Beef and sheep management notes

Information, guidance and useful advice from CAFRE advisors can be found by reading our monthly beef and sheep management notes below.

Management notes 2016

Latest management notes for 2016 are now available using the links below:

December 2015

Business Development Groups

Application is now open for Beef and Sheep farmers to join Business Development Groups, and will remain open until 14th December 2015 at 4.00pm. For more information on how to apply/join a group see the dairy  notes or contact your CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser at your local office.


Suckler cows - choosing the right bull

Benchmarking results for suckler businesses clearly show the importance of achieving a good calving index (i.e cows having a calf every 365 days) and the impact this can have on the success of your business.

The choice of bull used often impacts on calving index. For example bulls with long gestation lengths leave less time to get cows back in calf again and this will impact on your calving index. Also, cows that have had calving difficulties often end up with longer calving indexes as they are difficult to get back in calf. The choice of bull used can be the cause, but there is often as much variation within a breed as between.

The choice of bull is not just about hind quarters, size or weight; it should be about overall body conformation along the length of the animal and, very importantly, the growth potential of the progeny. It is important to select sires that will give a balanced overall performance. Performance figures, Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) can often help you to make your final decision.

Thoroughly research the performance figures including the EBVs of the bulls on offer and remember that these figures can only be accurately compared within breed type and not across breeds. The EBVs for calving ease are based on calving difficulty scores, birth weights and gestation length information for the bull. A more positive EBV for calving ease indicates easier calving and  is therefore more favourable.

Beef cattle - selection of cattle for slaughter

Regularly check beef cattle approaching finishing for fat cover. Pay particular attention to stock from crosses involving the more traditional breeds such as Hereford or Angus. They can become over-fat quickly, especially at higher levels of concentrate feeding.

Check fat cover at three sites – the ribs, loin and tail head.  Aim to slaughter at fat class 3. Always restrain animals when handling and preferably assess fat cover on the left side.

  • Ribs – if light pressure is required with a flat hand to feel the rib bones this indicates fat class 3.

  • Loin – over the loin area firm muscle can be confused with fat. Grip the edge of the loin between the thumb and finger and check for a thin layer of fat over the bones. The bones are easily felt in under-finished animals.
  • Tail head – this is the area most producers rely on to determine the correct level of finish. Press the tail head with the finger tips. A light covering of fat means the animal is ready for slaughter. If fat cover is easily visible over the tail head the animal is probably over-finished.

Always sell beef cattle when they reach the correct level of finish. As cattle get older they are less efficient feed converters, therefore keeping beef animals too long is likely to have a negative effect on profit margins.


Ewe management - scanning ewes

Scan ewes 12-14 weeks after introducing the ram to the flock. Scanning helps to identify barren ewes as well as ewes carrying singles, twins or triplets.  Based on these scanning results separate the flock into appropriate groups determined by litter size and body condition and feed accordingly. This will allow you to better target meal input and help ensure a strong viable crop of lambs.

Sheep in a field

Fluke treatment

If not already carried out consider dosing ewes for fluke using a suitable product. Talk to your vet about an appropriate fluke drenching programme. Fluke treatment is important this year as the poor summer weather has increased fluke numbers on many farms. You may have to fluke drench again before lambing.

November 2015


Save money on feeding costs - make best use of quality silage

With good housing, management and planning winter feeding costs for suckler cows can be reduced by using the body reserves built up at grass. There should be adequate silage on farms this year. Good quality, well fermented silage with a high dry matter will have a high predicted intake. This may result in higher silage intakes than required by some cattle. This is likely to be the case for dry suckler cows and some restriction of silage is essential for cows in a body score of 3 or better. Cow condition can safely be brought back to condition score 2.5 at calving. Batch cows according to condition and provide separate feed arrangements for first calved heifers. If the intake of some of the herd can be restricted, for example dry cows in body score 3+, a considerable saving in silage costs can be made, as well as reducing calving difficulties. If the intake of 20 cows is restricted by 20 per cent over a 200 day winter the saving in silage costs is £1000 (silage costed at £25 per tonne).

What is the feeding value of your silage?

It is important you know the feeding value of your winter forage. A silage analysis provides essential analytical and performance information for your livestock. The important factors are energy value (MJ/kg dry matter), dry matter content and intake predictions. You can also request feed reports which provide a useful guide on concentrate requirements for sucklers, stores, beef cattle and sheep. The cost of silage analysis is £20 including VAT and postage.

Be careful when weaning calves!

