Farmers have been striving very hard to protect grassland from damage during grazing and silage harvesting.
July gave some relief to those on dry land, but the struggle continued for those on heavy land.
The most important task now is to try to limit bad weather damage and confine it to as short a period as possible. Don’t let this year’s problems stretch into next year and beyond.
This is not a simple task, due to grass and saved forage being very scarce, and the prices of concentrates and good quality forage being very high.
Teagasc estimates an average 23% deficit of winter feed on farms, varying from as little as 10% to 50% in heavy land areas.
The first step for every farmer is to assess winter feed supply and demand and make immediate plans to fill the gap. Consider purchasing feeds such as autumn grazing, silage (growing or as silage), hay, straw, whole crop wheat or barley, barley off the combine, fodder beet, grain at 30 to 35% moisture for crimping etc.
Much of the existing winter feed is of poor quality, and will require concentrate supplementation for good results.
It is complicated further by a scarcity of finance on many farms.
The situation on every farm is different; individual advice is available from Teagasc and co-ops. Advice should be got on the best value concentrates and roughage available locally. Unfortunately, there are no easy options.
Reseeding will play an important role in preparing for next year and beyond.
Every animal on the farm has to be fed properly.
Otherwise, cows will produce very poorly and are at risk of not staying in calf. If we get a fine autumn, underfed cows will not respond to grass or other feed, whereas adequately fed cows can produce a lot of milk in this period if lactations are lengthened.
Thin cows in the winter are likely to be in trouble for next year.
In-calf heifers that are thin and behind target are likely to milk about 300 gallons of milk less than well-fed heifers, over the next few seasons.
Calves that will end up behind target will not be at proper weights for breeding next spring, which will result in big losses for several years.
It is therefore clear that underfeeding is not a viable option.
Where finance and feed are very scarce, the option of selling some dairy stock and feeding the remainder properly should be considered.
There are several farmers who reduced cow numbers a few years ago by around 20%, and are producing their quota much more efficiently, since they changed from their old regime of hunger and scarcity.
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