Livestock farmers have warned the cost of a late spring could cripple their businesses as they are forced to replenish exhausted forage stocks and extend housing.
One newly established Shropshire dairy unit is predicting additional costs of £100,000 through extra feed requirements as grass growth is hammered by the rain and cold.
“We ran out of forage three weeks ago so we’ve been buying-in left, right and centre trying to feed 1,200 cattle,” explained James Thompson, estate manager for Sansaw Estate which began calving 1,020 heifers onto the New Zealand style grass based system this Spring.
“Grass is probably six weeks behind where it should be. We’ve been feeding 3-6kg of concentrates in the parlour, plus maize, grass silage or wholecrop. It will cripple us if it doesn’t warm up.”
For Garry Mitchell, who farms 600 Holsteins in Stranraer, Scotland, buying in extra feed and forage has added 3-4p/litre to his winter feed costs.
“We bought an extra £32,000 worth of forage in November because of third cut failure. But the silage we bought was not high performing so we’ve had to add starch and protected fat into the diet which has added another 1-1.5p/litre onto costs.”
He said winter feed costs were normally a maximum of 13-14p/litre, but were more like 16-18p/litre this winter. “It’s already hit profit margins as cows are down 2litres a cow a day anyway because of poor forage quality,” he said.
The extended cold and wet in Northern Ireland has seen Geoff Rodgers buy-in over £10,000 worth of additional silage, hay and straw for his herd of 350 British Blondes, Limousins and British Blues.
“Cows have been housed since August. They’re usually out in February-March, but we can’t get stock out or fertiliser on ground,” he said.
In Kent, herd manager Richard Evans of Home Farm in Sevenoaks, said the additional expense of keeping cattle housed was adding up to £800-£1,000 a week.
“Turnout has been delayed by three weeks already, so we are having to buy in straw and extra feed,” he explained at a Milking Grass for Profit farm walk last week.