Farmer Focus: Facing a winter feed deficit

I am running out of ideas. My boots have been left outside and the van’s windows open every night for the past two months – usually a sure-fire way to tempt rain.

Yet every morning when I wake up with the immediate hope of overnight rain, the patio remains bone dry.

In seven months we have experienced the wettest, coldest, driest and warmest weather in recent memory. Hopefully, it is such a freak year it can go down as our generation’s 1976.  

Stopped growth

Grass growth on the farm has ground to a halt. Areas of thinner soils are completely burned off and we have generated more seed heads than I thought possible.

See also: Grass Watch: Welcome rainfall gets grass growing again

Our reaction on the grazing front has been to slow the cows down to a 50-60 day round, resulting in grazed grass only making up approximately 5kg of their diet’s dry matter with 5kg of corn in the parlour and the remainder being first-cut pit silage spread on top of the grazing.

As the grip of the drought has tightened, palm kernel has been added and we have had to shift to using bales as the pit has now been finished.

Content cows

Taking the positives, the cows are looking superb and are very content.  The weather is at least a pleasure to work in and somehow kale and fodder beet are looking healthy. As it’s costing us more than a holiday in extra feed, we may as well enjoy the sunshine. 

It is quite evident now no matter how good the back end is there is going to be a winter feed deficit. We have run feed budgets taking us through to next year, reviewing what our deficit may be and starting to spread our risk.

It is a position many farms are inevitably going to find themselves this winter. Combined with the stress already endured, this year is a horrible combination. We must ensure we continue to speak with people, seek help if needed and keep our advisers in the loop. It will get better.