We need a good spring. Silage stocks will be running very tight as we move through February. The critical thing is not to run out, but to have at least 10 days' worth of silage in the pit by April 1.
The other issue is that silage quality is on the floor. Several silage samples tested out in the low sixties for dry matter digestibility (DMD). To complicate matters further, the protein content of many of these samples is as low as 8pc.
So, you can see why we need a good spring. However, that's outside our control. What is within our control is how we manage the remaining silage stocks and how we feed the calved cow this spring. How she performs in early lactation will determine her milk yield throughout 2013.
Back to the silage stocks for the moment. It will be February 1 on Friday, and it's time to measure that pit again or count the remaining number of bales. Budget the silage stocks to ensure you still have some silage left on the first of April.
If you farm on some of the wetter soils in the country, then you know that I am gambling a small bit with that last piece of advice. Cows have started to calve and will be calving in significant numbers in the next few weeks. These cows should have a body condition score (BCS) of 3.25. That's a cow in good working order, not over-fleshed.
How should these cows be fed post calving?
As can be seen from the table, poor quality silage with a DMD of 65 or less will require additional supplementation. For every five-point drop in DMD, meal feeding rates must be increased by 1-1.5kg. So if you are on poor quality silage, 2-2.5kg of extra ration with be required this spring. That's expensive but it's necessary. If cows milk poorly in the spring, they will milk poorly all year. This will have a serious impact on farm receipts with good quality ration up to €320/t.
Concentrate feeding should be built up slowly after calving. The most important ingredient in the ration is energy. It's the most limiting factor in the overall diet. The more ration you have to feed, the more important the quality becomes. This spring you should ensure that the energy density in the ration is between 0.92 and 0.95 UFL on a fresh weight basis. Inferior ingredients such as sunflower and wheat feed (pollard) should be well down the list of ingredients. They should certainly not appear in the top four.
Usually when I write about rations, I get into hot water and offend someone and they are on the phone or emailing.
It is up to you to keep an eye on the quality of the rations you are buying.
Don't buy on protein per cent. Buy on the UFL value and check on the list of ingredients. They will be in descending order, with the ingredients with the highest inclusion rate at the top of the list.
As regards protein content, if you are feeding indoors fulltime on silage then cows will need 18-20pc protein in the diet. If you are one of the lucky ones who has cows out by day then 16-18pc will do. However, when they go to grass full time, 12-14pc protein is plenty.
What about nitrogen applications? Farms have a good green colour with an amount of young green shoots. This type of material is ideal for nitrogen uptake. We are almost at February 1. A total of 40 units of nitrogen per acre should be spread on dry ground pretty quickly. Watch the forecast and if heavy rain is forecast keep it in the bag. We should try to grow as much grass as possible this spring. Applying nitrogen is the first step.
John Donworth is Teagasc's regional manager in Limerick and Kerry. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org