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.