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Things to Think About Now to Help This Winter

28 July 2022

As welcome as this weather has been this month certain parts of the country are starting to see grass growth really suffer with the lack of rainfall. For fields of finishing cattle now is the time to consider supplementing them as cattle growth rates will begin to suffer with the drop in grass quality and availability. Start initially by supplementing at a low rate and build up to around 1kg concentrate (high energy and moderate protein 13-14% fresh weight) per 100 kg bodyweight. Alternatively, as ground conditions are favourable an ad-lib hopper could be placed in the field. This option will require careful transition with feed being introduced slowly and building up to ad-lib. A ring feeder with straw available is advisable when feeding high levels of concentrate.

If you have concerns about ground conditions, if the weather turns wet for example, you could either bring the cattle inside to finish or have them on a grass field that is due to be reseeded and allow them to break up the field ahead of the next crop going in.

It may be time to introduce creep feeders to spring calving herds, especially with the grass disappearing, to take the pressure off the cows and maintain growth in the calves. The feed conversion rates in calves pre weaning is at its highest and it is more cost effective to feed the calf than feed the cow in late lactation as the calf has a feed conversion efficiency three times higher than a cow.

Whilst reports are showing reasonable to good silage yields and quality this summer, feed prices don’t look to be coming back anytime soon and so we must look at options now that many help reduce the pressure and expense of the winter housing period.

Further west, where there has been more rainfall, grass growth has been good and if grass is getting ahead of the stock there may be an opportunity to shut stock off a field until October / November time to use as deferred grazing for dry suckler cows to reduce the need to house them early in the winter.

If planning to bale graze for some of winter now may be the time to take advantage of the ground conditions and lay out the bales to avoid making mess when the weather does turn.

Another option to reduce the housing period would be to sow a forage crop to feed in situ through the winter. Certain hybrid brassica crops established in the next few weeks could provide good crops to strip graze in 10-12 weeks. With dry ground conditions being experienced cultivations will reduce moisture further in soil, however with the early harvest already started in certain areas it may be possible to direct drill into cereal stubbles.

Lesley Wylie,

A dun coloured cow in close up view. The cow's fore leg is visible as it has it's head down grazing some short grass.

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