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Key tips on building a fodder reserve this summer

Key tips on building a fodder reserve this summer

Following a wet spring and a prolonged winter housing period, silage and fodder reserves on many farms are now completely exhausted. Silage stocks will need to be replenished to provide adequate fodder for next winter and for any unplanned times of wet weather or drought conditions.

Complete a fodder budget

Varying weather patterns over the last number of years make it very difficult to predict how many months fodder are now required. No matter what region of the country your farm is located in, it is best to target fodder availability/reserve for at least six to seven months. It is essential to know how much fodder is required in order to make a plan. If the feeding periods are shorter than planned for, having silage left over in the yard - whether as pit silage or as bales - is a nice luxury to have.

Table 1: Fodder budget - winter requirements 2024/2025

Animal type Number of stock kept over the winter

Number of months

(include 4-6 week buffer)

Number of bales required per month Total silage bales required (A x B x C)
Suckler cow     1.7  
0-1 year old     0.9  
1-2 year old     1.35  
>2 year old     1.7  
Ewes     0.15  
Total silage bales required                                                                                 Bales
Total tonnes pit silage required (total bales / 1.25)                                                                                 Tonnes

Notes/assumptions: Silage bale at 25% DM (dry matter) has 200kg of DM per bale; pit silage is assumed at 25% DM; if concentrate is also fed, it will reduce the total amount of silage required per head per day; a minimum of 4-6 weeks of a buffer should be included.

Maximise silage produced from your own farm

Every opportunity to harvest silage should be made this summer/autumn. Plan for first and second cuts as normal on all fields that are not required for grazing. A third cut may also be targeted on some fields in September. On grazing ground, any extra grass grown should be cut and saved as high quality baled silage.

To maximise grass growth and production, ensure that soil fertility is optimised by keeping lime, phosphorus and potassium applications up to date and ensure chemical nitrogen is applied regularly. Don’t forget sulphur, apply 12 to 15 units/ac per cut and also per grazing paddock over the grazing season. Ensure to stay within your nitrates limits for both chemical nitrogen and phosphorus.

Can stock be finished off grass?

Notwithstanding the difficulties and safety of feeding finishing cattle at grass, with the right infrastructure, is it an option to finish some animals from grass with/without concentrates this autumn, thereby reducing the grazing demand in the back end of the year and more importantly reducing the winter fodder requirement.

Buying silage bales

Can silage bales be sourced locally in order to enhance the silage stock on farm? Buying bales can be hit and miss at the best of times. Many bales can be excellent quality, but the range in quality can be very variable. Buying locally can be of great benefit if knowledge of the farm that the bales came from and the weather conditions at baling can be known. Generally bales bought earlier in the summer will be of higher quality than bales made later in the autumn.

Short-term renting land to grow a crop of silage

Renting land for a 6 to 8 week period where you can fertilise the ground in order to cut a crop of silage maybe an option in parts of the country. Sourcing land in close proximity to your home farm is key.

Growing forage crops

Where silage is going to be tight next winter, in some instances the growing of forage crops like forage rape, redstart or kale maybe an option. These crops may be an option in fields that are planned for reseeding next year.

Access, ground conditions for grazing next winter, shelter for stock, balancing the diet with silage and concentrates and meeting Conditionality regulations are all considerations that need to be addressed before the decision to sow any of these crops are made. Seek advice on the growing of these crops if you are not familiar in doing so.

Contract cropping

In some of the tillage areas of the country, linking up with a tillage farmer to grow whole crop silage, maize silage, grass silage, beet etc. on contract may be an option. If going this route, it would be important for all parties to complete a contract cropping agreement in advance so that everyone knows their obligations.

Buy beet

Beet may be an option in some instances to fill the gap where fodder is in short supply, although many farms may not be in a position to feed beet. If thinking of buying beet, it is important to consider storage, washing, chopping and feed out of the beet. Have you the machinery to complete these tasks? Also bear in mind that depending on the type of animal being fed, the overall diet will need to be adequately balanced to meet their nutritional requirements.

A definite plan

In building up a fodder supply for next winter, it is important have a definite plan. Know your own requirements, maximise what can be achieved from your farm firstly and if there is still a short fall, assess all the alternatives and make a plan early. All options come with a cost, so ensure that provisions are made to pay for these and that they are viable.

This article first appeared in the DairyBeef 500 Open Day Booklet for Peter Byrne’s farm walk. More information on the Teagasc DairyBeef 500 Campaign is available here.