It’s the great silage come­back

Irish Independent - Farming - - FARM OUR - JOE KELLE­HER

Tback the lead. The first step in se­cur­ing enough feed for next win­ter is to fig­ure out how much feed do we need? At re­cent dis­cus­sion group meet­ings, this tends to range from five months for those on free drain­ing soils to seven months on heav­ier soils. Work out what you think is your core win­ter housing pe­riod and then add one month’s buf­fer to help safe­guard against fu­ture weather re­lated events.

The next step is to cal­cu­late the num­ber of mouths that will be eat­ing the silage over the win­ter. The ta­ble be­low is a very sim­pli­fied win­ter feed bud­get that most farm­ers should be able to at­tempt com­plet­ing.

Now that we know how much win­ter feed we need, the next chal­lenge is get­ting it.

Fer­tiliser is yet to go out for silage on many farms. This needs to be spread as soon as con­di­tions per­mit. Re­duce Ni­tro­gen by 10-20pc but en­sure the crop gets ad­e­quate phos­pho­rus and potas­sium. Four bags of 18-612 per acre should de­liver an ad­e­quate crop now.

Many farm­ers are go­ing to drive for bulk this year for first cut and de­lay cutting un­til well into June. Pre­vi­ous tri­als have shown that this may not be wise as yields in sub­se­quent cuts could suf­fer as a re­sult, as well as qual­ity. The tar­get should be to aim for the first cut for as near to June 1 as pos­si­ble and then aim for the sec­ond cut in the last week in July. This should then al­low the op­tion of a third cut or a de­cent crop of af­ter grass in the au­tumn. This sys­tem should de­liver more quan­tity and qual­ity of silage than the one big cut in mid/late June.

If, when we com­plete our win­ter feed bud­get, we re­alise there is still a deficit, then we may have to look at other feed op­tions for the com­ing win­ter. There are plenty of al­ter­na­tives to silage and most are com­pet­i­tively priced.

Ta­ble 2 lists some of these op­tions and also com­pares them based on price per unit of feed value (UFL). Rather than get­ting too stuck on the fig­ures, the key point from this ta­ble is that there is very lit­tle dif­fer­ence between most of the op­tions on a cost ba­sis, so which one you choose should also be de­cided on avail­abil­ity, ease of stor­ing the feed, ease of han­dling the feed and ease of feed­ing out the feed.

Many of these al­ter­na­tive feeds re­quire ad­e­quate feed space at the bar­rier, some­thing that is de­fi­cient in most yards. For many, se­cur­ing rented ground for silage may be the eas­i­est so­lu­tion, but avail­abil­ity ap­pears to be an is­sue this year. For oth­ers, rolled bar­ley or a cheap “fod­der stretcher” type ra­tion might make more sense and qual­ity is more guar­an­teed.

An­other fac­tor that has to be con­sid­ered when de­cid­ing on the most suit­able feed will be cash f low. Feeds such as maize most likely will re­quire a de­posit at sow­ing stage, whereas feed­ing meal dur­ing the win­ter may not re­quire pay­ment un­til next spring, de­pend­ing on your mer­chant’s credit terms.

How­ever, the one risk with the meal feed­ing strat­egy could be op­ti­mism! Pic­ture the sce­nario: it’s Novem­ber 15, 2018 and cows have just been housed. I have four months’ silage in the yard. Shur that’ll get me to Paddy’s Day, I’ll take my chances and worry about March in March. Sound fa­mil­iar? If meal is to form part of your win­ter feed strat­egy, then it has to be fed from day one of the win­ter. Up to 90pc of the year’s grass is yet to grow. There will be lots of silage made this year, but will it be enough? Do a bud­get and put a plan in place. We don’t want to be deal­ing with fod­der short­ages again next year.

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