This week sees the first of our winter feed Focus features and given the change in weather over the past week or 10 days, preparation for winter will definitely have stepped up a gear on many farms.

For farmers, this is usually one of the least favourite times of the year with the thought of the daily feeding routine throughout dark winter mornings and evenings getting ever closer.

It is also a time when many costs associated with keeping livestock are incurred and this year is going to be no different.

Ration prices have increased by €40/t to €50/t on this time last year, which is going to be felt no matter what system is being run on farm. A key theme throughout this Focus is the importance of knowing the feed value of the silage in your yard. It is, and has to be, the starting point on every farm prior to deciding on winter rations and supplementation rates.

I take a look at some simple steps that can be taken to maximise the performance from the silage in the yard. Sometimes we rely too heavily on purchased concentrate to provide the performance when there is already a significant amount of potential within the farm gate.

Even the smallest of changes can have a huge effect at animal level. Getting the very basic and most simple things right will often deliver a lot more than can be provided in any feed bag.

As Kieran Mailey outlines here, there are some cases on beef farms where no concentrate feeding may be required over the winter period and could be an option in order to reduce feed costs.

However, knowing the limits of this is important as well.

On the dairy side of the house, Aidan Brennan details feeding replacement heifers over the winter period, as well as target growth rates and potential supplementation rates depending on silage quality and the level of growth required to keep stock on target.