Some farm­ers fear they will run out of si­lage be­fore they turn cat­tle out

Irish Examiner - Farming - - BEEF SECTOR - Brian Reidy

Happy New Year to all. 2019 looks like be­ing a crit­i­cal year for beef pro­duc­tion in Ire­land.

With sig­nif­i­cant price pres­sure on our stock and Brexit loom­ing large, how will it all pan out?

The short an­swer is that, un­for­tu­nately, no­body knows. How will mar­kets work out this year?

Will enough live­stock be ex­ported to in­flu­ence home mar­kets?

Will the weather be as big an in­flu­ence as it was in 2018, who knows?

Low si­lage stocks

Although a lot of si­lage was made into the au­tumn last year, I am be­gin­ning to get calls from farm­ers who fear that they may run out be­fore they turn cat­tle out. Most beef farms will still re­quire be­tween 75 and 90 days of si­lage to reach the end of the win­ter.

Now is a good time to do a quick cal­cu­la­tion on your re­main­ing stocks. Many farm­ers are com­ment­ing that they have been go­ing through their si­lage much faster than they would have ex­pected. An­i­mals seem to have huge ap­petites this win­ter.

As in most years, very few beef pro­duc­ers will get to do much graz­ing in the months of Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary.

For most beef pro­duc­ers, cat­tle are ei­ther in or out, there is no in by night and out by day, or out for a few dry days and back in again.

As a re­sult, you must bud­get for a longer win­ter­feed­ing regime and, in my view, re­gard­less of lo­ca­tion;’ aim to have fod­der right up to the start of April.

What is your plan?

There are still some who hope that they will have enough si­lage but who have not done the ne­c­es­sary cal­cu­la­tions.

Can you af­ford to just live in hope?

Most will be wary of turn­ing out cat­tle early in 2019, with the bad ex­pe­ri­ence of 2012, 2013 and 2016 still fresh in their mind (and, of course, the spring of last year with the Beast from the East and the wet April).

Do the cal­cu­la­tions. Re­vis­it­ing your feed bud­get is a good way to start off the New Year on your farm. How much si­lage re­mains? Mea­sure your si­lage pits. Length by width by height in feet, di­vide your to­tal by 45, to give you tonnes for grass si­lage, and di­vide by 48 for maize si­lage.

This is a rough es­ti­ma­tion; the dry mat­ter of your si­lage, and the clamp height, will de­ter­mine the bulk den­sity of the pit.

For ex­am­ple, in a pit of 70 feet long, 35 feet wide, and seven feet high, you have 17,150 cu­bic feet. Di­vide that by 45 to five you 381 tonnes of grass si­lage.

You have now es­tab­lished that, depend­ing on the dry mat­ter con­tent of your si­lage, you have ap­prox­i­mately 380 tonne of si­lage re­main­ing. Next, you will need to work out how much dry mat­ter you have left. Do this by mul­ti­ply­ing the known dry mat­ter per­cent­age as a dec­i­mal of the si­lage by the ton­nage cal­cu­lated above. So, for ex­am­ple, with 24% dry mat­ter si­lage, and 381 tonnes in the pit, 381 by 24/100 gives you 91 tonnes of dry mat­ter.

Si­lage re­quire­ments

This cal­cu­la­tion should be based on what your an­i­mals are cur­rently eat­ing.

This is easy to do if you are weigh­ing the feed in a diet feeder.

If you are feed­ing grabs of si­lage, then count the amount of grabs be­ing fed daily and, where pos­si­ble, get an ac­cu­rate weight for one grab. This can eas­ily be done by putting a few grabs in a trailer and bring­ing it to a lo­cal weigh-bridge.

Typ­i­cal si­lage dry mat­ter in­takes, be­fore meal or straw are added to di­ets, are 9-10 kg for dry suck­lers; 11-13 kg from si­lage for suck­lers with calves; 2-5 kg of dry mat­ter (depend­ing on meal feed­ing) for fin­ish­ers; 7-8 kg of dry mat­ter for stores, and 5-6 kg dry mat­ter for wean­lings.

In­takes will vary depend­ing on an­i­mal weight, but also depend­ing on si­lage dry mat­ter and si­lage qual­ity. Stock will al­ways eat more dry mat­ter from a higher DMD si­lage.

If si­lage is run­ning out

Don’t wait to act un­til you run out.

Bale or pit si­lage is un­likely to be avail­able lo­cally. Some straw has emerged re­cently, so this may rep­re­sent the best op­tion to fill a for­age gap. Straw and meal for young­stock is al­ways a great way of stretch­ing si­lage. Dis­cuss your op­tions with an ex­pert be­fore in­tro­duc­ing in­gre­di­ents and feed­ing sys­tems you are not fa­mil­iar with.


Spring calv­ing suck­ler herds are gear­ing up for calv­ing, if they haven’t al­ready started.

Try to have ev­ery­thing ready for ac­tion. Check that the wa­ter troughs in the calv­ing boxes are work­ing. Dust down the calv­ing jack, and en­sure it is work­ing, and that the two ropes are with it. Make sure, if you have a calv­ing gate, that it is fully func­tion­ing.

Make sure that cows due to calve have been re­ceiv­ing suf­fi­cient min­eral sup­ple­men­ta­tion. This will aid calv­ing, calf health and sub­se­quent fer­til­ity.

Scour vac­cine

If your herd has a his­tory of scour in calves, then you re­ally should con­sider vac­ci­nat­ing cows for scour. This must be done more than three weeks be­fore calv­ing, and less than 12 weeks be­fore calv­ing, to pro­vide op­ti­mum lev­els of im­mu­nity. Ob­vi­ously, the calf must get suf­fi­cient colostrum in or­der for the vac­ci­na­tion pro­gramme to be ef­fec­tive. In­de­pen­dent dairy and beef nutri­tion con­sul­tant Brian Reidy, Premier Farm Nutri­tion, can be con­tacted at [email protected]

Pic­ture; Arthur El­lis

Farm­ers, to­gether with Dairy­gold Co-op, have con­trib­uted al­most €70,000 to the the Ir­ish Can­cer So­ci­ety since be­com­ing Pink Part­ners in 2015. At a re­cent cheque pre­sen­ta­tion were, from left, John O’ Gor­man, Dairy­gold Board Chair­man; Claire Bow­man, Cor­po­rate Part­ner­ships Man­ager, Ir­ish Can­cer So­ci­ety; Gil­lian Fo­ley, Re­tail Mar­ket­ing Man­ager, Dairy­gold; and John O’ Car­roll, Head of Re­tail, Dairy­gold.

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