Management Notes for December 2018

Date published: 06 December 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).

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


Prepared by: Christopher Breen

Getting calves weaned at the correct stage is critical

Calves can be successfully weaned when adequate rumen development has occurred. Correct nutritional management of the calf will help improve rumen development in those early days. Through careful management, early weaning can be successful and help reduce the cost of rearing replacements.

  • Feed the calf milk or milk replacer at a rate of 10% of birth weight. This amount can be held constant until weaning.
  • Offer small amounts of high quality calf starter from four days of age. Providing small amounts regularly keeps the starter fresh and encourages intake. Starter intake is critical for adequate rumen development. Clean water is also important as water consumption encourages starter intake. It also supports the developing bacterial population 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, were off feed, fed poor quality starter or did not have water available

Electricity usage

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

  • Make sure you are on the best tariff available. Electricity suppliers can offer more competitive rates to larger energy users.
  • Change time clocks. Cheaper electricity is available in winter from 1am to 8am. Dairy farms typically use 20-30% of their consumption at the low rate. Change the times on your water heater so that 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 the 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. Ensure thermostat settings do not allow the water to boil.
  • Lighting can be a bigger cost than is generally realised. LED lighting is an economic option where lights are used several hours a day. Remove dirt and dust from light bulbs and turn off unnecessary lights.

Parlour maintenance

How often do you change your milk liners? Do not use liners for longer than recommended. As they wear cracks form in the rubber which can harbour bacteria, increasing the risk of mastitis, which may reduce future production potential.

As liners age they lose their shape and elasticity. This impacts on efficacy, milking out takes longer and is not as thorough. This can be detrimental to teat-end condition and may result in loss of milk yield.

Manufacturers generally recommend rubber liners should do no more than 2,500 milkings. Some experts even recommend changing after 2,000 milkings. Do you know how often the liners in your parlour need changed? Do a quick calculation to see how often you should be changing your liners.

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?
  • Empty precast concrete field drinkers after the grazing season has been completed to ensure they do not crack in frosty weather due to ice formation.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould


Scanning ewes

Scan ewes 12-14 weeks after the introduction of rams. Ewes can then be grouped by litter size and body condition score and fed accordingly. 70% of foetal growth occurs in the final six to eight weeks of pregnancy increasing the total energy demand of the ewe. However feed intake capacity of the ewe decreases by up to 30% due to the increasing foetal spatial requirement. Housed ewes on a grass silage diet generally require concentrate supplementation in the final six weeks of pregnancy. The rate of feeding depends on the results of silage analysis. Mineral supplementation of ewes is also important in the final six weeks of pregnancy. This is usually achieved by a bolus, dry bagged minerals or lick buckets.

Winter ram management

Rams are sometimes neglected once they are removed from the ewes. Monitor body condition score (BCS) and supplement rams below a BCS of three. Pay particular attention to ram lambs. Do not feed cattle concentrates to sheep particularly due to the increased risk of copper toxicity and urinary calculi.

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

Mineral supplementation of suckler cows

Spring calving suckler cows calving before mid-February should now be receiving a good quality pre-calving mineral mix. Mineral supplementation for six to eight weeks before calving is recommended. Selenium, iodine and copper are most commonly found to be low on NI farms but this varies geographically. With this in mind, having a vet carry out random blood tests for trace elements on your spring calving herd will help you decide which minerals are important. Getting the mineral balance right will produce livelier calves at birth which is beneficial for suckling and labour input. It also reduces the number of retained placentas and decreases the subsequent calving interval. There are a number of ways of supplementing suckler cows, with dry bagged minerals added over the silage often the method of choice. Administration of mineral boluses is also a popular method.

Nutrient management

The only method of establishing the nutrient status of soils is through soil analysis. This allows you to calculate crop requirements by balancing the soil nutrient availability with slurry, farmyard manure or chemical fertiliser applications. Also, for land receiving applications of chemical P fertiliser or P-rich manures, there is a legal requirement to show a crop need for the applied P. December is an ideal time to take samples as sampling is recommended at least three months after any application of organic/inorganic fertiliser or lime. Samples should be taken every four years. Take samples using a soil auger which samples down to 75mm and 150mm for grassland and arable land respectively. Augers, along with sample bags/boxes, are available from your local DAERA office. To ensure an accurate representation of soil within a field, walk in a ‘W’ pattern across the field and collect a minimum of 25 cores. The more cores you collect, the more accurate the analysis will be. Collecting one or two samples from a field will not provide you with a reliable soil analysis. Avoid areas where cattle congregate, for example around water troughs, gateways and dung pats.

Soils can be analysed for pH, phosphate, potash and magnesium. Low soil pH is a common problem across NI. Your soil analysis report will indicate the amount of lime, if any, required to increase pH to the target of 5.5 and 6.2 for peat and mineral soils respectively. The report can be used to determine the fertiliser requirement of the soil depending on the crop.


