Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Food for thought - plan your winter fodder now

Planning winter fodder requirements now will save headaches down the line

Conor Greene pictured with some of the calves on his farm near Rathowen, Co Westmeath. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Conor Greene pictured with some of the calves on his farm near Rathowen, Co Westmeath. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

Gordon Peppard

Now is an ideal time to assess your fodder stocks for the winter. It is important to take action if you anticipate a fodder shortfall.

Apart from a couple of weeks in May, weather conditions have been quite poor this summer for saving quality fodder and many farmers are behind target in the amount of silage that they have saved.    

We've calculated fodder figures for Conor Greene, one of 10 participating farmers in the Teagasc Green Acres calf to beef programme.

Firstly you need to know how much fodder is required for the winter period.

It is also advisable to add 10pc extra as insurance against an extra long winter due to bad weather resulting in early housing or late turn out to grass in the spring.

Conor reared 112 calves this spring and now has these animals to winter as weanlings.

Also 74 animals that were reared in 2015 are still on the farm and will be wintered. In this case, Conor would require 960 tonnes of silage for a five month winter including a ten per cent buffer, this figure assumes only silage fed and no supplementation with concentrates.

A decision on how much concentrates to feed will be made by testing the silage in September with a target to have all animals gaining a minimum of 0.6kg daily gain over the winter period.

Also Read

A minimum of one kg per animal will probably be fed over the winter.


If we assume all animals, weanlings and stores get 1kg of meal for four and a half months, cutting them off for the two weeks before turnout, we have 186 animals x 135days x 1kg per day = 25,110 kgs.

We can take it that every one kg of concentrate fed will reduce the silage requirement by four to five kgs.

Multiplying 25,110 by 4 = 100,440kgs (100 tonnes) of silage saved.

The next step is to calculate Conor's feed supply.

There was a block of silage left over in the back of the pit this year amounting to 139 tonnes.

Conor cut 45 acres of first cut silage this year with a yield of 9 tonnes per acre which is already in the pit. 30 acres has been let out for second cut silage with an expected yield of seven bales per acre. This should be ready for cutting this week.

There are also a number of paddocks that have become too strong for grazing and will be removed as baled silage.

Three of these paddocks (13 acres) are quite heavy as they couldn't be cut with the poor weather conditions and will yield around 10 bales per acre. The other paddocks (15 acres) are lighter and will yield around six bales per acre.

Therefore, the total demand is 960 tonnes and current supply is 953 tonnes.

In Conor's scenario supply more or less meets demand and with concentrates to be fed he will have enough silage to see out a five month winter. In many cases, farmers aren't as fortunate and a shortfall could exist.

Gordon Peppard is programme advisor for the Teagasc Calf to Beef Programme

Seven steps to avoiding winter fodder shortages

What are the options if you are short of winter fodder?

A combination of actions can be undertaken, but the important thing is to take action now. The options include,

1 Reduce feed demand, by offloading stock. Sell some weanlings/stores/culls in the autumn. This would not be an option on Conor's farm as he is trying to build stock numbers and increase output on the farm. Also he will have a lot of grassland to graze next spring and reducing numbers now that are destined for spring grazing will only cause further problems in 2017.

2 Feed some meal to weanlings over the winter. This is a very viable option for Conor, as unless the silage is of exceptionable quality there will be a need to feed a certain level of meal anyway to ensure that stock meet their targets of 0.6kgs average daily gain over the winter period. As above, if Conor feeds one kg to all animals he will save around 100 tonnes of silage.

3 Maximise grass growth on farm now - apply fertiliser and remove surplus grass as bales. Conor has most of his finishers sold and with silage ground to come back into the rotation, extra silage could be saved by taking out extra paddocks in August.

4 Buy a standing crop of silage if extra fodder can't be made on your own farm. Also need to consider quality and value for money.

5 Buy silage bales. Difficult to be sure of the quality unless you saw the silage before it was cut and wrapped.

6 Buy alternative forages like maize silage, whole crop silage or fodder beet.

7 Grow forage crop if suitable. This will not be viable for all farmers. Consideration needs to be taken for cross compliance issues and cost of reseeding the field afterwards.

The important thing to remember, once you have at least 50-60pc of your winter silage requirements you have options. Cost is important but other factors also need to be considered.

These include the risk of poor yields and quality, the need for storage and handling facilities, the cost of balancing for protein and minerals, cash flow implications and feeding space requirements. Consider the options carefully and don't panic buy.

Indo Farming