Dealing with Forage Shortages

Forage stocks for the coming winter (including summer requirements) must be calculated now so that action can be taken to avoid feeding shortages later in the year.

This requires all forages to be analysed so that the dry matter is known. Even if the forage is not going to be fed for several months, get a core sample tested so that the tonnage of dry matter available can be assessed. There are several on-line forage budgeting calculators available to help with this.

If forage is short of requirements for the number of stock you are carrying, either look at how rations can be manipulated to save on silage or wholecrop with forage replacers, straw or extra concentrates or look at how you can reduce the number of mouths to feed over the winter:

    • Cull underperforming cows that are costing more to keep in feed than what they are producing.
    • Dry off late lactation, over-conditioned cows early onto a maintenance ration to conserve quality forage for the milking herd.
    • Stricter culling on repeat breeders and cows with repeat cases of mastitis are worth considering (more than 3 cases in the same quarter in the same lactation or cows with more than 5 cases of mastitis in all quarters in the same lactation).
    • Are there surplus heifers to sell? Alternatively could heifers be reared off farm by a contract rearer?
    • Sell beef cattle earlier, i.e. store, rather than finishing or sell much earlier. If space is an issue in the calf shed, sell beef calves at a few days old to help relieve pressure in calf house and reduce health risks in heifers. They will likely perform better!
    • Feed costs will likely rise through the winter so speak to your feed supplier now to fix prices.
    • Look into alternative bedding options to save on straw. More straw can then be used in milking cow rations to conserve grass silage or wholecrop. To maintain milk yield, more concentrates will need to be fed and this will increase feed costs. However, up to 3kg of straw for milking cows could save almost 9kg of silage at 30% dry matter per cow per day or just over 12T of silage dry matter for 150 milking cows per month.

Early planning now is crucial to avoid exacerbating problems of forage shortages further through the winter when demand and prices will likely be higher. The key is to act now!

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