Beef farming news

Latest news for farmers in relation to beef farming.

Farm walk at the Greer family farm

By Darryl Boyd (Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, Mallusk)

Commercial beef producers are constantly striving to maximise returns. One way to achieve this is to avail of the various schemes on offer from processors which add extra value to the price received per kg.

A farming business making the most of such a scheme is that of the Greer Family of Tildarg Road South, Ballyclare.  For more than 12 years they have been supplying cattle through the Aberdeen Angus Quality Beef (AAQB) Scheme to the Foyle Food Group. With this in mind a farm walk organised by Darryl Boyd (CAFRE) and Eamon Kelly (AAQB), was recently held at the Greer farm.

The event began with a walk around the various groups of stock, with the farming system outlined by Darryl. The Greers keep 50 Aberdeen Angus X Limousin cows all crossed back to an Aberdeen Angus sire. All male offspring are finished as steers through the AAQB scheme and females are generally sold for breeding.  On top of this, around 20 AA steers are bought in annually to be finished over the winter for the scheme.

Ease of calving and management are vital for the Greers, with a strong belief that ease of calving puts less stress on the cow and helps her get back in calf more quickly. For Greers the proof is in the results as they are achieving an excellent calving index of 368 days within a calving spread of 12 weeks.

There is also a strong emphasis on beef from grass. Calves receive a weanling mix 1 month before and 2 months after weaning to prevent a growth check.  Apart from this, no meal is fed until steers reach 15 months when a finishing ration is introduced for 2 to 3 months. The farm aims for a grazing period of 240 days in each year. Grades for the most recent batch of steers ranged from O+3- to R=3= with an average carcase gain of 0.5kg/day from birth.

The group of around 30 farmers then made their way back to the yard where Michael Woodside from Clare Vet Group gave a very informative presentation on preparing cattle for housing.  Michael outlined how important it was to get on top of parasite issues such as lung and fluke worms and prepare to manage BRD by vaccination in advance of housing.
He also highlighted the importance of correct housing in the prevention of pneumonia.  Houses should be stocked according to their design avoiding overstocking at all costs.  Air movement should be checked to determine if the inlets and outlets are adequate for purpose. A smoke test can be used to establish this.

The last presentation of the day was by Eamon Kelly of AAQB.  Eamon explained how AAQB was formed, as there was and still is a niche market for Aberdeen Angus beef, and gave an interesting history on its growth from 1998 to the well known producer co-operative it is today.  Eamon explained that 2 schemes are currently available; the AAQB scheme introduced in 1998 and Tesco UK introduced in 2013. He also outlined the various eligibility criteria for the two schemes relating to age, weights, grades, housing and diets.

The day finished with refreshments supplied by the Greer Family and John Moore (CAFRE) concluding with a word of thanks highlighting the importance of co-operatives in achieving top prices for finished cattle.

Dairy bred beef visit

Senan White and Michael Doherty, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), Beef and Sheep Development Advisers, Armagh and Newry

A group of beef farmers from Counties Armagh and Down recently visited the Teagasc research centre at Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford to view the current research work on low input dairy bred beef systems.  The visit was organised to provide those farmers currently rearing or considering rearing dairy-bred calves with an opportunity to identify main factors associated with improved production and profitability.

The farmers were welcomed by Dr Robert Prendiville, Teagasc Beef Researcher, who explained the research  work which is ongoing at Johnstown Castle in conjunction with several industry partners.  Dairy bred Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cross calves are reared using a number of production systems and slaughtered between 19 and 26 months .  The research has found that these breeds under a  grass based production system  finish at a young age and relatively low slaughter weight producing a saleable carcass with an adequately high level of carcass fat.

During the visit Dr Prendiville explained that trial results to date have shown that there is potential to achieve quite high gross margins per hectare from these systems,  particularly if grass is efficiently utilised.

Many farmers came away impressed with the system. They realised however, that key to its success is efficient grassland management;  sourcing sufficient numbers of these type of cattle and ensuring that a thorough dosing and vaccination programme is implemented on the animal’s arrival on farm.

Scarva farmer Sandy Heak commented that it was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative visit.  ‘I was especially impressed by the standard of grassland management which is of vital importance in efficient beef production’.

Michael Doherty, CAFRE, concluded by thanking the research team for a very informative and interesting presentation and farm walk.  Michael also stressed that, irrespective of the beef production system used,
efficient grass production and utilisation improves production efficiency and also helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promotes the positive role farmers play in relation to climate change.

If you would like to discuss any of the topics covered please contact your local CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, who is based in a local DARD Direct office.  Telephone 0300 200 7843 and speak to an adviser.

Identifying and alleviating soil compaction

A group of beef and sheep producers recently met on the farm of Desmond Knox, near Irvinestown, to discuss issues around soil compaction.  William Johnston, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser facilitated the event and explained that compaction occurs when a downward force reduces the capacity of the air and water spaces in the soil.  Farmers listed poor drainage, poor root penetration and less grass production as its main effects.

William advocated digging inspection holes and examining the soil profile at several spots throughout a field to establish the condition of the soil and whether there was evidence of soil compaction.  This should be the first step prior to any remedial action. Farmers intending to reseed this autumn should check for compaction before cultivation works begin.

The degree of compaction can be judged by removing a block of soil from the undisturbed side of the hole and breaking it up to see size of the aggregates and how who difficult they are to break up.  Large, difficult to break aggregates are indicative of soil compaction.

Discussion among the group concluded that soils which are wet, have a higher clay content and a poor soil structure are more prone to compaction.  Heavy machinery emerged as the main culprit on local farms.
There are many different machines on the market to rectify soil compaction from soil aerators to grassland subsoilers. Subsoilers work by lifting and loosening the soil. Soil aerators work from the surface down rather than the sub-surface up. Essentially these devices push a blade into the ground increasing air and water entry into the soil.  Desmond had treated one half of a field with a subsoiler and the other half with an aerator.  

