Management Notes for August 2018

Date published: 02 August 2018

Management Notes are prepared by staff from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). CAFRE is a college within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).


Prepared by: Christopher Breen

Water requirements

Dairy cows suffer more from the heat than they do from the cold. Heat stress in dairy cattle can occur when the temperature goes above 22⁰C and predisposes cows to an increase in the incidence of mastitis and sub-acute rumen acidosis which contribute to low milk butterfats. At high temperatures it is vital cattle have access to sufficient clean, fresh water to avoid health problems. A dairy cow requires 110+ litres per day at high temperatures and can drink 14 litres per minute. A cow will consume 30-50% of her daily water intake within the first hour after milking – does trough size and flow rates allow this level of water consumption on your farm? A trough measuring 180 cm wide, 64 cm deep and 45 cm high with a capacity of 650 litres will supply 100 cows. Flow rate is critical as the incorrect pipe size, ball valve and float fittings will impact rate of flow as shown in the table below. Doubling the diameter of the pipe can increase flow rate to the trough six fold.

Table 1 Relationship between orifice diameter and water flow rate
Diameter of orifice (mm) Flow rate (litres/minute)
3.18 1.8
4.70 3.6
6.35 6.0
9.53 14.4


August is the traditional month for reseeding. Before starting work consider:

  • Is drainage repair needed?
  • Is ploughing necessary or does soil compaction need addressed?
  • Using soil analysis to determine the correct lime and fertiliser needed.
  • Using grass varieties with similar heading dates which are suitable for intended use.
  • Using a maximum of four grass varieties.

Minimal cultivation and stitching-in techniques can be used to establish new or renovate existing swards.

Minimal cultivation

if the old sward contains scutch, destroy it before cultivation. Following hard grazing (3-5 cm) or silage cutting, spray off the regrowth. About a week later (follow product recommendation) drill the seed into a shallow tilth prepared by harrowing the surface and rolling afterwards.


use this technique to improve swards with a significant proportion of perennial ryegrass. It is particularly suitable for open silage swards or stoney ground. Most drills sow grass seed into existing swards. Minimise competition from the existing grass sward by hard grazing or mowing for silage immediately before seeding.

Inspect all reseeds for signs of pest damage, particularly frit fly and leatherjackets.

Close up dry cows

The last four weeks of the dry cow period are the most critical in terms of establishing the subsequent lactation. If dry cows have been grazed, they should be housed for the last four weeks of pregnancy. A low calcium diet will stimulate 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. Body condition dictates the amount and quantity of feeding. Ideally cows should be condition score 2.75-3. Alter their feed to allow them to achieve this condition score at calving. Fibrous silage and straw are good for keeping the rumen expanded and working. However as the cow approaches calving, her intake declines and concentrates should also be fed.

Usually the ‘close up’ Greenmount dry cows are offered 1-2 kg of a pre-calver feed. Up to one week before calving, they are moved to straw bedded pens where they are fed the same diet as the milking cows.

Improving your cow housing

The next month provides the last opportunity to make any housing changes before winter. Assess your dairy unit with a view to improving cow comfort and easing management. Cubicles should be sized for the largest cows in your herd, remember they are metal furniture! Suggested dimensions for a 600 kg cow are:

Width (clear) Stall length   Neck rail height Brisket board from kerb
  Side lunge Forward lunge    
1100-1180 mm 2130 mm 2440 mm 1050 mm 1680 mm

The bed should slope 100 mm from front to back and the kerb depth should be between 150 mm and 200 mm. Trials show that cow lying time increases with the softness of the bed, so try kneeling on the cubicle bed, if you feel any discomfort then it needs upgrading.

Do not overlook simple issues that influence feed intakes, milk yield and fertility. These include ventilation, condition of floors, feed space, cow flow, adequate water and lighting.

August jobs checklist

  • To maintain sward quality top grazing swards containing old dead grass or seed heads.
  • Calibrate parlour and out of parlour feeders to ensure accurate feeding.
  • If fields are not performing well consider reseeding. Apply lime where necessary and the appropriate fertiliser based on soil analysis results.
  • Assess heifer performance – are they performing to meet desired targets?


Prepared by: Nigel Gould


Alleviating compaction

Where swards are under performing, compaction may be a possible cause. Heavy machinery and stock, coupled with poor weather, has increased incidences of compaction in recent years. Heavy soils are more susceptible. The use of specialised machinery to ‘aerate’ or ‘lift’ the soil is growing in popularity. However if this equipment is used where there isn’t an underlying compaction problem or when the soil is too wet, it will have a negative impact on the soil and sward performance. Identify compaction by digging a hole with a spade and examining the soil. Look at root depth and for relatively large compacted aggregates of soil or a compacted ‘pan’. Relatively low levels of compaction may remedy themselves naturally through wetting/drying and hard frosts.

