Feeding options for the winter ahead

By Seamus Millea, InTouch feeding specialist south west, Alltech Ireland

With winter upon us, most cattle around the country have been housed full time and are starting to adjust onto their winter diets. At this stage, it is important for farmers to assess feed stocks for the coming months.

Many farmers have done their fodder budget for the winter and have an idea of how much forage they have. The next thing farmers must consider is: What is the feeding value of the forage, and what should I feed to balance the diets?

It is important to give yourself a starting point and get your silage tested if you have not already done so. The quality of your silage will have a huge impact on the performance of your stock over the winter period, as it will make up the majority of diets in the next few months.

Once you know the quality of the silage, you can select the pit or bales you want to use first. Most farms will look to use the lowest quality silage for dry cows and in late lactation.

Cows fed silage with 65% dry matter digestibility (DMD) will still put on condition over the dry period if fed ad-lib. An over-conditioned cow at the point of calving will be at higher risk of experiencing metabolic issues in your herd.

The farms I work with try to dry off the cows in the same condition that they are going to calve down in and control the cow’s intake and energy by incorporating straw in the diet with a mixer wagon. The level used will vary depending on the quality of the silage.

Reducing the level of silage in the diet by using straw has been shown to reduce metabolic issues like milk fevers, as the potassium level of the diet is reduced. By increasing rumen fill in the dry period, we are also promoting dry matter intake (DMI) post-calving.

The important thing is to body condition score (BCS) your cows now, so you can act early and adjust your feeding levels. Higher protein diets will encourage milk production, while a low protein diet will reduce the milk yield potential, and that extra energy will go toward cow condition.

For spring-calving herds, if you look after the cows’ DMI in late lactation, the cows will look after themselves.

Balance a diet

Recently, I have been getting a lot of calls regarding the value of feed and what should be used to balance a diet. If we break the straights down into two categories of protein sources and energy sources, we can make a quick comparison to see what is good value.

Soya, for example, has been increasing in recent weeks and is now over €400/t in many places; €400/48 = €8.33 per 1% crude protein. If we continue to just look at protein, you can multiply this figure by the protein of any feed with the same dry matter to determine which is better value in terms of protein.

You should look to balance your protein and energy based on the rate of degradation. Maize meal and hipro soya will break down slowly and work well together. If the dry matters of the products are different, you can use the calculations below, as shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2.

Figure 1: Calculation for determining the value of feed in terms of protein:

  • Price 1/dry matter/crude protein 1 X dry matter 2 X crude protein 2 = Price 2.

Figure 2: Calculation for determining the value of feed in terms of energy:

  • Price 1/dry matter 1/UFL 1 X dry matter 2 X UFL 2 = Price 2.

Fodder beet and maize silage are now being introduced to beef and autumn-milking diets as farms are looking to high-energy feeds to improve performance. For winter milkers, you will need to increase the protein to balance the diet along with feeding a high phosphorus mineral.

If you are getting quoted prices, you must also factor in the cost of washing and chopping the beet. It is best practice to introduce any changes to the diet slowly to avoid digestive upsets. Maize silage needs to be fermented for at least two weeks before feeding.

If there is nightshade in the crop, ideally you should leave it in the pit for as long as possible before feeding and feed along with other feeds to dilute the amount of nightshade contaminated silage in the diet. Moist feeds are also common on farms and can be a good way in increasing your DMI.

The key is to limit the amount of waste by storing the products correctly. Your supplier should be able to guide you through the process.

It is a good opportunity to evaluate your herd performance over the previous 12 months. Ask yourself, are your heifers hitting their target weights? What was the average daily gain for your finishing cattle? Are you satisfied with this year’s milk production, or can you improve the herd’s feed efficiency?

It is fair to say everyone wants to improve somewhere. I find writing down your targets will help focus what you are trying to achieve and looking at them this time next year to reassess what worked and what did not.

There is a wealth of knowledge in the industry; the key is to utilise it and speak to your nutritionist on a regular basis.

Further information

Contact Alltech for more information about winter feeding by clicking here