Gerry Giggins: Why you need to budget for food

Feed budgeting is an important task

Livestock farms at this time of year. Now that almost all of your winter feed is saved and in stock, it’s time to set an accurate budget for your winter feed needs.

Whether you are feeding weaners, feeding light supplies, fattening cattle or suckler cows, you need to ensure there is adequate feed available for the duration of the wintering period.

First, you need to get an accurate nutritional analysis for all feeds. Testing silage for important aspects such as dry matter, energy and protein values ​​and ensilability provides information on how much feed can be fed and what type of concentrate feed is required to compensate, for different livestock categories.

The amount of feed required is determined by factors such as silage dry matter, the weight of the animals to be fed and the duration of the feeding period.

It is difficult to predict how long winter will last, but estimating an animal’s intake is easier. A good guideline is that an animal consumes 2% of its body weight in dry matter per day (so a 300 kg animal consumes 6 kg DM/day).

In some circumstances intake will exceed this 2 percent and hopefully a corresponding improvement in animal performance will also be observed.

The dry matter content and the degree of fermentation of the silage also have a major impact on animal intake. Wet or too dry silage will have a negative effect on intake, as will silage with an extremely low pH.

Fodder will always be the cheapest source of fodder available, so maximize its use.

In the case of young and storage animals, up to 85% of the intake can consist of silage, the rest consists of concentrated feed and mineral/vitamin supplements.

When the feed quality falls below the desired level (below 68% DMD), the animal requires a higher amount of supplementation.

For fattening cattle, the amount of feed is determined according to age, weight, breed, sex and performance goals.

Traditional breeds can be fed with higher percentages of roughage in finishing. Continental steers and heifers can be fed a moderate amount of feed, while continental and dairy bulls should be fed a minimal amount of feed, especially when they are about to finish fattening.

The category of animals with the highest feed intake potential of all breeds is generally a Holstein/Friesian steer; Unfortunately, this higher intake doesn’t always come with higher performance.

Total feed costs will reach record highs this winter. Grain and concentrated feed costs of the equivalent of more than 450 €/t DM are not uncommon, feed 200 €/t DM.

The average fattening animal consuming 12 kg of dry matter costs over €4 per day to feed. Feeding heavier cattle and cull cows costs around €5 per day.

Given these feed costs, along with animal purchase prices, vet bills, and increased transportation and energy prices, winter finishers must be getting a very tempting beef price if they are to turn a profit.

Some commentators have predicted storm clouds approaching beef markets.

Teagasc budgets show that beef prices need to reach €5.80/kg for farmers to pay back profits.

These figures are based on current feed prices but modest live weight gains (1 kg/day for continental cattle).

Most serious winter finishers achieve live weight gains in excess of 1.4 kg/day in continental steers and heifers and up to 2 kg/day in bulls.

The only realistic way to remain viable this winter is to maximize feed intake while maintaining high animal performance.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth Gerry Giggins: Why you need to budget for food

Fry Electronics Team

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