Prepared by: Jason McFerran

Making Tax Digital

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are undergoing a programme of Making Tax Digital. The first step in this programme, starting on the 1 April 2019, is to ask VAT registered businesses with a turnover of greater than £85,000, to submit their VAT return digitally. If you are VAT registered but have a turnover less than £85,000 it is not compulsory to complete your VAT return digitally but the option is available.

Submitting a VAT return digitally does not mean typing or cutting and pasting the VAT return information into the nine boxes of the HMRCs ‘VAT 100’ form online. There must now be a digital link between your records and the HMRC website.

If you currently only keep your VAT records in a manual format, you will need to make changes, since Making Tax Digital requires you to keep your VAT records in a digital format.

You can pass the responsibility of recording your VAT records digitally to an agent such as an accountant or book keeper. They will convert the manual records to a digital format before making the VAT return. This will most likely incur a cost due to the extra work involved.

The other option is to change the way you keep your VAT records to a digital format and do it yourself. There are many pieces of software that can be used for this purpose. A spreadsheet can be used to record the VAT details however in doing so, you will also need to use bridging software that will link your VAT return information on your spreadsheet to the HMRC website.

The other option is to make use of the wide range of accounting software which is available to help with VAT records. These range from systems which have been designed specifically for VAT records, with Making Tax Digital in mind, to full accounting packages which allow you to do much more than your VAT records.

If you plan to use accounting software it is important to check if it is on the HMRCs approved software list. You must then ensure you are using the most up to date version which has a digital link to allow you complete your tax return digitally. Download the HMRC approved software.

It is important you think about how you will deal with this issue. How do you currently complete your VAT return? How do you want to do it in the future and what do you need to do?

HMRC recognise that this is a major shift for many VAT registered businesses and have stated that they are willing to offer help and advice to ensure VAT returns are submitted correctly.

What has been outlined so far is the new process of submitting VAT information to HMRC from the 1 April 2019. This is only the first step in HMRCs Making Tax Digital programme. From April 2020 HMRC will be able to ask you for information about your VAT return and expect the answer in a digital format. The submission of income tax and corporation tax returns will also have to be completed digitally from 1 April 2020.

CAFRE and Rural Support, under the Farm Family Key Skills scheme, which is part funded by the EU under the NI Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 have arranged a series of Making Tax Digital seminars throughout NI. Details of these seminars can be found on the CAFRE website.

Plan to attend one of these seminars to find out more information so you are prepared for the 1 April 2019.


Prepared by: Paul Clenaghan

Air quality

The main environmental focus of attention on farms over the past few years has been water quality. However there are now major concerns about the impact that livestock farming is having on air quality and in particular with ammonia, which is released from animal manure.  

Health and environmental concerns

High levels of atmospheric ammonia are causing environmental damage. In the atmosphere ammonia is a highly reactive soluble alkaline gas that readily combines with other pollutants to form particulate matter (PM). There are health concerns with particulate matter of diameter 2.5 microns or less named PM 2.5, the largest of which are 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Medical evidence associates some respiratory and cardiovascular problems with exposure to PM 2.5. 

In addition to health issues, ammonia deposits from the atmosphere are causing severe damage to sensitive habitats. Ammonia deposition on water can cause nutrient enrichment, leading to harmful algal growth, while deposits on soils, with a low buffering capacity, can result in soil acidification. Under the UNECE Gothenburg Protocol and the National Emissions Ceiling Directive to protect human health and the environment, the UK and NI Governments have agreed an 8% reduction in ammonia emissions by 2020 and 16% reduction by 2030.

The ‘Making Ammonia Visible’ report produced by the Expert Working Group on Sustainable Land Management set out in detail the damage that ammonia causes and that in NI ammonia is mainly from agriculture. The latest figures show that in NI agriculture is responsible for 94% of the total ammonia emissions. The majority of ammonia emissions are from cattle (69%). It is also important to note that the majority of ammonia emissions are associated with livestock housing, manure storage and manure spreading.

A range of solutions were identified by the Expert Working Group to reduce ammonia emissions from agriculture:

  • Extending the grazing season.
  • Using treated urea instead of straight urea.
  • Applying slurry early in the season and avoiding warm windy days.
  • Using low emission slurry spreading techniques.
  • Keeping yards clean of manures.
  • Reducing crude protein levels in livestock diets.
  • Genetic improvement of livestock for feed efficiency.
  • Woodland creation around livestock areas.
  • Covering slurry stores.
  • Housing systems designed to reduce ammonia.

Ammonia emissions are undoubtedly a major challenge for all livestock sectors in NI. DAERA is engaging with stakeholders, AFBI and researchers in other regions, to fully evaluate the Expert Working Groups recommendations. Innovative ways to meet the challenge of reducing ammonia emissions will be considered.

Notes to editors: 

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