Think smart when it comes to feed

It is key farmers understand the requirements for their animal, understand their feed source and quantify that feed source during the winter and summer months.

This point was stressed by Tommy Boland, a lecturer in ruminant nutrition at University College Dublin, who spoke at the recent Smart Farming conference in Portlaoise.

“Farmers should have a knowledge of the quality of the feed stuff.  how appropriate this just to meet the requirements of their animals and if supplementation is required to do so at the lowest cost possible.”

There is nothing new in this advice, he said. “Our Irish system is based on grass and that is a big advantage. We are good at growing grass and it is relatively cheap to produce. But there is some disconnect in what can be achieved at research level and actual farm level in terms of grass growth and grass utilisation. That gap is closing in terms of what the average farmer is doing and the potential in achieving that ideal grass growth scenario.”

In terms of the months ahead, the UCD lecturer advised farmers to note the quantity and quality of the forage available, in terms of hay and silage, to get an accurate picture of their animal requirements and make up that gap with concentrate feeding if required.

“When discussing feed quality, the focus needs to shift from merely describing what is present in the feed to looking at what is actually available to the animal. This approach has been promoted by Teagasc and UCD for a number of years.”

Boland said the biggest advantage Ireland has is its low-cost grass-based system.

“Predicting the future post quota is difficulty but if milk prices are to become more volatile, it certainly helps if production costs are low and the grass-based scenario has lower production costs rather than the cost of importing a lot of feed.”

Boland spoke at a SmartFarming.ie event in Portlaoise recently. Smartfarming.ie is a joined up initiative organised by the Irish Farmers Association, Teagasc, the Environmental Protection Agency, University College Dublin among others. It aims to highlight ways to reduce farm bills and maximise output through better resource management. It is also holding information meetings across Ireland.

Cows on grass. Photo O’Gorman Photography

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