Winter Beef series is in conjunction with Teagasc’s DairyBeef 500 Campaign.

With daylight hours declining and heavy rainfall having arrived over the past number of weeks, the winter is well and truly in on the majority of farms throughout the country.

With a lot of dairy-beef animals now indoors, grass silage will contribute to a high proportion of the diet of animals over the course of the winter period.

Balancing this silage with the correct quantity/quality of concentrates is key to achieving the desired levels of weight gain over the winter months. When it comes to silage, there are two critical measures – feed quantity and feed quality.

Quality silage

Nationally, silage quality of around 65% dry matter digestibility (DMD) is the average. A major focus is placed on producing much higher silage quality on the farms of the Teagasc DairyBeef 500 participants.

What is DairyBeef 500?
Teagasc developed the DairyBeef 500 campaign in response to the large increase in the dairy herd in recent years and the resulting number of beef calves that will be reared to slaughter stage in Ireland over the coming years. It includes demonstration farms and above-mentioned programme participants who demonstrate and trial best practice in dairy-beef farming.

Calf-to-beef systems require superior quality silage, as animals have to perform at every stage of the production system. Given this, a strong emphasis on both making excellent quality silage and verifying its feed value is placed amongst the DairyBeef 500 farmers.

Silage analysis is currently ongoing on all DairyBeef 500 farms; the results to date are positive, with the majority of the silage testing with a DMD of 70% or greater. This is the type of silage that is required on these farms, otherwise higher levels of concentrate supplementation will be needed.

Without completing a silage analysis, farmers are in the dark as to the quality of their winter feed. Completing silage analysis is critical to ensure that the nutritional requirements of stock are met and that the desired level of performance is achieved over the winter. Visual assessment alone is not adequate to determine silage quality.

A laboratory test will provide accurate information on silage nutritive value and preservation and allow informed concentrate feeding decisions to be made. Table 1 gives the key parameters tested and the desired target in each area.

Silage sampling

Silage samples must be taken carefully to ensure correct results. A period of 5-6 weeks should elapse between ensiling and sampling.

A long core sampler should be used with 3-5 cores taken from well-spaced points on or between diagonals on the pit surface. Alternatively, sample an open pit by taking nine grab samples in a ‘W’ pattern across the pit face.

When testing bales, a number of samples from each batch are needed to get a representative sample.

Unit of measureMeaningLowHighQuality best when
Dry matterFeedstuff less water content13-1740-55Medium
pHMeasure of acidity3.4-3.74.5-5.5Medium to low
Ammonia (N) %Indicator of grass N content at cutting4-715-25Low
NDF (%DM)Measure of forage fibre and intake potential42-4755-65Moderate to low
DMD (%)Measure of quality55-6576-80>72
ME (MJ/kg DM)Energy content (linked to DMD value)8-911-12High to moderate
UFV (unit/kg DM)Energy content (linked to DMD value)0.6-0.70.89-0.96High
Crude protein (%DM)Measures N as indicator of true protein content7-915+Moderate to high
Ash (%DM)Indicator of soil contamination5-612-15Low to moderate
Table 1: Key information provided from silage analysis

Feeding plan example

Jarlath and Austin Ruane run a dairy calf-to-beef and lowland sheep system near Claremorris, Co. Mayo. The Ruanes are doing an excellent job in terms of silage quality.

Last year, first cut silage on the farm was harvested on May 14, and resulted in a crop with a DMD of 76.7%. A one week delay in harvesting this year’s first cut has had an impact in terms of quality with a reduced, but still respectable, DMD of close to 72% achieved.

The feeding plan on the farm this winter is to provide weanlings and finishing animals with this high-quality, first-cut baled silage. Alongside this quality silage, weanlings will receive concentrates at a rate of 1/kg/head/day of a 16% protein ration.

This will ensure that the target average daily gain (ADG) of 0.6kg is reached over the housing period, while finishing stock will receive 5-6/kg/head/day of a 14% maize-based ration, with store cattle receiving 1/kg/head/day until Christmas.

Animal typeTarget ADG66 DMD68 DMD70 DMD72 DMD74 DMD76 DMD
Finishing steer1kg/day7.0kg6.0kg5.5kg5.0kg4.0kg4.0kg
Finishing heifer0.9kg/day7.0kg6.0kg5.5kg5.0kg4.0kg4.0kg
Guideline daily feeding rates based on silage quality (DMD)

Feed quantity

The saying ‘you’re better looking at it than looking for it’ is particularly relevant to silage quantity. No matter how much silage one has in the yard, completing a fodder budget is a worthwhile task.

Completing a fodder budget is a two-part process; it involves working out how much feed you have on your farm and working out how much feed you need.

All farmers in the DairyBeef 500 Programme have completed a fodder budget using PastureBase Ireland, and the situation across to board is generally okay, with all having adequate levels of forage available on farm.

On a recent visit to Co. Clare farmer Michael Culhane, the fodder budget below was completed for the farm. Initial results show that there are adequate levels of feed for the farm for the winter, but there is not a massive buffer available should turnout in the spring be delayed.

Home stored forageLength (m)Width (m)Height (m)Clamp volume (m3)Fresh weight available (t)Estimated DM% of forageTotal tonnes of forage DM available on the farm
Grass silage (first and second cut)18.512.22.9654.5405.829117.68
No. of balesWeight of each bale (kg)
Grass silage (4×4 round bales)100700704531.5
Total silage149.18
Feed available on the farm
StockNo. of daysStck no.Stock weightDMI %kg/dayMeal fed kg/dayForage intake kg/DM/dayTotal tonnes of forage DM required
Stores 1-2140154751.
Finishing steers130365501.910.557.133.23
Finishing heifers90504901.
Feed requirements for the farm
Total requiredTotal in stock t/DMSurplus/deficit t/DM% required in stockDays short

Michael will aim to keep light cattle out as long as possible, as there is still a good cover of grass available. These lighter stock will be turned out as early as possible in spring, with over 60% of the farm having been already closed to ensure grass cover to facilitate this.

Overall, Michael is confident he has sufficient levels of silage in the yard for the winter.

On farms where a fodder deficit is identified, it is imperative to act early to avoid a situation where silage stocks run out completely. There are two options available to farmers in a deficit situation – either reduce their demand or replace what is needed with alternative feed.

The option for reducing demand on the farms include:

  1. Sell store cattle;
  2. Put finishing cattle on meals and minimal silage finish them earlier.

There are also alternative feed options available but these all come at a significant cost.

  1. Buying silage – pit/bales;
  2. Buying ration to fill the gap;
  3. Buying alternative forages such as maize silage; whole crop cereal silage or fodder beet.

DairyBeef 500

The DairyBeef campaign includes a number of dairy-beef initiatives including: Demonstration farms located nationwide; a stand-alone demo farm unit in Co. Tipperary called Ballyvadin farm; a large emphasis on knowledge transfer with a particular focus on discussion groups; and new dedicated dairy beef courses for farmers and a supporting research and education programme.

The DairyBeef 500 Demonstration farms are sponsored by Corteva Agriscience, Drummonds, Liffey Mills, Munster Bovine, MSD Animal Health and Volac. The Ballyvadin demonstration farm is sponsored by Shinagh Estates Limited and Dawn Meats.