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Concentrate supplement options during a grass shortage

Many farms have been struggling with poor grass growth and quality in recent weeks. Weekend rainfall has been significant in most regions, this will help grass growth. If you are short of grass, Dairy Specialist Joe Patton has some advice.

A recent study carried out by Teagasc Moorepark compared supplement types in a limited grass/drought situation. Cows were mid-lactation spring calving cows. All groups received 6kg grass DM, 5kg silage DM, plus 6kg concentrate. The feed supplement treatments investigated were:

  1. Parlour- 6kg high energy 16% protein ration (comprising cereals, pulp, protein sources)
  2. Beet pulp- 4kg plus 2kg parlour ration
  3. Soya Hulls- 4kg plus 2kg parlour ration
  4. Palm Kernel- 4kg plus 2kg parlour ration
 Beet PulpSoya HullsPalm KernelParlour
Milk Yield
20.6c 21.5b 19.1d 22.04 a
(g/kg DM)
44.7b 47.0a 47.7a 45.8b
(g/kg DM)
35.7ac 35.7ac 34.5b 36.5c
Milk Solids Yield
1.62b 1.74a 1.59b 1.77 a
Body weight (kg) 511.5b 504.8c 516.5a 515.1ab

The Parlour feed group produced significantly more milk revenue than the other diets, with hulls being the best of the 3 straights options, followed by beet pulp.  It is likely that the additional protein supplementation in the parlour ration contributed to extra milk solids given the low protein content of the drought-stressed grass offered. Revenue over feed cost depends on the unit cost of feed and base milk price. However, assuming a 29cpl base milk price the parlour option was most economical where parlour concentrate price was within approximately €65/tonne of the soya hulls price. Based on these results, the advice is for up to 6kg high quality parlour ration (at 16% crude protein) during drought conditions. Balance the remainder of the diet with high quality forage; high fibre straights offer an option as a third feed to complement the diet where forage supply or quality is lacking.

Note: Many farms have been struggling with poor grass growth and quality in recent weeks, particularly in the east/south east region. Weekend rainfall has been significant in most regions. Hopefully this will help to kick-start grass growth in affected areas. It is important to stay on top of grass and feed management:

  • Walk the farm to establish grass growth rate and recovery.
  • Keep an eye on paddocks due for grazing in 1-2 weeks’ time- make sure that these do not go too strong before grazing if growth has recovered.
  • If supplement rates have been high (6kg plus), reduce gradually over 4-6 days
  • Mark poorly grazed paddocks for potential cutting as surplus bales to re-set quality
  • Complete a provisional winter feed budget