William was keen to point out that whatever tool is used it is very important that the soil is dry enough, the implement is not worked below its critical depth and treated soils are given time to stabilise.  Application of the wrong soil treatment could cause more harm than good by increasing the problem rather than alleviating it.  For example subsoiling when the soil isn’t sufficiently dry is a waste of time and money, doesn’t effectively fissure and crack the soil layer and could cause long term damage to the soil structure.

After some discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of the two implements the evening was wound up after some thought was given to how soil compaction might be avoided or reduced.  Reducing axle loadings, using larger, low ground pressure tyres and reducing the number of passes were highlighted as ways of reducing compaction from vehicular traffic.

More information on soil compaction and treatments to alleviate it can be obtained from your local CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development adviser by contacting 0300 200 7841.

Dig deep before reseeding

Darryl Boyd, Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, Mallusk.

If you are thinking of renovating a sward via stitching in, minimal cultivation or ploughing costing between £185 and £300/acre; it is important to assess your soil and rectify problems beforehand to gain the full benefits of the renovation.

The simplest method of achieving this is by digging holes (50cm x 50cm) across the field.  Determine the soil texture by assessing proportions of sand, silt and clay present.  Keep an eye for the following things;

  • topsoil depth can vary geographically and will be shallower under permanent pasture
  • check for compaction plates
  • rusty grey mottled soils indicate poor drainage
  • foul smells are a sign of anaerobic conditions when soils are water logged
  • root depths should be at least 30cm
  • presence of earthworms (10-15 in block)
  • plenty of vertical cracks and pores

Compaction can result from either farm vehicles or livestock; it has a negative effect on growth, yield and quality along with soil structure and drainage.  Four approaches to alleviating soil compaction are:

  • sub soiling
  • aerators
  • cultivation
  • management techniques; ie addition of lime

It is also important to assess soil nutrients and chemical properties through soil analysis which can cost as low as 54p/ha (annual cost of a 4ha sample done every 4 years), a very small cost compared to annual fertiliser costs.  The target pH for grass is 6.0; and over 60% of soils sampled in Northern Ireland had a pH of 5.9 or below which has a detrimental effect on fertiliser performance. It will also show available levels of Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K) and Magnesium, indices for P and K should ideally be 2 with above 3 being excessive.  The indices will help identify which fields’ nutrient levels need building up through slurry or other manures to help reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers.

Drainage issues should also be addressed.  Associated costs with drainage can escalate quickly and it is therefore important to have a plan drawn out and to prioritise the work. Start by making the most of your existing drainage though sheugh and pipe maintenance before installing new drainage networks.

To summarise:

  • dig a hole and assess the physical characteristics of the soil
  • carry out soil analysis to identify the nutrient and chemical characteristics
  • existing drainage systems need maintenance

If you would like to discuss any of the topics covered in this article please contact your local CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, who is based in a local DARD Direct office.  Telephone 0300 200 7843 and speak to an adviser.

Suckler cow fertility – are you up to the challenge?

Senan White, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, Armagh

Whilst suckler cow farmers are aware of the many financial pressures on their business, one of the major challenges is the cost of poor suckler cow fertility.  With this in mind a Suckler Cow Fertility Challenge (SCFC) was organised by CAFRE in the Portadown area of Co Armagh to help farmers address the issues contributing to poor cow fertility.

The farmers who attended were welcomed by Senan White, the CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser Armagh who outlined the background to the 4 session course.  Senan explained that the overall aim of the course was to help farmers improve the fertility of their suckler cow herds by recording and monitoring the breeding performance of their herd; addressing relevant veterinary issues and improving cow nutrition.

The first of the evening sessions addressed the importance of correct feeding and breeding of the suckler cow.  This involved a very interesting presentation by Dr Francis Lively, Head of Beef Research, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Hillsborough.  Francis stressed the importance of feeding the cow correctly to achieve the optimum body condition score at key points in the breeding cycle. He also discussed nutrition and the importance of knowing the feeding value of silage and its effect on fertility .

Brian Doyle a veterinary surgeon with Clanrye Veterinary Clinic, covered the second session and addressed the various veterinary issues which are linked to poor cow fertility.  Brian’s presentation prompted a lot of useful discussion on such aspects as the reproductive cycle, the cow at calving and fertility related diseases.

Robin Wells, Magheralin, a participating farmer on the course, hosted the group for the third session. This was a hands on practical workshop covering cow condition scoring and bull assessment.  A selection of Robin’s Luing cows were assessed for condition score and weight.  Brian Doyle, highlighted veterinary issues that could affect bull performance and pointed out practical tips to look for when purchasing a bull.

The final session covered the importance of using Estimated Breeding Values (EBV’s) when selecting bulls.  Dr Norman Weatherup, CAFRE, stressed the importance of using EBV’s as a useful management tool in selecting the correct bull to use on cows and heifers.  Norman pointed out  that the use  of an ‘incorrect’ bull, especially on heifers, could have severe physical and financial implications on the performance of a herd., as this is likely to increase; veterinary costs, assisted calvings, caesarean births, retained afterbirths  etc..  As a result of the increased calving index, this will cost  £60 per missed oestrus cycle.

The course concluded with each farmer confidentially receiving their herd’s calving index, calving spread, herd reappearance rate and cow age profile.  Each farmer was able to see from these results where their herd was placed in relation to the group average.  For some, the information received was pleasing, whilst for others it caused concern.

Thanking the farmers for their participation throughout the course, Senan White stressed that not only does good cow fertility improve production efficiency but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and promotes farmers as playing a positive role in relation to climate change. With each missed oestrus cycle costing approximately £60 per cow, poor cow fertility is something which sucker cow farmers must address.  

In addition, the participating farmers were given the opportunity to avail of accreditation for the course.  Those who successfully submitted the workbook provided could obtain a Level 3 Certificate.  Andrew Glass, Kilmore, one of participating farmers who opted for accreditation, stated, “This was my first time on a CAFRE Challenge course and I found it very beneficial.  I especially found the different speakers and topics very interesting, and the practical experience of condition scoring and weight assessment on-farm was something which I plan to carry out more thoroughly on my own farm”.

