Actual losses will not be known until tailing, but Southland Federated Farmers president Geoffrey Young expects the storm will reduce his lambing percentage by 5%.
His Cattle Fat Station property is in the area hit by the heaviest snow, which encompasses Waikaka, Waikaia and West Otago hill country areas, where lambing was under way.
Coastal South Otago and the southeast corner of Southland were also hit hard.
Beef +Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) Southern South Island extension manager Olivia Ross says some coastal Southland farmers fear they may have had their worst lambing ever due to the storm.
For six days leading up to Monday’s snow, farmers around Wyndham and Tokanui endured wind chill temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees.
“Some are describing it as their worst-ever lambing, given the wind chill factor. Then they had the snowfall,” she said.
The snow, which arrived at the start of the week, was thawing by Wednesday and, apart from drifts, was mostly gone by Thursday, accompanied by welcomed warm temperatures.
Young says he had 20cm of snow on the flats, but more than 30cm on his hill country.
“We’ll certainly have lost a few lambs on the hill,” he said.
West Otago farmer Nelson Hancox says it was the heaviest snowfall in 20 years, causing drifts up to four metres high in some areas.
“It’s been an amazing thaw, which has saved our bacon,” he said.
“Thankfully it allowed stock to get out on feed yesterday (Thursday).”
He estimates he lost up to 150 ewes and an unknown number of lambs, but describes overall loss as lower than expected.
Hancox says neighbours have been helping each other with snow raking to free stock and snow ploughing to clear roads.
Ross Paterson from Waikaka Station says he was fortunate to be coming to the end of his lambing.
He has been helping neighbours dig sheep out of snow drifts and gullies with some farmers having to first clear drift buildup on gates to get access to paddocks.
B+LNZ’s Olivia Ross and the Rural Support Trust have been preparing meals to deliver to families in the hardest hit areas to show farmers they have support but also to check on their wellbeing.
“Sheep and beef farmers work all year for this time, for their year’s production, and to have this impact is so disheartening,” Ross said.
The trust’s Otago coordinator Pat Macaulay says they, along with the community, were handling the initial response, adding the repercussions from the storm will last longer and urges anyone struggling to contact the trust.
“There will be consequences as time goes on and farmers realise the extent of their losses, she said.
“There will be times people do want to talk and we are right there.”
Fonterra’s Otago-Southland regional head Mark Robinson says the weather has impacted milk collection.
“We have been rotating some of our collections to ensure we maximise the amount of milk we can collect,” he said.
“This has meant that around 100 farmers each shift may have had their collection delayed or had to dispose of some milk.
“Although, there are over 1000 farms in the area, so far only 12 have had to dispose of full vats.”
Depending on the weather conditions, normal collection cycles were scheduled to resume by the end of last week.