Advice for beef farmers: Plan for more than five months of indoor feeding

Grass is just beginning to move on most farms around the country, and most are approaching or soon will have growth rates greater than demand.

Many farms have run out of silage, or reserves are low, after another long feeding period.

It has been a difficult spring.

But the silage season is just around the corner.

I have already seen mowers in action around the country harvesting early crops of Italian ryegrass (which could become a viable silage option into the future).

Building reserves and making quality silage

The common aim for this year’s silage harvest is to bank up significant reserves if possible, while trying to achieve good quality to reduce concentrate costs.

This will require careful planning, and for many, it will require a change from regular practices.

When silage is scarce, most automatically go out and try to buy more silage. There has been plenty of reports about big money being paid for silage ground.

It is essential that you do the sums before committing to a deal for a cut of silage.

Work out the potential cost per tonne of dry matter, and compare that with purchasing alternative feed sources.

Remember that most grassland available for a cut of silage will be old pasture which has a lower population of perennial ryegrasses and, as a result, may be less productive, and can potentially produce lower energy silages.

Silage quality determines your animal’s winter performance, and affects your costs, either positively or negatively.

Volume of silage

Most will plan for a five-month indoor feeding season in the south of the country, and more as you go further north and west.

Given the last three springs, it would be a good idea if feed plans are constructed for slightly longer feeding seasons. Obviously, this will not be possible for many within their traditional silage egime.

Alternative methods of forage production will be their only way of bulking up stocks quickly.

These methods will perhaps include:

* Sowing Italian rye grass and getting four or five cuts out of the fields per year.

Italians and hybrid grasses require careful management, but have huge yield potential.

* Forage maize continues to be popular in suitable sites.

Almost all maize growers in Ireland are now wisely sowing under plastic.

It is also now becoming more common for livestock producers to purchase maize from local tillage producers.

* Some are also considering under-sowing grass seed with a spring barley crop to produce a wholecrop, and to get a few grazings in the back end of the year too.

* A great option for many will be to source co-products such as distillers or brewers grains.

They can be ensiled with silage, or alone, and both are excellent energy and protein sources.

* Some are also considering forward buying fodder or sugar beet from local growers.

* Straw and meal for young stock may be a better option next winter, as an alternative to buying silage.

It is important to evaluate all of the above options on a cost per tonne of dry matter basis, while also taking feed quality into consideration.

Use the following parameters when evaluating feeds:

* Cost per tonne of dry matter.

* Ease of storage

* Ease of feeding

* Energy per kilogram of dry matter and cost per unit of energy (mega joules or UFL per hectare really need to be considered in any forage costings.

This must be your future method of accurately evaluating feed value.

Cost per tonne of dry matter is too crude a figure when comparing feeds, as it takes no account of energy or protein content).


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