As farms reach the mid-way point of the housing period, it may be time to review remaining feed supplies and complete a fodder budget if a farmer has not already done so.

To carry out a calculation of remaining supplies, both the silage pit and bales available will need to be assessed.

In terms of bales, a farmer needs to know the number of bales they have left. If the farm has a silage pit, the length, breadth and height of the silage pit needs to be measured as accurately as possible.

Once this has been completed, the next step will be factoring the number of cattle that the farm will be carrying until turn-out to grass in the spring. Farmers should be conservative in planning the length of the housing period.

Once this data is gathered, you can input the figures into fodder budget calculator below, which will provide you with an indication if the farm has a surplus or deficit.

To fill out a fodder budget, just click here

Farms short of fodder

It is not an ideal situation for any farm to be in a deficit with fodder, although it can easily occur and farmers need to consider their options going forward in the coming months. It is important to act now and not brush the issue to one side.

The farm may have to purchase additional forage where available – however, the feed value of the silage should not be ignored (target above 70% DMD).

There have been cases where farmers have paid good money for baled silage in recent years – yet when it came to opening the bale, the quality did not match the price tag.

Plan for an early turn-out especially with weanlings/yearlings onto paddocks or fields that had been closed off first during the end of the grazing rotation for 2020.

The option is also there for farmers to sell stock in order to reduce demand for feed – although, aiming to achieve the best market price should also be considered.

Restricting silage feeding

If fodder cannot be purchased, farmers may want to think about restricting silage and supplementing further meal into the animal’s diet. Obviously, this will result in a level of additional feed costs for the farm.

If implementing this, there are a number of important factors to consider in order to meet both animal performance and feed-saving targets.

A feeding plan must be completed to ensure that the correct balance of silage and concentrates is provided, see table below.

*Thin cows may require additional meal / Data source: Teagasc

Providing sufficient feed space is crucial, as all animals should be able to eat comfortably at feeding.

In terms of cow’s body conditional scores (BCS), these should be reviewed regularly and meal feeding supplementation may need to be increased or reduced where necessary.

The rates of restricting access to silage should be built up slowly and also ensure that a fresh water supply is available to the animals.

According to Teagasc, there are practical guidelines that need to be followed when restricting silage and increasing meal feeding.

These guidelines include:

  • Testing pit silage and bales to identify the quality;
  • Weigh sample silage blocks/bales regularly and adjust daily silage allowance if necessary;
  • Keep a fixed feeding schedule and offer fresh silage daily;
  • Have a defined feeding plan in place to feed the restricted silage;
  • Ensure that the ration fed is meeting the animal’s total energy, protein and fibre requirements.