Suckler enterprises: What will my monthly feed costs amount to this winter?

As weather and growth rates have been favourable in recent weeks, many suckler farmers have managed to fill fodder deficits. However, other farmers still find themselves in difficulty.

The main problem that this presents is that silage that was harvested in latter weeks will not be of the same quality as silage that was harvested in June or July – mainly due to shorter days and a lower sugar content.

Therefore, there is a huge difference between feeding silage with a dry matter digestibility (DMD) of 72% compared to a silage DMD of 55-60%; so, knowing the value of baled silage – or silage in the pit – is extremely important. This can be done through silage testing.

There are many options available to farmers who need to reduce feed demand. The first option may be to reduce the amount of mouths on the farm; any empty or under-performing cows could be culled.

To allow farmers to make provisions for winter feeding, Teagasc has released monthly feed costs that need to be budgeted for. Other costs such as vet fees and bedding need to be accounted for also.

Source: Teagasc

In some cases, it will be better value to buy in concentrate rather than silage. It is clear from the table above that if you are buying in silage at a cost of €30/t or above, it makes good economic sense to restrict silage to dry suckler cows and stores and feed extra meal where meal is available at €300/t.

For the purpose of the analysis, silage dry matter digestibility (DMD) was taken at 70%.

From the table, we can see that it will cost €60/month to feed an autumn-calving suckler cow on ad-lib silage (70% DMD) and on 2-3kg/day of meal, while it will cost €42/month to feed a spring-calving cow with no meal supplementation.

Looking at in-calf heifers, feed costs for these animals will amount to €48/month with ad-lib silage and 1kg/day of meal. Feed for weanlings will cost €30/month when fed ad-lib silage and 1-2kg/day of meal.

However, if silage is restricted to 50% and extra meal is fed, the cost per month to feed an autumn-calving suckler cow will be €66/month, when feeding 5-6kg/day of meal.

A dry cow will cost €39/month on 50% silage (70% DMD) and on 2-3kg/day of meal; an in-calf heifer’s feed costs will amount to €47/month with meal supplementation at a rate of 3kg/day. The cost to feed a weanling – on restricted silage and 3kg/day of meal – will equal €39/month.

Teagasc outlined that, for this system to work, farmers need to restrict the silage being fed and allow access to meal for all stock at the same time.