Management Notes for February 2016

Date published: 02 February 2016

Questions and comments are welcome to allow CAFRE to address the issues that are important to you. Please contact the author directly. CAFRE is a college within the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).


Prepared by: Michael Garvey


telephone:     028 3752 9054

Soil sampling
Soil sampling augers and bags are available from your local DARD Direct Office

You can reduce your fertiliser bill this spring. How? By making the best use of soil nutrients and available slurry, to grow good crops of grass for silage and grazing.

Fields have not received inorganic fertiliser since mid-September or had slurry applied from mid-October. It is therefore the ideal time to soil sample them, before slurry or fertiliser is applied. As phosphate and potash are recycled by grazing cattle, apply slurry to land that is used for silage, targeting fields low in phosphate and potash. This makes best use of the soil and slurry nutrients and helps avoid nutrient shortfalls on silage ground where there is greatest demand.

Soil sampling augers and bags are available from your local DARD Direct Office. Sample each field and if the field is more than four hectares test each four hectare block in the field. If testing a grass field walk in a ‘W’ pattern taking at least 25 core samples with the 75 mm auger at regular intervals, placing these in a bucket as you move through the field. Avoid sampling headlands, dung pats or areas around gates and water troughs. Mix the samples in the bucket thoroughly before putting 300 g of mixed soil in a sample bag.

Write your name, field name and farm survey number on each bag. The cost per sample is £8.40 including VAT and is usually paid by cheque made payable to Yara UK Ltd. Don’t forget to return the soil auger when you leave your soil bags at your local DARD Direct Office.

Effective use of slurry
Target slurry spreading on silage fields that have tested low for phosphate and potash

You should receive the results of the soil samples within the week and your local Development Adviser can help you interpret them. Your results can be put into the DARD Online Services Crop Nutrient Recommendation Calculator to calculate specific field requirements whilst keeping within nitrates and phosphorus regulations.

The optimum index of 2 for phosphate and 2- for potash maximises grass yield from the most economic use of slurry and fertiliser. Applications of phosphate or potash as slurry to soils with higher indices are not cost effective.

At Greenmount the policy is to spread slurry on first cut silage areas. An application of 33 cubic metres per hectare (3000 gallons per acre) of cattle slurry in February/early March supplies all the required phosphate and potash for first cut silage and approximately the same nitrogen (N) for grass growth as two 50 kg bags of 27 per cent N.

Take account of N in slurry when deciding how much N fertiliser to apply for first cut later in the spring. There is unlikely to be a yield response to applying a total of more than 120 kg of N per hectare for first cut. If you use a trailing shoe or shallow injection system to apply slurry you will almost double the efficiency of nitrogen use giving a saving of another two bags of 27 per cent N fertiliser per hectare.

Typical February performance

Good milk from forage performance is critical at current milk price. The typical performance from the Co Armagh farms I work with is:

Average daily milk yield 24.5 litres per cow
Average daily concentrate fed 8.5 kilos per cow
Average daily milk from forage 5.6 litres per cow
Average daily concentrate feed rate 0.35kilos per litre

Increase efficiency by targeting concentrate feeding to cows in early lactation. Feed cows calved before mid-December to yield. Feed at 0.45 kg per litre above the TMR M+ for the cow’s previous seven day average yield. Keep an eye on yield, milk quality, cow condition and dung composition.

Call into your local DARD Direct Office now to book an auger for immediate sampling or to discuss improving feed efficiency.

Beef and sheep

Prepared by:  Darryl Boyd


telephone:      028 9034 0957


Will you need a bull this season?

With calving imminent on many farms the breeding season is out of sight and mind, but February is an ideal time to purchase a stock bull if needed for the season. Buying a bull now allows plenty of time for the bull to adapt to new surroundings and diets before the breeding season. The majority of breed societies will have sales with a good selection of bulls to choose from.

Every farmer has their own opinion on the visual appearance of a bull. The bull also needs to have good feet, legs, functionality, growth, fleshing and be true to breed character. It is also important to consider Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs); to get a bull that ticks all the boxes is rare and more than likely will be very expensive so try to focus on the specific use of the bull.

