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HomeBeefFarmers should budget for at least a six-month winter – Teagasc
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Farmers should budget for at least a six-month winter – Teagasc

Persistent rainfall from mid-October has fast-tracked the housing of cattle in recent weeks, writes Tommy Cox, education officer, Teagasc Ballinrobe.

At this stage with the majority of cattle housed, we look at some of the areas that farmers should think about in the coming weeks to ensure a successful winter housing period.

Feed quantity

When it comes to winter feed, there are two critical measures; feed quantity and feed quality. The saying you’re better looking at it than looking for it is particularly relevant.

Cast the mind back to the winter of 2012/2013 where widespread fodder shortages affected many farmers in the country.

So now is the time to access the situation on your own farm to prevent a similar event from occurring next spring.

This can be done by completing a simple fodder budget. Completing a fodder budget is a two-part process that involves working out how much feed you have on your farm and working out how much feed you need.

There are a number of fodder budgeting tools available on the Teagasc website to assist in the completion of a fodder budget for your own farm.

At this stage, I would advise that farmer’s error on the side of caution and budget for at least a six-month winter as who knows what the elements will throw at us next spring.

Feed quality

When planning diets for cattle this winter, you are effectively in the dark if you do not know your silage quality.

Taking a silage sample and sending it for analysis to assess its nutritive value is most definitely a worthwhile task for farmers. By doing so, they can tailor their diets for the various groups of stock on the farm.

Tests costs between €30-40/sample for a forage analysis with some feed suppliers offering free analysis to customers purchasing a significant volume of feed.

Parasite control

Parasites can have a significant impact on animal performance and with housing been the most expensive time for animals it is important stock are free from parasite burdens to prevent any impact on performance.

The three main parasites that affect livestock are fluke, worms and external parasites and it important all three are controlled.

Lying/feeding space

Providing the correct environment for stock over the winter months is important to ensure good performance. Fundamental to this is ensuring adequate lying and feeding space.

Tables 1 and 2 look at the ideal lying and feed spaces required for the different groups of stock housed in slatted accommodation over the winter months.

Table 1: Lying space allowances (m²/animal)

Animal type Space allowance
Suckler cows 2.5-3.0
Animals greater than 275kgs 2.0-2.5
Animals less than 275kgs 1.2-1.5


Table 2: Recommended feed space allowances (mm/head)

Feedstuff Suckler cows Finishing cattle Light store cattle Weanlings
Ad-lib roughage 400-500 400-500 250-300 225-300
Restricted roughage 600-700 600-650 500-600 400-500
Concentrates 600-700 600-650 500-600 400-500


It is advisable where possible to group animals in accordance with weight.

This will stop heavier animals bullying lighter animals for space at the feed face.


Pneumonia is one of their biggest health issues encountered in stock during the housing period. Poor ventilation in sheds has been sighted as one of the primary causes.

Housed animals need to be able to breathe in fresh clean air to thrive and remain healthy. If sheds are warm and stuffy, alterations may need to be made to improve air circulation. Leaving doors open or creating a draught at the level of the

animal is not the answer. Draughts are just as bad, if not worse, than poor air movement and stuffy conditions.

Ideally in sheds, air should move in from the sides above the level of the animals removing gases, odours, dust, bacteria, heat and moisture generated by the animals in the house.


It may be last on the list, but it is by no means least important, clean drinking water is every bit as important as good quality silage or any dosing programme.

Cattle have a huge requirement for water while housed, with suckler cows drinking between 40 and 70 litres daily, depending on size.

Finishing cattle on a high concentrate diet will drink similar volumes. Therefore, it is important water-troughs are checked daily to ensure cattle have access to clean water.

If drinking troughs become soiled with forage or animal faeces, they should be cleaned immediately. Cattle will drink less if the water is dirty, meaning they will eat less, therefore, animal performance will suffer.

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