Time to prepare a winter feed budget

// Feed Planning and Strategies

Late autumn is an ideal time to do a feed budget to help meet livestock performance targets and set up pastures for spring.

image of cows eating

On a recent Beef + Lamb New Zealand Feed Planning webinar, Farm Systems scientist Tom Fraser outlined the value of carrying out a feed budget to drive profitability and reduce farmer stress levels.

He says a feed budget will identify deficits and surpluses and highlight any red flags so actions can be taken early.

“Doing something is better than waiting for disaster to happen and every time you do a feed budget you will get better at it.”

Farmers in different parts of the country are going into winter with different challenges. Many regions have had a wet summer so feed quality could be an issue, other areas such as Southland and the West Coast are very dry and facing feed deficits. Everyone is affected by omicron-related supply-chain disruptions.

All these challenges build a strong case for putting together a feed budget going into winter. 

Tom says a feed budget will allow decisions to be made early, feed to be allocated to priority stock and ensure animals are fed to meet their requirements, not management requirements.  

A feed budget is simply allocating potential feed supply to meet animal demand. This plan could cover a whole farm for one year, part of a farm for a short period or even just one paddock for one stock class for a day.

“It’s not an exact science but it will help you make decisions.”

The information required to put together a feed budget includes stock classes and numbers, stock weights and production status (maintenance or growth), feed available which includes pasture covers (sward sticks will help measure covers and help calibrate the eye) and supplementary feed (grain, hay nitrogen).

Winter feed budget

With all the necessary information on hand, Tom recommends working through each class of stock to calculate their requirements and total feed demand. It is important to include feed utilization which will vary depending on the quality of the feed and climate.  Tom says it is important to note that baleage is not 100 per cent drymatter, a good estimate is 50 per cent drymatter.

A spreadsheet, available through B+LNZ extension managers, will allow users to run different scenarios and test different management strategies.

Tom says winter is the easiest time to do a feed budget as growth rates don’t vary much through the colder months.


Farmers who are going into winter with long pasture covers and tag need to address the issue of quality before spring. Tom recommends using whatever class of stock is available to clean up areas where quality is important going to spring, rather than tackling the whole farm. This, for example, could be where twin-bearing ewes are set-stocked for lambing.


With potential processing delays, lambs should be maintained and if they’re not up to weight, considering buying in supplement to increase growth rates and achieve target weights.

To work out the cost effectiveness of a supplement, Tom suggests using the cost of grain as the benchmark, as this is a high-quality feed with high utilization.

 “It is never efficient to take weight off an animal. It takes three times the amount of energy to put on a kilogram of liveweight on an animal than what you’re saving by taking weight off.”

Find out more

  • Go to the Knowledge Hub for more information about feed budgeting and how to access the feed budgeting tool (PDF, 727 KB).
  • Contact a B+LNZ Extension manager for a Feed Budgeting spreadsheet.
  • The Feedsmart app is a useful tool for calculating feed allocations in the paddock.