Winter silage shortage affecting 38% of farmers

38% of dairy farmers and 15% of drystock farmers say they are short of silage for next winter.

38% of dairy farmers and 15% of drystock farmers say they are short of silage for next winter.

A fodder survey carried out by Teagasc advisers of farmers in discussion groups shows that the deficit in silage stocks on farms for next winter ranges from 10% to 40%. The average deficit is 23%.

To compound the situation, over half of farmers are feeding silage to livestock at present, further eating into stocks. On farms where there are adequate silage stocks, the quality of the silage will have major implications for supplementary feed costs and animal performance next winter.

Carried out from July 17 to 27, the Teagasc survey shows that 87% of dairy farmers and 79% of drystock farmers had completed the harvesting of their first cut silage. Normally at this time of the year, farmers would all have completed harvesting their first cut silage.

Due to the ongoing bad weather huge numbers of farmers are seeking advice on how to deal with the situation. Teagasc has run a series of clinics for farmers over the past month. These will continue while farmers continue to need advice on how to manage the difficult weather conditions.

Teagasc animal nutrition specialist Dr Siobhan Kavanagh said: “every farm is different and some farms are under more pressure than others. Teagasc is offering farmers individual tailor made advice on how to cope with the situation on their farm“.

The Teagasc survey shows that farmers are taking a range of measures to address the situation.

Nine out of ten dairy farmers are currently providing supplementary meal to their dairy cows. 30% of dairy farmers surveyed and 17% of drystock farmers said they sold livestock to alleviate fodder problems. Eight out of 10 dairy farmers and over half of drystock farmers have spread fertilizer in July to boost grass production. 63% of farmers say that grass supplies on their farms are either scarce or very scarce, with ground conditions being poor in many areas, even where grass supplies are adequate.

Farmers are, and will continue to adopt a coping strategy until conditions improve. This will involve a combination of actions - Housing stock where necessary and feeding meals / silage to fill the gap; Protecting the grazing ground – there is potentially still four months grazing in 2012 and we need to plan for utilising the grass to help reduce winter feed costs; Spread nitrogen to increase grass supply for the autumn

Problems next winter - It is important to act early to deal with a fodder shortage next winter. There is no single action to deal with the problem. It will involve examining the cost effectiveness of different options including buying silage, buying meals and/or wet feeds and selling high value stock. The local Teagasc adviser will help advise on the options.

Summary of survey results:

87% and 79% of 1st cut harvested on the surveyed dairy and drystock farms, respectively;

Of those surveyed, 62% and 85% of dairy and drystock farms have adequate silage for the winter. We have no indication of quality yet but quality could be a major issue on a lot of these farms, even though quantity is adequate;

For those that are short of silage, the deficit is on average 23.5% but this ranges from 10-40%;

Approximately 56.5% of the farmers surveyed are feeding silage at present. This may have implications for silage stocks, if the poor conditions continue. While the deficit is 23.5% now, this could rise if reserves are depleted over the coming weeks;

On average, 89% of dairy farmers surveyed are feeding meals and feeding on average 4 kg to dairy cows and 1.3 kg to young stock;

56% of drystock farmers are feeding meals to cattle, 0.7 kg to suckler cows and 1.5 kg to young stock;

Of the farmers surveyed, 30% of dairy farmers suggest that they sold stock to deal with the shortage, while 17% of drystock farmers suggest they sold stock to alleviate fodder problems;

80% of dairy farmers have spread fertiliser in July, while 54% of drystock farms surveyed spread fertiliser in July.

37% of farmers have adequate or surplus grass, while 63% are scarce or very scarce.