Plan to have clean, well bedded housing for suckled calves at weaning. Good ventilation is also crucial. This is achieved by a high roof/air space and adequate roof outlets for stale air to escape and air inlets above calf height at the sides and gables of sheds. Avoid draughts at calf height level.
Gradually break the cow/calf bond by providing a straw bedded creep feeding area in an adjacent pen and reduce the time with the cows over a two week period.

Clipping a 150 mm strip along the back of animals reduces heat stress in housed animals, reduces the effect of external parasites and provides a better site for pour-on treatments.

Finishing cattle

Achieving a good feed conversion efficiency is essential in beef finishing. Feed efficiency deteriorates as cattle get older and heavier, and this usually applies to cattle above 650 kg or animals producing carcases above 380 kg. To achieve a good feed efficiency, feed high quality silage, along with a ration balanced in terms of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Improve the rumination of animals on high feed levels which contain a high starch content by providing a source of long fibre, for example 150 mm chopped straw. Environmental conditions such as a continuous supply of clean water, comfortable, clean lying surfaces and efficient ventilation are also important.

If the correct cattle ration is fed you should see very little recognisable feed in the dung.

Also take time to observe the cattle - 80 per cent of cattle not sleeping, eating or drinking should be ruminating (cudding).


Managing the ewe flock

Tupping time should be an uninterrupted period with minimal interference or movements. Observe ram activity and rotate rams if possible after 14 days.

Change raddle colours every 14 days starting with lighter colours first, yellow, orange moving to red, green and blue.

Maintain sheep on good quality swards for four to six weeks after rams are put out (grass covers of 2200 kg dry matter per hectare or 5-6 cm high). If grass supply runs out early in the tupping period trough feeding an energy source, for example straight cereals is worthwhile for the more prolific ewe flocks.

Make a decision to remove rams on a certain date and move them on that date as many of the labour and other problems associated with a sheep flock are due to late lambers.

When breeding from ewe lambs it is better to use mature rams and remove the rams after two cycles.

October 2015


Silage analysis

The quality of silage made throughout the year will be variable and now is a good time to get an analysis carried out. At a cost of £20 per silage analysis, including two feeding recommendations, it provides a very useful basis to plan your winter feeding programme.

Managing young cattle at housing

Calf weaning should be handled carefully to avoid calf stress and achieve a suitable cow condition before housing. Wean calves from heifers and thin cows first and remove the other cows in stages over a two week period. Ideally calves should be on concentrate feeding, eating a minimum of 1.0 kg per day for two to four weeks before weaning. Allow the calves a settling period at grass before housing. A well ventilated bedded house is preferred for weaned calves. Ensure calves have adequate space by providing 3.0 square metres per head. Avoid carrying out any other treatments at weaning/housing such as castration or dehorning.
If not already carried out, use a long acting wormer for young cattle, ideally before housing, to allow them time to cough up dead lung worms. Also complete pneumonia vaccinations before housing.

Suckler cow performance

Critically assess the performance of individual cows in the herd in terms of fertility, milk supply and calf growth rates. Pregnancy diagnose before housing, cull animals not in-calf and unproductive cows. At housing, group cows according to condition score allowing preferential treatment for first calved heifers. This may mean in practice, three groups of cows based on body scores; thin cows less than 2.5, cows in good condition 2.5-3.0 and fat cows 3.0 or higher. Get your silage analysed and measure the quantities of silage fed.


Managing ewes during tupping

Maintain ewe condition during the tupping period and for four weeks after conception.  If ewe condition deteriorates during this period embryo loss and reabsorption can greatly reduce lamb numbers.  If grass supply is inadequate or ewes are in poorer condition, feeding a small amount of a cereal based ration (0.25 kg per head per day) during the tupping period for four to six weeks will maintain or improve body condition.  A stress free period during the tupping period and for four weeks after conception also ensures maximum embryo survival. Ewe lambs for breeding should be at least 60 per cent of mature body weight (40-45 kg liveweight).

Carry out all work with sheep, including vaccinations/dosing, three weeks before the mating period begins. There should be minimal disturbance of the flock for one month (two cycles). Using a ram raddle for mating provides very useful information about individual rams. Rotating rams after the first and second cycle helps reduce the impact of any sub-fertile rams. Change the raddle colour every 14 days, starting with lighter colours first.

