Winter cattle feed
The aim of every farmer is to have adequate good quality winter feed on the farm for all stock well in advance.
Unfortunately this has not been possible for many this year.
Most of the farmers on heavy or wet land not only have a scarcity of grass but a fairly big deficiency in their winter feed supplies.
Most farmers have already carried out a winter feed budget, but it has been difficult for those who have a serious shortage to solve their problem, due to the scarcity and price of available supplies.
The high price of concentrates is compounding the problem.
Grass growth and weather has been generally good since the start of September and most farmers have lengthened rotations to over 30 days in order to provide a supply of good grass for the autumn grazing.
Rather than cutting late cuts of light silage it is much more economical to graze it in situ if possible.
Meanwhile, a definite winter feed plan should be put in place and all options examined.
A combination of reducing stock, extending grazing, and purchasing fodder/concentrates will usually be required to fill the feed gap.
Not only should the quantity of winter fodder be assessed, assess the quality too; due to the bad weather, a lot of available fodder is of poor quality.
Much of the first cut silage wasn’t cut until July, and even if it is well preserved, the digestibility is likely to be poor, and you will require fairly high supplementation with concentrates.
The weather also resulted in a lot of wet and poorly preserved silage.
As a guide, cows will require about 10kg of dry matter (DM) per day, or the equivalent of about 1.5 tonnes of 20% DM silage per month, while on full silage.
Weanlings will require about half of this amount.
If poor quality silage or some other poor quality forage is being fed, much of the dry matter intake should consist of concentrates.
Minimum Roughage Requirements
All cattle require a minimum amount of silage or some other roughage in their diet.
If roughage is very scarce, Teagasc recommends a roughage requirement of at least 35% to 40% of total dry matter intake for dairy cows, and 0.7% of body weight for cattle, except finishing cattle on a high concentrate diet, where about 1kg of roughage DM per animal per day should be sufficient.
Therefore, the minimum roughage requirement for dairy cows is about 3.75kg of DM per day, or 25kg per week (about 20kg of silage at 21% DM, per day).
Strong stores will require at least 3kg of roughage DM per day, while weanlings will require 2kg (about 10kg of silage).
Diets should of course be correctly balanced for energy (concentrates), protein, and minerals, and a clean water supply should always be available.
With the very high price of concentrates, minimum roughage feeding should only be practised where good quality silage or other fodder is very scarce and expensive.
Straw has become more plentiful and will be an option for some farmers, together with concentrates.
Relative to the likely high price of concentrates this autumn, the following is a rough guide to the value of forages that might be available to purchase.
However, market prices for fodder in some areas are much higher than their value compared to concentrates.
The feeding value of good hay is €165 per tonne, €3.15 for small square bales (20kg), and €33 for 4x4 round bales. Good quality straw feeding value is €115 per tonne, €1.35 for small bales (12.5kg), and €15 for 4x4 round bales.
Good quality silage (72DMD) has a feeding value of €42 per tonne at 20% DM.
Round bales of good quality silage, weighing 650kg at 25% DM, will be worth about €35, but only €28 at 20% dry matter. These are delivered prices.
Be careful when purchasing forage, however, as the quality can vary widely, and it should be assessed locally by Teagasc.
Maize silage could be worth over €55 per tonne, and clean fodder beet €43 per tonne, delivered.
Sugar beet has a higher feeding value due to its higher dry matter and sugar content but has to be fed more carefully.
Whole crop cereal silage should have a feeding value of over €65 per tonne.
The feeding value of purchased forage should not be confused with the ex-farm price.
The additional costs of transport, storing, and feeding out costs must be taken into account.
Losses with wet feeds or silage can vary from 10 to 20%, compared with less than 2% for dry concentrates.