Why farmers are facing big deficits in forage quality and quantity
The unrelenting rain of the last few weeks has finished any hope there was to off-set the housing of cattle.
I regularly carry out feed budgeting at this time of year and generally this does not pose much of a challenge.
This year, unfortunately, many livestock farmers will struggle to fulfil their silage requirements. There will also be challenges surrounding the balancing of the animal's protein and energy requirements due to poor quality and quantity of second cuts.
Another major trial will be to replace straw where it has previously been an essential part of an animal's diet.
Huge parts of the country, particularly the north-west will have huge deficits in forage quantity. The gaps between the very wet spells of weather have allowed some farmers to snatch the opportunity to make late silage. The damage evident in these fields suggests that this late silage won't be of high quality with issues such as soil contamination and poor mineral content.
Straw has become an essential part of the feeding programme on many livestock farms. It fulfils a very essential role in replacing grass silage in particular in winter dry cow suckler rations, helping to control body condition, reducing difficulties at birth, and generally improving the overall health of the suckler cow. However, this year, while the grain harvest has been very difficult for cereal farmers, it has been virtually impossible to save straw for feeding, in spring sown crops especially.
This has created a huge deficit in the straw available for feeding. In the average year when straw trades at €60-70 per tonne, feeding 3-5kg of straw per cow per day offers a good economic return. However this year in a lot of cases this is not an option.
Without sufficient straw, add-lib diets in particular will be hard to keep right. Rumen health is where straw has its biggest benefit. Straw is the most effective source of structural fibre.