Coping with low silage and zero grass

The most common call I have received over the last week has been how do I manage with less or no grass silage in diets?

Unfortunately all around the country, farms are running out of fodder and replacement stocks are getting hard to come by. Grass is not growing and the prospects of growth in the next 10 days or so look poor.

Cold days and nights are keeping soil temperatures well below normal.

Our weather is being blown in from the East out of Siberia resulting in very cold conditions. There is no doubt that growth will come, but when?

Those who turned out stock early this year have run out of grass or have only a few days left.

Most will need to delay the end of the first rotation until the middle of April at least if they hope to remain outdoors full-time.

In order to achieve this, stock will need to slow down their rotation by either rehousing by night or even full-time for a few days. It is also important to avoid damage to paddocks in an effort to graze them tightly.

Any damage at this time of year will reduce the paddocks’ overall yield for the duration of 2013 and beyond. In an effort to protect paddocks some are also considering zero grazing.

What to Buy?

Farmers need to consider carefully what they are purchasing as a fodder source before cash changes hands. Assess the requirements of your stock before you buy silage.

Some have suggested that silage of any quality is necessary for cattle indoors. This is not necessarily the case. In many cases straw and concentrates will perform better than bad silage and concentrates.

As I have said before under-performing stock are not an option at any time of year. Also there is little point in having cattle out in a bare paddock with no access to feed, even in dry conditions.

Planning for the Future

Beyond this spring if you could call it that, there are greater questions to be asked regarding fodder supplies for next winter and beyond.

With most silage pits empty or almost empty many will be looking at the best options for replenishing stocks. Some will consider taking a very late, bulky first cut.

This will however be of very poor feed quality resulting in huge expense to balance it correctly. Many who have reduced the volume of second cut silage in their system may consider larger second cuts this year. This will however depend on stocking rates and summer growth/weather.

I have been talking to some farmers in the last few days who are considering buying standing crops of grass for silage in May or June.

Some have been quoted crazy prices which make no economic sense.

Some have been quoted for one cut for mad money and they must fertilise it themselves. When was any of this ground reseeded last? What has weed control been like, etc?

The cost of this silage should be assessed on a cost per tonne of dry matter. For example if a cut of bought in silage costs you €320-€340 (do the sums) per acre into the pit.

A typical 10 tonne crop at 20% dry matter works out at €160-€170 per tonne of dry matter. You must then consider the quality of the grass you ensile. Other options out there include maize silage bought into the pit at €970-€1,000 per acre.

A typical 20 tonne crop grown under plastic at 30% dry matter works out at €161-€166 per tonne dry matter. On any given year the maize will have significantly more energy than purchased silage.

Poor silage will result in animals under-performing and incur increased balancing costs. Other options which may represent value this year include whole-crop and beet, depending on price and availability.


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