Farm Ireland

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Dairy cows feed requirement could surge by 75pc this year

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Teagasc has forecast that the feed requirement of dairy cows could surge by a staggering 75pc this year.

Dairy farmers, who tend to operate at a considerably higher stocking rate than drystock farmers, have been badly affected by extreme weather this year, with many finding that their feed bills have doubled due to the limited availability of grass and fodder.

Accoding to a recent outlook document by Teagasc, latest data shows that the aggregate volume of dairy feed sales in Q1 2018 was up 21pc on the same period in 2017, which can be attributed to the delay in getting cows onto grass.

However, the continuation of unfavourable weather for grass growth in Q2 and Q3 of 2018 will mean that feed use will be well above normal.

Drought conditions have led farmers to take the unusual step of grazing silage land and feeding additional concentrates.

Favourable weather for grass growth from late July through to November will be crucial, to build up fodder supplies for the coming winter.

Joe Devine gets a helping hand from his daughter Isobel on their County Leitrim Farm
Joe Devine gets a helping hand from his daughter Isobel on their County Leitrim Farm

Overall, given the growth in the dairy cow herd, early indications are that dairy feed use per head in 2018 will far exceed the comparatively high level observed in 2017.

The current estimate, which is based on normal late season grass growth, indicates a 75pc increase in the full year feed requirement per dairy cow in 2018 relative to 2017.

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Meanwhile, aggregate beef feed sales increased in Q1 of 2018 by over 25pc relative to the same period in 2017, with this increase largely driven by the long winter and shortage of fodder.

As with the dairy herd, concentrate feed and silage are likely to have supplemented grass during the drought conditions. However, the lower stocking rate on beef farms, mean that the problem has been less acute than on dairy farms.

Anecdotally, regions where beef production is more prominent have not been as badly affected by the drought as regions where dairy is more prominent.

Last year the outturn for 2017 showed that aggregate national bovine feed use in Ireland was up 14pc in volume terms.

This reflected the continuing increase in animal numbers nationally, but was also due to poor late season grazing and silage making conditions.

 Based on DAFM and CSO data, average dairy feed use per head in 2017 is estimated to have been about 1,011 kg per cow in 2017, an increase of 14pc on the previous year. Beef feed usage per head in 2017 was up about 5pc on the previous year.

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