Advice for dairy farmers: Many extra cattle to feed this winter

After a poor spring, it became a good year for grass.

Weather conditions in many parts of the country were favourable resulting in good supplies of winter feed, except in some wet areas.

This will be very beneficial for farmers going forward, because any surplus winter feed is very valuable for the following season, to prevent what happened in 2012/2013.

There will be a lot of extra cattle in the country for the coming season, and every farmer should prepare a winter feed budget for his herd.

Where the stocking rateis high and the farm is under financial pressure, it will be wiser to sell some stock rather than buy in feed.

Cull cows are still selling well, offering an opportunity to get rid of problem animals and generate some welcome cash. They should be sold as soon as possible, to preserve as much grass as possible for milking cows.

If the 2020 expansion targets are to be achieved, purchasing feeds from non-livestock farmers will become a commonplace practice.

Some will already have made arrangements to buy maize silage, grass silage, fodder beet and other feeds, or have sown some rape or kale.

Other farmers purchased whole-crop wheat or barley, or grain from the combine harvester at about 20% moisture.

This grain has to be treated with a preservative. and is ideal for rolling at this moisture level.

Crimped grain has become popular in recent years.

This grain should have a moisture content of 30 to 35%.

A preservative has to be used, and the grain is ensiled in a polythene-lined clamp, well consolidated to prevent air entry.

As whole-crop or grain purchasing may be a new experience for many farmers, very good care should be taken to avoid significant waste.

Best advice should be got from your adviser regarding preservatives, storage techniques, vermin control and usage. Otherwise you could end up with a lot of mouldy, bad feed, costing you a lot of money.

There are different systems of preserving grain for winter and spring feeding, and these systems should be followed precisely. They all come at a cost, and each has advantages and disadvantages.

The feeding value of the forages you buy depends a lot on dry matter (DM) content.

A cubic metre of 20% DM silage will weigh 0.77 tonnes and contain approximately 155 kg of DM. If the silage is wetter, it will contain less DM per cubic metre. A round bale of silage (30%DM) weighing 650 kg will contain 190 kg of DM. A cubic metre of 30% maize silage will contain 225 kg of dry matter.

Small square bales of hay weighing 20kg, and 4x4 round bales of hay weighing 240kg, contain 17kg DM and 204kg of DM respectively, while a 5x4 bale contains 50% more.

Small square bales of straw weighing 12.5kg, and 4x4 round bales of straw weighing 150kg, contain 11kg and 132kg DM respectively.

For farmers purchasing some concentrate feed for the winter, the following is a guideline regarding their relative feed values.

Of course, concentrates have to be balanced properly with protein and minerals, which has to be taken into account when comparing feeds for different animals.

Relative to dried rolled barley at €180/tonne and soya bean at €350/tonne, guideline values are €185 for rolled wheat, €155 for rolled oats, €200 for maize, €175 for beet pulp, €115 for molasses, €170 for citrus pulp, €180 for soya hulls, €190 for corn gluten, €215 for maize distillers, and €215 for rapeseed meal.

Based on these prices of concentrates, approximate values can be assigned to forages.

However, be careful when purchasing forage as the quality can vary widely, and should be assessed locally by Teagasc.

Good quality hay is worth €130 per tonne, €2.50 for small square bales (20k), €25 for 4x4 round bales. Good-quality straw, €78 per tonne, 85c for small bales (12.5kg), €10 for 4x4 round bales.

Good quality silage has a feeding value of €27 per tonne at 20% DM. Round bales of good quality silage weighing 650 kg @30% DM will contain 200 kg DM and will be worth about €27. As with all forages, silage quality and value can vary by more than 30%.

Before purchasing, assess DM and quality. Mouldy feed contains toxins that can be very damaging to health and performance. A lot of damage is done to animals by mouldy feed on Irish farms every year, very often not recognised.

Dump your mouldy silage.

Good quality maize silage could be worth €45 per tonne.

Clean fodder beet has a feeding value of about €36 per tonne (varies with DM content) delivered.

The feeding value of purchased forage should not be confused with the price ex-farm. The additional costs of transport, storing and feeding-out must be taken into account. Losses with wet feeds or silage can vary from 10% to 20%, compared with less than 2% with dry concentrates.

Interest charges for feed purchased in autumn must also be taken into account.

The prices for forage will also vary widely with supply and demand.


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