Store lambs

For most store lamb finishers, lambs finished off grass alone should give the best return. This will involve shorter/medium keep lambs and the return will depend on the movement of finished prices over the short term. Good quality grass should still provide an energy source of 10.5-11.0 MJ/kg DM and healthy lambs should gain an average of 125-150 g per day (1.0 kg per week).

Dosing for worms and fluke is essential and should have been carried out before moving to the grazing areas. Vaccinate for clostridial diseases (4 in 1 vaccine) particularly if you do not know the vaccination history of the lambs and if the finishing period is longer.

Group lambs on grazing areas according to liveweight and level of finish. This means fewer lambs need to be gathered to draw lambs and also avoids additional stress on the animals. Investigate sudden deaths in lambs as early as possible by post-mortem.

September 2015


Managing grass swards

Nitrogen fertilizer can still be applied up to 15 September. Apply 40 kg nitrogen per hectare (30 units per acre) to younger swards and drier areas to provide extended grazing for young cattle and sheep. If ground conditions deteriorate on heavier soils avoid poaching by housing cows and heavier cattle. Where suitable housing is near to grazing areas, allow suckled calves or lighter cattle daily access to a dry grazing area. This should have grass covers of 2800-3000 kg dry matter per hectare and ideally block grazed with electric fencing, including a back fencer. Move the grazing blocks every one to three days to avoid poaching and allow grass to recover.


Pregnancy diagnose spring calving cows and cull those not in-calf and poor performing or older cows. Wean calves earlier from cows identified for culling, thinner cows and first calvers. Suckler cows are always at risk from magnesium deficiency, particularly cows with younger calves and reaching peak milk yields. Cows require magnesium daily, especially when under stress and grazing lush swards during poor weather. Feed 60 g per cow per day of calcined magnesite through a high magnesium concentrate. Alternatively, on extensive grazing areas, use a magnesium bolus and provide high magnesium blocks or licks. Pasture dusting can also be used and works well on rotationally grazed areas.

Managing suckling calves

Gradually increase creep feeding of suckled calves while maintaining access to good sward covers (2600-3000 kg dry matter per hectare or 9-11cm high). Limit continental cross calves to a maximum of 2.5 kg per bull and 1.5 kg per heifer per day. Start your pneumonia vaccination programme now in consultation with your vet. Separate January to March born heifer calves from the stock bull and bull calves to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

‘Surecalf’ scheme

Suckled calves that have been vaccinated against three of the main respiratory pneumonia viruses will be available for sale this autumn under a ‘Surecalf’ scheme, administered by Zoetis (Animal Health) at Ballymena and Enniskillen markets. Vaccinated calves will have distinctive blue tags and certificates available for buyers at the sale. If you wish to participate in the scheme contact Patrick McFarland (07802596813) or Frank McCrystal o(07850360129), both from Zoetis.

Beef cattle

During September increase concentrate feeding to heavy cattle still on good grass. A good guide is to feed 1.0 kg concentrate for every 100 kg liveweight. Before grazing conditions deteriorate house heavy/finishing cattle first. Analyse your silage early to get an accurate assessment of quality and feed levels required to achieve targeted liveweight gains.


Purchased sheep

Purchased sheep often carry new and unwanted disease onto the farm. Find out as much as possible about the history of veterinary treatments for purchased stock. It is important to quarantine purchased stock for three to four weeks. It is also recommended to treat replacement sheep, including rams, for worms/fluke on arrival. Graze areas where fluke is unlikely to be a problem, that is, drier snail free areas. Discuss a suitable vaccination and worm/fluke programme for purchased breeding stock with your vet.

Management pre-tupping

The target body score at tupping for lowland ewes is 3.0-3.5 and 2.5-3.0 for hill ewes. Assess body scores every three weeks. It takes three to five weeks on good grass (2300 kg dry matter per hectare cover or 7 cm high) to put on 0.5 body score. Carry out all ewe preparations for tupping, including veterinary treatments, at least three weeks before mating.

Managing rams before mating

It takes about seven weeks to prepare rams for tupping, therefore:

  • get your vet to carry out a fertility check now
  • feed a high energy, 16-18 per cent protein ration at 0.75 kg per head per day and graze on good swards. Aim for body score 4 pre-tupping. Do not feed a ewe ration to rams as high levels can cause urinary calculi
  • vaccinate against Clostridial diseases and fluke drench at least three weeks before tupping

August 2015

Grassland management


If you are still planning to reseed, the earlier the seed is sown the better the chance of success. A full conventional reseed with ploughing and all associated cultivations is generally very successful. However, it is expensive (approximately £615 per hectare). Reseeding using minimum tillage or surface seeding can be as successful as conventional reseeding and at a lower cost. For the establishment of reseeds soil fertility must be good; soil pH should be 6.0 and phosphate and potash indexes should be 2. Therefore it is important to carry out soil analysis well in advance of reseeding.

