Dairy farmer across the country have seen much of their fodder stock depleted as a result of consistent rain since last summer, which has resulted in animals being housed for longer.

According to Teagasc, completing a fodder budget is an effective tool in quantifying the fodder requirements of your farm.

Stephen O’Callaghan, Walsh Scholar, Teagasc said that the challenge is to make enough silage for stock for winter 2024 while also trying to build up a reserve again.

Fodder requirement

Teagasc has advised that a simple approach is to estimate the length of the period for which silage will be required.

O’Callaghan explained that depending on your location in the county, planning for a five-month winter is advisable.

The table below is an example of the amount of silage required.

Silage requirement –monthNo. of months (incl. fodder reserve)No. of stockTotal
Dairy cow1.65100800t
In-calf heifer1.3522143t
Yearling heifer0.752587.5t

Farmers should also aim to have an extra months’ worth of feed in reserve for periods of challenging weather.

What is the quality of the silage?

The quality of silage made on farm will have a big impact on animal performance. According to Teagasc, the target dry matter digestibility (DMD) for dry cows is 68-70%, which is suitable for moderate body condition gain over the dry period.

“Silage fed to milking or growing stock must be good quality 73-78% DMD to support production and growth,” O’Callaghan stated.

Some farmers may think that they will delay their first-cut to bulk up and fill the pits. However, Teagasc explained that delaying first-cut will lead to a reduction in overall silage yield, as it will lead to a substantial reduction in second-cut yields.

Delaying cutting date will also have an effect on silage quality, as a one-week delay in cutting can cause a drop of 3-5% in DMD of silage.

Silage pit

Silage pits should be measured (length x width x average settled height) in meters to calculate the volume of silage. This number can then be divided by 1.35 to get the amount in tonnes.

To convert bales to the equivalent of tonnes of silage, multiply the number of bales by 0.9.

The estimated feed in the pit will vary due to dry matter; drier silage will have less weight per m³ but will have a higher feeding value due to reduced water content, according to the Walsh Scholar.

Fodder deficit

If after compiling a fodder budget, you realise you are or will be in deficit, purchasing additional forage is an option to make up the difference.

It is important to be wary of variable silage quality when purchasing.

Hay or straw availability may be an issue this year and you are advised not to rely on securing maize in the backend as a lot of these crops are contract grown.

Teagasc has advised that purchasing standing crops of silage may be an option this summer.

Another option is reducing winter requirements by selling surplus stock, poor-performing cows and animals.

Culling poor-performing cows now will reduce mid-season demand and will allow you to conserve more forage on-farm.

Farmers are reminded that is important to plan ahead and remember that “decisions made in the next few weeks will have a big impact on silage quantity and quality next winter”.