Feed shortage looming as summer heats up

with Bill Webb
Bill Webb Feed Solutions

Most farmers have brought their dairy cows through a difficult winter and spring in good condition and will be striving to maintain lactation through until autumn to keep production up to make up for the poor start.

Part of doing that means having good feed on hand and now is the time to order hay and straw for delivery in January and February. The cheapest feed is that delivered straight off the paddock, from behind the bailer, because it can go straight to the client, reducing double handling and transport costs.

As a New Year starts, we are all hoping for better things, especially on the weather front, from 2018. It has been a very hard year for farmers, contractors, orchardists, market gardeners and, in fact, anyone whose income is affected by the weather.

After almost constant rain since autumn, many farmers are now hoping for rain to keep grass and crops growing.

Despite delays to planting caused by prolonged wet weather, most of our maize crops were close to fence height before Christmas, which is a good sign.

Pasture renewal

Aside from buying in feed, farmers’ thoughts will also be turning to pasture renewal. Not a lot was done last year, partly due to the poor payout and good grass growth, especially last autumn. Renewing pasture from paspalum or kikuyu could present problems with black beetle, slugs and army caterpillar so extra attention needs to be given to controlling these.

For many farmers this year production has dropped because of the very wet spring. For that reason, most farmers will be aiming to keep cows milking for as long as possible into the autumn, by delaying switching to once a day or drying cows off, unless the current dry spell continues. In that way, they may be able to recover some of the income they have lost due to falling production.

That makes sense so long as it is not done at the expense of cow condition and farm cover because it is vital to ensure cows and the farm goes into the winter, and the next milking season, in the best possible condition.

Maize silage

Feeding maize silage is one way of keeping cows milking while maintaining or building up their condition, and extending the grazing round, allowing pasture to recover and provide a good feed wedge ahead of the herds for the coming winter.

Grass is, of course, the cheapest feed and it is important to use it first before feeding out supplements, but at this time of year grass alone won’t keep cows milking well without taking condition off their backs. Maize silage is one of the few supplements which will keep cows lactating while maintaining or enhancing their condition.

It may be necessary to feed out grass silage for a few weeks in autumn until the maize silage is harvested, just to keep the cows going.

It is too late in winter or early spring to try to improve cow condition because all you are doing is increasing the size of calves and not helping the cows much.

Protein levels

There is a feed shortage so get your orders in early. Demand is high and you don’t want to miss out when you need it most. This will be in the summer when protein levels are traditionally high and you are restricted as to how much PKE you can feed before you breach Fonterra milk taint levels. We still have some good quality grass silage bales available.

You also need to get your hay and straw order in early to avoid missing out. There is a huge demand as there is not a lot around due to the current dry spell in the North Island and parts of the South Island.


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