Bull use Important EBVs
Maternal Calving ease daughters
Gestation length
Scrotal size (fertility)
Terminal (suckled calf sale) Calving ease direct
Gestation length
200 day weight
Terminal (suckled beef sale) Calving ease direct
400, 600 day and carcase weights
Fat depth
Eye muscle area

In all instances bulls who go ‘against the grain’ or so called ‘curvebenders’ with both ease of calving and high growth rate traits should be sought.

Accuracy (%) is based on the amount of performance information available on the animal and its close relatives, particularly the number of progeny analysed. Accuracy is also based on the heritability of the trait and genetic relationships (correlations) with other recorded traits. Accuracy therefore indicates the ‘confidence level ‘of the EBV. The higher the accuracy value the lower the likelihood of change in the animal's EBV as more information is analysed for that animal or its relatives. Even though an EBV with a low accuracy may change in the future, it is still the best estimate of an animal's genetic merit for that trait. 


Late pregnancy feeding

With six weeks pregnancy remaining 70-75 per cent of foetal growth has still to take place. The effect of rumen restriction and constrained intake is well documented in sheep and therefore it is not a time for low quality feedstuffs. 

Any feed plan should start with forage analysis as variations can be great. The difference in recommended additional feeding between recently tested first cut silage and second cut silage was over 300 grams per head per day, proving the importance of forage analysis. The quality of forage can also vary greatly from one year to another. 

The ME level of a concentrate should be 12.5 MJ per kilogramme dry matter at minimum. Lower energy content is not appropriate as higher feed rates will be needed which may compromise forage intake. ME levels are rarely declared on a feed label so it is important to check this with the supplier. Protein is declared and a level of 18 per cent crude protein is desirable. The breakdown of effective rumen degradable and digestible undegradable protein (DUP) may not be on the label either but this needs consideration. It is important to supply DUP in late pregnancy as microbial protein alone will not meet the ewe’s demands, especially in ewes carrying multiple lambs. Hipro soya is the best source of DUP supplying 130 g per kilogramme. Rapeseed meal, peas and beans also supply DUP but at lower levels than soya. Most suppliers include a protein source supplying DUP in pregnant ewe meal. 


Prepared by:   Liz Donnelly


telephone:       028 9442 6767

Pig health and feed efficiency
Give gilts plenty of space

In previous management notes I have written about the importance of feed efficiency. With margins tight at the present time anything that can be done to improve feed efficiency will benefit the business. One area that is often underestimated is the effect of pig health on feed efficiency. Depending on the condition and the level present the deterioration in feed conversion could be as high as 10-12 per cent. In practical terms this means that an unhealthy growing pig could eat 25 kg more than a healthy pig!

As a pig producer in Northern Ireland (NI) you are very fortunate to receive information about the health of your pigs three times per year through the Pig Regen Herd Health Survey. The Survey provides excellent information on the type and level of conditions in your unit. If you have not looked at the report sent out recently please study it in detail. If any of the conditions are highlighted in dark orange or red, which indicates the condition is costing you money, please talk to your vet about what you can do to reduce the impact of the condition.

Milk spot

The overall health of pigs in NI has improved. The latest results from the Health Survey confirm this, with 75 per cent of pigs checked at the factory in November 2015 having no lesions. This compares to 60 per cent in 2008.

The level of most conditions has improved but unfortunately milk spot, which is caused by Acarius suum the common roundworm, remains a problem with 13 per cent of livers showing milk spot. This is very disappointing as milk spot can be controlled by a combination of management and the use of an appropriate wormer. Milk spot is one of the conditions that affects feed efficiency, with reports suggesting a 13 per cent deterioration in growing/finishing pigs due to a heavy worm burden.

If the level of milk spot, as shown on your Health Survey, is more than 10 per cent talk to your vet about a control programme for your unit. Jesús Borobia Belsué, Mossvet Ltd advises the use of an effective wormer that targets both adult worms and the larval stages. Depending on the level of infestation you may need to add wormer every six weeks to break the life cycle of the parasite. Your vet will advise you about type of wormer and frequency of use. Jesús also recommends you thoroughly wash and disinfect pens to remove as many worm eggs as possible and to use a disinfectant that kills worm eggs.