Reseed mixes

The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development publish a recommended list of reseed mixes every year, so you can choose the most productive grass and clover varieties with a suitable heading date for your system. Late heading diploid ryegrass is more leafy and easier to manage. Tetraploids usually have higher first cut yields but are more open and less persistent. Clover can contribute to sward productivity by fixing its own nitrogen from the atmosphere reducing greenhouse gases. Red clover and large leaved white clovers are more suited to cutting, small leaved clover is more suited to sheep grazing and medium leaved clover suits cattle grazing and/or cutting.


Suckled calf management

If you are breeding your own replacements now is the time to identify high growth potential heifer calves from milky, easy calving cows.

Suckled calves and young cattle will benefit from a drench for worms and lungworm. By the end of August plan to start your pneumonia vaccination programme. Discuss a suitable programme with your vet.

The benefits of creep feeding calves pre-weaning are well recognised. For every 4 kg of meal fed calves will gain 1kg liveweight. Benefits of creep feeding include reduced stress at weaning and reduced disease level (particularly pneumonia). All of this makes the calf more saleable and easier managed after weaning. By using two adjoining fields with a creep gate between, calves can be creep fed in one of the fields, preferably with a better grass supply, and still have access back to the cows.

Start meal feeding six weeks before weaning and build up to about 1-2 kg per head per day at the point of weaning. The level fed depends on weight and sex of calf.

Managing the export and import of slurry and organic manures

Most farmers are aware of the saving in chemical fertiliser costs that can be achieved by making best use of slurry and manure produced on the farm. In recent years, as a result of nitrogen loading restrictions under the Nitrates Action Programme (NAP), additional slurry and manure is often available from farmers who need to export to operate below the 170 kg nitrogen (N) per hectare threshold.This can be used to great advantage as chemical fertiliser purchases can be further reduced.

If you have, or are thinking about, importing slurry or manure check the N loading on your own farm remains below 170 kg N per hectare, after taking account of the N content in the imported slurry.You must record all imported slurry and manure in your NAP farm records and keep these records for a cross compliance inspection.

The exporter, that is, the farm business where the slurry or manure comes from, also has to record slurry moved onto your farm and any other farms.This record must be sent by the exporter to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency by 31st January detailing all organic manures moved onto your farm in the previous calendar year. Details include:

  • your name and Business ID
  • date imported/exported
  • amount and type of each manure
  • name and address of transporter (if third party)

Further guidance is available in the recently published Nitrates Action Programme 2015 – 2018 and Phosphorus Regulations Guidance Booklet.

July 2015


Weaning can be considered as the end of the ewe’s work for one season and the start of the new season. Decisions and actions taken now will affect flock profitability. Many ewes should be already identified for culling due to mastitis, foot problems, prolapse, difficult lambing and other problems identified throughout the year. Weaning is the time to check ewes for culling to make sure the flock is not carrying unproductive sheep that will create extra work or labour demands.

Also cull old ewes and ewes that persistently maintain poor condition. Condition score ewes and move thin ewes (condition score 2 or less) to good swards. The rest of the flock should be maintained in good condition to achieve condition scores of at least 3-3.5 before tupping.


As this is an increasing problem for many farms a fluke drench at weaning or during August is worth considering. Feedback from lamb group coordinators indicates that a significant percentage of lambs finished on grass last year had high liver fluke levels at meat plants. Discuss fluke control with your vet to ensure the correct product is used and that the timing is right. Many fluke problems on farms are caused by using veterinary products at the wrong time of year.


At weaning (14 weeks of age for most situations) move lambs to the best swards on the farm. Hogget ewes suckling twins and ewes with triplets should be weaned earlier. Lambs should be weaned onto silage aftermaths or productive swards rested from sheep grazing. Maintain grass covers at 2200 kg dry matter per hectare. A good grass/clover sward containing 30 per cent clover can improve liveweight gain of finishing lambs by up to 25 per cent.

Assess the need for worm drenching and consider using the Faecal Egg Count pack to check egg counts from lambs. On most intensive sheep farms drenching weaned lambs before moving to new/clean pastures is money well spent.