Compaction that won’t remedy itself naturally, but is still in the top 10 cm of soil may be alleviated using spikers/aerators. Although they don’t have a lifting affect there are variations with angled tines which increase the level of soil disturbance. Spikers/aerators are of particular benefit in stony, shallow soils. They are not effective at greater depths.

Sward lifters have a working depth of 20-35 cm and are useful for breaking a compacted ‘pan’ in the soil. Working depth needs to be slightly below the compacted ‘pan’. They are effective at greater depths compared to spikers/aerators.

No matter what equipment is used, the soil must be dry at the working depth. Loosened swards are fragile and easily re-compacted. The ideal time is a dry period in autumn. Allow the soil and sward to recover over the winter keeping stock and machinery off it if possible. Where this isn’t possible, use lighter stock on the farm to graze it.

Over-sowing white clover

Over-sowing is a useful method of introducing clover or increasing the percentage in an existing sward. Use 5 kg of white clover seed per hectare. Ideally over-sow clover after a heavy cut of silage or after the sward is grazed down to 4 cm. This slows the growth of the existing grass reducing competition for the clover seedlings. Sow using a fertiliser spreader and a mixing agent such as granulated fertiliser or granulated lime. Mix in the field instead of the yard. Ideally only mix half the amount needed for the field and spread it. Mix the second half and spread it in the field in an alternate direction. After the clover is broadcast, apply 5,000-7,500 gallons per hectare of watery slurry. This helps wash the seed into the base of the sward, supplies nutrients and aids germination. Good grazing management after clover emergence is vital. Graze down to 4 cm in the following rotation. This will help light get to the clover plant and encourage the stolons to spread greater distances. Do not over-sow clover if a period of dry weather is forecast. When choosing a variety to over-sow, consider the main use of the sward. Smaller leafed varieties withstand intensive grazing better, particularly grazing by sheep. Large leafed varieties suit systems where the sward is both grazed and cut for silage.


Finishing cattle at grass

Generally concentrates are required to finish cattle off grass in the autumn. Energy content, rather than protein content is the limiting factor of autumn grazed grass. Identify cattle which will potentially finish at grass and offer 3 kg concentrate per head per day for a six week finishing period. A higher level may be necessary if grass quality is poor. Traditional breed cattle and heifers are the most suited to finishing at grass. Feeding concentrates at grass too late in autumn when weather and ground conditions have deteriorated is not advisable and housing is likely to be the best option in this case.


Prepared by: Kieran Lavelle

Powdery mildew in strawberries

Powdery mildew is the most serious disease of table top strawberry crops under polythene. A preventative fungicide programme is most important. Mildew is exacerbated by high humidity, so it is usually more severe towards the end of the season. Tunnels with poor drainage or over watering and which have standing water on the ground are the worst affected. Infection is mainly from spores which overwinter in the tunnel. If mildew is well controlled in autumn, fewer spores overwinter to cause trouble in the new season.

Development and spread of powdery mildew is temperature dependent. Infection can start slowly in cool spring weather and may only be seen by carefully observing leaf roll or checking with a hand lens on the under surface of leaves for early mycelium. If not treated at this stage it can rapidly become severe as temperatures rise.

With all mildew sprays it is important to achieve good coverage, especially of the under surface of the leaf where infection enters. Apply protectant sprays every ten days early in the season or when humidity and risk are low and every seven days later in the season or when humidity is high. 

Sulphur is a cheap way to control mildew. Resistance does not develop to sulphur in the way it does to synthetic fungicides. It can be applied as a spray or by sulphur burners. Burners are most suited for use under glass. As they weaken polythene limit their use in polytunnels. Sulphur burners and sprays are harmful to Phytoseiulus. Flowable sulphur is more convenient to use than wetable powder.

Treat infected crops with potassium bicarbonate to dry up existing infection and reduce spore production. Apply at 0.5-1.0%, late in the evening. As it kills the fungus by its alkalinity the leaf surface needs to be damp to take effect.

AHDB study tour

AHDB organised a study tour to The Netherlands visiting protected edible, soft fruit and ornamental businesses. The tour focused on the very latest in greenhouse technologies, automation and robotics in production, harvesting and dispatch. It included visits to the GreenTech trade show, Wageningen University and Research (WUR) campus and to a grower to see commercial production technology in use.

GreenTech is the global meeting place for all professionals in the greenhouse industry, showcasing the latest technology and innovation for the production of vegetables, fruit and ornamentals. Some of the trade show main themes, which also comprised the subject of the technical presentation at WUR, were precision horticulture and robotics, greenhouse design concepts, modern coverings, sustainable greenhouse production and vertical farming.

