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Winter Feed Budgets: Better to Prepare

24 September 2013


Northern Hemisphere farmers are approaching winter months and advisers are telling UK producers to calculate a winter budget to avoid shortages.

As the winter housing period approaches and conserved forages are mostly now in store, it’s worth calculating a feed budget, to ensure there will be an adequate supply after a challenging forage season.

A feed budget now, which considers the feed requirements for each class of stock, will help avoid having to buy in feed at the last minute and ensure performance targets are achieved.

Feed budgets can be broken down into the following steps:

How much feed is required?

  1. How many cattle or sheep are there of different types (e.g. growing, finishing and breeding)?
  2. What are the estimated intakes of the different feed components of the ration?
  3. Multiply the amounts of feed required on a daily basis by the number of stock to be fed the same ration and the number of days over which it will be fed.
  4. Repeat this for all classes of stock and add the totals of the same feed together.
  5. When formulating the rations, seeking the advice of an independent nutritionist is recommended and can prove good value for money. Analysing conserved forages will ensure the correct level and type
  6. of supplementation is fed to achieve optimum growth rates.

Example: 100 growing cattle (400kg lwt) may need 25kg fresh weight of silage and 2kg of concentrates per head per day for 180 days.

Their silage requirement will be 100 x 25kg/1,000 = 2.5 tonnes per day x 180 days = 450 tonnes.

Their concentrate requirement will be 100 x 2kg/1,000 = 0.2 tonnes per day x 180 days = 36 tonnes.


The requirement, calculated above, must then be compared to the feeds available on farm. For conserved forages, this requires measuring silage clamps and counting bales to estimate a total supply.

The EBLEX Beef and Sheep BRP Manual Making grass silage for better returns includes information on estimating the tonnage of silage in clamps and bales and calculating livestock silage requirements.

Planning ahead will enable feed shortages to be managed by either reducing demand, perhaps by selling cattle early or culling empty cows or ewes, or by purchasing feed to fill the gap. For further information on coping with feed shortages see the above publication.

During the winter it will also help to:

Review the feed budget during the winter to ensure it is still on track, allowing changes in livestock numbers or problems with feed to be identified in time to take any necessary action.

Monitor stock regularly by checking body condition scoring and weighing, to ensure the ration is delivering the expected performance.

Review the calculations at the end of the winter to understand where improvements could be made for next year.

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