Livestock farmers facing forage shortages following one of the wettest winters on record are being urged to measure and monitor forage stocks and consider alternative cropping options this spring to safeguard feed for the coming winter.

Speaking on a Mole Valley Farmers’ podcast, one of the company’s nutritionist and technical product managers, Dr Kerensa Hawkey, and their head of grassland and forage agronomy, Lisa Hambly, outlined the dire situation being reported nationwide.

Ms Hambly said that with only seven dry days since the beginning of December, farmers’ ability to carry out fieldwork has had a massive impact on forage availability, with many looking to fill the gap over the next month before turnout.

They urged all farmers to measure stocks by taking the length, width, and height of the clamp to establish the volume, and then sampling the silage to get the dry matter. From this, farmers can work out how many tonnes of fresh weight are available, and by dividing that by how many tonnes a day are being used, will indicate the number of feed days left.

Dr Hawkey said: “Don’t just count the dairy cows; what about youngstock, dry cows and those few beef cows in the other shed? If you can reduce those animals, that’s less mouths to feed.”

Forage shortage solutions

The experts detailed alternative feed options for farmers faced with forage shortages. They included:

  • Buying in silage
  • Zero grazing grass if equipment is available
  • Straw – although prices are high
  • Fodder beet
  • Forage extender nuts and blends
  • Sugar beet and soya hulls as a straights
  • Moist blends

Grazing grass for short periods. Cows can achieve 90% of their daily grass intake in the first three hours after they are turned out post-milking.

Any changes, however, should be gradual. Dr Hawkey said: “A cow will take two weeks to adapt to a new diet change, so anything we do change can’t be done suddenly.”

And with crop yields expected to be down and the quantity and quality of first cut silage looking variable, farmers were advised to take action to safeguard adequate forage stocks for the winter ahead.

Ms Hambly said: “A lot of autumn crops didn’t manage to get in the ground, and we’ve been late getting into the spring, so people might want to think about putting an extra field into maize