Management notes for December 2019

Date published: 06 December 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).


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. The use of an accelerated growth programme has recently been highlighted. This consists of calves being fed up to 9 litres (1,350 g) of calf milk replacer daily. Research shows that calves on this programme can achieve higher live weights pre and post-weaning compared to conventional feeding. However, the programme is more suited to units that have automatic calf feeders due to the volume of milk being fed.
  • During the first month of life, calves consume small quantities of calf starter. The aim is to offer 50-100 g from four days of age on a daily basis. Offering small amounts also keeps it fresh and encourages intake. Starter consumption is critical for adequate rumen development. Clean water is also important as water consumption encourages starter intake and supports the developing bacterial population in the rumen.
  • In most cases, calves can be weaned at six to eight weeks if they are consuming more than 1.0 kg of starter daily for three or more days. Reduce milk levels gradually, ideally in the last week before target weaning age. 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 generally is scope to reduce the amount 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.
  • Remember to change time clocks. Cheap electricity in winter time is from 1 am to 8 am. 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 for each 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 30 mm layer of insulation will greatly reduce this heat loss. Ensure that thermostat settings do not allow the water to boil.
  • Lighting is often a bigger cost than generally realised. Installing low energy bulbs leads to real savings on bills. 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 their 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 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 after the grazing season has been completed to ensure that they do not crack in frosty weather due to ice formation.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould

Monitor lameness in your sheep flock

Control lameness in your flock before it has the chance to spread. Sheep congregating around a feeding trough at this time of year can increase the risk. Separate lame sheep from the rest of the flock to limit the spread of infection and treat.

Winter ram management

Don’t forget about the ram after the tupping season. Rams, and ram lambs in particular, will have lost condition during tupping. To improve condition provide supplementary feeding where necessary. Forage alone should be sufficient for rams with a body condition score of three or greater.

Treat any open wounds that have not healed around the head or brisket and treat for parasites. In the case of horned rams check horns are not touching the face, it should be possible to pass fingers between the horns and the head. Provide housed rams with 2.0 square metres of space per head and 600 mm of trough space.

Autumn calving cows

The main priority for autumn calving cows at this time of year is to maintain body condition while lactating to ensure they go back in calf quickly.

Supplementing lactating cows with a small amount of concentrate, particularly where silage quality and/or body condition is poorer is beneficial. After cows are settled in calf target the concentrate supplementation directly to calves. The target body condition score for autumn calving suckler cows at breeding is 2.5-3.0.

Autumn calving cows are ideal candidates for using AI to introduce superior genetics into the herd as breeding usually takes place indoors. AI allows the more targeted selection of bulls with specific traits to complement the traits of individual cows. It also allows you to breed your own replacements without the hassle of having to keep them away from their sire.

Purchasing the next stock bull

With breed society bull sales having already started, consider purchasing a new stock bull now, even if he is not required until next spring/summer. Young bulls are often fed a higher level of feed to have them looking their best for the show and sale. Purchasing a bull well in advance of breeding allows plenty of time to adjust the bull to a lower plane of feeding and reduce the risk of sub-fertility. Ideally speak to the seller and ask about the management of the bull pre-sale. Most of the specialised sales will pre-select bulls based on functionality. If this isn’t the case or where a bull is purchased privately, it is important to take time to assess the bull, paying particular attention to feet/legs and locomotion. Also check scrotal size and look for any obvious abnormalities.

Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs)

Whether selecting a stock bull to purchase or deciding on a suitable AI sire, EBVs can be used to increase the chances of success. EBVs are a measure of the breeding potential of a bull for specific traits and allows for the comparison of bulls within breed. They are determined by performance records of the bull and its relatives and should be used in combination with visual assessment. Individual bulls will have an accuracy percentage for each trait which will indicate the reliability of the EBV and is based on the number of records going into each specific value. Proven AI bulls will have higher accuracy figures than young bulls yet to serve. Different bulls will suit different systems. For example, if you are producing cattle for slaughter or sale select bulls with EBVs which are positive for carcase conformation and weight. If you are planning to breed replacements choose bulls with EBVs that are positive for 200 day milk and calving interval. Irrespective of system an EBV for direct calving ease should always be top of the agenda.


Prepared by: Pamela Gardiner

Aphis Online enhancements

APHIS Online is the system farmers use to access their herd information and notify births, deaths and movements, replacing the need for paper MC1s, MC2s and buyer confirmation stickers. Following feedback from users, enhancements were recently made to APHIS Online. These enhancements are:

  • Residencies - the number of residencies is now included as an extra column in various screens such as the Herd List, Animal Details, Animals Moved in Report and Intention to Move.
  • Buyer/seller confirmations - unconfirmed Buyer/seller confirmations now remain on the home screen and the main Buyer Confirmation screen for six months from the move date.
  • Intention to Move/MC2 - additional information such as age (months), status codes, FQAS code and residence are included for the user to view when selecting animals on the Intention to Move/MC2 screen.
  • Herd List – additional Sire (NMR code, Sire Breed, Other) and export eligibility information is now included when you choose to download your Herd List. You also now have the option to download an Extended Herd List which includes the animal’s movement history and progeny history.
  • Notify Birth – if you choose not to record sire information when notifying births, the number of Sire Information not Recorded warnings displayed are reduced to one per session.
  • Animal Movement Report – this report now includes the total number of animals that have moved in or out within the time period selected.
  • Animal Details – the animal number remains viewable when scrolling through this screen.

