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Feed Budgeting to Improve Resilience

By Poppy Frater, Senior Specialist Beef and Sheep Team, SAC Consulting

As weather conditions become more extreme, consider techniques that make for agile farm businesses.  Feed budgeting is simply calculating an animal’s requirements and feed supply to determine the shortfall or surplus.  With this approach, you can stress test your current feed situation, make decisions based on your predicted feed situation and build the business to be more suitable for your resources.

The simplest application of feed budgeting is an inventory of the hard feed supplies on the farm.  For instance, you may know you have 20 tonnes of barley in store as part of the winter ration to feed your 40 head cow herd.  The ration requires 2.5kg/head/day of barley; i.e. 100kg/day for 40 cows and 18 tonnes for 180 days.  This is a healthy budget incorporating some margin for wastage or delayed turnout.

The more complex form of feed budgeting is with forage supplies.  Bale weight, silage pit dimensions and the dry matter (DM) percentage are required to determine supply.  At the start of the winter, this exercise helps determine how long your supplies will last.  If this falls short of your average winter, then you can make decisions early to address the shortfall. You can also build contingency plans for extreme weather or delayed turnout.  Conversely, knowledge of requirements and yield can help determine the area required for cutting.  An allowance for wastage must always be built into these calculations.

Finally, we can feed budget at grass to gain better control over feed supplies on the farm.  Measuring grass in kilograms of DM/ha using a sward stick or plate meter and knowing stock demand helps understand whether stocking rate is appropriate, forecast grass supply issues and ensure livestock performance and welfare is maintained through variable grass growing conditions.

You can find more information about feed budgeting on the Farm Advisory Service webpage.

This article was funded by the Scottish Government as part of Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service and was first published in the Farming Scotland Magazine in July 2020.