Key steps to stretch feed as pressures continue to mount

Following the release of the Interagency Fodder Committee fodder census results earlier today (Thursday, July 19), Teagasc has issued a series of steps that drought-stricken farmers can take to prolong their supplies.

According to Dr. Siobhan Kavanagh – who oversaw the census – if it is assumed that half of the second cut has been consumed, Teagasc estimates that the national fodder deficit is now 28%.

The first point the national agricultural extension agency advises is to take action now – early action offers a greater selection of options to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

It needs to be addressed from both sides on supply and demand; farmers are advised to determine what stock numbers they will carry next winter and what additional feed can be sourced.

Next, it is recommended to establish what the deficit is based on the assumption that you will be feeding forage for the next four weeks.

Is the deficit 20% or 50%? A deficit of 20% is relatively easily managed over a whole winter by feeding additional meals, albeit at considerable cost.

However, if the deficit is 50%, very restricted forage and meals is an option but is more difficult to manage over an entire winter. Therefore if your deficit is 40-50%, forage should be sourced and/or demand reduced.

Examine demand for feed on your farm – scan cows and sell empty cows, cull cows or late calving cows, consider putting heavy cattle on ad lib meals and finish them before the winter.

If the deficit is big, i.e. 40-50%, it is important to bank some forage immediately:
  • There is a window for whole crop cereal silage now and this is an opportunity for many farmers in cereal areas to build stocks;
  • While stocks are limited there is some hay / straw to be bought;
  • Consider forage crops which can be sown after what is likely to be an early harvest, or fields earmarked for reseeding, or sacrifice paddocks, that have been used for feeding silage.

It is important to have fertiliser in the yard ready to spread when the rain comes, Teagasc stresses.

Previous droughts have shown that high grass growth rates follow a drought period.

If grass growth recovers through August some farms may be able to take a silage cut in early September. Make sure to capitalise on this by spreading adequate fertiliser, the agency underlines.

Organise your finances to free up money to buy fertiliser for maximising autumn grass growth and to buy feed for the winter.

A second fodder census is due to take place on September 1.

The Teagasc helpline number for farmers seeking assistance is: 087-7971377.