Management notes for August 2019

Date published: 02 August 2019

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).

Reseed grassland by using an air seeder and sowing into a shallow


Prepared by: Christopher Breen


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

  • If drainage repair is 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.

Stitching-in - 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 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 diet.

Body condition dictates the amount and quantity of feeding. Ideally cows should be condition score 3. If cows are too fat or too thin, 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 1.0-2.0 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 few months could provide 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 upgraded.

Do not overlook simple things that have a bearing on feed intake, milk yield and fertility. These include ventilation, condition of floors, feed space, cow flow, adequate water and lighting.

August jobs checklist

  • Top grazing swards containing old dead grass or seed heads to maintain sward quality.
  • Calibrate parlour and out of parlour feeders to ensure accurate feeding.
  • Consider reseeding fields that are not performing well. 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


Prepare rams for breeding

Make sure rams are ready well in advance of the breeding season. Aim for a body condition score of 4 at the start of mating which allows for some condition loss during the tupping period. To allow time for recovery treat rams showing any signs of lameness immediately. Ideally, prepare a ram at least six to seven weeks before the tupping season. If a ram is being vasectomised for use as a teaser, the procedure should be carried out at least six weeks before use.


Finishing cattle at grass

Where cattle are fed concentrates with the aim of finishing off grass, focus on the energy content of the concentrate rather than protein. Protein content of autumn grass is generally high, whereas the energy content can be relatively low. 12.0% crude protein should be more than adequate. If grass supply is still adequate offer approximately 3.0 kg per head per day for a six week finishing period. Increase concentrate levels where grass quality is poor or where particularly lean type well-muscled cattle are being finished. Traditional breeds generally require less concentrate and/or a shorter finishing period compared to their continental bred counterparts. Feeding concentrates at grass too late into the autumn when weather and ground conditions have deteriorated is not advisable and housing is usually the best option.

Prepare calves for weaning

Weaning can be particularly stressful for calves. However there are a number of measures you can take to reduce the cow-calf bond and reduce stress at weaning. These include introducing creep feed pre-weaning and creep-grazing calves ahead of cows. These measures can be introduced together by allowing calves access to grass ahead of the cows where a trough can be placed to facilitate creep feeding. This can be done at low cost simply by raising part of the electric fence. Alternatively, alterations can be made to existing gateways, usually involving gates being propped slightly ajar to allow calves access.

Younger cattle tend to have better feed conversion efficiency. A response of 1.0 kg live weight gain for every 4.0-6.0 kg of concentrate fed is common. Level of creep feeding and the length of the feeding period depends on your system and the type of calf. Generally, creep is introduced six weeks pre-weaning at a rate of 2.0-3.0 kg per head per day. It is recommended to separate heifer calves from the bull calves as they require a lower rate of feeding. Heifers sometimes lay down fat prematurely at the higher supplementation rates. This is particularly the case for traditional bred calves or for calves of lower conformation. Male calves intended for finishing in a bull beef system under 16 months of age or well-muscled calves targeted for the autumn weanling sales will benefit most from higher feeding levels.

Creep feed should contain approximately 16% crude protein and 12.5 MJ metabolisable energy per kilogramme dry matter. This mix doesn’t need to be expensive and a simple creep ration can be offered. For example, 57.5% barley, 25% beet pulp and 15% soyabean meal. Include 2.5% minerals. Keep troughs clean and meal fresh at all times to maximise palatability and intakes.

If calves are being vaccinated against pneumonia, this needs to be carried out well in advance of weaning. For some products the initial shot is required up to six weeks pre-weaning to achieve full immunity by weaning.


Raise soil pH by liming

Where analyses have identified low soil pH, now is a good time to spread lime. The quantity required to raise soil pH to the optimum of 6.3 for grassland is shown on your soil analysis report. It is not recommended to spread any more than 7.5t per hectare at any one time, however where land is particularly heavy, this should be reduced to 5t per hectare. Ideally, spread when grass covers are at their lowest, such as after silage harvesting as lime may contaminate pasture making it unpalatable to grazing livestock.


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

Robotic washer!

