With good housing management and feed planning, winter feeding costs for suckler cows can be reduced by using the body reserves built up at grass, according to CAFRE advisor Pat McCambridge.

He says there should be plenty of good quality silage available on farms this year.

"Good quality, well-fermented silage with a high dry matter has a high predicted intake and this may result in higher intakes than required for some cattle."

According to McCambridge, this will be the case for dry suckler cows and some restriction of silage is essential for cows in body score 3 or better. He says cow condition can safely be brought back to condition score 2.5 at calving.

McCambridge advises that farmers should batch cows according to condition and provide separate feed arrangements for first calved heifers.

"If the intake of some of the herd can be restricted, for example, dry cows in body score 3+, a considerable saving in silage costs can be made, as well as reducing calving difficulties. If the intake of 20 cows is restricted by 20% over a 200-day winter, £1,000 (€1,200) in silage costs can be saved (silage at £30 per tonne).

Silage analysis
McCambridge also says it is important farmers know the feeding value of their winter forage.

He says a silage analysis provides essential analytical and performance information for your livestock.

"The important factors are energy value (MJ/kg dry matter), dry matter content and intake predictions. You can also request feed reports which provide a useful guide on concentrate requirements for sucklers, stores, beef cattle and sheep," he said.