As our climate becomes more extreme, the pressures facing farmers across all four seasons is intensifying, ultimately generating challenges for feed, and the management of its supply and demand. QMS’s recent on-farm events focused on ‘Planning for Extremes’ with guest speaker Rhidian Jones from RJ Livestock Systems, sharing his top tips for building resilience and weathering the storm as a route to future farm productivity.
At a fundamental level, systems and procedures can be put in place to strengthen your position against unpredictable weather patterns. It is important to look at lambing and calving dates and ensure that they align with average grass growth. Observe feed budgeting closely, asking yourself questions concerning what’s available today and what is still to grow, if there’s any flexibility when it comes to demand from stock, and make use of available software and spreadsheets.
1. Look back at previous years
What are the pinch points in your system? Has there been consistent weather patterns such as snow in April or drought in June? Compare supply and demand of feed on your farm. Can lambing or calving dates be tweaked to coincide with supply curve? Can different crops be grown or silage made to shift supply into months where there is a shortfall in feed supplies.
2. Feed Budget NOW
To obtain an objective picture of feed supplies, there is also the potential to measure forage stocks. For baled silage/haylage, count the number of bales and try to get a weight per bale in each batch by using weigh cells or a local weighbridge. Always analyse silage to establish the dry matter percentage, as well as energy and protein content, so livestock rations can be calculated accurately.
To measure cubic metres of silage in a pit, begin by measuring the length, width, and average height of the pit (in metres) and accounting for the shoulders of the pit and any other slopes. You can work out the main capacity of the clamp and the “wedge” at the end of an unopened pit separately, then add them together. The cubic capacity can be found by multiplying together the length, width, and height.
To calculate the amount of silage in each cubic metre use the table below.
Silage density table kg FW per cubic metre
A feed budget should include conserved forage, crops planted and expected yields and what grass is still remaining and anticipated grazing days per head for the remainder of the season
Now that you have this information, ascertain the requirements of all your stock and compare it to the forage in store. If you have a shortfall, take action sooner rather than later.
It is also critical to review your allocation of available feed, assessing what your stock require at various stages and granting them what they need, not what they can eat. Exploring other aspects of systems and procedures that can be adapted, the significance of rotational grazing is something that cannot be ignored.
3. Crop Solutions
There are also a number of crop solutions for battling variable weather and sustaining a solid supply of feed. Rethink your existing grazings and consider growing forage brassicas, fodder beet or even utilising multi-species swards for the benefits they yield. Tall grass grazing is also an option, in addition to Forage Rye/Westerwolds/IRD for autumn and winter grazing. For farms with dry soils, there is also the option to look at other crops such as lucerne.
4. Livestock Genetics
Exploring longer-term solutions, it is important to reflect upon your livestock genetics. Ask yourself if they can be bred from forage alone, and not be reliant on concentrates. Do they put on body condition easily on a forage-based diet/upland grazing? Ultimately, set realistic, self-contained breeding goals that reflect your farm situation and conditions.
Be flexible with stock management and you will consciously build resilience against changeable weather. Assess performance and cull stock that don’t meet the grade, ponder the cost-benefit of selling store versus finishing, put finishing stock on a more intensive system to reduce time to slaughter, and do not be opposed to the numerous online trading options now available that permit the true market value to be received.
5. Contingency plan
In contrast to the previous point, there are some solutions that act as a ‘get out of jail’ card. Your Plan B, C and D’s that should not be banked upon for sustained resilience, but can navigate you out of the storm. Begin by creating a feed budget and start planning ahead, buy feed early using relative feed values, or as a last resort, sell stock. Consider developing some contingency plans also, pertaining to sacrifice areas, straw, hay and bulky forages, or roots such as swedes or fodder beet spread on fields in spring. Bought in feed is always a possibility although it may have financial implications.
Summary point: Every farm is different and has its individual challenges which vary year to year. Planning and flexibility are key to managing unpredictable weather patterns.
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