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Saturday 16 December 2017

Plenty of potential to reduce winter feed bills

It is now time to look at winter feed budgets.
It is now time to look at winter feed budgets.

Gerry Giggins

The end of another fantastic Ploughing event signifies the start of the winter feeding season.

Beef feeders have taken knock after knocks in 2014.

The one area that provides a small glimmer of hope is feed prices. Uncertainty on global markets is reflected in lower feed prices here.

Combined with a good supply of forage, the opportunity to lower feed costs is a realistic target this winter for the beleaguered beef farmer.

Hopefully, the retail and processing industries won't see this as yet another opportunity to further squeeze the beef prices.This week I am going to look at the main feed options open to farmers this winter.

Grass silage

The analysis that I have received to date indicates below average results for dry matter, energy and protein levels.

That's because most silages were harvested later than planned due to poor weather conditions towards the end of May.

Most of these low dry matter silages also have low pH readings, which may result in low intakes.

Second cut silage is a different story as harvesting conditions were very favourable resulting in lots of good quality, high DM silage that fermented well. Good intake values with this silage should offset any deficiencies in first cuts. There is also an obvious abundance of good quality hay and straw.

Maize silage

The main bulk of maize crops should be ready for harvesting in the coming weeks. To say this was a good year for forage maize is an understatement.

Following on from last year's record maize harvest, we again have crops that have the potential to exceed records for bulk and quality. I recently visit the PACTS trial plots in Wexford on an open day organised by Maizetech.

Most varieties had the potential to exceed 20t/ac of fresh material at harvest. Cob maturity and grain content levels would indicate that most varieties sown under plastic could hit the mid thirties in percentage of starch content.

The one cautionary note with crops of this quality is that they are less stable at feed out time. Using a suitable additive is strongly advised to ensure no secondary fermentation of the pit face.

Where maize silage is grown on contract or traded at harvest time, €50/t is the price being mentioned. Provided the starch and dry matter exceeds 30%, this price represents good value. Altering the price to reflect lower or higher analysis is advisable.

Fodder beet

As with most crops this year there would appear to be a record fodder-beet harvest.

Assuming harvest conditions are suitable, beet will be readily available from mid-October. Beet is widely traded and the indications are for a slightly lower price than last year. Contracts of €42/t for beet delivered locally are common. This price is for beet that is clean and stone free.

This may appear expensive, but beet's performance enhancement value should be factored into consideration.


The grain harvest resulted in very good yields and excellent quality grain.

Prices haven't significantly increased since harvest so those that have yet to secure their supply of grain should now do so. Given current prices, I intend to replace a large proportion of maize grain that I advised finishers to use over recent years with wheat. The quality of wheat and barley exceeded normal values. Depending on the storage and processing option used, a large proportion of the concentrate feed can be made up from cereals.

Price indications of €175-185/t for large bulk loads tipped, makes cereals favourably priced for inclusion in all rations.


The largest price adjustment this year has come with the price reduction across all protein types.

Dried distillers' grains are the first choice of most beef farmers. At prices of €230/t, it seems to meet the criteria for balancing rations based on grass-silage rations.

Where low protein forages are the base of the diets or when supplementing your animals with increased levels of protein, rape-seed meal or soya-bean meal are more appropriate. Protein prices have dropped by €80-€100/t in the past year across all types.

Alternative feeds

Prices of brewers grains and wet distillers' feeds generally rise steeply over the winter season. So farmers need to consider whether their inclusion in winter beef rations is cost effective.

Gerry Giggins is an independent nutritionist based in Co Louth

Indo Farming

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