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Farmers throughout Scotland are battling the worst weather conditions experience in decades – and still finding time to help their communities.

Frozen water in buildings and outside drinking troughs, frozen diesel, difficulties in delivering food to animals and collecting milk are just some of the problems experienced during the big freeze. Shed roofs have collapsed under the weight of snow and slurry tanks are nearing capacity as farmers are unable to spread their contents.

Yet, throughout rural Scotland, agricultural workers have risen to the challenges to ensure that livestock is cared for, supplies continue to get delivered to supermarkets and friends and neighbours are well supported.

Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, today visited Incheoch farm near Alyth, Blairgowrie, to hear how farmer Neil McGowan and family are fairing in the big freeze.

Mr Lochhead said: “Scotland is in the grip of the harshest winter weather conditions in decades which is adding to the weight of challenges faced by farmers at this time of year.

“Working with nature, our farming communities are on the front line in these harsh conditions and I have been in contact with the industry to keep abreast of the problems they are facing.

“While there have been localised issues our feedback from the sector is that, so far, most farmers are coping well although experiencing various problems directly attributable to the cold weather.

“However, as the cold weather continues it will cause greater demands on conserved feed supplies for livestock and concern will increase for livestock on higher ground but currently there are no reported shortages of feed on farms.

“Throughout rural Scotland farmers and land managers have been putting aside their own comfort to help neighbours and communities. Examples abound of farmers clearing roads, getting in vital supplies for neighbours and ensuring the elderly are cared for.

“In addition our agricultural and agency staff throughout Scotland have been making themselves available to help farmers and communities cope with the weather conditions.

“This selfless sense of community and spirit of good will is something which should make us all proud and remind us of the importance of reaching out to others.”

For Perthshire farmer, Neil McGowan, the weather has brought with it several problems, not least rendering feeding equipment inoperable. Getting to some parts of the farm has been very difficult and feeding and checking stock is taking the family two or three times longer than usual.

Neil and his wife, Debbie, sister, Claire, and parents, Judy and Finlay, are working together to tackle the constant round of defrosting water troughs for their 130 housed cows and also devising innovative new techniques to get feed out to their 1,100 Lleyn ewes and 50 Luing cows which are outwintered.

Andy McGowan, Head of Industry Development with Quality Meat Scotland, said producers throughout Scotland, particularly in the worst affected areas, are facing a huge challenge to keep animals safe and adequately fed.

Mr McGowan said: "Farmers are generally very resourceful and coping well with looking after their stock in incredibly tough conditions. Sheep and cattle breeds which are out-wintered are well suited to extremely cold weather conditions and producers are checking round the clock to ensure that they have adequate feed and water.

“There have also been numerous reports of farmers up and down the country going the extra mile to help people in remote rural areas with transport and provisions.

“Farmers who already have a great deal on their plates and very little spare time are willingly assisting with clearing roads and using farm vehicles to get provisions to people who are struggling.

“In many respects they are the ‘unsung heroes’ of the big freeze,” said Mr McGowan