There is demand for the development and use of machines/robotics in seeding, planting, growing, harvesting, food processing and packaging. For instance, sensor-equipped machines/robots have been developed to scan the crop, detect pests, diseases and weeds and spray specific crop spots, cut and plant shoot-cuttings at the beginning of a new pot plant crop, harvest fruits in greenhouse crops (sweet pepper and tomatoes), monitor crop growth and development to assist with crop management decisions and trim bushes in gardens along with lawn mowing.

A sustainable alternative to fossil fuel is geothermal energy. AHDB visited Barendse-DC, a sweet pepper glasshouse producer. The company has invested with seven other farms in exploiting the geothermal energy (heat) sourced nearly 3 km under the earth surface. The heat is used for the heating pipe system. The geothermal energy is used alone or with natural gas burners which produce electricity, heat and carbon dioxide.

The sweet pepper harvesting robot (Sweeper) is already being tested at commercial scale and soon will be used in commercial glasshouses. Further information on the study tour is available from Konstantinos.Xyntaris, Horticulture Development Adviser, CAFRE 028 9442 6792 or Email


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

Farrowing pen size

The standard size of farrowing pen in Northern Ireland is 2.4 m by 1.8 m. This has been the case for many years, despite average litter size and weight increasing dramatically over recent years. The latest figures from farms using the Pig Vision recording programme show that average born alive is now 14.3, with the top 10% of farms averaging 16.0 born alive.

Recently some producers, who were either building new farrowing houses or refurbishing existing ones, have made the pens longer and wider. I saw a new farrowing house recently and the pens were 2.5 m by 2.0 m. Another farmer in my area is building a new house this summer, with plans to make the pens 2.6 m by 2.0 m. As well as obviously providing more room for the pigs, the larger pen allows for a bigger heat pad.

Interestingly in other EU countries pen size is also increasing, with the minimum length 2.5-2.7 m and the minimum width 1.8-2.0 m.

If you are planning to renovate an existing farrowing house or build a new one think about pen size. Just don’t make them the same size they have always been!

Environmental enrichment

Providing the right type of environmental enrichment in the right way is one of the six key factors identified as a means of reducing stress in pigs. Pigs need to root and explore their environment. If they can’t they become stressed and may start to tail bite.

Wood as enrichment is becoming popular on local farms. During farm visits I have seen wood hanging from a chain, in a vertical dispenser or in a dispenser attached diagonally to the wall. As well as allowing more pigs access to the wood, research by Teagasc shows that pigs use the wood more if it is in a dispenser fixed to the wall at an angle (see photo). This is probably because the pigs don’t have to twist their heads to the side to bite the wood. The research also showed that pigs prefer spruce, a softwood, over larch and beech.

During DAERA inspections, which are ongoing, inspectors will check if your pigs have enrichment and if they are using it. There is no point having enrichment if the pigs do not use it because it’s not what they want, it’s difficult to get at or they are bored with it. Giving pigs spruce in an angled dispenser is one way of ensuring they will make use of enrichment.

Success story for worm scheme

The EU Exceptional Adjustment Aid Package, which provided funding for pig farmers to help reduce the level of milk spot is a story of success.

The three areas of success are:

  • Success 1 - a 6% reduction in the level of milk spot in herds that took part in the Scheme. In July 2017, before the start of the Scheme the level of milk spot for these herds was 15%. The Pig ReGen Health Survey carried out in April this year showed that the level of milk spot is now 9%.
  • Success 2 – the number of herds with no milk spot has increased. Before the Scheme 29% of herds had 0% milk spot. In April this figure was 42%.
  • Success 3 – the number of herds with high levels of milk spot, that is, over 25% has decreased.

There are also three messages to come out of the Scheme:

  • Message 1 – if levels of milk spot on your farm are decreasing or are at 0% do not be tempted to stop using wormer. If you do, levels may increase again.
  • Message 2 – if you are not one of the 124 farmers that took part in the Scheme talk to your vet about a worm control programme.
  • Message 3 – if you did take part in the Scheme and levels are not decreasing talk to your vet about what else you can do to reduce levels.

The Colebrooke and Strule Soil Testing and Training Initiative provides free soil testing and training for farms within the boundaries of the selected sub-catchments of the Colebrooke and Strule waterways.

Use this link to check if your land is within the boundaries

Register online 

before 12.00 noon on 17 August 2018.


Notes to editors: 

  1. The department may take photographs and videos at announcements and events to publicise its work. Photographs, interviews, videos or other recordings may be issued to media organisations for publicity purposes or used in promotional material, including in publications, newspapers, magazines, other print media, on television, radio and electronic media (including social media and the internet). Photographs and videos will also be stored on the department’s internal records management system. The department will keep the photographs and recordings for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which they have been obtained. The department’s Privacy Policy is available on our website.
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  3. All media enquiries to DAERA Press Office or tel: 028 9052 4619.

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