If you would like to discuss any of the topics covered please contact your local CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, who is based in a local DARD Direct office.  Telephone 0300 200 7843 and speak to an adviser.

New grass/clover monitor farm meetings get underway

By Brian Hanthorn, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Adviser

The first monitor meeting was held recently at Declan Rafferty’s and Aidan Quinn’s farm near Pomeroy.  The farm has over 75 continental suckler cows and is 200m above sea level.  The main aims of the Monitor farm project are to demonstrate new technologies in grassland management and help farmers in the local area to improve efficiency by achieving more from grass through their and involvement and discussion in the group.

Declan uses the rising plate meter as an essential tool on the farm to measure grass growth on a weekly basis. The grass growth information is used in a computer package to help him balance grass supply and demand.  As a result of using the package Declan has been able to take several paddocks out of the rotation and round bale the excess grass.
Successfully introducing new grasses into existing open swards has always been a challenge.  The considerable time lag from ploughing to grazing a full reseed is always an issue on highly stocked farms.  In this monitor meeting we set out to demonstrate the new technologies of slit seeding which places the seed into the soil via a disc to a pre-determined depth.  The paddock was sub-soiled to alleviate any compaction issues.

Tetraploid grass seed was then sowed using the slit seeder at 25kg/ha (10 kg/acre) into the existing sward.  A roller at the rear of the machine compresses the soil sufficiently to aid germination and conserve valuable moisture.

Post sowing management was also discussed and there was considerable interest and enthusiasm during the meeting with many of the farmers realising the benefits of both sub-soiling and slit-seeding machines. The next meeting is planned for early July where the main focus will be on using the correct herbicides to control broad-leaved weeds and examining the reseeded area.

Make the most of grass – Keady Grass Monitor Group

Senan White, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, Armagh

Keady Grass monitor group recently held their first meeting on the farm of Larry and Hugh Nugent, Tassagh near Keady, Co Armagh.  The group of farmers are part of the CAFRE Grass Monitor farm project which aims to assist farmers to adopt technologies which will improve the production and utilisation of grass on their farms and make more efficient use of nutrients including slurry and farm yard manure.

Senan White, CAFREs local Beef and Sheep Development Adviser explained that the group would meet several times over the grazing season, on the Nugent farm, where they would discuss and assess the production, utilisation and management of the grazing and cutting swards as well as other issues such as nutrient management, sward assessment and reseeding.

Larry Nugent welcomed the farmers to his farm and explained that it comprises 80 ha of disadvantaged land, carries a herd of 40 suckler cows, a sheep flock and a beef finishing enterprise.  Through the project Larry aims to improve the production and utilisation of grass on the farm and as a result achieve increased livestock performance.  

He is currently undertaking a comparison of conventional set stocking and paddock grazing systems using two groups of Aberdeen Angus cross calves which will be finished off the farm and slaughtered through Linden Foods, Dungannon, who are partners with him in this project. Frank Foster from Linden Foods explained their involvement and invited the farmers to follow the progress of the animals’ through to slaughter.

The group viewed the two groups of Aberdeen Angus calves  and Larry explained that whilst he had some reservations  about whether the paddock grazing system would work or not, he was so far pleased with its performance.   

While walking over the other grazing areas on the farm Senan  explained the fertiliser, slurry and lime applications which each field had received and stressed the importance of soil testing to accurately assess and meet the nutrient requirement of the grass sward or crop.

If you would like to discuss any of the topics covered please contact your local CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, who is based in a local DARD Direct office.  Telephone 0300 200 7843 and speak to an adviser.

Beef Cattle - health & welfare in mild conditions

In milder, less windy conditions there are often increased levels of respiratory disease in cattle. To prevent this consider vaccination, increased vigilance, stocking rates in sheds and the ventilation of cattle sheds.


Vaccination should be completed before the animal is threatened by the disease. Consult your vet well in advance of housing to discuss. In the case of outbreaks some vaccines, such as those applied nasally can have a more immediate effect but they will require a later booster dose to maintain cover. Some strains/types of respiratory outbreaks are not controlled by vaccination so don’t rely solely on it to prevent outbreaks of disease.

Increased vigilance

In these conditions there is an increased risk of respiratory disease outbreaks. The key to treating affected cattle is prompt treatment. Missing the first signs in the morning can leave you with a very sick animal by evening so take extra time to observe all groups at feeding time especially calves.

In the event of an outbreak quarantine and treat affected animals promptly to reduce spread.

Stocking Rates

High stocking rates stress individual animals and reduce air quality even in adequately ventilated buildings. Guidance on stocking rates is available in the LMCNI FQAS Standards 

Table 1: Space allowances (m2) Beef Cattle
  Liveweight (kg) Liveweight (kg) Liveweight (kg) Liveweight (kg) Liveweight (kg) Liveweight (kg)
Flooring 200 300 400 500 600 700
Wholly bedded 3.0 3.4 3.8 4.2 4.6 5.0
Part bedded - bedded area 2.0 2.4 2.6 3.0 3.4 3.6
Part bedded - laofing/
feeding area
1.0 1.0 1.2 1.2 1.2 1.4
Fully slatted 1.1 1.5 1.8 2.1 2.3 2.5

Reducing stress on at-risk groups

Weaning, changes in feed and operations such as dosing or weighing can increase stress and activity levels. Both of these will decrease the animals resistance to respiratory diseases.

Improving ventilation

In mild still conditions some livestock housing struggles to achieve an adequate level of ventilation. This can be due to insufficient inlet space and is more often due to insufficient outlet space. The exact amount of space required varies according to the number and size of stock, roof pitch and whether sheeting is spaced. Table 1 below gives approx space requirements for shed with a central passage and pens of 10 x 300kg calves or pens of 7 x 650kg S Cows.

