Management Notes for August 2016

Date published: 02 August 2016


Management Notes are prepared by staff from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). Questions and comments are welcome to allow CAFRE to address the issues that are important to you. Please contact the author directly. CAFRE is a college within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

The ‘close up’ cows at Greenmount are fed a partial DCAB diet with added magnesium chloride


Prepared by: Michael Garvey


telephone:     028 3752 9054                                            

Grazing management

Walk your grazing area and see what grass you have in terms of quantity and quality. Stock your herd at 3.5-4 cows per hectare over the grazing area. On a three week rotation this equates to a hectare of daily grazing for 80 cows. Your cows should be grazing a field when the grass cover is at the ankle of your boot and the grass should be grazed down to the heel of your boot. This will allow enough grass intake to support 17 litres of milk. Cows, well grazed, yielding less than 17 litres should not receive any concentrates, but higher yielding cows will need fed. Table 1 indicates the daily feed requirement at various yields.

Table 1: Daily feed level

Yield (litres per day)  20 25 30 35 40
Concentrate (kg per cow)         1.4 3.6 5.9 8.1 10.4

Cut fields with heavier covers immediately and big bale. Continue to follow each grazing rotation with 35 kg of nitrogen fertiliser per hectare to keep grass growing.

Management of springing heifers

Introducing heifers to the milking parlour to get them used to it before they calve brings benefits. Research at Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) has identified that trained heifers have an increased milk yield of 1.3 kg per day over the first 100 days of lactation and a reduced somatic cell count; 95,000 versus 156,000.

The research also found that introducing heifers in small groups is important. Heifers introduced into the milking herd in pairs produced 2 kg more milk daily during the first month after calving than heifers introduced on their own. There is also a suggestion that heifers find it easier to integrate if they are introduced into the milking herd after the evening milking as cows are less socially active then.

‘Close up’ dry cow management

If dry cows have been grazed they should be housed for the last four weeks of pregnancy and fed a diet low in calcium. A low calcium diet stimulates the cow to mobilise calcium from her own body reserves coming up to calving, reducing the risk of milk fever - the Dietary Cation Anion Balance (DCAB) diet.

Select forages that are suitable as dry cow feeds from Table 2 below. There is a large variation in forage between farms therefore a mineral analysis of your silage can identify the most appropriate for dry cow feeding.

Table 2: Suitability as dry cow forage

‘Poor’ dry cow forages

Grazed grass

Leafy, late season silage

‘Good’ dry cow forages

Stemmy, early season silage

Maize silage

Wholecrop silage


If dry cows are fed leafy silage, it may be ‘diluted’ with straw to achieve a better mineral balance.

A dry cow needs approximately 100 MJ of energy per day for maintenance, increasing to 120 MJ in the late dry period. Ideally dry cows should be consuming about 10 kg of silage dry matter with an ME of 10-10.5 MJ per kilogramme dry matter and 12-14% crude protein.

In the Greenmount Future Herd, the ‘close up’ cows are fed a partial DCAB diet with added magnesium chloride. The dry cow silage is prepared specifically using grass fields that only received nitrogen fertiliser (no slurry). The grass crop was allowed to grow out to maturity before it was harvested. In addition to the silage, chopped straw is fed and for the three weeks prior to calving the cows get 2 kg per head daily of a pre-calver concentrate.

Do not overstock the ‘close up’ group or restrict their feed space. Try to have two spare cubicles for every ten cows and aim for 75 cm of feed space per cow. Also clean, dry cubicle beds help maintain udder health and cows should have access to clean water. At Greenmount the water troughs are tipped daily to keep the water supply fresh.

Beef and sheep

Prepared by:  Darryl Boyd


telephone:      028 9034 0957

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 the most expensive method, at £685 per hectare.  A cheaper alternative is min-till or over-seeding which can cost in the region of £420 per hectare.

During a recent Business Development Group meeting members looked at fields approximately four weeks after establishment by over-seeding. Although both fields had progressed well there was a difference between the two swards and this is often the perception of over-seeding as it can be variable. Over-seeding is very useful in fields with stoney soils, heavy land that’s hard to dry out, when rapid establishment is required and for thin swards which have no other problems. It may be less suited to situations where there has been underlying problems leading to poor performance such as poor soil structure, compactions, or a history of drainage issues and low organic matter.

Reseed mixes

There are many factors to consider when selecting a grass seed mixture. These include:

Sward life – short, medium or long-term. High yielding tetraploids and Italian ryegrasses are both less dense and persistent compared to diploid perennial ryegrasses.

