There are sufficient feed stocks available in the country to head off serious fodder shortages on dairy farms this winter, Teagasc has insisted.

However, the farm advisory service warned that “prompt action” will be required on farms where fodder supplies are tight as a consequence of the summer drought.

While Dr Joe Patton, head of dairy knowledge transfer in Teagasc, maintained that there was enough fodder available to farmers to prevent a fodder crisis, he accepted that there were regional variations and that feed stocks have diminished in southern and eastern counties.

“On farms with clearly identified shortages, prompt action is now needed. This includes sourcing additional fodder and reducing demand by earlier culling of lower-value stock. The stated preference of the majority is to retain stock and purchase extra feed. However, cost and availability will determine responses on individual farms,” Patton said.

“There are also significant numbers of farms reporting a marginal position for feed.

“We encourage these not to adopt a wait-and-see approach, but rather to take early steps to improve their feed security for the coming winter,” he added.

Straw and straights

Feeding dry cows a mix of straw and straights, such as corn gluten and distillers, this November and December had the potential to cut winter silage requirements by around 10%, Patton pointed out

“A few weeks of action in November and December could prevent problems developing later in the spring,” Patton insisted.

A recent Teagasc fodder survey found that over 40% of dairy farmers across the south and east of the country do not have sufficient feed in stock heading into the winter.

The survey of 570 dairy clients also found that 10% of farmers in the east and southeast had used more than 20% of their silage and other winter feed stocks during the summer drought.

The most recent Teagasc fodder survey confirms significant regional differences in feed supplies.

This is the cumulative outcome of a more severe summer drought combined with a lower-than-average feed reserve

The BMW region – which includes Longford, Connacht and Ulster - is in the strongest position overall having been less affected by summer drought, with 88% of farmers having surplus winter feed.

In contrast, 15% to 20% of farms in the midlands-east and southeast regions are at risk of significant feed shortage this winter.

“This is the cumulative outcome of a more severe summer drought combined with a lower-than-average feed reserve,” Patton explained.

The southwest is also experiencing difficulties.

The survey found that 27% of dairy farms have already used 10% to 20% of their winter feed stocks, while a further 8% have used in excess of 20%.

Despite the fodder challenges, just 21% of milk suppliers in the southeast indicated that they were going to sell stock early. The figure for the midlands-east region was 27%, while 30% of dairy farmers in the southwest said they intended to offload animals earlier than normal.

In terms of silage prices, over 60% of farms reported baled silage costs of over €45 per bale regardless of quality.

Prices have hardened to €50/bale to 55/bale in some areas.