Managing your dairy herd over winter is often a tricky balance, but the rising costs caused by supply issues and inflation have placed added stress on dairy farmers this winter.

Kathryn Thompson :: Wednesday 26th October 2022 :: Latest Blog Posts

Planning for Winter Feeding: How to get the most out of your resources

Managing your dairy herd over winter is often a tricky balance, but the rising costs caused by supply issues and inflation have placed added stress on dairy farmers this winter. Kathryn Thompson gives us her top advice for getting the most out of your resources this winter.

Kathryn Thompson is a qualified Animal Nutritionist and member of the AIC Feed Adviser Register. She is the technical manager for B&W Feeds which she runs alongside her father Jim. As part of her role, Kathryn works with livestock farms to design and develop the ideal ration for each farm and supports farmers wishing to utilise their on-farm feed resources such as barley and wheat.

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Step 1: Consider your forage

Forage is the cornerstone of all feed rations and as such should be the first step to consider when planning your winter feeding. You will need to consider the quantity and quality of your forage and this may impact your other feed choices or indeed your livestock management plans.



The first step to planning rations is to assess your forage stocks, to make sure they are included at a rate that means they will last the full winter period. This may seem obvious but too often an unusual harvest can lead to miscalculations which are based on the previous or average years.

The summer of 2022 was extremely hot and dry for much of the country and as such yields of forage have been affected for most farms. This also means that should you miscalculate your forage stock and need to buy additional forage you will likely have to pay a premium due to the lower quantity of harvests from the summer.

Bales are simple enough to calculate, simply weigh one or two bales to get an average weight and then count the number of bales in stock. But forages such as clamp silage can be a little more difficult to estimate and track usage, but if know dry matter and clamp height you can use the table below to work out an estimated volume.

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Dairy Co Feeding+

If you think you may be low in stocks now is the time to look for additional supplies. The prices are only likely to increase with the rate of inflation and the pressures from a reduced harvest in many areas.

Depending on the requirements of your dairy farm and the amount of forage required you may want to consider alternative forage replacers such as Brewers Grains, Sugar Beet Pulp, Soya Hulls, and nutritionally improved straw.

If you bed on straw and have a good supply of this you may also want to consider retaining the straw for forage use and swapping to an alternative bedding option such as sand beds.



Once you know how much forage you have the next step is to know the quality of it. Knowing the quality of your forage allows you to better adjust and manage the inclusion rate in the ration. This in turn allows you to work out exactly how much forage you will need to last the winter and in what forms.

Working out the correct inclusion rate required will not only ensure the cows nutritional requirements for optimum production are met it will also avoid any unnecessary wastage. Forage analysis tests should be repeated on two or more occasions during the winter to monitor any changes in forage quality or dry matter. At B&W we offer forage analysis services alongside our ration advice and feed supply services.


Step 2: What are we feeding for?

All dairy farms will require a slightly different ration depending on factors such as their forage, management process, breed of choice and many other environmental conditions. One element of this which is often overlooked is to establish the goal of a feeding plan.


We need to the know the target production performance we are aiming for. It is very easy to say you want better or higher performance but what does this mean in real terms. It is about the quality of the milk, the health of the herd or the quantity of milk or something else. You also need to have a clear understanding of how your herd is currently performing to understand where best to focus on creating improved performance.

The milk yield potential of batches of cows grouped according to milk yield or stage of lactation can be readily predicted based on milk recording data in past lactations or herd average based on 305-day milk yields. We are always happy to review your data alongside you so we can advise you on the best route forward for winter feed planning.

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Step 3: The concentrate, which one and how much?

Concentrates have many names around the country from cake to nut and from pellet to blend. The names are almost as endless and the options you have. But whatever you call it you need to decide what type of concentrate is most suitable for your dairy farm and its feeding goals.

The basic requirements are the same regardless of feed type it needs to be made of high-quality raw materials to deliver a feed that will correctly balance the forage available. The supply of starch, fibre, sugar, and rumen degradable and un-degradable protein all need to be balanced. The quality of the forage will have an impact on the composition of the concentrate as well as the quantity required.  

For example, if forage dry matter intake is 40% of the total dry matter intake or less, there is an increased risk of rumen disorders leading to acidosis and displaced abomasums. In such situations, concentrate cereal content (i.e. barley, wheat or maize) should be reduced to around 20% and digestible fibre contents (i.e. sugar beet, soya hulls) should be increased to around 35%.

The two tables below from College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise give a clear illustration how the quality of silage can be categorised and how this categorisation impacts the concentrate requirements:

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One of key issues with some compound feeds can be a lack of clarity on what is included in the pellet or nut and how this could be impacting your overall feed ration this is where our mill and mix service comes into its own.

Mobile feed milling is a process where lorries with feed mixers are used to collect and process feed directly on farm. Our mobile feed milling service covers the whole of the south coast of England and beyond. Our lorries are able to both mix and mill feed as required. This means you are able to monitor exactly what goes into your feed while also using on farm resources such as cereals.

We have many clients who require feed to be milled and mixed onsite, but most of our dairy farming clients will mix the feed themselves into a TMR with their own mixer wagon. In this case we often provide mobile milling services to allow dairy farms to make use of feedstuffs grown on site. This improves traceability, reduces costs and reduces the carbon impact of feeding.

"We use B&W Feeds on a regular basis to mill rations on farm for dairy cows and youngstock.  It means we can use feed grown on the farm mixed to our own specifications.  It reduces road miles and we know exactly what the livestock diet is made up of.  They provide a very valuable and efficient service."

Sophie Alexander

Hemsworth Farm

Theory vs practice

We can create the most perfect ration on paper, however what actually ends up in the cow's mouths can be very different. It can vary depending on:

  • Raw material specification. We have discussed getting forage analysed but cereals and other concentrate feeds can vary year to year too.
  • Mixing accuracy; if using TMR wagon make sure weigh scales are calibrated against a known weight at least twice a year. Make sure an up-to-date copy of mixing sheet is left in cab so no matter who the operator is that day the same mix is always made
  • Feed space; Make sure there is plenty of trough space for number of cows. A minimum of 0.6m per cow is the recommendation. This approximately half a cubicle width. However, most Holstein-Friesian cows will need at least 0.7 m of feed space. Try to give more feeding space to cows in early lactation – many top-performing herds are offering feed space closer to 1 m.
  • Feed presentation' Make sure troughs/bunkers are kept clean and dry, nobody wants to eat out of a dirty bowl.

Step 4: Assess the ration. Is it working?

There are a number of ways of monitoring including:

  • Milk Yields – are cows reaching predicted targets
  • Body Condition scoring
  • Monitor intakes – are predicted feed intakes being met. Weigh feed in and out to see if cows are eating enough and/or if they are sorting feed
  • Blood testing and metabolic profiling – done pre and post calving can tell you about the energy, protein and mineral status of an individual as well as overall picture of herd health.
  • Record any calving issues


Discussions with both vets and nutritionists can help decide on any necessary changes to the rations. Is important everyone is involved and aware.

At B&W We offer free ration advice for all our mill and mix customers. Many of our customers have found the advice and level of customer care hugely beneficial over the years.

"Over the past 10 years B&W have provided a flexible, efficient and bespoke service, allowing us to use our home-grown grain and bought in protein sources to reduce our feed cost and carbon footprint, whilst providing consistent and cost-effective blends to optimise milk production."

Paul Redmore,

Neston Park Home Farm, Wiltshire