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Start your winter feed budget now

By Sean Doorley, Teagasc Beef & Sheep Adviser, Longford.


Poor weather conditions over the last few months has resulted in  poor grass growth, poor grass utilization and increased poaching of soils. This has meant that farmers have started to house some or all of their stock. At Met Eireann’s weather station in Mountdillon, Co Roscommon rainfall for July and August were 129% and 116% respectively above average. At Knock Air Port rainfall for July and August were 140% and 134% respectively above average. Rainfall for September is also above average so far. So where farmers have started to house cattle this early a potential deficit of fodder could arise. A winter feed budget, good planning and management will avoid any problems later on in the Winter and Spring. There are a number of things to look at first of all. How much fodder have you got? What is the quality of the fodder like? What fodder demands will be on the farm? How to deal with a potential deficit of fodder? Were a deficit of fodder is established what are your options? There is no single option that will suit everyone and for most people, it will be a combination of strategies that will overcome the problem.  Acting early will increase the options available.  The options are as follows;

Wean early born Suckler calves

The earliest born calves can be weaned. In fact once a calf is five months of age it is ok to wean as he is depending less on the cow’s milk to put on Kg’s of live weight. Once a cow is weaned her energy requirements drops by 25%.

Sell stock

Scan cows and cull empty cows that are in good condition.  Meal feed cattle that can be finished off grass this autumn. It is important to do the sums on the economics of selling stock. Decide if selling them in the mart is a better option than holding on to them to finish. 

Buying silage

Buying silage is an option provided you can get your hands on good quality bales. In general once there is 50% of the silage requirements on the farm,  it is not necessary to buy silage to fill the gap, unless it is cost competitive. If you are paying more than €25 per silage bale it is considered expensive. An alternative is barley which is of similar value in price, but is a higher quality feed compared to 68DMD silage.

Buy Meals

If silage is too expensive or the quality is dubious, don’t buy silage once the 50% of forage requirements are being met.  Examine the option of filling the gap with meals.  On an energy basis, 50 bales of 65 DMD silage (45 tonnes of silage) is the equivalent of 6 tonnes of good quality ration.

Plan for early turnout

The possibility of extending the grazing season later into the Autumn and / or turning out stock in early spring in a cost effective way of reducing the demand for feed over the winter.  Autumn grassland management has an impact on Spring grass.  Closing fields in rotation from early October until Mid-November leaves a wedge of grass going into the winter.  Fields closed in October could be grazed as early as February.  Where a lot of people fall down is grazing the farm bare before housing, leaving no grass for Spring grazing. 


Plan early as you may need to take out a loan from the Bank to purchase feed in the Spring. If you know now that this winter is going to be an expensive one for you,  now is the time to contact the bank about an overdraft or taking out a loan. Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. They have offices based in Roscommon Town  (Tel: 090 6626166), Castlerea (Tel: 094 9620160) and Longford Town (Tel: 043 3341021) www.facebook.com/Teagascroscommonlongford/