Management Notes for December 2017

Date published: 07 December 2017

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).

Wean calves when they are over six weeks of age and eating at least 1.0kg per day calf starter feed.


Prepared by Christopher Breen

Weaning calves at the correct stage is critical

Calves can be successfully weaned when adequate rumen development has occurred. Correct nutritional management early on will help improve rumen development.

  • Feed milk or milk replacer at a rate of 10% of calf birth weight. This amount can be held constant until weaning.
  • Offer small amounts of high quality calf starter from four days of age. Giving small amounts regularly keeps the starter fresh and encourages intake. Starter intake is critical for adequate rumen development. Clean water should also be available. Water intake encourages calves to eat starter and supports the developing bacteria in the rumen.
  • In most cases calves can be weaned at six to eight weeks if they are eating more than 1.0kg of starter daily for three or more days. Delay weaning for a week for calves that had scours and were off feed, were fed poor quality starter or did not have water available.

Electricity usage

There generally is scope to reduce the amount and cost of electric used on farms.

  • Make sure you are on the best tariff available. Electricity suppliers can offer more competitive rates to larger energy users.
  • Check time clocks. Cheaper electricity is available in winter from 1.00 am to 8.00 am. Change the times on your water heater so all the water is heated on the night tariff.
  • Ensure the plate cooler has an adequate water supply. For maximum benefit there should be a flow of two litres of water per litre of milk. Any investment made to improve water supply to the cooler will be repaid with lower electricity bills.
  • Well insulated hot water tanks and pipes save money. Many of the old water heaters have a thin metal lid which loses heat to the environment. A 30mm layer of insulation will greatly reduce this heat loss.
  • Lighting can be a bigger cost than is generally realised. LED lighting is now an economic option where lights are used several hours a day. Remove dirt and dust from light bulbs and turn off unnecessary lights.

Slurry management

Many slurry tanks are fuller than usual at this time of year due to difficult weather conditions in late summer/autumn. This limited spreading and forced the housing of livestock much sooner than normal. When all options for the management of slurry have been exhausted and it is considered essential, slurry can be spread during the closed period. However great care should be taken to prevent water pollution. Only spread slurry on low risk land and do not empty tanks completely. Only remove enough to provide adequate containment for immediate needs. Comprehensive records, including date of spreading, where slurry was spread and the quantity spread in each field should be kept. Also record the reasons why there was a need to spread during the closed period and steps taken to manage the situation before the closed period.

December jobs checklist

  • Identify cows to dry off in the next two months and assess body condition. Feed cows with a body condition score of less than three additional concentrates to improve body condition.
  • Assess body condition of young stock, especially maiden heifers. Will they be in the right condition for service? Does the feed rate need to be increased?
  • Are any vaccinations, for example BVD due well in advance of the breeding season?
  • Calibrate parlour and out of parlour feeders to ensure accurate feeding.
  • Empty precast concrete field drinkers to ensure they do not crack in frosty weather.


Prepared by Darryl Boyd


Assessing your cattle slurry may not sound appealing, but it can be a worthwhile exercise. Many winter finishers feed high levels of starch to get ‘cover’ on animals. However this can be a risk factor for acidosis, especially if cattle haven’t gone through an appropriate adaption period or the feed is slightly unbalanced. Acidosis occurs when rumen pH drops below 5.5; appetites are depressed, gains reduced and finishing times extended.

Observation is key. Ideally 66% of cattle should be ruminating at any one time. ‘Cud balls’ can be a sign of sub-acute ruminal acidosis and can often be seen at the front of cubicles where cattle are lying and ruminating. Evidence of feed sorting may indicate cattle aren’t receiving the balanced diet you think they are. Constant groaning from the cattle may also be a sign as is bubbling from fresh manure.

Manure is scored from 1-5; 1 is like soup/water and 5 is dry and high in undigested matter. When rumination is working well the score should be 2-3. 

It may be that the diet just needs tweaked and balanced better or a yeast product may be needed to improve rumen function. Cattle generally adjust to the diet naturally if they have a correct adaption period lasting three to four weeks when the feed is gradually stepped up to finisher diet.


If you managed to salvage silage in October/November it is important to get it analysed as it is likely the feed value will be poor. Sugar levels will also be low, which will have resulted in poor fermentation. Therefore expect higher levels of waste and use as soon as possible. Only feed as needed as bales are likely to heat when opened and ‘go off’.


Trace element supplementation is widely used and may come to mind as lambing approaches, especially now with early lambing flocks. Appropriate use of supplements can improve production, lamb vigour at birth and prevent conditions such as swayback in young lambs. However use of supplements when sheep have sufficient reserves or where their needs are met by standard nutrition is wasteful. This can even lead to deaths due to toxicity, for example if too much copper or selenium is provided.

Blood samples collected by your vet provides useful information on whether supplementation is worthwhile. Ideally it should be done two to four weeks before lambing. 

Winter ram management

Appropriate late winter management of rams can prevent the need to replace them too soon. However ram management is often overlooked at this time and indeed it may even be neglected. Rams left to graze may be in good condition, but they are more susceptible to worms than ewes. Therefore they should be drenched for both fluke and worms at the correct dosage based on their known weight.

Rams considered unfit for future breeding should be culled now with barren ewes. 

Feed rams that are to be retained ad lib hay or silage plus 0.5kg of concentrate (16% CP compound ration). If they are condition score three, forage alone or grass will be sufficient.

Ram lambs need supplementary feeding and should be fed separately from older rams. Do not use cattle concentrates for rams as they may contain high levels of magnesium or copper.

