Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Maintain access to feed and water in big freeze

Liam Fitzgerald

A little bit of global warming would be welcome right now -- if that can be arranged. At the time of writing, we are in the middle of the biggest freeze since January 1982 -- and some say since 1963 -- with the forecast for a continuation of the cold spell. The severe weather is affecting farming in several areas, mostly in relation to access for feed delivery trucks and the collection of farm produce, the freezing of water pipes to cattle sheds, the provision of feed to outdoor stock and the feeding of frosted forage crops that are being grazed in situ.

Large trucks have poor traction on icy, untreated roads and can fail to move on even modest inclines. Before ordering feed it would be useful to consider whether the truck can make it into your yard. If there is a risk of it getting stuck, it is better to decide on an alternative, such as bringing in a temporary supply by tractor and trailer or 4x4 vehicles until the weather improves.

One of the most widespread problems is blocked water pipes in cattle sheds. Farmers have been taking in water in barrels and various other containers on link boxes as a temporary measure. In most cases the pipes are frozen near the entrance to the shed or where the pipe is attached to a wall beneath the tank. With the continuous freezing conditions, even if you manage to thaw it out, the pipe is likely to freeze again. Where there is a convenient open water supply such as a stream or surface well, a tractor can pump water from here to a container in a slatted house. If this is raised on pallets, and using a hose and tap, you could fill smaller containers, such as tubs or water troughs.

Another solution might be to tap into the underground supply coming into the yard to fill containers in the cattle shed. If you do this, make sure there is a tap at the lower end of the hose to empty it, otherwise water will freeze and block it. The point where the water is tapped will also need to be well insulated.

My colleague, nutrition specialist Siobhan Kavanagh, has researched the water requirements of cattle. The figures available from different sources can vary, so the following are guidelines:

Water required as drinking water varies with the dry matter of the feed, the temperature in the environment and the production level of the animal. The total water requirement of dry cows is given as 40-55 litres or 9-12 ga/day. A dry cow on pit silage, eating 42kg of silage at 20pc dry matter, would get 34 litres of water from the feed and would then need about 10 litres/day of drinking water. A cow on drier baled silage of, say, 30pc dry matter, and consuming about 30kg of silage, is getting nine litres of water or 2ga/day from the feed and will therefore need about 35 litres or 7-8ga as drinking water. Cows that are suckling a calf need about 0.9 litres of water for each litre of milk produced. Sucklers produce 6-10 litres of milk a day and therefore need 5-9 litres more water than a dry cow.

Forward store cattle need a similar water supply to dry cows. Weanlings of 300-400kg have a total water requirement of 20-30 litres/day. Again, wet silage will supply about two-thirds of this and, if on wet silage plus 2kg meal, the feed supplies about 50pc of the water needs. As the feed dry matter content increases so does the amount of drinking water accordingly. If the temperature in the shed goes above 10°C, the water requirement also rises. Stock on high concentrate diets will have a big demand for water. Be careful when giving water to thirsty cattle as over-drinking can cause problems.

Feeding frosted kale and rape can cause scouring and digestion upsets such as bloat. Restrict access during the day until frost has cleared off the leaves. The very low temperature is likely to damage fodder beet stored outside. It is recommended to cover clamps with straw.

Also Read

Cattle can cope with very low temperatures, provided they are well fed. Even young calves are not seriously affected by low temperatures if they are getting plenty of milk from the cow and they have shelter from the chilly winds.

Irish Independent