Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

How to make feed price hikes easier to swallow

With concentrate prices soaring, just a few simple changes to your routine can help cushion the blow

Increases in grain prices have inflated the expense of keeping the herd fed
Increases in grain prices have inflated the expense of keeping the herd fed

Liam Fitzgerald

Higher grain prices this year have already resulted in high concentrate costs. There is still a degree of volatility in the grain market due to uncertainty about global supplies and the actions of speculators but we can assume an increase of about €50/t in concentrate rations.

The size of the impact of this on winter feed costs depends on the type of animals, the system of production, level of performance required and silage quality.

The greatest impact will fall on finishing systems where large amounts of concentrates are fed. A €50 increase in meal costs adds up to €60/hd to the cost of an ad-lib finishing system and about €30/hd to the cost of a silage: concentrate finishing system where steers are finished for 120 days.

How can I mitigate the impact of higher meal cost?

  • Grazed Grass

Aim to maximise the use of grazed grass by allocating grass to animal requirements. In many cases, just about 60pc of the grass grown is utilised efficiently. If there is plenty of grass available do not be tempted to waste grass by allowing stock to graze over large areas. Use temporary electric fencing to split up large fields into three-day blocks or less. This gives better utilisation, while allowing the grass ahead to continue growing and the grazed areas to recover fast. Any extra weight you get on before housing reduces winter feed costs. By maintaining performance on quality pasture and extending the grazing season, there is less weight to be put on indoors. Also, plan for early grass to shorten the winter at the other end.

  • Feed Budget

Before you start purchasing any feed, do a feed budget to establish how much feed you require, how much you have in store (silage, hay, grain, roots, etc), its quality and then calculate your purchase price.

  • Silage

Silage quality should be better than average this year as a result of the good weather in May and June for first cuts and in August for second cuts. Spring calving suckler cows on moderate quality silage need no concentrates -- just feed a mineral supplement on the silage pre-calving.

There should be scope for meal saving with autumn/winter calving cows, weanlings and store cattle over the coming winter where an adequate amount of well-preserved silage is available. Every three units improvement in silage digestibility will save about 1kg meal/hd/day. It is worth having your silage analysed if you are unsure of its feeding value.

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Examine if you have scope to reduce meal allowance to weanlings, stores and cows with calves by about 1kg/day. An alternative would be to feed normal amounts of meal at the start of the indoor period and then reduce or withdraw meal in the second half of the indoor period having assessed the performance of stock. Reducing meal feeding before going to grass improves the opportunity for higher compensatory growth.

  • Meal

Having estimated your requirements, you can go about sourcing the best value ingredients or mixes. Teagasc have a complete nutrition advisory service, providing information on the nutrient value of ingredients to the formulation of specific rations for all categories of stock.

Clients can also use a web-based ration reckoner which allows them do an assessment of a ration, formulate a ration and compare a complete diet (forage and concentrates) with Teagasc recommendations. Also, on the client site, there is a calculator to discover the relative value of most common feeds relative to rolled barley and soyabean or rolled barley and distillers grain. Go to the Teagasc client site (, check on "interactive calculators" and scroll to "nutrition".

Reducing the cost of purchased concentrates

  • Buy in bulk -- smaller scale producers can pay very high prices for concentrates in bags. Normally loads of 4t and upwards are available in bulk and gives a saving of more than €40/t over bagged meal.
  • Buy straights and simple mixes -- as a general rule these are cheaper than compounds except in the early stage of a price rise.
  • Buy off-farm cereals -- barley or barley/wheat mixes can be bought whole or rolled from cereal farmers and a protein balancer added if required. With good silage, rolled barley with added minerals is adequate for store cattle and strong weanlings.
  • Feed to need only -- monitor the condition of suckler cows, stores and weanlings throughout the winter to see when savings can be made. Weanlings and stores can have meal feeding reduced or withdrawn three to six weeks before turnout.
  • Make provision for early turnout in spring which will reduce overall concentrate use.

Irish Independent