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Budgeting Feed for Next Winter

09 May 2024
Type Media Article

The prolonged and challenging winter experienced by farmers has depleted a lot of the silage stocks across the country. Many of these reserves had been built up over a number of years. We may not want to start thinking about next winter already, but the challenge now is to make enough silage for stock for the winter of 2024 while also trying to build up a reserve again. Stephen O’Callaghan, Walsh Scholar, Teagasc Meath gives some advice

An effective tool at quantifying the fodder requirements for your farm this winter is completing a fodder budget.

How much silage is needed?

A simple approach is to estimate the length of the period for which silage will be required. Depending on your location in the county, planning for a 5 month winter is advisable. Farmers should also aim to have an extra months’ worth of feed in reserve for periods of challenging weather. The table below outlines the amount of silage required for different stock types.

Table 1 - Estimating Silage Requirements

Animal TypeNumber of stock to be kept over winterNumber of monthsPit silage needed/animal/monthTotal Tonnes of silage needed
Dairy cows     1.6  
Suckler cows     1.4  
0-1 year old     0.7  
1-2 year old     1.3  
2+ year old     1.3  
Total tonnes needed        
If using bales -  Total bales needed is tonnes X by 1.1        

Silage Quality

The quality of silage made on farm will have a big impact on animal performance. The target dry matter digestibility (DMD) for dry cows is 68-70%, which is suitable for moderate body condition gain over the dry period. Silage fed to milking or growing stock must be good quality 73-78% DMD to support production and growth.

Some farmers may think that they will delay their first cut to bulk up and fill the pits. However, delaying first cut will lead to a reduction in overall silage yield as it will lead to a substantial reduction in second cut yields. Delaying cutting date will also have an effect on silage quality as a one week delay in cutting can cause a drop of 3-5% in DMD of silage.

Figure 1. Effect of Cutting date on Overall Silage Yield

Bar chart showing the effect of cutting date on silage yield and energy density on a two cut system. As date progresses, yield and energy density declines

Measuring Silage Stocks

Silage pits should be measured (length x width x average settled height) in meters to calculate the volume of silage. This number can then be divided by 1.35 to get the amount in tonnes. To convert bales to the equivalent of tonnes of silage; multiply the number of bales by 0.9. The estimated feed in the pit will vary due to dry matter, drier silage will have less weight per cubic metre but will have a higher feeding value due to reduced water content.

I am heading towards a Feed Deficit. What are my options?

Purchasing additional forage is an option to make up a feed deficit which cannot be met on farm. It is important to be wary of variable silage quality when purchasing. Hay or straw availability may be an issue this year and don’t rely on securing maize in the backend as a lot of these crops are contract grown. Purchasing standing crops of silage may be an option this summer.

Another option is reducing winter requirements by selling surplus stock, poor performing cows and animals. Culling poor performing cows now will reduce mid-season demand and will allow you to conserve more forage on-farm. It is important to plan ahead and remember that decisions made in the next few weeks will have a big impact on silage quantity and quality next winter.