Livestock farmers are becoming increasingly fearful for their livelihoods as the heavy snow and wintry weather threaten their animals.

It's believed that the snow which has fallen in the past week over large parts of northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland may have killed thousands of stranded sheep and cattle while those still alive may be starving and cut off by drifts.

uk weather snow sheep

Farmers fear that they will lose large numbers of livestock

Many farmers are equating the current problems to the winter of 1963, widely regarded as one of the worst to have hit the UK although that big freeze 50 years ago lasted for much longer than the current cold snap.

Talking to Farmers Weekly, Cumbrian farmer Eric Taylforth, who runs a stock of 2,000 fell sheep and cattle, said his animals were cut off by drifts with up to 20 feet of snow accumulating in some areas.

"It will be a disaster if it carries on and farmers are saying it will be a bit like 1963 when half the sheep in the Lake District died," he added.

"Half of our livestock are up in the hills. There are sheep in three different valleys and there are snow drifts up there."

The National Farmers Union vice president said his members were working round the clock to look after the welfare of their animals.

“It has put an extraordinary strain on the industry after what has been a torrid 12 months of extreme weather, compounded by the fact that many farmers' sheep are lambing at the moment," Adam Quinney said.

“Sheep are adapted to living outside but it is unusual to be lambing in this weather and we do expect to see some losses in areas hardest hit by the weather. I've talked to families where everyone is out all day and night just trying to get feed out there."

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A sheep sheltering from the wind and snow at a farm near Fintry in central Scotland

In Scotland, the NFU said that heavy drifting snow has threatened many ewes and lambs and severely disrupted the delivery of vital feed and fuel stocks with farmers saying the cold weather couldn't have come at a worse time, made worse by the loss of power in some areas.

The NFU's Dumfries and Galloway regional chairman Andrew McCornick, who farms in Dumfries was one of those concerned.

"We are well through our annual lambing so the snow couldn’t have hit at a worse time," he said.

"We have managed to dig our way around most of the fields with ewes and lambs in them. We managed to get feed to those that we have found and we have been digging many of them out of the snow... we know that we are likely to face losses when the snow has cleared

"We do have power - unlike some other farmers - and we are able to continue to calve our cows indoors. However, I know of some that are calving cows outside as well as lambing, so they will be in a hellish place."

uk weather sheep

James McHenry in his lambing shed which collapsed with the weight of snow, killing sheep and lambs at his farm in the Glens of Antrim

In Northern Ireland, The Ulster Farmers’ Union said the full impact of the weather will not be realised until the snow begins to melt.

Visiting farmers in Antrim to see the impact the extreme winter weather has had on farms, livestock and rural families, UFU president Harry Sinclair said: “Farmers in some parts of the country have faced extreme weather conditions the likes of which have not been seen for decades.

"Hill farming in Northern Ireland is not easy at the best of times, but the severe weather of this past weekend has compounded this challenge even further. The impact the snow has had on some of our most remote farms is still to be seen."

Although the Met Office's amber alert - extended until Friday morning - covers all but the South West and South East of England, there are problems in those areas as well, according to the NFU.

Farmers on the Downs in West Sussex claim wind chill is their biggest issue with some lambing in barns and not turning them out until they think lambs can manage or the weather becomes drier while those who lamb outdoors are now apprehensive as they are due to start next week.

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  • Spring weather March 24

    RETRANSMITTING CORRECTING DATE OF BOTTOM IMAGE TO 24/03/2013 File photo dated 24/03/12 (top) and 24/03/13 (bottom) of Brighton Beach in East Sussex showing the difference in weather.

  • Spring weather March 24

    RETRANSMITTING CORRECTING DATE OF BOTTOM IMAGE TO 24/03/2013 File photo dated 24/03/12 (top) and 24/03/13 (bottom) of Brighton Beach in East Sussex showing the difference in weather.

  • Spring weather March 24

    Local men take to the fields, off the main road to Feystown, above Glenarm in Co Antrim, the hill town hamlet which has been cut off for thee days due to snow drifts and no electricity.

  • Spring weather March 24

    Local men Oliver Mulvenna (left) and Paul Gillen off the main road to Feystown, above Glenarm in Co Antrim, the hill town hamlet which has been cut off for thee days due to snow drifts and no electricity.

  • Spring weather March 24

    Local men take to the fields, off the main road to Feystown, above Glenarm in Co Antrim, the hill town hamlet which has been cut off for thee days due to snow drifts and no electricity.

  • Spring weather March 24

    The scene above Glenarm in Co Antrim, the hill town hamlet which has been cut off for thee days due to snow drifts and no electricity.

  • Spring weather March 24

    Cara Faith, 21, on the main road to Feystown, above Glenarm in Co Antrim, the hill town hamlet which has been cut off for thee days due to snow drifts and no electricity.

  • Spring weather March 24

    A digger tries to clear the the main road to Feystown, above Glenarm in Co Antrim, the hill town hamlet which has been cut off for thee days due to snow drifts and no electricity.

  • Spring weather March 24

    Allan Molloy, with his dog Coco, on the main road to Feystown, above Glenarm in Co Antrim, the hill town hamlet has been cut off for thee days due to snow drifts and no electricity.

  • Spring weather March 24

    Cara Faith, 21, on the main road to Feystown, above Glenarm in Co Antrim, the hill town hamlet which has been cut off for thee days due to snow drifts and no electricity.

  • Spring weather March 24

    Runners brave the snow in Sutton, Cheshire, as the cold weather continues.

  • Spring weather March 24

    People clear roads of the snow by hand in Sutton, Cheshire, as the cold weather continues.

  • Spring weather March 24

    A farmer blows and ploughs the snow to clear roads as the cold weather continues.

  • Spring weather March 24

    A farmer takes feed to his sheep in Sutton, Cheshire, as the cold weather continues.

  • Spring weather March 24

    A car abandoned in the snow in Sutton, Cheshire, as the cold weather continues.