Table 2: Ventilation Inlet and out let dimensions for some livestock groups
  Minimum outlet - open ridge gap Minimum inlet - space boarded 4:! Preferred inlet - space boarded 4:1
Pens of 10x300 kg calves 200 mm 1.1 m 2.2 m
Pens of 7x650 cows 230 mm 1.2 m 2.4 m

Assuming the shed has a ridged roof with a central ridge space, 14m wide (46’) with a 170 roof slope and space boarding on both sides.

For example if the inlet is spaced sheeting of 100mm (4’’) boards with a 250mm (1’‘)space – For the shed with pens of calves  then the gap at the top of the wall will have to be at least 1.2 m, preferably 2.2m space boarded. If the shed had cows then the open ridge would have to be wider and the gap at the side at least 1.2m wide.

In practice most sheds will have a variety of stock and in these cases the outlet should suit the biggest requirement (in this case 230mm) and a half-way compromise on inlet size (in this case about 2m).

If designing or amending a cattle shed an online publication by Eblex (A similar organisation to LMCNI in England/Wales) is a very useful reference.  

If you don’t have adequate ventilation

Leaving doors open will help some pens near the door but can reduce ventilation flow over pens at the back or middle of the shed and make the situation worse for these stock.

Taking off sheets off the side of building can create draughts as well as increasing airflow – preferably take more sheets off and space board the resulting space.

Where possible, reduce stocking rates/livestock numbers in poorly ventilated sheds.

Clipping the backs of cattle, especially those on high concentrate diets will help to reduce heat stress.

Avoid any operations such as weaning, dosing or mixing groups in warmer still conditions.

Using drier feeds e.g. hay/straw will reduce the amount of moisture in the shed and improve air quality.

Winter feeding and animal health– know your situation

By Senan White, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, Armagh

Whilst there were favourable grass growing conditions during the second part  of the growing season the first part wasn’t good but most farmers ended up with an adequate stock of fodder to see them through this incoming winter. Having said that, it is still necessary  to carefully plan this year’s feeding to ensure that feeding costs are kept under control and reasonable levels of stock performance are achieved.

This was the message given to a group of farmers at a recent Winter feeding and Animal health workshop organised by the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in Markethill, Co Armagh.
Introducing the workshop, Senan White, CAFRE, stressed the importance of producing and feeding, good quality silage as this is the  ‘platform for low cost winter feeding and animal performance’.  It was stressed that getting silage analysed should be a must, and that farmers must not assume that their silage is good quality. Animal performance may suffer as a result!
The group were then addressed by Paul Sloan, Ruminant Nutritionist from Tullyherron Farm Feeds Ltd, Mountnorris, who gave a very interesting and informative presentaion about feeding beef animals with the correct ration at the different stages in its life.  Paul highlighted the importance of grazed grass as  the best and cheapest growing ration providing that it is properly utilised.  Paul then discussed the  ingredients which could be included in various  rations and  the advantages and disadvantages of alternative feeds.

The final speaker of the evening was Jason Barley, Veterinary Research Officer from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).   Jason highlighted the importance of resolving  animal health issues  as they will impair the animals growth and performance irrespective of the quality of silage or concentrate fed.  Jason stressed  that  liver and rumen fluke are still causing major problems on many farms , despite the fact that we have experienced a  relatively dry summer.  Jason  encouraged farmers to seek professional advice from their local veterinary practitioner re the disease risks on their farm.  He suggested that it was good practice to have dung samples checked for   testfluke and worm contamination before treatment and to have mineral profiles completed using blood samples.

The workshop generated a lot of  discussion with one farmer commenting “like many  other farmers I thought I had produced good quality silage but the analysis indicated that I must feed a different concentrate ration to get the level of performance required this winter.   I am also going to get my stock out to pasture earlier next spring to make optimum use of grazed grass as the cheapest source of fodder ”.

CAFRE advisers are encouraging beef and sheep farmers to assess their fodder situation as soon as possible, as action taken now could avoid extra expense being incurred during the winter and will optimise animal performance.

If you would like to have your silage analysed, or wish to discuss your winter fodder situation, please contact your  CAFRE development adviser either at  your local DARD office or by telephoning 0300 200 7843.

International Beef Workers Group meet in Northern Ireland to discuss 'The Appliance of Science'

CAFRE/AFBI recently hosted the 2013 International Beef Workers Meeting entitled “The Appliance of Science”.  This is a biannual meeting for beef researchers and advisors to discuss the most recent research findings and involved 30 delegates from Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Republic of Ireland and France.  The first day included a tour of two local farms both of which work closely with CAFRE and AFBI.  

The first farm was Dale Orr who illustrated how a high output could be achieved from an organic system in a cost effective manner through maximal use of grazed forage coupled with the correct genetics, thus ensuring high quality carcasses were produced meeting the required specification for the organic market.  Dale demonstrated how working closely with his CAFRE advisor has improved his overall herd performance and ensured maximal profitability.  The second host farmer was Sam Chesney, who was the most recent recipient of Farming Life’s Beef Farmer of the Year.  Sam outlined how he strived to maximise output from his 130 cow suckler herd through the use of high genetic cattle offered high quality feedstuff.  Sam stressed the importance of good grassland management, high silage quality and a good quality ration for achieving high animal performance.  Sam also demonstrated to the group how he was continually improving his farming practises from advice he received from his local Cafre advisors and feed nutritionist; and from being a co-researcher with AFBI.    

The second day included a series of presentations from each organisation on novel research findings and technology transfer techniques within their organisation.  A clear message across the range of presentations was the ability for beef farmers to significantly improve their profitability through adopting well researched topics, such as monitoring animal performance (fertility and growth), practising good grassland management and breeding from high genetic merit sires. The development of BovIS by AFBI for monitoring performance; the advise and guidance from CAFRE advisors to the BETTER farm programme participants, and the subsequent widespread technology transfer dissemination of this advice to the wider industry via the Irish Farmer Journal showcased Northern Ireland as having an excellent facility to deliver the research down to the farm level, hence “The Appliance of Science”. 

