Farm Ireland

Thursday 17 January 2019

'This is the worst I’ve seen in 23 years' - Western farmers facing winter fodder crisis

Claire Fox

Claire Fox

A WINTER fodder crisis is looming in some parts of the country, farm advisors and feed merchants have warned.

Farmers in the north-west have already used a significant share of winter fodder.

Farm advisors and feed merchants are warning that variable silage quality, the restricted availability of straw, and increased cow numbers could cause difficulties for highly-stocked dairy farms.

Teagasc advisor Tom Coll said he had never seen ground conditions as bad in the north-west.

“This is the worst I’ve seen in 23 years in the advisory service. There are two inches of rain on top of ground at this stage.

“Land is just saturated,” said Mr Coll who works in Sligo, Leitrim and south Donegal.

While grass growth has been good in recent weeks because of high temperatures, farmers have been unable to get livestock out on grass because of the atrocious ground conditions.

Cattle have been housed in much of the north-west since early September, but Mr Coll said many farmers were now housing sheep because they were “walking grass covers into the ground”.

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Increased problems with lameness, due to flocks standing in water the whole time, were also an issue, he explained.

He said the early housing of suckler cows, dairy herds and heavy beef stock has caused concerns on the fodder front.

“Some lads are in dire straits,” Mr Coll said. “A lot of men with second cut silage never got near it.”

He said significant stocks of silage had already been fed on farms and he advised livestock owners to do a fodder budget for their winter feed requirements as a matter of urgency.

He said farmers should scan all cows and sell empty females, and all other non-essential stock.

Mr Coll said the shortage of silage could best be made up with a mix of straights, such as soya hulls or barley, or with concentrates.

He advised against buying round bales of silage.

Lucky bags

“You are really buying lucky bags at this time of the year when you buy round bales; you don’t know what you are getting.

“You could be buying a bale of rushes. With the concentrates and straights, at least you know the feeding value,” he explained.

Donegal farm advisor Peter Cannon said a lot of farmers in the southwest of the county were already selling cattle early because of the fodder situation, and some men were selling suckler cows.

“If it comes a good February, the sheep men will be clear, but it will take a great March to save the cattle man,” he said.

Mr Cannon added that a lot of hay and silage was already being brought into the county but the loads were being bought up as soon as they landed.

The fodder shortages are not limited to the north-west. Scanning consultant Dan Ryan said that herds have been housed in many parts of north Kerry, Clare and Galway for the past six weeks.

Pat Ryan of Liffey Mills said that winter had started a good month early and with a lot more cows on the ground, the fodder situation was “going to be tight”.

Meanwhile, an independent survey of silage quality in the south-east has found that dry matter levels are extremely variable and averaged 66DMD compared to 67.5 last year.

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