The benefits of washing, disinfecting and allowing pens to dry before a new batch of pigs is moved in is an essential part of pig production. Reduced disease challenge, better growth rate, healthier pigs and reduced antibiotic use are just some of the benefits. Although power washing is an extremely important job, it is not a pleasant job. It is also very time consuming and labour intensive. This is of concern given the current difficulties of sourcing and maintaining labour.

There are things you can do to speed up washing including pre-soaking pens, using turbo nozzles, detergent and even hot water washing. These are all very useful as they make the job easier therefore reducing the time spent power washing. But what if you could use a robot to wash the pens, freeing up labour to do other jobs?

The pig unit at AFBI in Hillsborough recently took delivery of a robot that washes farrowing, weaner/grower and finishing pens. Before using the machine, it had to be programmed for each room that it would wash. This is an important part of setting up the machine as the more time spent programming the better job the robot does. Experience at AFBI shows that the robot washes the bulk of the room, with only a small amount of manually washing required. For example, in weaner pens the feeders are manually washed or areas that are dirtier than normal. As well as freeing up labour to do other jobs, using the machine also gives staff a break from doing this not so pleasant job.

Keeping and analysing records

Keeping and analysing performance records is also an essential part of pig production. However, on some farms adequate records are not kept, with excuses such as ‘I don’t like paperwork’ or ‘I don’t have time’. Using a computerised system makes record keeping much easier. With some systems you can use your phone to record services, farrowings, weanings, medicine use and view individual sow performance, lists of sows due to farrow, due for vaccination etc.

Being able to easily calculate and analyse the information recorded is important. Again, a computerised system makes this much easier. For example, at the click of a button you can determine how gilts are performing. A recent analysis of gilt performance on 45 farms showed that the average born alive is 13.4, with the top 25% of farms averaging 15.1. The bottom 25% averaged 11.7 born alive. How do your gilts compare with these figures? Does your recording system allow you to easily calculate this figure?

Underfeeding pigs

In the past it was common to restrict feed to pigs, especially at weaning and in the finishing stage. Feed restriction or underfeeding pigs doesn’t take place now or does it? On some farms pigs may unintentionally be underfed. As underfeeding pigs is more costly than overfeeding it is important to look at areas where this unplanned feed restriction may be occurring. Some questions to ask yourself include the following:

  • Have you reformulated your rations to take account of the massive change in genetics?
  • Does your lactation ration meet the increased demand from larger litters?
  • Have you changed the diet regime to allow for lighter pigs at weaning and lower transfer weights at each stage?
  • Do your pigs have the same feeder access even though there maybe a few more pigs in each pen?
  • With heavier slaughter weights have you thought about feeding two finisher diets?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, even though you don’t mean to, you    could be underfeeding your pigs.


Prepared by: Kieran Lavelle

AHDB pot plant open evening

A recent AHDB pot plant open evening focused on alternatives to control botrytis and downy mildew, evaluation of plant growth regulators and an update on transition to peat free growing media. 

There are a limited number of alternatives to control botrytis and downy mildew. AHDB screened a number of unregistered fungicides and bio pesticides to identify replacements. With botrytis, Frupica SC and Prolectus provided excellent control, and these now have EAMU for use on ornamentals. 

AHDB also evaluated plant growth regulators as sprays and drenches on a range of crops. Of the combinations tested, Terpal + ‘Activator 90’ (an adjuvant) give control when used as a spray and drench. The rates used as a drench however resulted in excessively small plants. Terpal has recently been given an EMAU for use on ornamentals as a foliar drench. You should test products and application rates on small batches of plants to identify optimum timings and rates.

The demonstration of plant growth in peat free growing media is ongoing. The main components used in the peat free mixes were coir, graded composted bark, wood fibre and green waste compost.  Overall, the peat free mixes produced smaller plants than the peat based media, but the quality was not affected.

In addition to environmental concerns over peat extraction, there is an increasing awareness of the impact plastic pollution is having on the wider environment. As a result there is increasing interest in the use of biodegradable or recyclable pots by the industry. If you are interested, please contact me to discuss a potential project to evaluate the current range of recyclable and biodegradable pots available.

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 on 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.

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