Sward purpose – grazing or cutting. Similar heading dates are needed for silage swards whereas a mixture of intermediate and late varieties can be good for grazing. Persistence and ground cover are very important to withstand poaching and tramping.

Local growth season – early, intermediate or late. Match the varieties to your area, there is little point including early heading varieties if they can’t be used early in the season.  

Soil type – dry/light or heavy/wet. As tetraploids are less dense they will be less persistent, especially on wet heavier soils. Timothy inclusion on these soils can help maintain growth and density, the late varieties of Timothy are less erect but are more dense growing pasture types.

Reseed method – some methods are more successful with particular varieties, for example tetraploids generally establish better than diploids in over-seeding due to their larger seed size.

Clover – due to the likelihood of the reseed requiring herbicide control, clover is often left out of mixes and stitched in the following year. 

Always use the AFBI and DAERA publication of recommended lists of reseed mixes.


Suckler calves

August is a good time to introduce creep feeding to spring born suckled calves in preparation for weaning.  Creep feeds should be palatable and kept fresh, high in digestible fibre, relatively low in starch with between 14 and 16% protein. A high proportion of undegradable protein is required and this can be achieved by including a small amount of soya in the ration. Gradually increase the amount fed over time and check if all the calves are starting to eat.



Carrying out a ram MOT ten weeks before mating commences will leave enough time for any necessary treatments or replacement rams to be sourced, if required and quarantined before entering the flock. During an MOT check the 5 T’s:

Toes – inspect all feet for problems and check locomotion along with signs of arthritis.

Teeth – check for under/over shot teeth, gaps and molar abscesses.

Testicles – measure and check firmness, similar to a flexed bicep with no lumps or bumps.

Tone – aim for a body condition score (BCS) of 3.5-4 (spine well covered).

Treat – vaccinate against clostridial diseases, parasites and any other problems.

Rams will benefit from a high quality, high protein (18-20%) ration for six to eight weeks pre-tupping if they are not on target for reaching BCS 3.5 - 4. Feeding may also be useful when the BCS is on target, but testicle tone or size is not yet sufficient.

If rams are mating ewes that have been synchronised, are in single sire groups or in with more than 60 ewes, it may be worthwhile asking the vet to perform a semen evaluation as poor fertility performance can have significant impact.


Prepared by:   Kieran Lavelle

e-mail :  

telephone:       028 3752 9060

Soft fruit under protection

An exciting new KTT project is underway at the Horticulture Centre at Greenmount Campus.  In May the first technology was put in place in the form of a streamline tabletop gutter system for strawberry production.  Traditionally strawberries are grown in raised beds in the soil or more often on home-made tabletop systems using peat based strawberry grow bags and any range of building materials.  The gutter system allows for strawberries to be planted in troughs or bags, but crucially the excess irrigation water can be collected and in some cases recycled. Hygiene in the crop is also better and the system is more conducive to modern monitoring techniques, which will also be an aspect of the project.

Commercial strawberry crops can yield one to two harvests depending on planting time and variety, so they need replanting yearly. In year one, the project will look specifically at growing strawberries in peat compared to coir substrate. Peat is a good growing medium and is easily available to growers in Northern Ireland (NI), but needs replaced yearly and can hold excess water in overwintered crops. Growers in Britain and northern Europe are shifting to coir as their main media for strawberries. Coir substrates and products are derived from the fibrous outer husk of coconut fruits and are currently seen as the best alternative to peat for the horticulture industry.  In some cases, coir substrate can be used for up to four years before having to be replaced with fresh substrate.

A new strawberry variety ‘Malling Centenary’ is also part of year one of this project.  Its key characteristics include fewer flowers per truss, leading to larger fruit and less labour associated with picking. The plant also exhibits qualities that put the vigour into the flowering and fruiting stages, rather than producing excessive leaf and runner growth.

Though only started, this project is already attracting the attention of some of NI’s top soft fruit growers.

Greenhouse crop management to maintain quality and yield

Growing greenhouse crops can be challenging as these crops rely on the grower’s input to create the ideal environmental conditions to maximise crop performance. In addition to choosing the correct variety, planting density and pest management technique, other important factors to monitor are soil moisture levels, soil pH and nutrition, minimum and maximum air temperature, relative humidity and light/shade levels. Each of these factors affects crop quality, yield and marketability so a balance must be achieved and maintained.

As the season is now at an advanced stage it is expected any issues with soil nutrition and pH have been addressed. However with changes in weather, crop management requires constant adjustment to maintain ideal growing conditions. This month monitoring and controlling greenhouse temperature is especially important to prevent crop stress and maintain quality, especially close to crop harvesting.

