Managing Winter Forage Challenges

Author: Jack Scallan 

It has been well documented over the last few months that grass quantity and quality were well below target levels, which meant that stock had to be supplemented with silage etc., during the later summer months. It is therefore no surprise that silage quantity and quality are very variable this year.

Any surplus silage that was left over from last year was used up during the drought period, meaning that supply may be tight in late February or early March. A forage budget should therefore be carried out as soon as possible, which measures the length, breath and average height of the silage and maize pits and divides the result by a predetermined co-efficient to give you the number of dry matter tonnes available. With baled silage, the number of bales divided by a predetermined co-efficient will give you a similar result.

As with silage quantity, silage quality is also very variable this year. Dry matter is ranging from low 20’s to as high as 40% in one or two cases. Similarly, dry matter digestibility (DMD) is ranging from low to mid 60’s to high 70’s, while protein is ranging from 8% up to 14%. Those samples with high values tend to be the exception and overall results are lower in quality. It is therefore essential that your silage is tested, as even though there may be sufficient supply, it may not provide the required nutrients to the animal.

Our Cooney Furlong Sales Representatives are available to assist you in carrying out a forage budget, so please get in contact today.



Consider Other Winter Forages

If silage is in short supply, other forages such as maize silage, fodder beet and even straw should be considered. All these forages will combine well with silage, provided the overall diet is balanced and meets the nutrient requirements of the animal being fed. For example, 600 kg finishing steers with 1.4 kg daily liveweight gain (DLWG), would need 844 g/head/day of available protein and approximately 10 UFV/day. Whereas a milking cow producing 20lt/day at 3.3% milk protein and 3.8% milk fat, would require 1,380g/head/day of available protein and 16 UFL/day from the diet.

If ground conditions and grass quantity allows, zero grazing in early spring may also be an option to consider as it elevates shortages at that time. It is vitally important that there is enough forage available in late March and April to act as a buffer feed to the highly nutritious, low fibre early spring grass. Maize silage is a very good buffer feed for this time of year.


Contact Our Team Today 

Getting your forage budget and winter diets right this winter will be challenging, but it can be done. Contact your local Cooney Furlong Sales Representative who will assist you in meeting these challenges.

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Grazing 2022: Maintaining milk production alongside grass issues

Author: Jack Scallan 


The last twelve months have seen many unprecedented changes in agriculture, both globally and domestically. The dairy industry did not escape these changes. There has been a major reduction in milk production globally due to mainly grain/feed and fertiliser prices which have increased exponentially over the last 18 months, while global demand has been maintained. This has led to the milk price increasing from about 30c/l base price to an unprecedented base price of about 52c/l over the same period.


Grass Quality and Quantity 

In Ireland, milk production is mainly based on grass, which is a very variable product both in quantity and quality. This has been seen throughout the spring and early summer where growth rates were very good in January and February but were poor in late March and April to improve again in mid-May. This may well be the pattern for the rest of the year depending on rainfall.

Also, during this time, grass quality was very variable and this changed from week to week. Grass protein over the grazing period has been poor in general. Normally it should be around 22 to 28%, however it hardly reached 18-19% throughout the spring. Protein in the diet will drive milk yield but grass is the main source of protein in the diet of a spring calving herd. If dietary protein is low, then milk yield will be reduced and peak milk is not reached. An indication of low dietary protein is milk urea, which fluctuated quite a lot this spring/summer.




Energy and Fibre

Energy and fibre have been variable throughout the grazing period also. Fibre (NDF), though low at times, has been steadily increasing to normal levels lately, which means that rumen function will become more normalised. Both fibre and energy are a major influence on milk fat yield and the general good health of the animal, while energy is a major contributor to milk protein yield. Energy has also varied quite a bit over the grazing period but not as much as protein. Like protein, grass is the main contributor to dietary energy. Indications of low dietary energy are low milk protein and fat yields and poor fertility (though other factors can also influence fertility). Grass dry matter was in general low this spring/summer (approximately 15-16%) and this had a substantial effect on intake which limited the amount of protein and energy that the cow could get from grass.