The importance of hygiene in worm control was highlighted to me recently when a producer told me that he reduced the level of milk spot on his unit from 18 per cent to zero by simply introducing the routine of thoroughly cleaning the soles of boots with a stiff brush, disinfecting the boots and changing overalls when moving from the breeding section of the unit to the finishing houses. This simple, low cost procedure reduced the spread of worms from the breeding herd to the finishers. The sows on this unit are regularly wormed with a product recommended by his vet.

Give gilts plenty of space

I regularly receive phone calls from producers asking how much space dry sows or pigs need. However, I rarely get a phone call asking how much space gilts need. The modern pig is more susceptible to overcrowding and this is particularly relevant for gilts. Research and on-farm surveys show the more space gilts have the better they perform. To get more from your gilts give them at least 1.8 square metres and preferably 2.0 square metres each. Gilts are given more space in some other European countries, for example in Denmark the first 10 gilts in a group must have 1.9 square metres each.


Prepared by:   Stephen Graham


telephone:       028 9442 6745

Bio-security and hygiene on poultry sites     

Hygiene and bio-security are of vital importance when trying to protect the health status of any poultry flock. The recent Avian Influenza outbreak in Scotland brings to the forefront the importance of maintaining stringent bio-security measures to minimise the risk of disease entering your site. If a disease enters a flock it can have a huge financial impact, not only on the farm affected, but also for surrounding poultry farms. By evaluating the potential risks to your flock throughout the production cycle hygiene and bio-security measures can be identified and put in place to minimise these risks.


Thorough cleaning and disinfection of the whole poultry house when empty is necessary to reduce any pathogens being passed from one flock to the next. This is extremely important irrespective of the production type.

Blow down all the dust and debris and remove all litter before washing. The use of a detergent on all surfaces is necessary to remove grease and debris stripping it back to the original surface. Wash all removable equipment before setting up in the house prior to disinfection. 

Before disinfection is complete check the washing standard; splash-back on feeders, drinkers and other surfaces reduces the effectiveness of disinfection. Place foot dips at the entrance to sheds after washing and before disinfection. Following disinfection houses should be closed to allow the chemical time to work and minimise recontamination. Always follow safe re-entry procedures following disinfection. Ensure water lines are drained and cleaned during every turnaround as this can be a hidden source of infection.   

All chemicals must be used at the recommended rates in order to achieve best results and the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn at all times when handling or using chemicals. 

Before placing

Check that any bedding is of high standard prior to spreading it in the unit. Before housing birds ensure all hand soap and sanitizer points are working and full and covered foot dips are in place at the entrance to sheds.

The wheel spray at the site entrance must be checked to ensure it is working and that the chemical is at the correct dilution. 

Before placing it is still important that all visitors are provided with site specific footwear, PPE and they sign the visitors’ book before entering the site not after the visit has taken place. Ask visitors where they have been as anyone planning to enter the bird area must be ‘clean’. Source all feed from accredited suppliers and sample water every year (twice annually for bore hole supply). During the delivery of the birds make sure trolleys and vehicles are clean and adhere to all bio-security measures.

Throughout flock

Only allow essential visitors access to the site. Try to minimise foot traffic between houses - keeping house specific boots and overalls in each control room is good practice. Replenish foot dips twice weekly - outdoor foot dips that are not lidded require more frequent changing. To maintain a clean water supply monitor bio-film build-up in the drinking system and treat as required.

Ensure all vehicles are clean prior to entry to the site and that all wheels and arches are sprayed. If you have a breeding or commercial laying farm check the egg trolleys and trays arrive clean before allowing them into the egg store.

Keep all outside areas well maintained, cutting tall grass and weeds that make ideal coverage for rodents, which are a major disease carrier. Ensure a robust rodent control programme is in place as per your company guidelines. Also keep all areas clean, tidy and free from debris/rubbish. Any dead birds must be taken from the house and put in enclosed bins before collection or incineration.

The above steps are the minimum bio-security measures required to keep your flock safe. Please look at your own site and assess the threats to your birds. These procedures are applicable to any type of poultry production and crucial to a successful flock. For further information, contact myself or your processor / packer.

Notes to editors: 

All media enquiries to DARD Press Office, or tel: 028 9052 4619

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