Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Cut feed costs with surplus spuds

Gerry Giggins

In recent weeks, I have received numerous phone calls about the use of potatoes for feeding housed cattle. The inquiries ranged from the need to feed them straight, to ensiling potatoes with grass silage and storing them separately for the coming winter.

Beef farmers should not ignore the many merits of feeding potatoes.

When fed in the correct quantity and manner, they provide an excellent feed which will improve beef animal performance and carcass quality.

Potatoes are also an excellent source of energy, which is readily available to the ruminant animal and easily processed.

Last year was a bumper year for potato production, but a decrease in human consumption has left growers with stocks of potatoes in stores that must be cleared out for the new season's crop. Export markets for potatoes are limited, so the only option for many producers is to sell them for animal feed.

When valuing potatoes compared to other feeds, beef farmers should take into account factors such as potato variety, cleanliness, haulage distance and the type of animals being fed.

Potatoes are generally trading at €25-40/t, including delivery, and the higher dry-matter varieties such as Roosters and Pinks should command €5/t above the 'white' varieties.

Traditionally, animal or stock feed potatoes became available around this time, just before the new season's potatoes.

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Coinciding with first-cut silage, potatoes were often ensiled along with grass.

Layering the potatoes with the silage resulted in an effective method of holding the potatoes until the following winter.

However, any soil on the potatoes led to poor fermentation of the grass. This method of ensiling also made it very difficult to monitor feeding rates, so it's not an advisable method of storage.

Where cold storage is not available, the best storage method for potatoes is to mix them with a product that will help to 'cook' and ferment them, retaining the juices that are lost during ensiling and stabilising the product for feeding at a later stage.

Storing potatoes at a ratio of 5:1 potato to beet pulp, citrus pulp or soya hulls is the most effective method.

Simply push this mix into its final storage position, lightly firm it with a front-end loader and ensure it is well sealed. This will result in a very stable, palatable feed that can be fed at high rates to finishing animals.

I have seen this type of product stored for up to two years with very little or no storage loss.

Ensiling with brewers' grains or wet distillers is also very effective. The ratio of mixing in this case is 10:5:2 of potato, brewers grains and pulp.

This mix has the same storage qualities but is a superior feed to the potato/pulp mix because of its higher protein content.

If surplus maize is available, it can also be used for ensiling.

The ratio here is 7:4 of potatoes to maize.

After mixing, the product is compacted with a tractor to ensure the correct fermentation and storage.

Clearly, farmers should look at the availability of surplus potatoes as a way to reduce summer feed costs.

The surplus should also be stored for next winter's diet.

In this way, beef performance can be increased and costs significantly reduced.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist with Carlow firm Keenan's. Email:

Indo Farming