Treat open wounds that have not healed around the head or brisket. Excess hoof growth should be trimmed and foot rot treated. In the case of horned rams, check that horns are not touching the face, it should be possible to pass fingers between the horns and the head. Housed rams require two square metres of space per head and trough space of 600mm.


Prepared by Jason McFerran

Are you thinking about tax?

As we head towards Christmas and the end of 2017, it’s a good time to think about how the farm business is going to look at end of the 2017/18 tax year. There is still plenty of time to plan the management of your tax liabilities for the current year and the year ahead. If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend you make an appointment with your accountant or tax adviser.

Consider options for reducing your tax liabilities and use any money available wisely to benefit your business. If you are reading this thinking you will be faced with a significant tax bill this year it is a good sign; tax means you have made a profit. It goes without saying that none of us like to pay taxes. Outlined are a few options to help plan to minimise your tax liability to benefit your business, other family members or charitable organisations.

Paying off debt

Over the last few years many farm businesses had to extend overdrafts and merchant credit to manage cashflow. Paying off debt when you can is important. We don’t know what the markets or weather will throw at us in the years ahead, so it is better to repay debt in the better times to reduce the financial burden in the hard times. Speak to your bank manager and work out a plan to pay off your debt when you can.

Capital investment

The Annual Investment Allowance has been £200,000 from 1 January 2016. This makes investing in plant or machinery an attractive option for reducing your tax liability. It is good practice to have a machinery replacement policy for your business to allow you to plan ahead and structure your capital spending. Any proposed purchases require careful consideration - is it needed and is it part of a plan? It does not make financial sense to buy equipment for the sole purpose of reducing your tax bill! In most cases, repayments will be spread over several years and cash flow must be available to cover those costs going forward.


The Government encourages us to save for our retirement by providing tax relief on pension contributions. For personal pensions you pay income tax on your earnings before you make a contribution to the pension. However, your pension provider will claim back, at the basic tax rate of 20%, your contributions from the Government, adding it to your pension. If you are paying a higher rate of tax, you can claim the tax back either through your tax return or by contacting HMRC. Your accountant or financial adviser can also advise you on options for setting up trusts for your children or grandchildren.

Charitable giving

Making a donation to a registered charity is perhaps something you already do. If you are a sole trader or a partnership you can take advantage of the tax reliefs on gifts of money to charities and can claim them on your Self Assessment tax return.

Paying tax

Remember you pay only a proportion of your profit in tax and the rest can be saved or invested for when you really need it. The deadline for paying tax is 31 January for tax on profits made in the previous tax year. For example, tax due on 31 January 2018 is tax owed on profits made during the 2016/17 tax year. Your tax demand may also include a ‘payment on account’ which is the first of two estimated part payments for the current tax year’s liability. The second payment on account is due on 31st July each year. It is important to remember that tax owed on a year when profits are good is often due during a year when profits are lower. It is important to budget for your tax payments.


Prepared by Pamela Gardiner

Aphis Online

APHIS Online is being updated.

  • Look and feel - APHIS Online will now comply with DAERA’s online design standard, matching other services such as the Single Application Form and BOVIS.
  • Streamlined functionality - The notification process will be simplified, data easier to access and notifications easier to complete.
  • Enhanced sire recording - Users will now be able to easily record additional sire information including NMR AI code, if required.
  • Mobile friendly - Users will be able to use all the familiar APHIS functions on mobile devices (Apple or Android).

These updates will be introduced whilst retaining the core functionality that existing users are familiar with. Existing users will not require retraining. If you have questions, the new APHIS Online support and information web pages will be available to answer the most frequently asked questions. 

For new users interested in using APHIS Online there are a limited number of places at APHIS Online training events organised by CAFRE. The training takes place over two evenings (two hours each) at venues across Northern Ireland. You will get the opportunity to work through a number of exercises on our APHIS Online training system. You can practice notifying animal births and deaths, 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.


DAERA are now making a copy of payment letters for advance, balance and full payments for the Basic Payment Scheme, Greening Payment and Young Farmers’ Payment available online for the first time. Farmers and their agents are able to view their own payment information online through DAERA Online Services.


A new online Entitlement Register View will be available from early December which will allow farmers and their agents to view the number, type and value of all entitlements held against their farm business. This online view will also display their Entitlement Transfer IDs which they will require to either transfer in or transfer out entitlements in 2018.

Nidirect log in option

DAERA Online Services is changing the way users log in. Currently users log in using Government Gateway, this method of logging in will not be available from March 2019. DAERA Online Services have introduced a new nidirect log in option alongside Government Gateway in the interim period.

Advice for individual farmers:


  • If you are an existing online user you can choose to register with nidirect or use your existing Government Gateway account until March 2019. You will have to register with nidirect before March 2019 to continue accessing DAERA Online Services.
  • DAERA recommends new online users to register with nidirect now rather than use a Government Gateway account and then have to change to nidirect before March 2019.

Advice for agents:

Existing agents should continue to use their Government Gateway account to access DAERA Online Services on behalf of clients.

New agents should register with Government Gateway to access DAERA Online Services on behalf of clients.

Winter Fair

The DAERA Online Services team will be at the Winter Fair on Thursday 14 December at Balmoral Park. Come along and chat to us and view the wide range of tools which are available to help reduce many of the paper based transactions required by DAERA. These tools are free, easy to use, available 24/7, safe and secure. The online services also help comply with legislation, reduce potential errors and give access to detailed information about your business and animals. The services are supported through a dedicated Online Services helpdesk and bespoke training courses provided by CAFRE.

For further information about these services, training courses or how to register for DAERA Online Services:


Notes to editors: 

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

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