moment we are on the hind foot big time. When you get them down it's fine, but when you're out on an open hill of 2,000ac it's very hard. You can't bring up concentrates or bales, that'd be impossible," he said.

This week, he explained, is the start of lambing in the hills across all of Ireland and at this stage the ewes will more than likely finish lambing up there.

"Even if we do get good weather in the next couple of days, to gather them will be tough. You're trying to gather a big number and then you've young lambs as well. It'll take a while for the river levels to drop and the water from the top of the mountain takes a couple of days to get to the lower parts of the rivers," he said.

Also, from a nutritional level, Conneely said that ewes have had a tough, wet winter out on the hills and are not "full of milk".

"That's why it would be important to get them down into the green land and supplement them with concentrates," he said.

Fodder costs

The price of silage, hay and straw has been an issue for hill sheep farmers for the last two years with prices of €50/bale being widely paid.

This, Conneely said, is largely due to the distance they have to go to source fodder.