Joe Patton: How to lessen the impact of potential fodder deficits
After a long summer battle to build fodder reserves, most farms are now within a few weeks of starting to house animals on full winter diets. Excellent grass growing conditions through August and September have helped to partially bridge the fodder gap in most areas but there remains a significant shortfall in winter feed across many counties.
Supplies of forage for purchase are likely to be quite limited through the winter so individual farms must act now to ensure winter feed demands can be met.
A deficit can be managed better by adjusting the diet from early winter onwards. On the other hand, ignoring a problem until later may result in major difficulties next spring.
The first action at this stage must be to calculate stocks of forage in the yard. Take an inventory of silage bales, hay and straw, and measure silage pits (length x width x average height). With this information to hand, Teagasc advisers are available to help with calculating the tonnes of feed available.
Sampling silage for dry matter and quality is very much advised to improve accuracy of measurement.
Next, a calculation of likely feed demand is needed. Estimate stock numbers by type (e.g. suckler cows, dairy cows, etc) and total days feed needed (e.g. 5-6 months). Again, staff in your local Teagasc office will help with calculating total feed required using this information. Be careful to use a reasonable estimate winter duration - do not rely on grazing into late autumn and early spring turnout to close the gap.
Once the balance between supply and demand is known, the options for individual farm situations can be worked out. Urgency of action is essential. While it will be difficult to secure 100pc of silage requirements, every effort should be made to reach up to 80pc of budgeted forage demand.
Selling surplus or non-performing stock (such as cull cows) may be a useful means of immediately reducing demand in some cases. It is surprising how much feed can be saved by even a small reduction in numbers. Purchase the balance of feed required on the basis of dry matter, energy and protein per kg. Table 1 contains sample feed values relative to barley and soya at €250 and €380 per tonne respectively. Wet feeds need to be carefully assessed for dry matter, transport costs - 'buy feed not water'. It is important to balance diets correctly for energy, protein, fibre and minerals. Focus on meeting the minimum fibre (NDF) levels first.
In practice, this means feeding at least 7 to 8kg DM silage (or 4.5 to 5kg straw) per day to mature cows and 3 to 4kg DM silage (2 to 2.5kg straw) to young stock. Build up the rest of the diet to target using forage and concentrates, where needed. Your local Teagasc office has a range of sample diets to meet your requirements. Contact you local Teagasc advisor for more information during Fodder & Finance Week, which runs until October 12.
Joe Patton is a Teagasc dairy specialist
Winter fodder deficit still running at over 20pc in some southern and eastern counties
A recent national Teagasc survey of winter feed supplies on beef and dairy farms identified typical shortages of around 20-24pc in south/eastern counties and 10-15pc in north/western areas.
Individual cases have reported greater deficits exceeding 40pc. As part of Fodder and Finance Week (until October 12), Teagasc are encouraging farms to take early and effective actions to stretch available fodder supplies. This will involve a combination of early culling, fodder purchase and/or concentrate feeding.
Where the necessary early culling has occurred and feed deficits remain, individual farms should develop a workable feeding plan for the winter. This means weighing up options for purchased forage and concentrate feeding, plus assessing the practicalities of feed space and rationing silage.
If silage stocks are more than 25pc in deficit, purchasing additional forage to meet minimum diet fibre requirements is advised. The simplest solution is usually to source silage, however, this may not be possible for all regions. Teagasc have established a national register of farms with feed for sale; if you are seeking to trade fodder, contact your local office for details.
Although expensive and difficult to source this year, feeding some good-quality hay or straw is an effective way of meeting fibre requirements due to high dry matter and NDF (fibre) content. Dry dairy cows can be fed up to 4.5kg straw (or 6-7kg hay) per day plus concentrate to balance energy and protein, replacing over 70pc of daily silage intake. It is recommended to include soybean meal as a quality protein source where dry cow forage quality is poor. Weanlings will eat 2 to 2.5kg hay/straw to meet fibre needs. Balance for energy and protein using high quality concentrates.
Where deficits are more modest, feeding restricted silage plus 2-4kg concentrate is a good option to replace up to 20-25pc of silage demand. This can be a simple mix of cereal plus protein (e.g. barley and corn gluten). If feeding rates are higher, particularly with milking cows, including high-fibre ingredients such as soya hulls or beet pulp is recommended.
Dry cows will not significantly reduce silage intake due to feeding 2-4kg concentrate, so it is very important to ration out daily silage amounts. Otherwise there is a risk that cows will be over-conditioned at calving and little if any silage will be spared. Weighing silage blocks is advised. Testing silage for dry matter and quality improves accuracy of allocation. Offer fresh silage daily and establish a good routine from the outset.
Restricted silage feeding requires adequate feed space per cow. This presents a practical problem on many farms. The recommendation is to have 700mm of barrier space (seven cows per standard bay) to allow all cows eat at once. Weanlings need about 450mm per head. Plan for extra space if needed.
Research has shown that cows fed indoors will eat about nine times per day, spending 50 minutes per visit to the barrier (seven to eight hours total). Peak activity (>90pc cows feeding) occurs when fresh feed is offered or pushed up. Therefore if extra space can be accessed by a proportion of the herd at peak times, it would be very beneficial to reducing bullying. This may be as simple as offering silage in feed trailers/ring feeders in external yards for up to two hours, twice daily. Be sure to meet cross compliance criteria.
Finally, it is important to remember that time spent lying down is one of the most important measures of welfare in dairy cows. Cows like to spend 9-11 hours per day off their feet which improves rumination, hoof condition and overall health. Whatever the plan to manage feed access, make sure that cows have proper access to cubicles through the day. Teagasc advisers are available to help develop the best plan for your facilities and feed stocks.
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