Weigh a representative sample of your lambs and dose for the heaviest lambs. Use products to suit the expected finishing period with the correct dosage for the weight of lambs. It is also important to check product details and the accuracy of the dosing apparatus.

Foot care in lambs

On many sheep farms foot problems affect lamb thrive. At weaning lambs should be foot bathed using 10 per cent zinc sulphate or 5 per cent formalin solutions. Stand the lambs in the solution for the recommended period of time and repeat every 14 days. You may need to redesign your sheep races to ensure the standing time requirement is met. Individual lambs with severe feet scald or infections should be treated with antibiotic sprays/injections. Mixed grazing with cattle and rotational grazing help reduce foot scald and foot rot in lambs. Resting grazing areas from sheep for more than 14 days can help break the cycle of the foot rot bacteria.



Continue to monitor service dates for spring calvers. Identify cows that are slipping in calving dates and replace with in-calf heifers, as late calvers are often the least profitable in the herd. Ideally replace with heifers that will calve before the main calving period is due to start in spring.

Monitor the condition score of autumn calvers and target a body score of 3.0-3.5 at calving. Consider using a mineral/trace element bolus containing for example selenium, cobalt and iodine at grass to improve the mineral/trace element status, calf viability as well as ease of calving. This should be given about three months prior to calving.

June 2015

Grassland management

Managing grass in June

Up to now grass growth on most farms has been about three weeks behind last year. Hopefully growth is now back to more normal for this time of year and for some this means a surge in growth. If there is excess grass cover take paddocks/fields out for silage or include more stock in the grazing system. Aim to have about 12-15 grazing days ahead for a group of grazing livestock during June. When grass covers start to fall below 10-12 grazing days ahead and growth has slowed down, apply nitrogen fertilizer to about a third of the grazing area. It is best to use small regular applications of fertilizer, for example, 25 kg nitrogen per hectare (20 units per acre). Graze swards out fairly tightly during June to avoid the build up of poor quality grass as the season progresses. Maintain good quality swards with entry covers of 3000 kg dry matter per hectare (9-10 cm) and continue to graze down to 1600 kg dry matter per hectare (3-4 cm). Store cattle on well managed grass should have an average liveweight gain of 1.0 kg per day. Walk the grazing areas at least once per week to assess grazing covers.


Many farmers used the improved weather from June onwards last year to alleviate soil compaction and improve drainage. The improvements noticed were mainly on ground carrying capacity. On inspection of subsoiled areas, I have noticed a significant improvement in soil structure and root penetration, as well as more worms.

Before subsoiling, dig inspection holes to assess soil structure and depth of soil. Subsoil within the top soil in dry conditions and when the soil has dried out.



Suckler cows should now be on a rising plane of nutrition and spring born calves should be gaining on average 1.0 kg per head per day. You still need to be vigilant and protect against magnesium deficiency by providing a daily supply of magnesium. To maintain a tight calving pattern, March calving cows should be back in calf within 12 weeks (80 days) of calving. Late calving cows in a spring calving herd produce a lower return and a more complicated management system. If you plan to have the last of your spring calving cows calved by the end of March remove the bull from the herd by 20 June.


Lamb growth rates

Much of the slowdown in lamb growth rates is due to sward quality in June. Once grass starts heading, dry matter digestibility decreases from about 75D in mid May to about 60D in mid June. This happens at a time when lambs are more dependent on grass. Maintain good grass covers and good sward management during June (rotational system). This means entering grazing swards at 2200 kg dry matter per hectare (6-8cm) and grazing down to 1600 kg dry matter per hectare (3-4 cm).This type of management helps reduce seed head production and maintains a leafy sward.

Remove excess grass in the system through grazing cattle or for silage. Sheep grazing pastures can carry a high worm burden during June. It is recommended to dose all lambs with a suitable wormer. However, it is worthwhile checking worm egg counts from the lambs before dosing. This can be arranged through your vet who can also provide advice on a worm control strategy.


A free farm benchmarking service is available through Greenmount Campus, CAFRE. It provides a whole farm and enterprise analysis of your business and the performance data of your business is compared to other farm businesses. If you are interested in benchmarking your farm business contact your local Beef and Sheep Development Adviser or Greenmount Campus on 028 9442 6770.

May 2015

Grassland management

Managing grass in May

Good grazing management during May will improve sward performance for the rest of the season. This means matching stock numbers to the grazing potential of the areas and regular assessment of grass covers in front of the stock. Use grazing days ahead as a guide to grass availability. Ideally a group of grazing livestock should have 12-15 days grass ahead of them during May.


