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Advice to farmers for coping with the fodder shortage

Bales of straw

As a result of the higher than usual rainfall levels that occurred in the west and northwest from early August until now, many farmers do not have adequate fodder stock for the remaining winter housing period. The key to avoiding a fodder shortage is to take stock, put a plan in place and act immediately.

If you have at least 40-50% of your required silage stocks already in stock, there are plenty of options you can take to alleviate the problem. The first critical step is to calculate how much fodder you have in stock and compare it to the demand your animals will have for the remainder of the winter housing period. This means going out to measure the silage pit or count bales and then counting your stock numbers for the remainder of the winter.

The local survey carried out across farmers in Donegal/Sligo/Leitrim region identified two categories of farmer with fodder deficits. The farmer who has between 50 and 100% of his/her winter fodder requirements and the farmer who has less than 50% of his/her winter fodder requirement.

If the decision is made to retain all stock over the winter period the latter will have to purchase hay, silage or straw to bring his fodder availability to 50% of total requirements.

Some farmers will reduce stock levels in order to cut demand. Scanning cows and culling those not in calf or the late calvers will reduce winter feed requirements. For many suckler farmers selling weanlings or store cattle will also have the added bonus of generating a small amount of additional cash for the farm without impacting on future production.

So what are the options

Buying in additional silage is one option but there is no point in buying in bales at too high a price. If you can buy a 14pc ration for €200-230/t, then a 4x4 bale of silage is only worth €20–25/bale, depending on quality. Remember that while bales provide bulk, most bales have 70-75% water in them, while ration has 15-18% water. The reality is that there is very little silage on the market at this price so the alternative is to simply feed restricted quantities of the silage you have and make up the shortfall with meals.

If silage is too expensive, limit the silage being offered to stock and top up with concentrates. Start this today and don’t let the silage run out and then look for solutions.

Dairy cows and sucklers need a minimum of 18-20kg fresh weight of silage as roughage, such as silage, while weanlings need a minimum 8-10kg fresh weight of silage, stores and in-calf heifers need a minimum of 12-15kg fresh weight of silage.

As a rule of thumb, where you were offering 2 bales to pens of stock per day, this is now restricted to 1. Feed 2-4 kg of meals to weanlings, in-calf heifers, stores, dry cows and autumn calved sucklers, depending on target gain and body condition.

These feeding rates apply where you have only 50% of your target forage requirements. If you have 70%+ of your forage requirements, the feeding rates for ration can be reduced.

If feeding minimum silage, a 14pc crude protein ration will suffice for most classes of stock. However if you are feeding minimum straw, a higher feeding rate of meals will be necessary and an 18-20pc crude protein ration will be necessary to balance for protein. It is essential to feed minerals.

Meal feeding tips
- Animals will get used to this system over a short period of time.
- Remember to feed minerals to all classes of stock.
- Adequate space allowance is critically important to avoid some animals overeating and other animals being bullied.
- Build up feeding rates slowly. This may require setting up additional trough feeding space in yards.
- All animals should be monitored regularly for signs of ill-thrift on this system. Monitor cow condition regularly and adjust concentrate input as required.
- Straight barley is adequate for feeding with minimum silage to dry cows but not weanlings or in-calf heifers, unless silage crude protein is 15% or greater.
Otherwise, weanlings and heifers would need a 14% crude protein mix, Straight barley is NOT adequate for feeding with minimum straw for any class of stock.
Feed an 18-20 pc crude protein ration. The use of simple 3-way mixes of good quality ingredients fed with minimum silage enabled farmers to see out fodder shortages in previous years.

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