You can provide DAERA with feedback on these enhancements and the current APHIS Online system through Rate-IT which is provided as a link within the main APHIS Online screen.

If you wish to view and learn how to use the wide range of functions within APHIS Online you can access concise APHIS Online help videos via the APHIS Online support page.

Government Gateway - two factor authentication for HMRC customers

To provide additional security HMRC are changing the way customers sign into their services. HMRC are introducing two factor authentication. Each time you sign in you'll need your Government Gateway ID, password and a unique six digit access code which can be sent to the HMRC app for smartphone or tablet as a text message or voice call.

How does this change affect DAERA Online service users? If you use the SAME Government Gateway ID for HMRC and DAERA Online services you will now receive a six digit access code each time you sign in to access DAERA Online services. If this applies to you ensure the details you use to receive this six digit access code are up to date. You can check if your details by signing into your HMRC account, reviewing your security options and setting up a backup option as an alternative way to receive access codes if required. 

If you use a DIFFERENT Government Gateway ID for HMRC and DAERA Online services you will be unaffected by this recent change.

CAFRE Nutrient Calculators

Using the Nitrogen Loading Calculator within DAERA Online services will help you to determine the Nitrogen (N) loading for your farm. If you are an intensive livestock farmer now is a good time to check if you are below the 170 kg N per hectare per year limit or if you need to apply for a derogation. Derogation allows you to increase your limit to 250 kg N per hectare per year. Applications for derogation can be made online from 1 January 2020.

Winter Fair

DAERA will be present at the Winter Fair on Thursday 12 December at Balmoral Park. Come along, chat to us and view the wide range of tools which are available such as CAFRE Nutrient Calculators, Farm Business Planner and Maps Online. These tools are free, easy to use, available 24/7, safe and secure. The online services also help farmers comply with legislation, reduce potential errors and give you access to detailed information about your business and animals.

For further information about these services or registering for DAERA Online services: Tel: 0300 200 7840, Email your local DAERA Direct Office.


Prepared by: Jayne Mooney

Time to soil sample

From 1 January 2020 under the Nutrients Action Programme (2019-2022) a Fertilisation Plan must be prepared by grassland farmers using phosphate (P) fertiliser and all farmers using P rich manures and anaerobic digestate. A soil analysis will be required to demonstrate that there is a crop requirement for P and can be used to prepare your Fertilisation Plan. Soil samples should be taken during the winter months.

Be prepared, sample your soil now

Soil augers and sample bags are available from DAERA Direct offices. For areas similar in use and soil type, up to 4 hectares in total area, take 20-25 cores across the field with the auger. Walk in a ‘W’ pattern avoiding  feeding and drinking troughs, gates, headlands, manure patches and areas where stock shelter. 

Mix the cores thoroughly in a bucket and place a representative sample of approximately 500 g in a bag. Label the bag clearly with your name, farm survey number and field number(s). Return the auger and samples to the office with the payment. The results of the analysis will be sent directly to you, usually within one week.

The CAFRE Crop Nutrient Calculator allows you to input your soil analysis results. A report will be created detailing your crop requirement, the nutrient value of organic manures and fertilisers applied and the quantity of nutrients supplied.  

Hedgerow trees 

It has been a bumper year for berries on our hedgerows but it is important that we plan ahead for the future. Hedgerow trees which blossom provide a rich source of pollen for pollinators, including bees and provide a valuable food source for birds during the winter months. Many boundary hedges, particularly well maintained road or lane side hedges, will not blossom on one or two year old fresh growth but could provide hedgerow trees. These would not only enhance our landscape, but also benefit wildlife. Hedgerow trees additionally provide shelter for livestock, improve air quality and are a source of timber. 

The simplest and cheapest method of establishing hedgerow flowering trees is to allow strongly growing saplings to develop in the hedge. Hawthorn, elder, willow and holly are particularly suitable for retaining in hedgerows. When tagging young saplings choose a single strong, straight stem and keep several others around it for short term protection. Avoid saplings under overhead power lines or those with the potential to block site lines at entrances. Make saplings visible to hedge cutting machine operators by tagging with brightly coloured tags. After a few years this practice can be discontinued as the saplings mature and are visible to the machine operator. 

Environmental Farming Business Development Groups (BDGs)

Enrolment is now open for Environmental Farming BDGs. These new groups will look at the environmental aspects of farming, including biodiversity (habitat creation, grazing management, field boundaries, farm birds, wildlife and pollinators), water quality (including nutrient management planning), soil health and climate/carbon farming.

On-farm meetings, projects and demonstrations will provide an opportunity to meet with like-minded farmers interested in farming and conservation in the locality. The groups will be assisted by CAFRE Agri-Environment Advisers and members will have the opportunity to develop and measure conservation/environmental plans for their farm. Help to understand and comply with various environmental requirements (including Environmental Farming Scheme agreements) will also be provided. 

You can register your interest in joining an Environmental Farming Business Development Group in your local area on the CAFRE website in the section titled ‘Industry Support’, subsection ‘Business Development Groups’.

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