LIC | The importance of planning for winter

The importance of planning for winter

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. How many times have we heard this? But how so true! Winter feeding is no different. 

Plan, act and monitor this winter, and set yourself up for success. 


Some of the most important factors to consider if you are feeding your cows are:

  • Identify the number of cows to be wintered.
  • How long will you need to feed your cows for?
  • How much are you intending to feed to your cows per cow per day?
  • What will be the composition of their diet?

If you graze your animals off farm, has this been organised?
Has the dry matter amount in their diet and has the composition of their diet being discussed?
Has the price been agreed?

If you are wintering your own cows a good place to start is to do the winter feed budget (indicative).

This will identify:

  • the number of cows
  • the amounts of supplements that have been made such as silage or balage
  • the area and yield of forage crops available
  • the amounts of supplements those are able to be purchased.

When this is done this should give a good indication whether there is a shortfall in feed or a surplus of feed for winter.


By the time of reading this article most forage crops should be in the ground and well established. 

When planting a winter crop of brassicas or beets one would need to consider when the crop is going to be grazed and the length of time taken by the crop to get to maturity. This will give you the ideal planting time for the crop.

In some parts of the country the weather conditions are unsettled at the time of planting. One needs to take advantage when the weather conditions allow. This means that paddocks are organised to be sprayed out in advance. Seed and fertiliser are on hand to plant. If there is a window of opportunity to plant a paddock and you have no seed you may not be able to plant for a further month or personally I have known it to be longer.



These forage crops require monitoring throughout their growth. A significant amount of money will have been spent establishing these crops. If these crops are not monitored there will be a risk that they will not yield as well as they should increasing cost per kilo dry matter as well as the risk of not having sufficient feed for winter.

Establishing and measuring yield of supplementary feed and crops is very important. This can be as simple as counting the number of bales made or measuring the dimensions of a silage clamp in order to establish the amount of silage. 

Measurement of brassicas and beets can be problematic. The percentage of dry matter may vary quite considerably between species and paddocks. Being able to sample correctly to give a good average yield for a single paddock can be difficult.

The estimation of yield for these forage crops should take place later in the season so that more accurate figures can be used in the winter feed budget.

Monitoring of cow condition is very important. If cows do not make their target body condition score for 1 June, there will be a number of serious implications. This could affect the amount of feed required for winter.

The average pasture cover on farm needs to be monitored closely towards the end of the season so that the correct cover is present on 1 June in order to have the required average pasture cover at the start of calving.

When winter feeding is underway it is critical to plan the transition diets and make sure that these are followed. If these transition diets are not monitored carefully the outcomes may lead to fatalities. When animals have transitioned it is important that body condition is managed to ensure that the cows calve in the correct condition. It is also important that there is minimal wastage of crop for both financial and quantitative reasons.

If cows are losing condition they probably need to be fed more. If cows are wasting feed they probably need to have a reduced diet.

It is also important to compare between the budget (winter feed) and actuals so that if a plan has changed it is possible to manage and to ensure the outcome is a successful one.

Simon Pontin
FarmWise Consultant


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