A measured approach

By Allister Calvin, Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, Limavady

As ground conditions start to deteriorate on beef farms and cattle are housed for the winter feeding period, it is an ideal time to assess how much winter fodder is available on farm.

George Stewart runs a mixed beef, sheep, cereal and potato farm at Ballyquin on the outskirts of Limavady. Like most beef farmers, George experienced tight fodder supplies during spring 2013.

In an attempt to ensure adequate fodder reserves were built up for his herd of 160 beef cattle this winter, George increased his 2013 silage area by 15 percent to 80 acres. All silage on the farm is harvested in a two-cut system from new grass leys which form part of the arable rotation.  

The first cut of silage was taken on 26 June, 10 days later than usual, and yielded a disappointing 7t/acre. However, as a result of the excellent summer growing conditions, second cut yields were higher at approx. 9t/acre. In addition to the 660t pit silage now in store, 15t additional silage has been harvested as round bales.

George Stewart’s beef cattle will receive a winter diet consisting of silage, potatoes, straw and concentrate beef blend. It is planned to include silage in the cattle diet at a rate of approx. 20kg/head/day. At this feed level the farm has enough silage in store to feed its cattle for up to 210 days if necessary.

Silage will be analysed shortly to determine its feed characteristics, quality and the level of meal concentrate feeding required to supplement the diet. Silage quality on George’s farm is expected to be slightly lower than usual considering the poor spring growth conditions and later cutting date, but like most farms George’s main priority for 2013 was to ensure a sufficient quantity of fodder is available throughout the winter and this has been achieved.

If you require help to calculate how much winter fodder is available on your farm, or receive feeding advice, please contact your local Beef & Sheep Development Adviser by telephoning 0300 200 7843.

Have you checked you have enough silage for this Winter?

By Niall McCarron, CAFRE Beef & Sheep Development Adviser, Omagh

Michael & Francis McDonnell farm at Dromore in Co. Tyrone. 40 spring calving suckler cows are kept with progeny sold as yearling stores in early summer or kept through as replacements. With second cut silage ensiled at the end of August, Michael & Francis, with the help of their local CAFRE beef and sheep advisor, Niall McCarron, completed a feed budget for the upcoming winter. With a lighter than normal first cut (18 June) that yielded approx 300 tonnes, the decision was made to close off all the first cut silage area again for second cut.

Silage on farm

Pits have been measured and calculated to show there are 550 tonnes of pit silage, 35 round bales of early June silage and some hay made in July.
Stock to be wintered

  • 40 suckler cows (1.2 tonnes per head per month)
  • 10 replacement heifers (1 tonne per head per month)
  • 40 weanlings (0.7 tonnes per head per month)

Assuming a six month winter there will be a requirement for 520 tonnes silage which means the McDonnell’s are happy their current stocks will be adequate. It was pointed out that cows were housed for almost nine months last winter so having a little in reserve over the six months is a good situation to be in.

Having said this, grass supply should allow the cattle to graze well into October this year and they plan to get weanlings out to grass in early March if possible. To this end, areas for grazing early next year have been closed up to build up a sward for next Spring.

Silage has been sampled and sent for analysis. This will then form the basis of a feed plan for the winter, with particular emphasis on growing weanling heifers to be ready for service at 15months of age next May. 

Fodder stocks built up on farm

By John Sands, CAFRE Senior Beef & Sheep Adviser, Counties Down & Armagh

Clifford Ruddell farms over 80 hectares of his father’s farm at Kilvergan just outside Lurgan in County Armagh.  Clifford carries a herd of 50 suckler cows and takes the calves through to beef alongside bought in store cattle on the farm. He also grows cereals, vegetables and potatoes. The land is mostly low lying and made up of heavy Lough Neagh clay.  It can grow good crops but can be difficult to manage in wet years like last year.

Fodder reserves were almost exhausted on the farm last year but Clifford has worked hard to build up an adequate stock of silage and hay for the forthcoming winter. He has done this by paying particular attention to the detail when managing the grass swards. He turned stock out early which left the swards more easily managed and of better quality mid season. He applies lime, phosphate and potash when necessary, reseeds regularly, and ensiles or bales up excess grass grown. Clifford seized the opportunity to reseed 45 acres during August this year as weather and ground conditions were almost ideal. A short-term ley mixture containing Italian ryegrass was used on some of this area as it will be cut for silage and will fit in with Cliffords rotation on the farm.

Clifford doesn’t believe in carrying passengers and scans his cows each year to identify and dispose of those which are not in calf. This exercise has already been completed and he has also taken advantage of the recent high cattle prices to sell off stores surplus to requirement.

Matching livestock to suit environmental conditions

CAFRE’s Hill Farm at Glenwherry extends to 958 hectares with the land type comprising of improved grassland, upland parks and heather moorland.  With only 5 percent of the land area as improved grassland the farm is primarily operated as a stock rearing farm with calves from the suckler herd transferred at weaning and lambs transferred or sold as stores.

The farm supports 100 suckler cows and has the capacity to carry 1100 ewes. Breed types of both cattle and sheep have been matched to the environment as there is a requirement to utilise poor quality roughage and withstand the harsh weather conditions 350 metres above sea level.
Within the suckler herd a three breed rotational crossbreeding programme is in place to maximise hybrid vigour and uses Aberdeen Angus, Shorthorn and Limousin stock bulls.  The herd is self contained with only stock bulls purchased.  Herd replacements are AI’d to easy calving Aberdeen Angus and Shorthorn bulls to reduce calving difficulties.  All calves are transferred at weaning to CAFRE’s Abbey Farm at Greenmount for subsequent breeding or finishing.

The sheep flocks operated at Glenwherry comprise of three Blackface flocks which utilise the heather moorland and a Texel / Blackface crossbred flock which utilises the upland parks.

