Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

The feed budgets that add up

Dr Mary Kingston

It's that time of year, when the financial budget should be up to date to ensure a business against any long- or short-term unexpected financial embarrassments, and when the feed budget should be put in place for the same reason. This is essentially to avoid encountering any sudden costly feed deficits and effective utilisation of farm's feed resources from autumn until spring. It is also a requirement for those attending discussion groups under the DEP programme.

Experience is invaluable and many rely on this when managing their autumn feed situation. However, any change from last year -- eg feed demand with more or less cows or land, or a fresh memory of our recent tough winter and spring -- will challenge any level of experience and could lead to poor decisions. So a feed budget is a great tool to have and one that should be reviewed regularly from September onwards.

While feed budgets have been known about and in use for many years, as a facilitator to discussion groups I have come across a multitude of farmers, both young and old, who have shied away from them. There are many reasons why they are not used by some eg level of understanding, computer literacy. However, they really are easier than you think, and a piece of paper, calculator and pen will get you a very long way. My own personal experience was that until I had the ability to complete a budget manually on pen and paper, when presented with an electronic version (eg spreadsheet), I felt rather lost as I didn't understand the calculations behind them.

The basis for a feed budget is a simple balance sheet, in which feed available is compared with feed required and the difference is used to adjust total available pasture cover. Pasture cover change is calculated daily and then multiplied by the number of days in the period being considered.

A simple example of this is the accumulation of pasture over the winter. If pasture growth is on average 2kgDM/ha/day, from December 1 until the February 1 (62 days), and with no cows on the grazing area (zero demand for pasture), the pasture cover will increase by 124kgDM/ha (2kg x 62 days).

Working the calculations forward, and if the closing pasture cover was 400kgDM/ha available at the December 1, means that by February 1 there would be around 524kgDM/ha (400kg plus 124kg).

This can also be done by working backwards from spring. If you know that you require a pasture cover of 550kgDM/ha on February 1, then the required pasture cover on December 1 would be 426kgDM/ha (550kg minus 124kg).

When considering the autumn budget, cows will still be grazing and therefore their demand for pasture has to be factored in. Demand is considered on a per hectare basis by multiplying the stocking rate (cows/ha) by the desired level of intake of grass per cow (kgDM/cow minus supplements). Below is a simple budget which assumes that there are 100cows on 40ha, an overall stocking rate of 2.5cows per hectare. For simplicity I will assume that no cows are dried off until November 15, at which point they are all removed from the 40ha.

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Here, each cow is eating just over 1t of grass DM from September 1 to November 15, thus creating a demand of 2.6t DM per hectare. As grass growth is only contributing 2.3tDM/ha, this results in a 287kg/ha deficit.

Therefore, the opening cover of 700kgDM/ha on September 1 decreases to 413kgDM/ha by the December 1.

Considering the winter growth assumed above (+124kg), this will result in an average farm cover of around 537kgDM/ha on February 1. Therefore, in this example no real adjustments are necessary and it is the right decision to feed 2kg ration per cow per day and it is suitable to dry off all of the cows on November 15. So have a go, assess your feed budget situation and see whether it is practical and sustainable. If not, what are the decisions that need to be taken?

Irish Independent