Farms recovered from the autumn/winter of 2009 shortage of suitable winter fodder — and will do so again this time, say Teagasc advisers.
One of the lessons learned then was to act earlier rather than later; now is the time to plan and act on winter feed options.
Help is available from many sources — your Teagasc adviser, discussion group, other farmers, and family members.
Seek expert advice, but it will be up to you to make the decision and follow through with the required actions.
It is going to be more costly to keep stock over the coming winter — discuss this with your bank manager and look at options to reduce winter feed costs.
Be prepared to act decisively in harvesting any uncut silage crops; consider using low ground pressure machinery to minimise damage to land.
But the first step is to assess the quantity of fodder available. Measure all pits of silage (length X breadth X average settled height) to calculate the volume in the silage pits in cubic metres.
As a rough guide, to convert to tonnes of silage, multiply the volume by 0.77. For example, 100m3 = 77 tonnes of fresh silage at 20% dry matter.
If the silage is very wet (18% DM) multiply by 0.81, and if the silage is dry (25% DM) multiply by 0.68.
Other forages can be converted to silage equivalents. At 20% dry matter, the equivalent of ten 4x4 bales is 8.8 tonnes for grass silage bales, 6.6 tonnes for straw, 10 tonnes for hay.
The equivalent in grass silage is 5.5 tonnes for 100 small square bales of straw; eight tonnes for 100 small square bales of hay.
Step two is to calculate winter fodder requirement, A dairy cow needs 1.6 tonnes of pit silage per month, or 1.8 bales (4x4).
A suckler cow needs 1.4t or 1.6bales; and in calf heifer 1.3t or 1.4 bales; a weanling 0.7t or 0.8 bales; store cattle 1.3t or 1.4 bales.
Step 3: calculate if your fodder is in surplus or deficit. If you are short of forage, you can calculate what the size of the deficit is on the farm.
For example: 600 tonnes of silage required, but only 450 tonnes of silage are available; you are short 25% of your total forage requirement.
Once 50% of the forage requirements are available on farm, it is not necessary to buy forage to fill the gap — unless it is good value for money.
Step 4: decide on the options available.
Option 1 is to buy forage. Relative to barley and soya at current prices, the value of 72 DMD (digestibility) pit silage is €35/tonne, falling to €31 for 65 DMD pit silage.
Grass silage bales of 65 DMD are worth €28; straw is worth €15/bale, haylage €42.
Option 2 is to buy meals. The accompanying table (below) outlines the quantities of silage and meals to feed, if you have 50% or 75% of your forage requirement available on the farm.
Option 3 is to buy wet feeds or alternative forages. But be aware of variations in dry matter, quality, storage facilities, and handling equipment.
The accompanying table (below) outlines the relative values of a range of alternative forages and wet feeds, relative to barley at €250/tonne and soya at €580/tonne.
Option 4 for those short of winter fodder is to plan for early turnout.
Turning out stock in the early spring is a cost-effective way of reducing demand for feed over the winter.
Close your paddocks or fields in rotation from early October until mid-November.
Option 5 is to sell stock before the winter. Scan cows, and cull the empty cows that are in good condition.
To justify finishing them this winter, a price rise of €400-€500 between the cull value and finished cow value would be needed on many dairy farms.
Meal feed any cattle that can be finished off grass this autumn.
Feed quality is another important issue for livestock farmers this winter.
The quality of the silage on offer is likely to be poorer than usual. In addition to low digestibility, poorer preservation will affect intakes.
And heating and mould growth are more likely when the silage is being fed.
Silage analysis cuts out the guess-work, and is a small cost, at only €35 per sample, relative to 400 tonnes of silage which is worth over €11,000.
The accompanying tables (right) give a rough guide to your expected silage DMD, based on the closing and cutting dates; and supplementation guidelines (kg/head/day) for different categories of stock.
The winter milk diet will not be cheap this year, and it is difficult to make feed cost savings with cows at peak yield indoors. Minor changes to ingredients will do very little, but cost savings can be sought in two ways.
Feeding rates should be reduced for lower producing animals by offering a maximum 2.5-3kg meal at the barrier, and then topping up in the parlour as required.
Too many cows are overfed, by feeding large proportions of meal through the diet feeder. Parlour feeding doesn’t cause problems, once forage intakes and the overall diet are correct.
The focus is on keeping the energy content (UFL) of the diet high and balancing the protein content, using the PDI system.
The target for the Johnstown Castle diet this year is 15.1% crude protein in the overall diet, but a UFL of 0.94/kg diet DM and PDI of 97g/kg diet DM, enough to support 32 litres per cow per day.
A small quantity of soya is included as a source of quality protein using the PDI system.