Greenhouse crops in high temperatures can become stressed which leads to a number of issues including wilting, scorched leaves, excessive or soft growth (prone to insect and fungal attack) or in some cut flower crops premature flowering on short stems.

Optimise the use of vents, fans and shade screens to maintain a comfortable greenhouse temperature. The use of fans in greenhouses ensures good air circulation and prevents extreme peaks in temperature. Open vents in the early morning or leave partially open overnight if not automatically controlled. Watering the crop early in the morning ensures humidity does not build up overnight creating ideal conditions for fungal spore germination.

Within greenhouses ‘microclimates’ can be created that affect crop uniformity. This can be due to temperature differences created by factors such as draughts or morning sun on the east side of the greenhouse. Crop signs and symptoms of draughts include shorter stems on one side of a bed, often along a side wall or near doorways, giving a ‘gradient’ affect or snapped flower heads late in the season where cold night temperatures and warm morning sun create a fluctuation in temperature.

In addition to matching variety selection with early, mid or late season production constant adjustments in watering, ventilation and shading are required to prevent crop stress to ensure greenhouse crop yield and quality expectations are reached.

Information technology

Prepared by:  Ronan Coll


telephone:      028 9442 6865

It’s never too late to learn some new skills: ICT training options in your area

Lifelong learning is a policy that CAFRE has always encouraged and this year with our partners we are offering a selection of ICT training courses. These courses are available to any farming business in Northern Ireland starting in September 2016. The training courses will build upon your existing skills and introduce new skills which will help improve the farm business.

APHIS Online – maintain your herd register and notify births/deaths and movements online

Over 8,000 farmers currently use APHIS Online with almost 350,000 calves registered online every year.  Would you like to join this growing band of farmers choosing this convenient and easy to use service?  If so, there will be a limited number of APHIS Online training events run between September and April at venues all over Northern Ireland. The training will take place over two evenings (two hours each).  You will get the opportunity to work through a number of exercises on our APHIS Online training system. You can practise registering animals, moving animals and view the various reports available to you on APHIS Online. Everybody attending will be registered to use DAERA online services, so you can access your own data when you finish the training.

Only basic IT skills are required to use APHIS Online. If you can turn on your computer and open a web page, you have all the skills needed to register births, deaths and movements online. You are welcome to bring along a family member or friend to the training event. If you would like to apply for a place on our APHIS Online training, please visit the DAERA website or call the Online Services Help Desk 028 9442 6699.  You can also access APHIS Online help videos via this page.

APHIS Online training events scheduled for September are:


Evening 1

7.30 – 9.30pm

Evening 2

7.30 – 9.30pm

Loughry Campus,


Monday 5th September

Monday 12th September

Greenmount Campus, Antrim

Tuesday 6th September

Tuesday 13th September

Enniskillen Campus, Enniskillen

Wednesday 7th September

Wednesday 14th September

Greenmount Campus, Antrim

Monday 19th September

Monday 26th September


Tuesday 20th September

Tuesday 27th September


Wednesday  21st September

Wednesday 28th September

Dates and locations for Aphis Online training from October 2016 onwards will be published via

Online Farm Nutrient Calculators – help with Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) compliance

The online Farm Nutrient Calculators are designed to help you comply with the NAP nutrient limits, nitrogen loading, storage capacity, nitrogen and phosphorus applied to crops and phosphorus balance (derogated farms). They make complex calculations and record keeping easier and could also help you improve soil fertility and crop yields, whilst making potential savings on chemical fertiliser and improving water quality. They are free to use by any farmers registered for DAERA online services. CAFRE offer training courses to help you understand NAP requirements, nutrient management planning and using the calculators. To register your interest in this or any of our Agri-Environment courses please visit the CAFRE website.

Local libraries – free IT access and support in your community

Local libraries are not just for borrowing books. LibrariesNI provide free internet access to members. Staff are on hand to help and advise on all things ICT related. If you are looking for a more formal and structured approach, LibrariesNI run courses on a variety of subjects via their Got IT and Go ON Programme. You will find courses about social networking, shopping online, using an iPad and many others. Visit the Libraries NI website, telephone 0345 4504 580 or call into your branch to find out what is available in your area.

Use the help and support that is available to brush up your skills or learn new ones. Making best use of ICT will be the best investment you make this year.

Notes to editors: 

  1. All media enquiries to DAERA Press Office, or tel: 028 9052 4619.
  2. Follow us on Twitter: @daera_ni

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