SCOTTISH farmers are being advised to take steps and plan fodder usage now, as experts predict a late spring with grass growth beginning two-to-three weeks later than normal.

This could lead to a variety of problems, including straw shortages, which could in turn heighten the risk of disease among newborn animals.

Basil Lowman, beef adviser at SAC Consulting said: "A late spring couldn't be at a worse time. Not only are many farmers already short of forage due to last summer's wet weather, which forced many stock to be housed much earlier than normal, but potentially as problematic is a severe shortage of straw to bed stock.

"Many farmers with suckler herds, block-calving dairy herds and housed flocks time calving and lambing so that stock can be immediately turned out on to clean, high-quality spring grass.

"Being forced to keep animals indoors could pose a major additional disease challenge to newborn animals this spring. With a real risk of a late spring, it is best to plan now and minimise problems later."

Immediate steps livestock farmers can take to combat the late spring include:

* Discuss with their vets what preventative treatments, for example vaccinations, might be sensible and cost effective.

* Sell trading stock as quickly as possible. Even consider selling all or some cattle store rather than finishing them.

* Prioritise bedding towards young-stock, especially newborns. For example, ensure a dry, well-bedded creep area is made available for new calves.

* Graze all grass and delay shutting fields up for silage. Consider grazing forward winter sown cereal crops with ewes and lambs, or graze cover crops.

Market round-up

C&D Auction Marts Ltd sold 11 prime heifers in Dumfries yesterday to a top of 210.9p per kg and an average of 188.4p, while three prime bullocks peaked at 196p and levelled at 179.8p.

In the rough ring 21 beef cows sold to 174p and averaged 144p, while 55 dairy cows peaked at 145p and levelled at 120.1p.

The firm also sold 760 prime hoggs to a top of £120 per head and 246p per kg to average 214.2p (-11.8p on the week).

A smaller show of 318 cast sheep saw heavy ewes sell to £153.50 and average £84, while light/export-type ewes peaked at £76.50 for Cheviots and levelled at £52.34.

Messrs Craig Wilson Ltd sold 641 prime hoggs in Newton Stewart on Wednesday to a top of £126 and 255.8p to average 218.4p (no change).

Cast sheep were very dear with 184 heavy ewes selling to £165 for Texels and averaging £99.10, while 237 light ewes peaked at £113 for Cheviots and levelled at £59.20.