Ewe milk production and lamb growth rates are mainly influenced by the amount and density of grass available and the grazing intensity. During May maintain sward covers/heights at 6-7 cm or 2,200-2,300 kg dry matter per hectare to optimize lamb liveweight gain. Graze swards off tightly in rotation during May to maintain leafy swards throughout the grazing season. March born lambs should achieve a liveweight gain of 250-300 g per day during May.

Worm treatment

A worm burden in lambs can reduce growth rates by up to 50 per cent with no clinical signs. Watch out for Nematodirus warnings during May, particularly with early born lambs and use a recommended product. Most farms will need to start the main worm dosing programme when lambs reach six weeks of age. It is good policy to change or rotate dosing products used, as this may help reduce the build up of wormer resistance on your farm. There are now five groups of products available to control worms in sheep. Where lambs are at risk of coccidiosis, dose before moving onto high risk areas and again two to three weeks later. Now is a good time to discuss a worm control programme with your vet.
You can assess the effectiveness of your wormer product by testing for worm eggs pre- and post-treatment of lambs. This is called a Faecal Egg Count Reduction Test (FECRT) and can be arranged through your local vet.



Cattle should enter grass covers of about 3000 kg dry matter per hectare (9-10 cm) and graze down to 1600 kg dry matter per hectare (3-4 cm). A productive grass sward receiving 200 kg nitrogen per hectare (160 units per acre) over the season should be well stocked. Typical stocking levels are 3.5 suckler cows and calves per hectare, eight 250 kg stores per hectare or five 400 kg cattle per hectare.

Suckler cow calving index

Calving index for a suckler herd is the average calving interval for the herd within a twelve month period. The average calving index for suckler herds is 415 days. Compared to a good calving index of 370 days, a 50 cow herd with a calving index of 415 days will lose approximately £5,500 in potential income.

With the main breeding season approaching set performance targets with the aim of achieving improved breeding efficiency.

  • 90 per cent of cows to calve within 12 weeks
  • a calving interval of 370 days - lost days cost £2.30 per day
  • aim for less than a 5 per cent cull for infertility

To achieve these targets cows need to be on good quality grass swards and on a rising plane of nutrition at mating, with a target body score of 3.0. Give preferential treatment to thin cows, first-time calvers and late calvers.
Get your vet to check bull fertility before the mating season begins. Sub-fertile bulls can also be part of fertility problems with sucklers. Late calving cows are difficult to pull back in calving date and it is often better to cull them and replace with heifers.

It may take a few years to improve the calving interval and spread of calving but it is financially worth the effort.

Grass tetany

Continue to supply magnesium daily to suckling cows during May. Changes in weather and grass supply or quality can affect the intake of magnesium.

April 2015

Getting cattle out to grass

Farmers will be turning stock out to grass over the next few weeks and hoping for a decent spell of weather to start the grazing season. Aim to turn cattle out when grass covers are adequate. As a guide this is when there is about two weeks supply of grass in front of them. Avoid keeping cattle housed until there is an oversupply of grass as this can quickly lead to more difficult grassland management.

Most of you will by now have sown nitrogen (N) fertiliser on grazing areas and should be seeing the benefits of slurry applied in mid March. Urea fertiliser is the most cost effective form of N and can still be used where there is some grass cover and suitable moist conditions. In areas of low grass cover and drier conditions it is preferable to use other forms of nitrogen.

Protect against grass tetany

A major concern after turnout is Grass Tetany (‘staggers’) which is due to magnesium deficiency. The condition mainly affects cows suckling calves and lactating ewes and is often associated with high potash applications from fertiliser and slurry, particularly on soils that are already high in potash. The risk is greatest for animals under stress as a result of unpredictable weather and change of diet at this time of year.

Prevention involves ensuring animals have a daily supply of magnesium.

This can be provided by:

  • adding magnesium to drinking water while making sure no other sources of water are available
  • dusting magnesium (calcined magnesite) on the grazing pasture.
  • treating with magnesium boluses
  • offering a 50:50 mix of calcined magnesite and molasses. Approximately 2.5 kg of the mix provides for 20 cows on a daily basis. Keep the mix stirred and top up regularly
  • magnesium licks or blocks and/or feeding a high magnesium meal daily

Young cattle

Young growing cattle benefit most from an earlier start to the grazing season and can be turned out when grass covers are lighter (1900-2000 kg dry matter per hectare (7-8 cm in height). Start at a low stocking rate of 1000 kg per hectare.

