There is a saying that old hay is old gold and that’s ringing through in years like this.

Near continuous wet weather since last autumn is putting serious strain on farmers. Silage stocks are running low or running out on many farms.

Luckily, fodder is available within the country, so it is not yet as serious as previous fodder crises but a shortage of silage is a growing issue on farms and could get worse.

The following is some advice for dairy farmers dealing with the weather-related issues.


Work out how much silage is in the yard and how long it is going to last for. It varies from zero days, to a number of days to a number of weeks. The weather problems won’t be solved overnight, even if the weather picks up, because heavy land is saturated and will take time to dry out so be realistic about expectations of turnout.

If there is not going to be enough silage to meet expected demand, then take early action.

If you don’t know of any silage for sale, talk to your co-op, as during previous fodder shortages they acted as a go-between for farmers who had silage and those that needed it. If home-produced silage is good-quality, then it might make sense to reserve this for milking cows and give dry cows and other stock bought-in silage if it’s lower quality.

Alternatives to silage exist but these are generally more expensive per kilo. They could still be better value if silage quality is poor. Soya hulls and palm kernel are high in fibre and will stretch forage but are not high in protein or energy. Maize meal is a higher-quality feed and some farmers are feeding this to stretch silage and reduce reliance on compound feeds.


Cash is tight on many farms as 2023 was a low margin year due to high costs and low output. If buying silage at €40/bale and feeding 6kg of meal at €330/t then the total feed costs will be €4.40/cow/day, which is over €3,000 per week for a 100-cow herd. It’s a big cost and there is no credit available when buying silage – it has to be paid on the day.

On top of this, milk supply is back by up to 10% compared to this time last year and last spring was a bad spring for milk volume too, so supplies are really back about 15% compared to 2022.

A cashflow budget is a necessary tool to plan out income and expenditure and to highlight pinch points. Financial support is available from banks such as short term loans, overdrafts or retrospective finance of investments paid out of cash.

Body condition

Body condition score (BCS) is a concern where cows have been housed for long periods on medium-quality silage. The energy and protein content of the diet will be insufficient unless large quantities of meal are fed and that’s just uneconomical. The worry is that if BCS is stripped now, it will affect fertility as breeding is just weeks away on many farms.

Cows should be on a rising plane of nutrition in the run-up to breeding.

Letting them out to grass will achieve this but if land is too wet then that’s not an option. Nor is feeding 8kg or 9kg of meal per cow.

Closing up too much area for long-term silage may lead to a short-term grass deficit in late April

Consider putting a share of thin cows or under pressure cows on once-a-day milking to reduce their energy demand and help them to gain BCS, even if it means lowering milk output.


Farmers should be thinking about what they are going to do when the weather does change and cows go out full-time.

On farms that have little or no grazing done, there will be lots of grass on the farm and they may need to cut some of these higher covers for silage as soon as possible. This will clean off the old sward and get it back growing nice, leafy grass for May and June.

Closing up too much area for long-term silage may lead to a short-term grass deficit in late April, so be careful how much area is fertilised when land is ready for travelling again.

The milking platform shouldn’t be stocked with any more than 4.5 cows/ha for April and May.

Ardglass Group, Co Down

At the Ardglass discussion group meeting on the Ards Peninsula last week, all the talk was about silage stocks, managing slurry and feeding the cow appropriately while she is not able to graze.

Land on the host farm near Ballywalter was saturated with pools of water gathering under farmers’ feet as they walked the paddocks.

The group average for area grazed was about 40%, but the average ranged from 0% grazed for four members up to over 70% grazed for four members.

Water lying underfoot at the Ardglass discussion group meeting near Ballywalter in Co Down last week

Those on heavier soils are obviously faring the worst, having lost three weeks’ grazing in the autumn and another four weeks in the spring.


While the group is focused on grazing, it has contingencies for feed and most are OK for silage.

Average meal feeding rates were 6kg, with cows producing 23.4l per day at 4.74% fat and 3.45% protein.

With maiden heifers still housed, there was discussion on whether to leave them in the shed until after breeding, which is a few weeks’ away on some farms.

The general consensus was to weigh heifers and pick out any that are underweight, and not use any CIDRs on these heifers unless they are definitely cycling.

Kevin Aherne, Shinagh Farms, Bandon Co Cork

Kevin says this spring has been a disaster in terms of grazing. Cows have never got out full-time for any length of time but he’s doing what we can to get grass in the diet. To date, there is about 75% of the farm grazed. Nearly all of this has been done through getting cows out for three to four hours at a time using back fences and spur roadways.

Kevin is hoping to extend out the beginning of the second rotation to 10 April. He would usually begin in the first days of April but the conditions just aren’t suitable this year. There is about 1,000kg DM/ha coming back on the first paddocks that were grazed in early February so he thinks it should be OK by 10 April.

The average farm cover was 702kg DM/ha at the last grass walk about eight days ago.

The biggest concern for Kevin now is that they have done more damage to ground than other years in nearly every paddock. If weather conditions don’t turn around very quickly, he’s going to be in trouble in the second rotation by damaging paddocks again.

Red clover

Cows are getting 5kg to 6kg of grass most days, 5kg of a 14% nut in the parlour and the balance is made up of second-cut red clover silage. Cows are producing 21.5 litres at 4.99% fat and 3.32% protein. There is about three weeks’ silage left but he has red clover on an outfarm that can be zero-grazed, if needed.

They went out with slurry in the dry spell in early February and again in late February.

Kevin targeted low covers, dry ground and grazed ground at the time. Last week, he lowered every tank by 1ft just to stay out of trouble and when he got a couple of dry days, the whole farm was blanket spread with about 35 units of nitrogen per acre.