Farmers with major fodder shortages have been warned not to pin all their hopes on early turn out to grass as the solution to their lack of feed.
Teagasc nutrition expert Siobhan Kavanagh urged farmers to ensure they had enough fodder in stock to last animals for a month after their expected turnout date.
"Farmers I have spoken to are aiming to turn out animals around March 9 but they need to make sure they have enough feed for at least a month longer," she warned.
Prices for fodder and sugar beet have soared in recent months as farmers scour the country for additional feed to supplement poor quality and low silage stocks.
Quotes for beet range from €40-48/t collected ex-yard to as high as €70/t delivered within a 50-mile radius.
Sugar beet is commanding a price premium of €8-10/t higher than fodder beet because of its higher dry matter and energy content.
Ms Kavanagh said that Magnum fodder beet with a dry matter content of 19pc would be worth €40/t, relative to barley costing €280/t and soya costing €520/t, while sugar beet would be worth €50/t at 23pc dry matter.
Farmers have paid on average €32/t for pit silage, with some farmers paying €20/t for silage, but more farmers paying as high as €50/t.
Ms Kavanagh described some of the prices as "exorbitant" and warned farmers not to panic buy expensive silage.
"At €50/t, this does not represent value for money and where these prices are being quoted, farmers need to consider the alternative, particularly meals. Pit silage of 65 DMD is worth no more than €28-31/t," she said.
The Teagasc nutritionist warned that while baled silage at 65 DMD was worth around €28 per bale, farmers needed to be sure they knew what they were buying.
"Check the DMD before you buy and if possible buy silage that you know was well made, what quality sward it was, how long it was on the ground etc," she advised farmers.
"This is by far one of the worst years ever in terms of the fodder situation on farms," Ms Kavanagh said..
"There have been fodder shortages before but it has never coincided with such poor quality fodder and high meal price."
However, despite its high cost, meal feeding is recommended by Teagasc advisers because concentrates will result in more reliable and predictable results than alternative fodders of questionable quality.
The triple whammy of fodder shortage, poor quality fodder and spiralling concentrate feed price has resulted in some farmers cutting their losses by sending even in-calf cows to the factory. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that more in-calf cows have been slaughtered in the winter months.