Skip to main content

Forage budgeting critical for 2018/19

Despite grass availability finally increasing, most producers are still facing a winter forage shortfall and therefore careful planning is required to stretch out silage. 

A lack of available grazing for the majority of the summer means many farmers have been buffer feeding for a longer period than usual.

With very little forage left over from last year due to delayed turnout, a significant proportion of this year’s silage has already been fed. As a result, winter feeding is going to present a challenge, and producers need to act now to avoid their forage running out.

The first step is to measure how much forage you have and budget accordingly. By measuring silage stocks and testing quality, you can determine how much you have available on a dry-matter (DM) basis. This can then be allocated to the number of stock on-farm, based on a normal winter-feeding period, and will flag the level of shortfall. It’s all about balancing supply and demand.

If silage stocks are not sufficient, producers need to source additional feed as soon as possible, as prices are expected to rise, and availability could be limited.

When buying forage replacers, farmers should buy according to the cost of a tonne of DM, as feeds that appear good-value for the season can actually be very expensive if they have a high moisture content.

Also, rations will require careful balancing to ensure that all nutritional requirements are met.

While straw and hay are fairly good-value in DM terms, appropriate protein and energy sources will be required to make up the nutritional gap.

The use of InTouch technology can help farmers budget their forage. The system is based around a smart weighing device fitted to a diet feeder, which guides the operator through a specially-calculated loading order, quantity of ingredients and processing time, helping to optimise feed efficiency and cut down on waste.

In addition, the system also takes stock of the feeds available. This shows how feed stocks are being eroded on a daily basis, and will therefore, flag potential shortfalls. While producers should avoid major dietary changes, this allows rations to be tweaked and alternative feed sources to be incorporated to avoid completely running out of forage.

If forage stocks were to become fully depleted, it would force drastic dietary changes, which alongside having a negative impact on stock performance would lead to a significant hike in feed costs. It’s estimated that producers could already face an increase in the cost of production of around three pence per litre, so forward planning and increased feeding accuracy will be even more important to maintain margins.