The Blackface ewes comprise of a nucleus flock (Glen flock) bred pure with the progeny being signet recorded.  The aim is to select the best females for retention within this flock.  The Glen flock also supplies replacements for the second Blackface flock (Glen crossing flock).  These ewes are crossed to Swaledale rams with the resulting females selected as replacements for the third flock (Creeve flock).  Ewes within the Creeve flock are then crossed to Texel sires to produce replacements for the 500 head crossbred ewe flock.

The crossbred ewes are bred to Primera rams to produce slaughter lambs and a proportion are bred to Lleyn rams to produce replacements for the ewe flock at CAFRE’s Abbey Farm.

For further information contact CAFRE Technology Administration on 028 9442 6770.

The importance of all income streams to the viability of farms in the LFAs

Since 2005 suckler and sheep producers have received a Single Farm Payment (SFP) on condition that they maintain the countryside in good agricultural and environmental condition.

As a result of this farmers need to look at the main factors driving the profitability of the business.  For this purpose the business should be split into 3 distinct areas:

  • contribution of Livestock Enterprises
  • sundry Payments
  • common fixed costs of production

Contribution of livestock enterprises

Every gross margin made from livestock over and above direct costs of production (fertiliser, meal, veterinary and sundries) will contribute towards the profitability of the business.  The size of this margin will depend on the efficiency of each individual enterprise.  Benchmarking data has shown that the most efficient suckler and sheep producers are generating a gross margin approximately 2 times greater than that of the least efficient producers.  

Sundry Payments

Single Farm Payment (SFP)

Once this payment was activated in 2005 the only way to increase it was through leasing or purchasing additional entitlements.  However the payments values have fluctuated from year to year due to exchange rate differences and other factors such as modulation and national reserve allocations.

Less Favoured Area Compensatory Allowances (LFACA)

This payment is dependent on a minimum stocking rate of 0.2 Livestock Units per hectare and is based on the area claimed on each year. A higher payment per hectare is available where 25% of the farm’s Livestock Units are accounted for by suckler production.

Countryside Management Scheme (CMS)

This payment will vary greatly from farm to farm based on the size, the habitats present on the holding and the positive environmental management steps taken.

Common Fixed Costs of Production

A large proportion of fixed costs on a farm will be incurred almost irrespective of stock numbers.  If the farm is currently over-mechanised, some impact may be made on the remaining fixed costs if stock numbers are reduced.  However, if a business only has one tractor it will cost just the same to feed 30 cows each winter, as it will be to feed 10 cows.

Overall Farm Profitability

The greater the sum of sundry payments (SFP, LFACA & CMS/ESA) that a business is entitled to the less important the production of livestock becomes to the overall profitability of the business, especially if this business employs no labour, pays no conacre bill or bank interest charges.

For example, a large hill farm’s Single Farm Payment may cover the fixed costs of the business and it will have an LFACA and perhaps a CMS payment as well.  Therefore the contribution that the livestock makes to the overall profitability of the business is greatly diminished, particularly as livestock margins are lower on hill farms due to longer winters, wetter grazing conditions and shorter summers.  Whereas a lowland suckler herd may only have the Single Farm Payment to cover fixed costs, therefore overall profitability will almost solely be dependent on the efficiency of the cattle enterprise.

David Henderson, Cappy, Tamlaght, Enniskillen

By William Johnston, Beef & Sheep Development Adviser, Co Fermanagh

David farms 96 ha of heavy clay land located five miles east of Enniskillen.  The farm carries over 90 Simmental X Limousin suckler cows and 50 Suffolk X ewes.  The cows are calved in two batches, February/March and May/June.  The male calves are sold off the farm at 9 – 10 months of age and the heifers are sold as maidens for breeding stock at 18 months of age or in calf at 2.5 years old.  

Simmental and Charolais bulls are used with specific cows selected for AI with Limousin semen taken from a former stock bull.  On average 12 – 15 heifers are brought into the herd as replacements.  The ewes are tupped using Rouge and Charollais rams and lamb between 10 April and 10 May.  The lambing percentage was 180 percent in 2013.


Usually the February/March calvers are turned out as they calve down and the majority of other cattle are at grass by the end of March.

This year the cows and calves were at grass during March but had to be rehoused at night due to the cold weather and poor growing conditions.  

As ground conditions deteriorated in early April the stock were re-housed only returning to grass on the 23 May.Yearling heifers would normally be at grass from late March but this year turnout was delayed until late May.

In early June all cattle were out except for 40 springing cows which are due to calve by 20 June

Silage Stocks

David would normally have a full pit of silage remaining at turnout which is used if stock have to be re-housed at any stage during the grazing period.  However as the cattle were in the house for an additional two months last winter, David is now left with a half pit of silage.  

Grassland management

  • silage fields (100 acres for first cut) were sowed in early April and the grazing ground sowed mid April
  • sheep were moved from the silage area on 6 April prior to sowing
  • David found that the sheep helped to keep the grass covers on the grazing fields under control when the ground conditions were too poor to allow turnout of cattle
  • David practices rotational grazing with electric fences used to subdivide larger fields from turnout
  • 3.5 ha of the grazing area which had got too heavy for grazing was baled on 1 June with 6 bales / acre harvested

First Cut Silage

After a show stat David plans to harvest the first cut around 10 June weather permitting.

The second cut silage area is usually 50 acres but David plans to cut 65 acres this year by increasing his fertiliser applications on the grazing area to free up the additional land for silage with the aim of rebuilding fodder stocks on the farm.


David is keen to turn stock out as early as possible and maximise the number of days at grass but the exceptional difficult spring has meant a much longer housing period.

David aims to have silage available on the farm for 12 months of the year as stock have been rehoused at some point in most years to protect the grazing area from damage.

Grazing swards damaged last summer are not in a position to take any more poaching this season and careful management is required.
David is hopeful that even with a later turnout this spring his stock will be able to stay out longer in the autumn than last year.

