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Short of grass right now, what are your options?

Short of grass right now, what are your options?

By LIAM STACK, M.Agr.Sc, Ruminant Technical Manager


Thankfully our cows are not fussy eaters and can find the goodness in most everything we feed them. Your cows diet can be made up of; grass, grass silage, cereal silages (wholecrop wheat, barley, triticale), maize silage, concentrates, straw, hay, wet feeds (brewer grains, traffordgold), fodder beet, rape, kale, carrots, potatoes, turnips; to mention a few.


When buying feeds to fill a grass shortage we need to be mindful of value, an attribute your cows don’t care about, and how we keep the overall cows diet balanced. Feeding alternative feedstuffs on grass can be more challenging than on silage, as the grass does not add as much structural fibre as silage would have.


Our priorities now are to manage grass while meeting the cow’s energy demands.



Grass grows grass. We need to do everything possible to ensure our rotation length stays around 30 days and that we maintain overall farm cover.

To maintain farm cover the grass growth and grass demand must be equal.


Grass Growth range at present is at 20-45kg/ha daily.


To decrease grass demand while maintaining energy nutrition we can

Graze 2nd cut silage ground

  • Areas closed for silage and accessible for grazing with <2200kg DM covers may be grazed as a ‘standing supplement’. Pre-mowing does not confer any advantage in this situation
  • Recent work on zero grazing in NI showed a significant drop in milk yield where heavy swards (2500 kg DM) were cut and fed, relative to cutting or directly grazing lower mass swards (<1600kg DM). The decision to zero graze should be based on pre-grazing yield
  • Overall, if silage swards have surpassed ideal pre-grazing herbage masses and are nearing cutting stage then it is preferable to leave for silage cutting at this stage

Autumn calving herds can dry off stale cows 2-3 weeks early and feed off the grazing block

  • Consider offloading problem cows (e.g. high SCC) that are already in line for culling
  • Once daily milking (OAD) is known to help cows retain body condition at a cost of reduced milk solids output (15-20%). However this assumes that cows’ intake is maintained relative to 2x daily milking. Where OAD milking is imposed in tandem with reduced feed intake, milk output may be reduced by >30%. OAD is an option to manage cows in severe situations but at this point the preferred option would be to supplement the required feed instead.
  • Do not neglect young stock. Total dry matter intake requirements are small relative to the milking herd but nonetheless adequate feed dry matter (2.0 to 2.2% of liveweight) must be offered daily
  • Feed additional concentrates or alternative feedstuffs


Grass demand depends on your stocking rate and how much grass you can replace in the cows diet with alternative feeds:


All grass diet
Stocking rate (Lu/Ha): Grass demand (kgDM/day)
1.5 27
2 36
2.5 45
3 54
3.5 63
4 72


Grass + 6 kg of parlour concentrates
Stocking rate (Lu/Ha): Grass demand (kgDM/day)
1.5 20
2 26
2.5 33
3 39
3.5 46
4 52


Grass + 6 kg of parlour concentrates + 4kg DM grass (1 round bale to 50 cows)
Stocking rate (Lu/Ha): Grass demand (kgDM/day)
2 18
2.5 23
3 27
3.5 32
4 36


Grass + 6 kg of parlour concentrates + 3kg soyahulls + 4kg DM grass (1 round bale to 50 cows)
Stocking rate (Lu/Ha): Grass demand (kgDM/day)
2 15
2.5 19
3 23
3.5 26
4 30



Energy nutrition sustains milk yield after peak. Milk yield should decline at c. 2-2.5% per week.


From a current yield of 26ltrs, a decline of 3% milk yield weekly to drying off versus the 2% target will result in 52800ltrs less milk supplied by a 100 cow herd.


With any dietary change keep an eye on how your cow’s milk constituents react, to access if everything is going ok:

  • Low levels of fat + high levels of protein + inconsistent, bubbly dung = SARA or lack of fibre
  • Low levels of fat and protein is generally lack of energy but can be a very extreme SARA situation
  • Low levels of protein and high levels of fat is lack of energy in the diet
  • Excess levels of milk urea, greater than c.39 can be excess protein with low levels of digestible energy. This can be associated with fertility issues
  • Low levels of milk urea, lower than 25 can be due to low levels of dietary protein in relation to the energy of the diet. This may not have any negative effects


If butterfats start to crash feed a forage source. Straw preferably but hay, silage will also benefit the cow.


