Excess rain plus a lack of sunshine hours are going to make winter feeding tricky this year. Some clamps may be full, but not necessarily with quality – and many maize crops are unlikely to deliver a safety net.

Derbyshire contractor Tim Wright estimates maize crops are 25% down in volume, as five weeks of rain in mid-June left maize sat in cold, wet seed-beds. It looks, therefore, like this winter’s extra milk income could be spent on bought-in feeds, so it is vital to assess feed stocks now and plan for the coming winter, says Staffordshire consultant Ian Browne. He estimates up to 3p/litre could be swallowed up in feed costs, unless farmers have deals on forward contracts.

“Be honest. Assess what you have, then what you are likely to have. See what the problem is, then start balancing the books.

Winter feeding
  • Assess forage stocks
  • Check feed prices
  • Prioritise high yielders
Many producers lost ground last year due to the drought and have yet to properly recover.”

Nutritionist Chris Savery of The Dairy Group says quotes for bought feed should be obtained soon. “Prices won’t be held for long. There are shortages of brewers’ grains and increased demand for bread waste. Energy-related feeds have higher prices. Don’t be tempted to control costs by opting for a lower spec feed – paying less for something probably means it’s not up to scratch.”

He also reminds producers to preserve what forages they already have. Improving clamp management at feed out will avoid spoilage and secondary fermentation. “Also have silage analysed to get an idea of the material in clamps.”

Mr Browne is seeing clamps full of bulk and dry matter, but not energy. Yet high yielding herds need more. “When high yielding cows are underfed, fertility can suffer. Feed them correctly, or the consequences will last into next year. It may help to send some stock off the farm, or overwinter them on crops such as stubble turnips or forage rape.”

High yielders should be prioritised and given the best feed to avoid long-term consequences, agrees Mr Savery. While grass growth may get a boost in September, these cows need a good solid ration, particularly when they have been buffer fed all summer, he adds. “They are coming up to peak and need to get back in-calf. Use grazing for low yielders instead. Cows close-to-calving should also be properly fed to avoid calving problems and metabolic upsets in early lactation.”


Case study
Mary Chandler

Leigh end farm, tewkesbury, gloucestershire

  • With 150 cows housed on full winter rations all summer, forages are running out at Leigh End Farm, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. The worst floods in history have made things difficult for Mary Chandler. “Rain fell on 21 July and never stopped. We had 125mm (5in) in one day,” she says.

    The floods left 89ha (220 acres) 6m (20ft) deep under water. This has now subsided leaving behind a black sludgy mess. “Cows have eaten nearly all our winter feed. We have no grass, no hay and just 4ha (10 acres) of ground. We’ve lost about 40% of our maize and, phoning round, it seems straights are in short supply.

    “Our bank manager managed to locate some hay in Wiltshire, which we were given by the Withers family, and our consultant sourced some maize for us. We hope to get 20ha (50 acres) of maize off, then plant some Westerwolds so we can get an early bite next March.”

Increasing DM
  • Many farms need to buildup 600kg/ha DM of grass cover if they want to reach a target 2800kg/ha DM by 1 October, says LIC consultant Mike Bailey.

    This is to allow a long grazing through the autumn and extended grazing till mid-December.

    “If you can’t increase feed supply, you will need to decrease demand. Reduce stocking rates by shipping all animals not milking – calves, heifers and dry cows – off farm,” he says.

    Applying at least 50kg/ha of nitrogen now will boost grass growth and cover. He also says that feed introduced now will act as a positive substitution to help build cover.