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Managing Fodder this Winter

  • Winter Fodder - Supply and Demand

    Joe Patton discusses supply & demand of winter fodder. "It is important to establish what levels of feed are on the farm and also what the quality of that feed is".

  • Forage Crops

    Tom O'Dwyer interviews Nicky Byrne about the potential of differnet forage crops that you may have on your own farm.

  • The importance of a Fodder Budget

    Aidan Murray speaks about the importance of a fodder budget. "The earlier you formulate a plan, the earlier you can take action".

  • Managing Finances

    James McDonnell speaks about managing finances this winter. "you must budget what is going to keep the farm and the household going this winter".

Fodder and Finance

It is important that farmers establish both the feed and financial situation on their own farm. Doing this task with an advisor or consultant, can help relieve some of the stress associated with this situation and often a solution becomes obvious.

It is also important to ensure you have enough bedding where straw is in scarce supply and check that there is adequate feeding space on the farm to facilitate restricting access to silage and feeding meals. 
Even if you have enough feed for the winter, it’s important to regularly re-assess what you have because no one knows what weather conditions will be like in the spring.
Teagasc advisors across the country are available to provide advice to farmers, clients and non-clients alike over the coming months. Please contact your local office if you need assistance.

Fodder Calculators

Complete a financial budget 

Cash flow management is esssential to business success. 

Feed options

Farmers short of feed

  1. Do a fodder budget now and establish the extent of your deficit.
  2. Examine the options of buying forage, buying concentrate feeds, setting up for early turnout in spring and selling stock.
  3. Don’t ignore the risk of an early winter or a late spring. Build a reserve into your feed budget: a surplus of two bales of silage per livestock unit at the end of the winter is a valuable asset.
  4. If cash flow is an issue, act now. Draw up a plan in conjunction with your Teagasc adviser, consultant or accountant, and don’t be afraid to submit an application for money to your financial institution. 

Farmers with just enough feed

  1. Don’t ignore the risk of an early winter or a late spring: a surplus of two bales of silage per livestock unit at the end of the winter is a valuable asset.
  2. Start your fodder management plan from day one of the housing period: 
     - if you have planned on a short winter, stretch the silage – for example, if you’ve planned a four-month winter, budget to stretch the silage for a five-month winter;
    - use meals and other forages to stretch silage;
    - revise the fodder budget regularly throughout the winter.
  3. Be conservative in planning the length of the winter

Planning for early turnout

Turning out stock in early spring will reduce the demand for feed over the winter:

  1. Autumn grassland management has an impact on spring grass.
  2. lose paddocks or fields in rotation from early October until Mid November. 
  3. This grass can be grazed, for example by weanlings where weight gains of over 1kg per day on grass alone is being achieved in spring.

Selling stock

Selling stock will reduce demand for winter feed:

  1. Scan cows and sell empty cows that are in good condition before the winter.
  2. Meal feed cattle that can be finished off grass this autumn.
  3. It is important to do the sums on the economics of selling stock.

Restricting silage and feeding meals to fill the gap

The following table outlines the quantities of silage and meals to feed with 50% and 75% of forage requirement available on farm.

What to look out for if restricting access to silage:

  1. Adequate feeding space is critically important, all animals must be able to feed at the same time
  2. Don’t forget to feed minerals
  3. Ensure a good supply of fresh water
  4. Build up feeding rates slowly
  5. Monitor cow condition regularly Supplementation rates may need to be increased or decreased. 

Guidelines on restricted silage plus concentrate diets

If feeding restricted silage and concentrates, diets have to be managed carefully to meet animal performance and feed-saving targets. For example, feeding mature cows 3-4kg concentrates along with ad-lib silage will typically only reduce daily forage intakes by 5-10%. Furthermore, feeding additional meals with ad lib silage may cause excess body condition gain.

Clearly, restricting daily silage allowance must form part of the feeding plan if using meal to stretch fodder supplies.

Practical guidelines on feeding restricted silage plus concentrates:

  • Test pit silage and bales to establish quality, before the start of winter feeding and repeat in early January.
  • Weigh a sample of silage blocks/bales regularly and adjust daily silage allowances if needed.
  • Offer fresh silage daily, keeping to a fixed feeding schedule if possible.
  • Ration ingredients can vary provided total energy, protein and fibre requirements are met.
  • Have a defined feeding plan in place to feed the restricted silage.
  • Check water supply daily

Feeding Restricted Silage to Dry Cows on a Dairy Farm

A 3-4kg concentrate feeding rate can be used to reduce daily silage feeding by 20-25% in a dairy herd. For example, where 12 silage blocks per day would usually be fed ad-lib to dry cows, this would be reduced to around 9 silage blocks per day to the same cow numbers. Balance with meal. Where silage and meal are handled separately, a simple plan may be to feed out silage to dry cows in the evening. Offer 3-4kg meal per cow as a mid-morning feed. A token amount of straw or hay (if available) may be offered along the barrier after meal feeding (1/2 round straw bale or 1/3 hay bale for 100 cows). This is not required from a feed fibre point of view, but will help satisfy cows with higher intake capacity until evening silage feeding.