Which concentrate should I feed?

Grass at present is low in protein. Milking cows should bet getting a 16% protein concentrate as standard. Cows with grass silage or soya hulls in the diet should be getting an 18% protein.


Milk yield 22 Lt
UFL requirement 16.5
Grass intake (kgDM) 17 12 8 8
Silage Intake (kgDM) 4
Parlour Feed 1 5 6 6
Hulls/PKE 3
Overall UFL supplied 17.9 16.6 16.3 16.5
*1kg concentrates is required for mineral and vitamin feeding.
Milk yield 26 Lt
UFL requirement 18.5
Grass intake (kgDM) 17 12 8 8
Silage Intake (kgDM) 4
Parlour Feed 2 7 6 6
Hulls/PKE 5 2
Overall UFL supplied 18.8 18.4 18.1 18.4
Milk yield 30 Lt
UFL requirement 20.4
Grass intake (kgDM) 17 12 8
Silage Intake (kgDM) 4
Parlour Feed 4 6 6
Hulls/PKE 3 4
Overall UFL supplied 20.7 20.3 20.2


Feeding drystock now?

Meal Supplementation should be first choice to replace a grass deficit

  • Cattle with potential to finish within 4-8 weeks – feed 5 kg+
  • Store Cattle 2-3 kg (+ silage) on grass
  • Weanlings / Yearlings 2 kg (+ silage) on grass

Suckler cows:

To reduce grass requirement feed concentrate 1st to fill the gap up to 6kg.


  • To reduce grass demand by 33% feed 5kg of concentrates
  • To reduce grass demand by 50% feed 5kg concentrates + 3kgDM silage (1 round bale to 75 cows daily or 1 round bale every 2nd day to 35 cows)
  • To reduce grass demand by 75% feed 5kg concentrates + 6kgDM silage (1 round bale to 35 cows daily)


What are the alternatives and what are their current value?

Feed raw materials are expensive at the present and this means that the relative values of alternatives increases.


UFL CP DM Relative VALUE VALUE After Losses
(per kg DM) (per kg DM) (%) (per t as fed) (per t as fed)
Brewer’s grains 0.92 28 28.0 71 62
Eornagold 1.1 28 38 108 95
Trafford Gold 1.1 20 50 136 120
Apple Pulp 0.8 10 15.0 28 25
Fodder beet 1.12 8 19.0 44 39
Sugar beef 1.15 6 23 52 46
Potatoes 1.2 10 20 52 46

*No account is taken of labour input or storage requirements; Value after losses assumes 12% losses on wet feeds


Convenience is also a factor. Can you handle a second forage, have you the feeding infrastructure to handle a wet feed?


Have you considered a straw and concentrate mix?

Feeding 1 kg of a straw and beef nut 50:50 mix is the same as feeding 4kg of silage.


DM Energy CP
% UFL %
Straw 0.8 0.44 4
16% Beef cube 0.86 1.1 18
50:50 mix, Straw + Beef Cube 0.83 0.77 11
Grass Silage 70 DMD 0.25 0.78 11

A 16% protein concentrate on a fresh basis is 18.5% protein on a Dry Matter (DM) basis.


Minimum forage requirement:

When using alternative feeds to balance an animal’s diets its essential to maintain rumen function. Where roughage is very tight and meals are good value, the minimum roughage that can be fed in terms dry matter is 1% of body weight. For example, a 600kg cow must get 6kgs DM roughage per day (600 x 1/100).


Minimise the effects of heat stress on animals


  • Provision of clean drinking water is critical for all animals during hot weather
  • As temperatures rise, cows will drink up to 30% more water (in excess of 100 litres/day)
  • As they will need water more often, it is important that cows are not forced to walk long distances for water
  • If possible, make water available to cows before and/or after milking so that cows have their needs met

Shade from direct sunlight

  • Provide shade areas to allow cows to keep cool away from direct sunlight
  • Where possible, use paddocks with trees for shade or allow access to housed areas during the day
  • Reduce the time cows spend in holding yards to a minimum
  • Watch for sunburn, especially in white coloured cows, and keep these cows indoors day and night if required


Click Here to see example diets for feeding cows in drought conditions.


Consult your Dairygold Area Sales Manager, Inside Sales or Branch Agri Lead for more information and to discuss the feeding options available to you.