‘Farms must act now to ensure winter feed demands are met’

After a long summer battle to build fodder reserves, most farms are now within a few weeks of starting to house animals on full winter diets, according to Teagasc dairy specialist Joe Patton.

He outlined that “excellent grass growing conditions” through August and September have helped to partially bridge the fodder gap in most areas.

However, Patton stressed that a significant shortfall in winter feed still remains across many counties.

Supplies of forage for purchase are likely to be quite limited through the winter, so individual farms must act now to ensure winter feed demands can be met, the Teagasc dairy specialist explained.

He outlined that a fodder deficit can be managed better by adjusting the diet from early winter onwards, whereas ignoring a problem until later may result in major difficulties next spring.

Patton said that the first action should be to calculate the available fodder in the yard and the likely feed demand also. This can be done using a fodder budget calculator.

He noted that staff in local Teagasc offices will help with calculating the total tonnes of feed available and the amount of feed required. Patton also noted that sampling silage for dry matter and quality is advised to improve accuracy of measurement.

He urged farmers to use a reasonable winter duration estimate and not to rely on an early spring turnout to close the gap.

Speaking on the topic, Patton said: “Once the balance between supply and demand is known, the options for individual farm situations can be worked out.

Urgency of action is essential. While it will be difficult to secure 100% of silage requirements, every effort should be made to reach up to 80% of budgeted forage demand. This will make feeding management much easier.

“Selling surplus or non-performing stock – such as cull cows – may be a useful means of immediately reducing demand in some cases. It is surprising how much feed can be saved by even a small reduction in numbers,” he concluded.