Suckler cows

Suckler cows and calves should be turned out to grass when ground conditions allow and ideally when average grass covers are 2200 kg dry matter per hectare (9 cm).

Rotational grazing

For most beef and sheep farms, moving stock every three days achieves efficient grass utilisation. This means for a 21 day rotational system, six to seven grazing areas are recommended. To manage grass covers efficiently you need to know how much grass is left on the grazing area on a weekly basis. In the early part of the season this can be achieved by grass measurements and by assessing the grazing days ahead. The grazing days ahead should be within the range of 12-15 days. The stocking level depends on the sward quality, growth rates and soil fertility levels. Table 1 provides a general guide on stocking levels.

Table 1: Guide to stocking levels and sward covers April to July (assuming an annual application of 150 kg N per hectare)
Stock type Stocking level
(number per hectare)
Target grass
covers at entry
(kg DM per hectare)
Sward height
Exit sward
(kg DM per hectare)
Suckler cow and calf 3.5 3000 10 1600
400 kg store 5 3000 10 1600
300 kg store 6 2700-3000 8-10 1600
Ewes and lambs 10 2100 6 1500
Mixed grazing
(sucklers and sheep)
2 cows and calves
3 ewes and twin lambs
2700-2800 8 1600

Stocking rate

Overstocking reduces grass growth and livestock performance. Understocking may maximise livestock performance in the early part of the grass year. However, sward quality quickly deteriorates as the season progresses resulting in poorer utilisation and reduced livestock performance later in the year.

March 2015

Grassland management

Starting the grazing season

Grass is still the cheapest feed for livestock enterprises. Now is the time to apply nitrogen fertiliser, particularly on drier fields with some grass cover.
It is also a good time to review your soil analysis reports remembering that reports for soils sampled in the last four years are still relevant. If you have not spread slurry yet or applied compound fertiliser there is still time to carry out soil analysis. If you need help with interpreting your soil report contact your local Beef and Sheep Development Adviser.

Nitrogen (N)

Urea (46% N) works best if there is some grass cover and enough moisture in the soil. Nitrochalk (27% N) works under a wider range of conditions and is a better choice for bare pastures and drier conditions. Superstart (34% N), which is a combination of urea and nitrochalk, is also a good option for an early spring dressing.

Phosphate (P)

Apply fertiliser containing P only where there is a need shown through soil analysis for that area of land. Soil analysis reports for the last four years can be used. This is a requirement under the Nitrates Action Programme and Phosphorus Regulations. For example, a soil with a phosphate index of two does not require any P for grazing.

Potash (K)

Check K levels, particularly on intensive silage areas where there is a very high demand. If insufficient levels are applied, K can drop to low levels, for example index one which is low or zero which is deficient. Low K levels affect grass performance and silage yields.


Preparation for lambing

Many of you are preparing to lamb the ewe flock over the next month. Gemma Daly MRCVS, CAFRE vet based at Greenmount, in recent talks to young farmers pointed out the importance of a good quality ration for sheep in the last month before lambing. A ration with a good cereal content, soya as the main source of protein and adequate levels of vitamin E and selenium is recommended. Provide a minimum of 150 iu vitamin E per kilogramme and 50 mg of selenium per kilogramme.

Gemma also points out the importance of worming the ewe flock at an opportune time around lambing. Her advice is to worm the ewes with a product that is normally used on the farm and to leave 10% of the flock untreated. This helps avoid the build up of resistant worms to a particular product in the sheep flock. The untreated sheep should be the fitter ewes, preferably ewes carrying singles.

If sheep were treated for fluke in December or January and have not been exposed to wet areas then a fluke treatment is not required at this time.
Ideally carry out vaccinations four weeks before lambing to allow adequate time to build up enough antibodies in the ewes’ colostrum.

Monitor abortions in the flock. If a number of abortions occur over a short period of time isolate the ewes and disinfect the area followed by veterinary investigation of the aborted material including the ‘cleansings’. It is important not to adopt female lambs onto aborted ewes as there is a risk the lambs could pick up the infection and abort when lambing down for the first time if kept as breeding stock.

Gemma also recommends leaving adequate time for ewes to lamb. If there is little progress in lambing after half an hour from the time the amniotic sack (water bag) bursts then intervention can start. Good hygiene along with the use of gloves and gel is important. If there are complications with multiple births or large lambs call the vet at an early stage, as working too long with a ewe at lambing often results in internal injuries.

