Management of Critically Low Fodder

Management of Critically Low Fodder

The major challenges facing producers over the next number of weeks is budgeting fodder supplies and maintaining/improving body condition before the breeding season. We cannot be sure when grass growth will match or exceed demand or when grazing conditions will allow proper utilization on farms but we believe at this point that any available fodder must be stretched to last until at least April 20th and longer if buffer feeding at grass is necessary or desired.

How much feed does a cow need?

Feed requirement is a function of bodyweight, milk output / potential, genetic merit and stage of lactation. Focusing on an average Friesian cross with a live weight of 550-600 Kgs and an output of 25/26 litres, this cow type will need 18 Kilograms of daily dry matter intake (DMI) in early lactation. How we supply that will very much depend today on our fodder supply situation.

Measure & Budget

Where forage is tight it is critical to measure and budget accordingly and this applies to silage, hay, straw and grass. Prioritise stock as follows: lactating cows, young growing replacements, dry cows (in-calf) and then all “other dry stock”.

To calculate the silage volume, multiply the length x the breadth x average height (in metres). This will be the number of cubic metres. The density per cubic metre will vary with dry matter. See table below for grass silage.

Dry Matter
Cubic Metre
Kgs of Dry Matter
per Cubic Metre
20 760 152
25 675 169
30 600 180

Stacked bales (grass silage 25-30% dry matter) will weigh circa 700-800 Kgs. Leafiness, chopping and DM are variables.

A dry cow option could be to feed 20 Kgs of grass silage, 5 Kgs of straw and 3 Kgs concentrate* for maintenance. All other stock use straw/haylage bales, whatever is available and balance with concentrate for target performance

*No minerals in this feed (use pre-calver)

Soya Hulls or citrus pulp may be an alternative in some situations but beet pulp is a better choice (being intermediate in protein) with the uncertainty around grass availability and grazing conditions. Make changes gradually.

With large framed high output cows the additional feed at the barrier could be a ration or a combination of beet pulp & maize meal. Normally grazed grass would be supporting their protein output at this time (especially in Southern regions).

The following is a practical example of an actual farm with a maximum of 12 Kgs of 25% DM silage available per cow per day for the next 25 days. Cow type is moderate and the production target is 25/26 litres. We have estimated that available grass will provide 5 kgs of Grass DMI/cow/day.

Where GAIN Spring Starter is in use, note the upper feeding recommendations to avoid excess mineral (especially iodine) input. The winter range may be more suitable. For specific dietary advice (especially where alternative feeds are in use) contact your Business Manager or a member of the Technical Support Team.

In addition to forage scarcity it is becoming more evident daily from milk composition that energy intake is below requirement on many farms, cows are running out of reserves and body condition score (BCS) is falling. Dairy cow research has shown that submission rate in the first three weeks of the breeding season and BCS loss, are negatively correlated:

Use milk composition as a guide to nutritional status within the herd:

  • Milk protein % is driven by energy and overall dry matter intake.
  • Milk fat % is an indicator of dietary fibre intake, but will also rise if cows are losing body condition (due to fat breakdown).