Winter Feed - Act Now

There will be two major issues this winter in terms of animal feed – quantity and quality - according to Teagasc advisers in Ireland.
calendar icon 14 August 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

At the moment securing enough winter feed is the key issue. It is important to act now. It will cost a lot more to fill the deficit if you are facing the back wall of the silage pit next January.

The first step is to establish how short you are in terms of feed. Estimate how much silage you need over the winter, i.e., the number of animals to be fed and the length of the winter. Secondly, calculate the quantity of forage presently on the farm including pit silage (grass, maize and whole crop), bales, straw, hay and forage crops.

Once you have at least 40 per cent of your silage requirements for the cows and 30 per cent of your silage requirements for the young stock, there are options. There is no single action that will sort the deficit; it requires a number of initiatives to deal with the problem.

The demand for silage is reliant on the number of stock to be housed and on the length of the winter. Actions can be taken on both sides of this equation. Setting the farm up to allow for extended grazing this autumn and early turnout next spring will be key to reducing the demand for winter feed. The weather will dictate a lot but it’s important to plan for a good autumn and spring so that you can maximise on the benefits. Is there surplus stock on the farm that could be sold? This will lower demand.

On the supply side, consider taking out surplus bales in August should grass growth increase. But remember you will also need to start increasing farm cover from mid August.

Forage rape may be an option for some farmers on dry ground but it’s too late for kale.

Buying silage is an option but only where it’s good value and the quality of it is known. Relative to current feed prices, good quality silage (72 DMD) is worth up to €31/bale, while moderate quality silage (65 DMD) is worth up to €28/bale, delivered prices. Pitted silage is worth €3-4/tonne more than bales. First-cut silage baled in July, which is six to seven weeks later than normal, will be very low in digestibility and similar to straw in feeding value.

Alternative forages and wet feeds may be an option for some. Good quality maize silage is worth €54/tonne, while good quality whole crop cereal silage and fodder beet are worth up to €74/t and €41/t, delivered. It is important to note that some of these feeds will be of moderate to poor quality this autumn and you must know the quality before purchasing.

While wet feeds such as brewers’ grains may be an option, availability of some of these will be an issue. Grain storage on farm will be an option for some. Treatment costs are approximately €35/t, including the additive, processing, storage and losses. Remember that these feeds will need to be balanced for protein and minerals, and storage facilities will be needed.

In many cases buying bad quality silage will be a more expensive option than buying meals and feeding it with a restricted quantity of silage. In 2009, Moorepark Research Centre fed the dry cows 6kg DM of silage plus 3kg DM of straw and 3.5kg of ration and dry cow minerals. Supplementation rates can be increased/decreased, depending on silage supply.

August 2012

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