What are your farm's feed requirements and options?

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Gerry Giggins

Compared with June and July 2018, thankfully Ireland has reverted to a normal summer weather pattern, resulting in bumper silage and even hay crops.

For those that made silage in early May and are now completing their second cuts, both quantity and quality are excellent.  

Unfortunately, the early June break in weather, resulted in some late first cut harvest dates and feed quality will have been adversely affected.

Putting aside all the negatives that currently surround beef production in Ireland, feed planning for next winter still needs to be conducted. While there should be an abundance of forage available this winter, the concentrate component of the diet will offer the biggest opportunity to effect animal performance and cost of production.

As a result of the European wide drought in summer 2018, along with currency fluctuations, the prices of grains, proteins and fibre sources all spiked, resulting in all beef rations rising to levels not witnessed for a number of years. These price spikes took almost half a year to correct but now feed input prices are relatively stable.

The outbreak of African Swine Fever in China and the devastating effect it has had on their national pig numbers, has significantly decreased the demand from China for both energy and protein feed sources.

While many regions of the US have encountered severe flooding during their main planting season, the dire predictions of high levels of underplanting, don't appear to have come to pass.

As a result of the long, dry period last year we witnessed the double effect of reduction in both quantity and quality from the Irish grain harvest. In order to overcome this shortfall, significantly higher quantities of feed were imported into the country.

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The main feeds used to offset the shortfall in Irish grain stocks were maize grain, soya hulls and palm kernel etc. Maize grain in particular, was fed in higher quantities than usual by a lot of beef finishers. Where it was correctly balanced with a protein feed and buffered to lower the risk of acidosis, the higher rates of maize grain feeding provided excellent animal performance.

Where lower quality ingredients were used to replace cereal grain and forage, the performance levels were much lower. Irish wheat and barley prices were on average €25-€35 dearer per tonne than maize grain for most of last winter.

These prices have now realigned, with barley and wheat currently below the price of maize grain.

As we are fast approaching the start of the grain harvest, it is now time to give consideration to what your feed requirements are and what the best options will be. At this time of year, I usually write about the numerous grain processing, treatment and storage methods.

As before, the considerations around what grain type is available, type of animals to be fed, grain moisture and storage facilities will all determine what system best suits your farm.

Most beef finishing diets can contain up to 70pc cereals. In the past, this level of grain inclusion was viewed as too high risk, but now with developments in processing methods such as crimping, toasting, flaking and alkaline treating - as well as the availability of improved yeasts and rumen buffer - the risks are greatly diminished.

At the time of writing, yield and quality expectations for both winter and springs crops are good. Last year's oat crop was probably worst affected by the dry summer; however, this year there are no such issues. I am constantly advocating and championing the use of oats in all ruminant diets.

Oats are a very suitable crop for Irish climatic conditions and offer a wide range of advantages when used in most diets.

At a time when sustainability continues to become an increasingly important requirement for Irish agriculture, the use of a native cereal like oats in place of imported by-products such as soya hulls and palm kernel should be actively encouraged.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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