13 Aug 2022

Check your winter feed

Now that second cut silage has been made and any available surplus grass has been wrapped up in bales, it is timely

Now that second cut silage has been made and any available surplus grass has been wrapped up in bales, it is timely

to reassess your winter feed stocks. It has been a poor grass growing year, with low yields of early silage, delayed

harvesting of the main crop and difficult grazing conditions throughout the summer.

Winter feed stocks and current grass supply is inadequate on many farms. At this stage: (1) add up all available sources

of winter feed, i.e., silage, hay, straw, grain for feeding, roots and green crops; and, (2) calculate the monthly feed

requirements of the stock you expect to have over the winter, which allows for the variation in the length of the winter in

different regions and the sale of stock during the winter.

Monthly feed requirements

Animal type Pit silage 20% DM Baled silage 25% Hay (tonnes)


DM (bales)

Suckler cow 1.4 1.5 0.35

In-calf heifer & strong 1.2 1.3 0.30


Weanling 350kg 0.8 0.9 0.20

Weanling 250kg 0.6 0.6 0.15

The table shows the approximate silage and hay requirements for various categories of stock. To calculate the amount

of silage in a pit, measure in metres the length x width x average height to get the volume in cubic metres and divide by

1.4 to convert to tonnes. Baled silage varies in weight depending on dry matter and compaction. Well packed bales of

25% dry matter weigh about 700kg. Normal 4’X4’ round bales of hay weigh about 240kg and the same size bale of straw

weighs about 150kg. Where there is a combination of different types of feed available it is best to convert to a common

base such as kilos of dry matter and allocate feed requirements on the basis of kilos of dry matter per day. Your adviser

will assist you in compiling such a feed budget.

Where a shortage exists, some of the options to consider are:

■ Stretching out existing grass supply by budgeting and careful allocation according to stock requirements.

■ Reduce herd demand by weaning early born calves and putting weaned cows on reduced ration. The cow’s daily

energy requirement drops by 25% when weaned. The calves can get extra meal if grass is scarce

■ Scan to identify cows not in calf. Wean and sell cull cows in good condition.

■ Rent in short-term grazing, if available.

■ Where ground conditions are poor and grass is scarce, feed extra meal to finishing cattle, e.g., 5-6kg/day. If grass is

going to run out early for other stock, house the finishing cattle and put them on a high concentrate diet.

■ Purchase feed, based on a comparison of relative value. Teagasc clients can use the on-line calculator at to get regular updates of the relative value of concentrates, roots and roughages or consult your


■ Plan the sale of stock depending on system and market conditions. It is sensible to work out a plan using the best

combination of options to suit your particular circumstances.

Stretching grass supply

Grass growth can be good in early September, but later in the month growth will fall considerably. As growth rate

declines, the rotation length (period between grazings) needs to increase in order to allow adequate grass cover to build

up. Ideally, there should be 30-40 days grass ahead of stock in mid-September. In addition to the actions referred to

above, such as reducing herd demand by weaning calves, introduction of meal and sale of stock, the following will also

help stretch available grass supply:

■ Have a large number of grazing divisions and fewer grazing groups. This is a compromise between what is practical

and what gives the best utilisation of grass. The greater number of grazing divisions and lowest possible number of

grazing groups allows the rotation length to be extended.

■ Spilt up large fields with temporary electric fencing and allocate grass to requirements. Two to four day grazing divisions

should be a suitable compromise.

■ Dry suckler cows could be used to clean up after other higher priority stock.

■ Do a grass budget and house store cattle before all grass runs out so that other stock such as weanlings and cows,

especially autumn calvers, can be kept out into November.

■ Creep grazing of weanlings ahead of cows provides the weanlings with the choice pasture and restricts lower yielding

cows that are generally in good condition.

Choosing Replacements

Are you keeping any of your homebred heifers for replacements? If not, why not? Are these not the heifers that you know

the most about compared to going out and buying heifers that you have little or no information on? September is one of

the best months for looking at your heifer calves and deciding which might be candidates for breeding next year. Most of

the weight they have put on is because of the amount of milk their mothers supplied them with. Suckler cows with a good

milk supply should now have well grown heifers. It follows that their daughters should also be reasonable in the milk

department. If you have signed up for the ICBF HerdPlus service you can check their mothers’ lifetime breeding data

especially their calving interval each year. Keeping nicely shaped heifers out of cows that have been regular breeders

and that are good milkers must be better than buying beef heifers in marts where you have little or no information.

Teagasc Sheep Farm Walk

A Teagasc sheep farm walk will take place on the farm of Brian Nicholson, Tullyvolty, Johnstown on

Wednesday, September 5 at 10.45am. Teagasc advisers and specialists will discuss preparation for the breeding

season, animal performance and current market requirements. Visitors will also have the opportunity to see the

Nicholson flock and how they are being managed at present.

Greenfield Project Dairy Farm Walk

A Teagasc dairy farm walk will take place on the farm of Daniel and Amy O’Donnell, Knockaunacuit, Cappoquin, Co.

Waterford on Friday September 7th at 10.30am. The O’Donnell farm is one of two commercial farms in the Greenfield

dairy project. The farm is located at an altitude of 700 ft in the foot hills of the Knockmealdown Mountains. With soils of a

heavy peaty nature, it is a wet farm with poor drainage and in an area of high rainfall.

They are now entering the 3rd year in the project and to date there has been considerable development in drainage and

reseeding to allow the farm grow and graze more grass. Daniel will go through the infrastructure on the farm and how

much money it has cost to develop and the plan for future development. He was milking approx 60 cows in 2008 and

today he milks 81 cows on his family run farm. He will talk about his plans to milk 100 cows next year.

Due to the high levels of rain fall on this upland farm it has being a very challenging year. Daniel will describe how he

managed his stock and grass throughout this difficult grazing year and there will be a discussion on the feed options for

this winter. Visitors will also hear how Daniel manages his cash flow and can observe the herd and farm after one of the

wettest summers on record.

To continue reading this article for FREE,
please kindly register and/or log in.

Registration is absolutely 100% FREE and will help us personalise your experience on our sites. You can also sign up to our carefully curated newsletter(s) to keep up to date with your latest local news!

Register / Login

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.