Q: I buy Friesian cows in November/December to be fattened and sold off grass from July to October. Should I feed meal this winter while in the shed? If so, what would be a good mix of concentrates, while in shed and while on grass?

A: If there is sufficient levels of decent quality silage (>68% DMD) to see them through the winter, I wouldn’t feed any meal this winter to this stock class. Target as early a turnout date as possible in spring and they will kick on once they get to grass.

If grass supply and quality is good next summer, I wouldn’t see the need to feed meal pre-slaughter, but if meal is to be fed, I would only do so for a short period, maybe three to four weeks.

Use a simple, high-energy mix comprising of either barley or maize meal at a rate of 3kg to 4kg/day.

How much straw can I feed to suckler cows to reduce silage feeding?

This is covered on page 46 and will all depend on the silage quality in the yard and the condition of the cows being fed. If body condition is good, you can reduce silage feeding by about 20% for the first half of winter, but it needs to be carefully managed.

I’m short silage because of the drought. I need about 120 extra bales now for dry suckler cows. Would it be better to buy hay, baled silage or pit silage?

Similar to the last question, a lot can be done by managing cow body condition – don’t keep cows out too long this autumn trying to save silage at the expense of losing significant body condition over a short period of time.

Where you are in the country will determine what the best value fodder is. In the west, silage bales are moving from €22 to €25 per bale, while in the south it can be €10 to €12 above this and more depending on quality.

Assuming this farmer is in the south east of the country, as most fodder shortages are in this area, the one good thing is that dry cows do not need a high-quality silage, therefore it may be best to stretch silage with some straw.

The straw will keep cows satisfied with a full belly and at current prices will make financial sense. If you don’t have a diet feeder, I have seen farmers feed two days silage and one day straw in the past with good effect.

I bought some dairy cross calves in spring and they haven’t done great, about 0.6kg/day so far. Could I pull back some of that poor performance for winter months and if so, what do I need to do?

The short answer is yes, you can probably pull back some of that lost performance, but it is going to come at a significant cost if it means a high level of meal feeding.

As Kieran Mailey outlines on page 44 of this week's paper, good-quality silage alone will only support growth rates of 0.4kg/day to 0.5kg/day and therefore, more than 2kg of meal is going to be required if you are to increase growth rate above 0.7kg/day. In reality, it may be better to just feed the 2kg/day and target as early a turnout to grass in spring as possible.

If they are around 170kg today, they are not going to be fit for slaughter at the end of next year’s grazing season and so next August, make the decision to feed a bit of meal at grass prior to selling them as stores or house them next winter and either finish out of the shed in spring 2024 or put them back to grass for a third season and slaughter at 27-28 months off grass.

I have to put about 100kg on bullocks to finish them off. With a diet feeder, what is the best mix to feed them for 80-100 days indoors?

Assuming there is good-quality silage on the farm (around 70% DMD and 12.5% protein) to feed alongside the meal, in this case you could get away with rolled barley as all you are looking to do is increase the energy component of the diet.

A feed rate of around 5kg/day should be sufficient to finish them by February. The fact that you have a diet feeder means you can control the speed at which stock take in the meal throughout the day, which reduces the risk of acidosis. Minerals would be the only thing you would need to consider.

Whether this is the best approach will depend on where you get rolled barley and at what cost, so price around with other finishing rations that are around 12% protein and contain high levels of either barley or maize.

My neighbour planted 15ac of forage rape on tillage land in August and wants me take it for weanlings. I have 30 suckler heifer weanlings at about 300kg. What should I pay and how long would it take to do them? It was planted on 10 August

On page 34, Darren Carty looks at some forage rape options and costings. Forage crops are very variable and depending on the suitability of the site and crop, the value can differ greatly.

I’m home mixing a ration with barley, beet pulp and distillers, feeding about 3kg/day to suckler weanlings. What do I need to do on minerals?

You will need to purchase a specific mineral pack for weanlings from a feed merchant and feed 100g/head to 200g/head, depending on manufacturer’s recommendations. Some farmers ask if bolusing cattle is enough to cover for minerals, but most boluses only cover major elements such as copper, selenium, iodine and cobalt.

A complete mineral pack will cover all trace elements such as calcium, phosphorus salt etc.

Would rolled barley on its own be enough to feed to suckler-bred weanlings if silage is good?

Unless you are feeding red clover silage that is >16% protein, I would not advise giving rolled barley alone to weanlings. Most ‘good’ quality ryegrass silages are going to be between 12% and 13% protein, which is not enough for growing animals.

What would happen is that they would put on a lot of flesh but not grow frame and come spring, they would go backwards when they get to grass. Rolled barley can be fed alongside a protein balancer and a mineral mix.

I’m in Donegal and it’s been a great year for grass. Silage is 72% DMD and my December-calving cows are in super order. Just wondering what I need to do, I don’t want them to put on condition.

As cows are now within 10 weeks of calving you need to manage them quite carefully. You don’t want to put condition on them, but also you want cows with enough energy to calve successfully and produce sufficient colostrum.

Feeding a couple kilos of straw would reduce the energy intake of the diet. Also, if feeding once a day, feed in the evening and alter the amount until they have all silage eaten two to three hours before you feed again.

Any longer and you are under feeding and if there is still a lot of silage left in the evening, you are over feeding. Evening feeding also helps cows calve in early morning, so this can aid labour around calving.

I’ve got a batch of Friesian heifer weanlings who are behind target for two-year-old calving. I have 70% DMD silage. I don’t want them to get fat on meal for winter. I just want to grow them. What would the best plan be?

How far behind target they are will determine the best approach. Assuming they are 30kg-40kg behind target, then feeding 2kg of a 16% ration alongside your good-quality silage should be sufficient for decent performance over winter.

I would look at why they are behind target and try to get to the root of that problem for the future. If it is due to poorer grass quality, you may see a bounce in growth rates once they are housed for winter.

The lightest heifers should be turned out to grass first in spring to give them the best chance of being up to weight for breeding in May.