Creating adequate feed space

Where restricted silage diets are planned, adequate feed space must be available to allow all animals access to silage at one time. This will be a major issue on many farms. Solutions will differ greatly between farms but. Take steps to address the issue before housing:

  • Audit current feed space. Divide cow herd size by 7 to calculate number of feeding bays needed e.g. 120 cows will need 16-17 bays to feed restricted silage. Divide by 9 for weanlings.
  • Sell cull cows and low-margin stock before housing to reduce housing density
  • Look for additional housing to rent for young stock and/or late calving cows. Consider all options
  • Create extra feed space by adding feed rails external to current housing e.g. on gable ends or extended beyond sheds
  • Use feed trailers/extra barriers in holding yards to increase feed space. Consider cross compliance
  • On dairy farms feed meal to (a proportion of) dry cows through the milking parlour to reduce bullying


A guide to managing forage crops

Pressure on fodder stocks for the 2018/2019 winter has seen an increase in the area of forage crops such as Forage Rape or Hybrid Brassicas (Redstart or Gorilla) being sown this autumn.

These are a useful source of feed and are even more so this year due to their ability to be used outside of the normal grazing season which was so significantly hampered by drought conditions. However, there are risks associated with these crops if animals were to gorge themselves in particular, bloat and nitrate poisoning. Consequently, there must be a plan of how to graze the crop in order to manage and maximise the return.


  • To be adapted to grazing the crop over a period of approximately a week
  • Have fresh breaks allocated daily
  • Access to a roughage source is an absolute necessity (silage/hay/straw @ 1/3 of DM requirements)
  • Access to fresh water at all times
  • Access to good quality minerals (boluses are best) that have high Iodine levels as brassica crops contain goitrogens.


  • A run-back area
  • Good secure fencing to prevent animals from breaking through which would allow them to gorge themselves
  • Care in frosty weather: If frost occurs during the feeding period, it is recommended to wait until the frost has thawed before allocating a new break.


  • Start off with small breaks to build up to full allocation over a week
  • Breaks should be long and narrow rather than short and wide as you don’t want animals walking through the crop as this will result in wastage so graze from the longest side of the field
  • Unless you can accurately estimate crop yield, there will be some trial and error initially to find the correct area to allocate each day
  • Of the total diet forage crops should account for 70% and the remainder should be in the form of silage, hay or straw

Estimating Crop Yield can be done using a 1m x 1m quadrat e.g. Crop weight in 1m2 = 3.5kg. DM% of forage crop ≈ 13% > 3.5kg x 10000m2 (1 hectare) x 13%DM = 4550kgDM/ha

2 hectares (5 acres) of forage crops at a yield of 4550kgDM/ha with 19 bales of silage (200kg DM/bale) will feed 25 weanlings for approximately 100 days.

While stock will be out for the winter on these crops it should be noted that you are required to have the slurry storage capacity for all animals on the farm under the Nitrates Regulations.

Value of Feed and Sample Diets for Animals

Value of Concentrate Ingredients Relative to Barley (€250/T) and Soybean Meal (€380/T)

Value of Concentrate Ingredients Relative to Barley

Value of Common Other Feeds Relative to Barley (€250/T) and Soybean Meal (€380/T)

Value of Common other Feeds Relative to Barley

Sample Dry Dairy Cow Diets to Meet Requirements Using Hay, Straw & Limited Silage

F & F Sample Dry Dairy Cow Diets to Meet Requirements Using Hay, Straw & Limited Silage.

Milking Cow Diets to Meet Requirements1 Using Limited Silage (60% of Grass Silage Available)

Milking Cow Diets to Meet Requirements Using Limited Silage

Sample Rations for Beef Cattle

Sample Rations for Beef Cattle

Notes; Because of the increased cost of barley this year a number of producers will look to substitute barley/wheat with maize meal which is currently competitively priced.

All rations should include a balanced mineral mix to suit the type of animals being supplemented.

For finishing rations, crude protein content would be adequate at 12-14%. For Autumn calving suckler cows and weanling typically rations with 16-18% crude protein would be needed.

In the case of rations being used to top restricted forage ensure that all animals have adequate feed space at the feed rail/troughs at feeding time  

Concentrate-Feed Levels (Kg) for 70 Kg Ewes in Good Condition Carrying Twins

It is possible to successfully fed ewes on all concentrate diets with a limited access to roughage. Ewes will need 0.9kg of a standard sheep ration (min 7% Crude Fibre) per head per day to meet maintenance requirement in mid pregnancy. In late pregnancy concentrate intake should be increased in 0.2 kg increments per fortnight up to lambing. It is a good idea to provide a small amount of roughage (100-200grams DM/head/day) where ewes are bedded on slats. On this type of diet the ewes will consume approximately 100kg of concentrates over a 12 week period and the equivalent of 10% of a bale of silage / hay

F & F Concentrate-Feed Levels (Kg) for 70 Kg Ewes in Good Condition Carrying Twins

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