Our Organisation Search
Quick Links
Toggle: Topics

Teagasc Advice on Feeding Livestock this Spring

Dr. Siobhan Kavanagh, Nutrition Specialist, Teagasc

The next 6 weeks are critical to maintain the productive capacity of your dairy or beef herd, and your sheep flock. A lot of effort and cost has gone into ensuring that cows and ewes were adequately fed for the last few months and it’s important that this is maintained until calving / lambing. There have been some reports of recumbent cows at calving and inadequate feeding pre-calving is a key component of this.

Bad Quality Silage

  1. As a general rule of thumb, expect to feed 1-2 kg more meal than you would normally feed to all classes of bovine.
  2. Keep a close eye on cow condition. Get a neighbour to come in and take a look at your cows. When you are looking at them every day, it’s hard to see the condition of cows.
  3. One of the major contributory factors to recumbent cows at calving is animals on bad silage losing condition in late pregnancy. Continue feeding meals to dry cows on bad silage and / or in poor condition. This will not cause calving difficulties as the meal is simply filling the gap in what silage alone would supply on a normal year. Overfat cows are a bigger risk factor for calving difficulties than thin cows. Don’t be afraid to feed some meals up to calving. Some of the problems associated with losing condition pre-calving include: displaced abomasums, immune system insufficiency (retained cleanings & infections); fatty liver; ketosis pre-calving; potentially milk fever and low intakes after calving.
  4. Protein levels in silage are low in many cases and cows (dairy & suckler) are short approximately 250 grams of protein. This can be supplied in 0.5 kg soya, or 1.0 kg distiller’s grains, or feeding 2-3 kg of a 16% CP ration.
  5. Check that a good quality pre-calver mineral is being fed. Animals are stressed on bad silage and their immune system is under pressure. This can create problems for the cow (retained cleanings, infections etc) and the calf.
  6. If running into milk fever type problems around calving (slow calvings, retained cleanings, low intakes, displaced abomasums), check
    1. Energy intake – are cows getting enough feed into them? If silage is less than 64 DMD need to feed 2 kg meals
    2. Protein intake – are cows getting enough protein? Do I need to feed that 0.5 kg soya?
    3. Mineral intake – particularly magnesium intake. If magnesium percentage on the bag is 15%, feed an additional 30 grams of sweetened calmag.
  7. Calved suckler cows on good quality grass silage will not need meals, provided they are turned out to grass within 1 month of calving BUT cows in poor condition, or on bad quality silage will need some supplementation (2-3 kg, depending on silage quality), regardless of turnout date. All heifers should get meals before turnout.
  8. Weanlings on poor quality silage (62 DMD silage or less) should continue to be fed meal until turnout. Reduce meal feeding to 1-2 kg for the last month.
  9. Ewes pre-lambing will need an additional 0.2 - 0.3 kg extra meal per day to compensate for bad quality silage. This will help avoid problems such as weak lambs, light lambs at birth and twin lamb disease. Don’t forget protein supplementation. Protein levels in silage are very low this year. Ensure adequate protein supplementation for the last 3-4 weeks pre-lambing.

Short of Silage

If you are short of silage, it is important to act now, and not wait until you have run out before taking action. Your options include:

  1. Buy silage (value: €25-30 / bale, depending on quality); buy meals (more predictable than bad silage); buy straw
  2. Sell surplus stock
  3. If finishing animals (finishing animals or cull cows), remove silage from the diet and use high concentrates diets plus minimal roughage
  4. Weanlings can be offered restricted silage plus 2-3.5 kg meals, OR ad lib straw plus 3 kg meals
  5. Keep the best silage for the cows post-calving. These animals cannot be restricted on silage or straw
  6. Option to put late calving dry cows on restricted silage plus meals (3 - 3.5 kg), or silage plus straw plus meals (assuming 3 kg straw plus 2 kg meals). Avoid making big changes to cow diet in the 3 weeks pre-calving
  7. Consider ad lib concentrates plus minimum roughage for ewes pre-calving


There is help available to you, if you have difficulties on your farm due to the bad weather conditions last summer. Teagasc is available to help with both clients and non-clients. Please do not hesitate to call into the local office. The DVO, IFA, Co-ops and marts are also sources of information and advice.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine run a Rural Helpline. This service is available 7 days a week from 6-10pm. The number for this helpline is 1800 74 26 45.