On an on-going basis David will keep a check on fodder supplies against planned stock numbers and he will take action early if he needs to.

Dealing with a poor spring on beef and sheep farms

Grazing grass in difficult conditions

Growing grass – Even though it’s not ideal spreading or growing conditions take any suitable opportunity to spread small regular fertiliser applications especially on the drier fields – There is some suggestion that in these poor conditions grass will react better to a fertiliser with some P & K in it than to CAN/NChalk.

Using the grass – Obviously lighter stock will do less damage. A rotational grazing approach will reduce the overall damage to the sward and result in less waste of grass through trampling.

Zero grazing – if suitable land and equipment is available zero grazing may allow you to use some grass closed for silage as a buffer feed. One-pass direct cut equipment is probably the best equipment if specialised zero grazing equipment is not available. Chop length isn’t important so a single/double chop harvester will work well. Cut high enough to avoid soil contamination.

Feeding indoor stock

If still have silage left – start rationing now – Fodder is scarce – meal, though it may be expensive, is available. Cattle need a minimum level of long fibre in their diet so don’t feed all the silage/hay/straw and then look for other feeds (Link1)With the present prices being charged for fodder it may be the most expensive part of the diet so keep the amount fed to a minimum.

Relative value of feed –Allow for dry matter content if buying wetter feeds or forage. One tonne of dryer silage (25% DM) will contain 35% more dry matter than wet silage (18%) – the rest is just water, which isn’t scarce. CAFRE relative feed calculator

Similarly allow that many wet feeds can be 50% or less dry matter compared to concentrates at approx 90% DM (A 50% DM wet feed at £150/t is worth £270/t for the same feed at 90% DM (£150 ÷ 50 x 90 = £270)

Target feeding

  • pre Jan calved cows -feed meal to calves and reduce feeding to cows if in calf
  • stronger stores (550kg+) - consider finishing with the minimum amount of straw

Dealing with difficult weather conditions

Health & fertility

  • keep a close eye on vulnerable groups e.g. young calves
  • keep all vaccination programmes up-to-date
  • Dehorn calves etc before turn-out
  • have cattle/treatments such as boluses, long-acting wormers ready for turn-out
  • cows that are being rationed and kept in will be less inclined to cycle
    • increasing feed levels to bulling cows is economically worthwhile to ensure next years calf crop. Energy is the main requirement so extra cereals will do.
    • many of the compounds/blends being fed are general-purpose so feed a post calving mineral to all cows especially pre service – a suitable bolus may suffice – discuss with your vet.
    • separating calves from cows coming up to and at service for a period every day will loosen the maternal bond and improve cycling – it also allows you to feed meal directly to the calves – they should be out of sight and preferably some distance away but any - separation will improve cycling.

Planning for improved weather conditions

Growing grass for grazing and efficient grazing

Regular applications of manure/fertiliser and adopting some form of rotational grazing will increase output per hectare and allow better control of grazing. Rotational grazing will allow you to bale any surpluses that occur rather than wasting through topping.

Although fodder stocks are short – try to turn out cattle in stages as grass becomes available.

If there are good covers but turnout has been delayed because of ground conditions. At turnout try to graze in blocks or strips so that if growth exceeds demand you can conserve the surplus as silage.

Further details on grass budgeting

Building up silage stocks

Cutting 1st cut late may give more bulk for that cut but can reduce the overall yield and silage quality will be lower. Obviously if silage fields were closed up late there will be some delay in cutting but grass will head from late May on and this reduces quality (and growth rate) regardless of yield. Therefore cutting a lighter 1st cut and working towards increasing 2nd cut yield may be the best way to increase overall yield.

Maximise output with slurry & fertilisers – Make best use of slurry/manures and balance with a suitable fertiliser. Using the wrong fertiliser will reduce yield and waste some of the money spent on fertiliser.

Using high yield grasses –– as a short term crop stitching in hybrid/Italian/Westerwolds can give a sward yielding 20 – 30% more. They will last 1 – 3 years (depending on the grass used). They will require higher levels of feeding and will need to be cut at shorter intervals than conventional swards. This may mean the crop will have to be baled or conserved separately if it doesn’t coincide with a cut.

Growing/buying crop silage – Crop silage can offer a high bulk per hectare but feeding quality can be very variable and is rarely better than reasonable 2nd cut silage.

Buying & ensiling B Grains/S Beet Pulp with silage – Including these feeds in the bottom or layers of silage as it’s cut will help to conserve them but there may be some losses through effluent/waste. The main reason for buying these feeds in the summer is they are more likely to be available and may be cheaper. However they may use up valuable storage space resulting in late cuts having to be baled at a higher cost/t.

Minimise waste this winter - Clean the empty silo, repair any floor/wall damage and sheet the sides to reduce waste in the next crop. Levels of waste can often exceed 10% of the crop yield.

Repairing the damage - soils

Wait for the soil to dry – Trying to level/roll soils that have not dried out will do more damage than good. Similarly subsoiling a wet soil will not give the cracking and breaking action that is required to have an effect.

Before draining, subsoiling or even reseeding – dig a few holes to establish if there are any compaction layers. Often these are at or just below plough depth. Sub-soiling just below this layer will be more effective than sub soiling much deeper – and it’s easier on the machinery.

If there’s a compaction layer and the soil below it is relatively dry - subsoiling to break up this layer will be more effective than drainage.
Drainage is very expensive. Before starting to put in new drains try to make sure any old drains are working as effectively as possible. - Clean sheughs and look for/check drain ends to make sure they haven’t been blocked.
- Cleaning ends and/or jetting out existing drains may be a cost effective alternative.

- Any new drains should have a strong end constructed that prevents the end being trampled and marks the drain-end when the sheugh is being cleaned.

Repairing the damage - swards

Assess the sward – how much ryegrass is present – prioritise those swards with the least ryegrass content for reseeding or renovation.

