Get dosing and feeding strategies right for the winter

Winter has eventually arrived, and temperatures have dropped dramatically in the last week.

At this time of the year, most stock around the country are housed for the winter.

Most have either run out of grass, or are saving a pick for next spring.

It was a great late autumn and early winter season, and it has hopefully shortened the winter for many farmers.

For those who normally turn out stock around St Patrick’s Day, that is only just over 16 weeks away.

The extended grazing season has been a great boost to those who feared they would not have enough fodder for the winter.

Now that most are confident that they have sufficient fodder, the next step is to make best possible use of the feed available on the farm.

That means balancing it correctly to achieve optimum animal performance.

2016 silage

This year’s silages are a mixed bag, with some very good feed saved, while some have less than ideal forages saved.

Many now have their silage tested, and have realised that it is not quite as good as they would have expected.

The dry matter of silages in the pit is interesting this year.

While first cuts are on the wet side, a lot of second cut pits have 30% dry matter or more.

Some of these grasses were unfortunately left on the ground for too long after cutting, and have been over wilted.

These silages were made during a dry spell in July.

One major aspect which should not be ignored is that many of these high dry matter silages also have a high pH, which means they have not preserved well.

Pit management will be critical when these two issues are encountered.

Poorly managed pits will result in a huge level of waste, and poor animal intakes.

Moving across pits quickly will help to reduce this waste.

A shear grab is a must in this scenario.

Due to the much higher dry matters, it is also worth remembering that you probably have a lot more feeding in the pit than you think.

For example, if you had 20% dry matter silage last year, and 30% dry matter this year, in the same pit, then you have 50% more feeding.

Concentrate feeding

There is nothing better to feed stock than native Irish cereals.

Locally produced barley, wheat and oats are fantastic energy sources, rich in energy and starch.

Native cereals will drive live weight, and should be included at high levels, in order to optimise performance and control costs.

Commercially available concentrate mixes will have higher inclusion levels of native cereals, due to their good value, and will also include some imported maize, again due to its relatively good value pricing.

This can only be a good thing for all livestock producers.

Intensive finishers always swear by yellow meal to get the final fat cover on cattle.

Don’t underestimate the value of native oats in finishing diets, as their excellent energy and oil content can put great fat cover on finishing stock.

In years when cereals are such good value, I have seen farmers overfeed it and cause digestive upsets.

High starch diets can cause harm to animals if not balanced correctly.

Remember that cereals are low in protein and need to be balanced correctly.

High concentrate diets also need to be balanced for minerals to optimise performance.

Beet feeding

Now that we are well into November, most beet growers have commenced harvesting.

Take care not to introduce beet too quickly to stock. Gradually increase the feeding rate, to avoid digestive upsets.

Beet is an excellent feed for cattle once it is fed correctly.

Remember that beet is low in protein, so ensure you balance it correctly.

Beet fed at high rates also needs to be carefully balanced for minerals.

A word of caution for those buying beet, however; many are paying big money for beet.

Do your sums before buying beet.

If you are not sure how to calculate its value, ask someone for accurate advice.

Work out your cost per tonne of dry matter, and what it will cost to standardise its protein content.

Dosing

Get animals dosed as soon as it is appropriate to do so and make sure that you use the products that are most effective for each batch of stock, while getting the timing right.

There is little point in getting your feeding strategy right, if your stock have a significant parasite burden.

Parasites have been a major issue over the last few months, and farms may have had resistance issues.

Dosing strategies need to be discussed with your vet to get the best results.


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