Taking stock of the fodder situation Tom Coll
On the immediate steps farmers can take to prevent the fodder shortage from turning into crisis
FARMERS in the west and north-west are facing a potential twomonth fodder deficit due to the summer rainfall that forced many to house stock much earlier than forecast.
There have been many meetings held by farm bodies on the potential deficit, the reality is that farmers need to sit down and think about how they will get through the situation looking at their own particular supplies. It is about taking stock and some immediate action.
If you have at least 40-50pc 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. These include the farmer who has between 50 and 100 pc of his/her winter fodder requirements and the farmer who has less than 50pc 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 50pc 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.
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 70-75pc water in them, while ration has 15-18pc 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 incalf heifers need a minimum of 12-15kg fresh weight of silage.
As a rule of thumb, where you were offering two bales to pens of stock per day, this is now restricted to one. Feed 2-4kg 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 50pc of your target forage requirements. If you have 70pc plus 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.
Straight barley is adequate for feeding with minimum silage to dry cows but not weanlings or in-calf heifers, unless silage crude protein is 15pc or greater.
Otherwise, weanlings and heifers would need a 14pc crude protein mix. Straight barley is NOT adequate for feeding with minimum straw for any class of stock. Feed an 18-20pc crude protein ration. The use of simple three-way mixes combined with minimum silage enabled farmers to see out fodder shortages in previous years.
Farmers stocking up on straw and fodder at the Drumshanbo Horse Fair, Co Leitrim last weekend.