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One month until winter feeding starts - have your final feed budgets worked out

12 October 2018
Type Media Article

Joe Patton, Teagasc Dairy Specialist

After a long summer battle to build fodder reserves, most farms are now within a few weeks of starting to house animals on full winter diets. Excellent grass growing conditions through August and September have helped to partially bridge the fodder gap in most areas but there remains a significant shortfall in winter feed across many counties.

Supplies of forage for purchase are likely to be quite limited through the winter so individual farms must act now to ensure winter feed demands can be met. A deficit can be managed better by adjusting the diet from early winter onwards. On the other hand, ignoring a problem until later may result in major difficulties next spring.

The first action at this stage must be to calculate stocks of forage in the yard. Take an inventory of silage bales, hay and straw, and measure silage pits (length x width x average height). With this information to hand, Teagasc advisers are available to help with calculating the tonnes of feed available. Sampling silage for dry matter and quality is very much advised to improve accuracy of measurement.

Next, a calculation of likely feed demand is needed. Estimate stock numbers by type (e.g. suckler cows, dairy cows etc.) and total days’ feed needed (e.g. 5-6 months). Again, staff in your local Teagasc office will help with calculating total feed required using this information. Be careful to use a reasonable estimate winter duration- do not rely on grazing into late autumn and early spring turnout to close the gap.

Once the balance between supply and demand is known, the options for individual farm situations can be worked out. Urgency of action is essential. While it will be difficult to secure 100% of silage requirements, every effort should be made to reach up to 80% of budgeted forage demand. This will make feeding management much easier.

Selling surplus or non-performing stock (such as cull cows) may be a useful means of immediately reducing demand in some cases. It is surprising how much feed can be saved by even a small reduction in numbers. Purchase the balance of feed required on the basis of dry matter, energy and protein per kg. Table 1 contains sample feed values relative to barley and soya at €250 and €380 per tonne respectively. Wet feeds need to be carefully assessed for dry matter, transport costs- ‘buy feed not water’.

Table 1 Relative value of feed options

FeedEnergyProteinFibreRelative Value € per Tonne
Barley Good Low V. Low 250
Soya Good V. Good V. Low 380
Soya hulls Medium Low Medium 240
Beet pulp Good Low Medium 248
Barley/gluten mix Good Good V. Low 248
Good quality hay (per tonne) Low V. Low V Good 155
Barley straw (per tonne) V. Low V. Low V Good 102
Fodder Beet (19% DM) Good Low V low 40
Poor grass silage @ 25% DM Low Low Good 34
Good grass silage @ 25% DM Medium Low Good 44
Good maize silage @ 32%DM Medium Low Good 62

It is important to balance diets correctly for energy, protein, fibre and minerals. Focus on meeting the minimum fibre (NDF) levels first. In practice, this means feeding at least 7 to 8kg DM silage (or 4.5 to 5kg straw) per day to mature cows and 3 to 4kg DM silage (2 to 2.5kg straw) to youngstock. Build up the rest of the diet to target using forage and concentrates, where needed. Your local Teagasc office has a range of sample diets to meet your requirements. Contact us during Fodder & Finance Week (8th – 12th October) for more information.

3 October 2018