Estimate how much silage you need over the winter — that is, the number of animals to be fed and the length of the winter.
Secondly, calculate the quantity of forage currently on the farm including pit silage (grass, maize and whole crop), bales, straw, hay and forage crops.
If you have at least 40% of your silage requirements for the cows and 30% of your silage requirements for the young stock, there are options. There is no single action that will sort the deficit; it requires a number of initiatives to deal with the problem.
The demand for silage depends on the number of stock to be housed and on the length of the winter. Actions can be taken on both sides of this equation.
Setting the farm up to allow for extended grazing this autumn and early turnout next spring will be key to reducing the demand for winter feed. The weather will dictate a lot — but it’s important to plan for an autumn and spring of improved weather, so that you can maximise on the benefits.
Are there surplus stock on the farm that could be sold? This will lower demand. On the supply side, consider baling surplus grass in August, if grass growth improves. But remember you will also need to start increasing farm grass cover from mid-August.
Forage rape may be an option for some farmers on dry ground, but it’s too late for kale. Buying silage is an option, but only where it’s good value, and the quality of it is known.
Relative to current feed prices, good quality silage (72 DMD) is worth up to €31/bale, while moderate quality silage (65 DMD) is worth up to €28/bale, delivered prices.
Pitted silage is worth €3-4/tonne more than bales. First-cut silage baled in July, which is six to seven weeks later than normal, will be very low in digestibility and similar to straw in feeding value.
Alternative forages and wet feeds may be an option for some. Good quality maize silage is worth €54/tonne, while good quality whole crop cereal silage and fodder beet are worth up to €74/t and €41/t delivered.
It is important to note that some of these feeds will be of moderate to poor quality this autumn and you must know the quality before purchasing.
While wet feeds such as brewers’ grains may be an option, availability of some of these will be an issue. Grain storage on farm will be an option for some.
Treatment costs are approximately €35/t, including the additive, processing, storage and losses. Remember that these feeds will need to be balanced for protein and minerals, and storage facilities will be needed.
In many cases, buying bad quality silage will be a more expensive option than buying meals and feeding it with a restricted quantity of silage. In 2009, Moorepark Research Centre fed the dry cows 6kg of silage dry matter plus 3kg of straw DM, and 3.5kg of ration and dry cow minerals.
Supplementation rates can be increased or decreased, depending on the silage supply.
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