With grass being so variable in quality and quantity, it will not meet the modern high yielding cow’s dietary requirements. Therefore, it may be necessary to introduce baled silage, maize or even pit silage to enhance dry matter intake. It is essential to supplement the cows with a good quality concentrate/ration (a minimum of 0.96 ufl and 100 grm/kg PDI made from good quality ingredients). A cow giving 26 lt/day would normally need about 3 kg of dairy nuts per day at grass. As grass is so variable, it is probably advisable to feed her 4-5kg /day to ensure she gets her daily dietary requirements. This will incur an extra cost, which will be offset by more consistent milk yield and quality, a stronger immune system (less infections, e.g., mastitis), and less fertility issues.

Contact your Cooney Furlong Farm Representative or call to any of our branches if you have queries about any issues raised in this article.


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Guide to rearing replacement heifers

Author: Jack Scallan – Ruminant Feed Specialist 


At this time of year, most spring-born calves are out at grass, albeit 2-3 weeks later than normal. Now is a good time to consider what targets should be met over the next 12 to 24 months to achieve the desired weight and size at first calving (approximately 24 months old).

Setting goals is particularly important for replacement heifers as it can cost between €1400 -1600 to raise a replacement heifer from birth to first calving. Any delay in reaching the desired goals will incur extra costs that will have to be paid back at a later stage.


Calf Growth Rates: 

Calves should be able to achieve a growth rate of 750 grams/day on fresh well-managed grass, to reach a target weight of 260 kg on November 1st. Many factors such as a poorly managed or old pasture, bad weather, etc., may result in a requirement for supplementation with concentrates (up to 1.5 kg/head/day of a high energy, high fibre, 16% crude protein nut/ration), to attain this target. Routine vaccination and dosing programmes should be introduced in the first summer at grass as this will boost the immune system and help prevent major disease breakdowns in later life, such as IBR, BVD, etc.  Calves should be weighed at least three times in the first summer; at turnout, mid-summer (when being treated for worms, etc.), and at housing, to ensure that they are gaining the required weight.


Silage Quality: 

Silage quality will determine how much if any, concentrates are given in the first winter, to maintain an average daily gain of 0.5 kg, however, 0.75 kg/day should be the target. This will ensure that the heifers are at 60% of their mature body weight at breeding (320 – 350 kg).  If silage quality is poor, approximately 62% DMD, then up to 2 kg of 16% crude protein concentrate should be fed per day. The housing itself should be airy but not draughty with plenty of space to move around. Clean fresh water should always be available.

Silage being held and check for quality


At breeding time, the heifers should be weighing about 350 kg, as the better-developed heifers at mating will produce more milk in the first lactation. Early turnout to grass in the spring will encourage the heifers to cycle regularly and therefore can be synchronised to be mated in a designated time frame, so that they calve down in a similar time frame, preferably at the beginning of the calving season, so that bullying in the herd is reduced to a low level. Conception rates for heifers should be around 70+%.

Again, routine vaccination and dosing programmes should be carried out during the second summer at grass. A daily liveweight gain of 0.67 kg/day should be easily achievable at grass but this will depend on the prevailing conditions such as grass quantity and quality, etc.



During the second housing period, the heifers will be approaching calving. The aim is that they achieve 90% of their mature bodyweight at calving, approximately 540 kg. The silage/forage should be of good quality, but it is important to not let them get too fat (BCS> 3.25).  It is recommended that the replacement heifer is fed 1-2 kg of concentrates in the last two weeks of pregnancy to help her through the calving event. In fact, the nutrient requirement in the last month of pregnancy is higher for the replacement heifer than it is for the mature cow (8.52ufl, 733g PDI/day for the heifer compared to 8.1ufl, 626g PDI/day for the mature cow).

Calf resting in bed of straw

Post Calving: 

Post calving, the heifer must be managed carefully to help her recover from calving. This involves reducing stress by a gradual introduction to the herd, once a day milking for about 10 days, a gradual increase of concentrate intake as well as looking out for any metabolic disorders and infections that might occur.


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Dairy cows grazing a field of grass

Preventing Sub-Acute Ruminal Acidosis (SARA) in dairy cows

Sub-Acute Ruminal Acidosis (SARA) is a commonly seen metabolic disease in freshly calved dairy cows at grass in springtime.