How to overcome livestock feeding shortages

This year has been a challenging one for many of our customers. An unseasonably cold and wet start to the year delayed grass growth and turnout. This was quickly followed by a warm and dry summer affecting grass availability for grazing, grass production for winter forage and impacting the grain and straw prices.

In addition, livestock farmers now find themselves competing with anaerobic digesters for co-products, which traditionally would have offered feed options throughout the winter months. It’s certainly a testing time and will continue to be until next Spring at the earliest.

So, what can we learn from this to prepare for future years?  Farm Trader, Animal Feeds Manager and Grass Seed/Forage Manager, Alasdair Ralston explains.

The good news is that we do have options and changing your approach to crop management on your farm can result in year-round benefits.

Grass and co products have traditionally been the feed of choice for many farmers, for grazing and winter forage. However, adding alternative crops has several advantages:

  • it reduces your reliance on bought in feeds, which can be variable on price and availability;
  • it can reduce your risk to extreme weather;
  • give your land valuable nutritional resources;
  • and extend the grazing season.

For example, this year one of our farmer customers added whole-crop into their rotation. This was cut and ensiled late July (yielded 18t/acre 44.47t/Ha), giving way to sow a green-crop mixture, which can yield up to 8,000/9,000 Kg/ha of dry matter. To put this in to livestock units, this field is expected to keep 6 suckler cows per hectare for 100days. This can also extend grazing season, saving on silage, straw and shed space. Freed up shed space can then be used for additional stock.

This field will then be put down to grass in the spring. This new ley will benefit from the break from grass and would also have additional fertility due to the cattle FYM.   Furthermore, the threat of leatherjackets would be almost non-existent due the green-crop grown over the Aug-Jan window. If the crop is well sprayed and all the weeds controlled, there is the additional benefit of reduced weed back within the soil, improving the productivity of the new grass ley.

This one field is working very hard but with effective management, will see several crops offering year-round feed for livestock, as well as improvements in soil fertility and potentially a reduced risk from pest damage.

This is just one example. There are many crop options available to farmers and it’s important to consider your specific farm requirements and look at what you can practically and economically grow.

Always ensure you have up to date soil analysis as this is key for efficient crop management and a recommended starting point for all crop decisions. With the help of MSP, all of these aspects can be covered from soil testing to fertiliser recommendation, crop protection and nutrition support.


Want to discuss your options with an MSP advisor? We have an extensive team of specialist advisors ready to help you protect your business for future weather and market challenges. What are you waiting for? Contact us now!