  • soil nutrients – the application of manures, fertilisers and/or lime to swards should be based on soil analysis and fertiliser recommendations from RB209 Soil analysis done at this time of year may not give an accurate figure for P and K content if slurry or fertiliser has been applied in the last 2 months but the pH figure will be not be affected.
  • liming – apply lime to soils that are deficient in lime – pH below 6 based on soil analysis – Lime will improve grass growing conditions and helps to improve soil structure.
  • fertilisers – where soil analysis indicates a need for phosphate (P) and potash (K) these should be applied. Under supplying P&K will limit the use of Nitrogen and so reduce overall yield. Ryegrass will is more sensitive to P&K deficiencies than weed grasses and undersupplying P&K will allow weed grasses to increase within a sward.
  • weeds – will reduce yield and are easiest to control when actively growing. If you are concerned at the effect the herbicide will have on grass growth consult your supplier. Some products have less effect on grass growth than others. Some products can be applied as two lower rate applications that will have less effect on grass growth and a greater kill of weeds.

Financing your business

Due to the extra costs being incurred on farm businesses at this time it has never been more important to have a handle on you financial position. Further information on the cashflow implications.

Managing ewes and lambs during extreme weather

By Don Morrow, Senior Beef and Sheep Adviser, CAFRE

The recent extreme weather is causing severe disruption and distress on many sheep farms, especially where lambing is on-going or about to commence. The following are some pointers aimed at helping sheep farmers through this difficult time.


Where sheep are isolated and some sheep farms still inaccessible, feed resources are becoming scarce. Ewes ideally need a mix of forage and concentrates, especially if they are hungry. An initial feed of silage or hay before feeding concentrates will help to reduce digestive stress. It is important to avoid ewes suddenly getting access to a large amount of cereal based concentrates as this can cause ruminal acidosis and possibly death. Offer concentrates in a number of small feeds (200 grams) ensuring there is ample feeding space. This will reduce the stress on the animals.

Where ewes are hungry it is advisable to initially feed a high fibre-type concentrate containing for example a high proportion of sugar beet pulp or soya hulls. Sugar beet pulp pellets can also be fed on top of snow.
If concentrate feed is limited prioritise it to late pregnant and milking sheep. Water is also very important so check that all stock have an adequate supply.

Restricted feed supplies

A 50-60 kg hogget needs five kg of silage a day for maintenance but will survive for a week with no ill effects on two kg/day.

For a Hill ewe with very little forage Table One details the amounts of concentrates which can be offered. But again remember to introduce these high levels of concentrates gradually.

  Weeks pre-lambing Weeks pre-lambing Weeks pre-lambing Post lambing
    5 3-4 Last 2 weeks
Concentrate (kg/ewe/day)* 1.0 1.2 1.4 2.0

*A suitable concentrate ration would have to have a high level of sugar beet pulp or soya hulls (30%+) to avoid digestive upsets. A coarse mix of Barley (50%), Sugarbeet pulp (30%) and soyabean meal (20%) with minerals

Managing indoor space

Priority should be given to freshly lambed or lambing ewes. During lambing keep a check on ewe numbers in each area and tighten up when appropriate. New born lambs need dry and clean conditions, so if bedding is in short supply, keep for lambing pens. Where ewes and lambs cannot be moved to the field and where straw is available it would be beneficial to bed some slatted or wire mesh areas to maintain good stock health. Wood shavings are a very effective bedding material for solid floors if straw is in short supply or straw bedded pens are getting wet and sticky.

Preventing a disease outbreak is paramount, so maintain high levels of hygiene. Always disinfect lambing pens regularly, navel dip all lambs and discuss with your local private veterinary practitioner (PVP) other preventative routine treatments that will protect lambs from disease. It would be unfortunate for lambs to survive birth in this weather and then die later from scours or navel ill related diseases.

Outdoor lambing sheep

Provide sheltered areas where possible using bales, calf creeps, trailers etc. Table 1 details the treatment of Hypothermic lambs. Contact your PVP before warming an older lamb for guidance on administering an intraperitoneal injection as warming an older lamb without giving an intraperitoneal injection of glucose can result in a lamb with brain damage. 

Table Two - Treating a hypothermic lamb
Lamb temperature (degrees C) Age Treatment
    Dry the lamb
37-39°C (99-102°F) Any age Feed by stomach tube
Give shelter with the ewe
Check temperature again soon
Dry the lamb
Below 37°C, 99°F 0-5 hours Warm the lamb in a warmer until the temperature recovers to 37
Feed by stomach tube
Return to ewe or transfer to ‘weak lamb unit’
Dry the lamb
Below 37°C, 99°F More than five hours and able to hold up its head Feed by stomach tube
Warm the lamb in a warmer until the temperature recovers to 37°C
Feed by stomach tube
Return to ewe or transfer to ‘weak lamb unit’
Dry the lamb
Below 37°C, 99°F More than five hours and not able to hold up its head Give intraperitoneal injection of glucose
Warm the lamb in a warmer until the temperature recovers to 37°C
Feed by stomach tube
Return to ewe or transfer to ‘weak lamb unit’

If you need help or advice please contact the DARD helpline on 0300 200 7852.

Red meat students "Walk the Chain" in Foyle Campsie

By Dr Norman Weatherup, Greenmount Campus

Foyle Food Group, Campsie, recently hosted a group of students from Greenmount Campus, CAFRE. The students are undertaking the Red Meat enterprise management option as part of either final year Higher National Diploma or first year Foundation Degree in Agriculture and Rural Studies.
The event included a discussion on the cattle specification required by the Foyle Food Group as well as current markets and customers for beef.

Students then undertook a complete tour of the factory following the entire chain from arrival of live cattle to the dispatch point for joints and cuts of beef. This provided an excellent opportunity for the students to understand the operation of a meat processing facility. They were also able to appreciate why certain specifications are put in place and the implications for farmers of producing cattle outside of these specifications.

Feedback was very encouraging, with students finding it both educational and interesting.

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