February 2015


Preparation for lambing

The best preparation for lambing is to feed ewes correctly to ensure viable, even sized lambs that will thrive. Ewes need to be in good condition in order to lamb down with an adequate supply of quality colostrum.

Numbers of lambs and ewe condition

Make use of scanning results and feed according to condition score and lambing date. As 70 per cent of foetal growth occurs in the last six weeks before lambing, some ewes can lose condition quickly. Condition scoring ewes regularly, along with feed adjustments, helps reduce problems of small lambs and low levels of colostrum/milk supply in individual ewes.

Quality of concentrate

Aim to feed a good quality concentrate ration with an ME greater than 12.5MJ/kg dry matter and a crude protein level of about 18 per cent.The quantity fed depends on forage quality, ewe condition and scanning information. Protein quality is very important and soya is the best source of protein in a ewe ration. For twin bearing ewes the daily feed intake in the last three weeks before lambing should contain about 200 g of soya. Ensure the ration contains adequate selenium and vitamin E (0.5mg/kg selenium and 150 iu/kg vitamin E). A good quality ration has a high cereal content and soya as the main protein source.

Silage analysis

Silage analysis is a very useful tool for assessing quality and feeding value. The feed report predicts concentrate feeding levels required for ewes at two week intervals coming up to lambing based on number of lambs being carried.

Grassland management

Soil fertility

If soils are low in lime (low pH) and/or are lacking in phosphate or potash, there is always a poorer response to nitrogen fertiliser application. Now is a good time to carry out soil analysis, before fertiliser or slurry has been applied. Soil sample every four years and up to four hectares can be included per sample at a cost of 62p per hectare per year. The sample needs to be from a similar soil type and management system. Please see the Dairy Section for information on making best use of slurry and changes to the Nitrates Action Programme.


A useful exercise for beef finishing cattle is to work out the cost of feeding finishing cattle each day compared to the value of carcase gain per day. Average over a 100 day feeding period and ideally weigh cattle at the start and finish.

Check beef cattle approaching finishing regularly for fat cover. Fat cover should be checked at three sites – the ribs, loin and tail head. Aim to slaughter at fat class 3. Always restrain animals when handling and preferably assess fat cover on the left side.

  • ribs – if light pressure is required with a flat hand to feel the rib bones this indicates fat class 3
  • loins – over the loin area firm muscle can be confused with fat. Grip the edge of the loin between the thumb and finger and check for a thin layer of fat over the bones. The bones are easily felt in under-finished animals
  • tail head – this is the area most producers rely on to determine the correct level of finish. Press the tail head with the finger tips. A light covering of fat means the animal is ready for slaughter. If fat cover is easily visible over the tail head the animal is probably over-finished

January 2015


Preparation for housing and feeding

Successful ewe housing is based on:

  • good ventilation and hygiene
  • adequate floor and feed space
  • adequate lambing pens


Good ventilation consists of a free flow of fresh air in at the eaves. Providing an adequate open ridge allows the warm air which has risen to exit. This air flow carries the bugs with it keeping the ewes cool, dry, clean and healthy. If ventilation is not sufficient plan to improve before housing.


Thoroughly wash all sheep housing, including pen divisions, before housing and disinfect lambing areas.

Floor space

Unclipped lowland ewes on slats require a space of 1.0 square metre per ewe reducing to 0.9 square metres per ewe for unclipped hill breeds and clipped lowland ewes. Straw bedded ewes require 1.2-1.4 square metres per ewe.

Scanning ewes

Carry out scanning 12 to 14 weeks after introducing the ram to the flock.  Scanning helps to identify barren ewes as well as ewes carrying singles, twins or triplets. Separate the flock into appropriate groups based on litter size and body condition and feed accordingly.

Fluke treatment

If not already carried out, consider dosing ewes for fluke using a product effective against adult fluke.

Feeding ewes

Feed ewes high quality silage.  Well fermented, high dry matter silage improves silage intake and performance. There is still time to have your silage analysed which will help target the use of concentrates based on lamb numbers and body condition score.

Use a good quality concentrate with a high cereal content and soya bean meal as the main protein source. Sheep minerals should include adequate levels of selenium and vitamin E (recommendation 0.5mg/kg selenium and 150-200 IU/kg of vitamin E). When assessing ration quality, pay attention to protein, oil, ash and fibre contents which are listed as percentages, to ensure a balanced ration. The components within the ration are listed in descending order of quantities included.

Examples of blends/home mixes for feeding sheep in late pregnancy are shown below.

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