09 Aug 2022

Longford Leader Farming: Managing feeding in a limited fodder situation

A recent national Teagasc survey of winter feed supplies on beef and dairy farms identified typical shortages of around 20-24% in south/eastern counties and 10-15% in north/western areas.

Individual cases have reported greater deficits exceeding 40%.

Teagasc is encouraging farms to take early and effective actions to stretch available fodder supplies and this will involve a combination of early culling, fodder purchase and/or concentrate feeding.

Where the necessary early culling has occurred and feed deficits remain, individual farms should develop a workable feeding plan for the winter. This means weighing up options for purchased forage and concentrate feeding, plus assessing the practicalities of feed space and rationing silage.

If silage stocks are more than 25% in deficit, purchasing additional forage to meet minimum diet fibre requirements is advised. The simplest solution is usually to source silage, however this may not be possible for all regions. Teagasc has established a national register of farms with feed for sale; if you are seeking to trade fodder contact your local office for details.

Although expensive and difficult to source this year, feeding some good quality hay or straw is an effective way of meeting fibre requirements due to high dry matter and NDF (fibre) content. Dry dairy cows can be fed up to 4.5kg straw (or 6-7kg hay) per day plus concentrate to balance energy and protein, replacing over 70% of daily silage intake.

It is recommended to include soybean meal as a quality protein source where dry cow forage quality is poor. Weanlings will eat 2 to 2.5kg hay/straw to meet fibre needs. Balance for energy and protein using high quality concentrates.

Where deficits are more modest, feeding restricted silage plus 2-4kg concentrate is a good option to replace up to 20-25% of silage demand. This can be a simple mix of cereal plus protein (e.g. barley and corn gluten). If feeding rates are higher, particularly with milking cows, including high fibre ingredients such as soya hulls or beet pulp is recommended.

Dry cows will not significantly reduce silage intake due to feeding 2-4kg concentrate, so it is very important to ration out daily silage amounts. Otherwise there is a risk that cows will be over-conditioned at calving and little if any silage will be spared.

Weighing silage blocks is advised. Testing silage for dry matter and quality improves accuracy of allocation. Offer fresh silage daily and establish a good routine from the outset.

Restricted silage feeding requires adequate feed space per cow. This presents a practical problem on many farms. The recommendation is to have 700mm of barrier space (7 cows per standard bay) to allow all cows eat at once. Weanlings need about 450mm per head. Plan for extra space if needed. Research has shown that cows fed indoors will eat about 9 times per day, spending 50 minutes per visit to the barrier (7 to 8 hours total). Peak activity (>90% cows feeding) occurs when fresh feed is offered or pushed up. Therefore if extra space can be accessed by a proportion of the herd at peak times it would be very beneficial to reducing bullying. This may be as simple as offering silage in feed trailers/ring feeders in external yards for up to 2 hours twice daily. Be sure to meet cross compliance criteria.

Finally, it is important to remember that time spent lying down is one of the most important measures of welfare in dairy cows. Cows like to spend 9-11 hours per day off their feet which improves rumination, hoof condition and overall health. Whatever the plan to manage feed access, make sure that cows have proper access to cubicles through the day. Teagasc advisers are available to help develop the best plan for your facilities and feedstocks.

Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. They have offices based in Longford Town (Tel: 043 3341021), Roscommon Town (Tel: 090 6626166) and Castlerea (Tel: 094 9620160). You can find us on Facebook @Teagascroscommonlongford

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