Management Notes for February 2017

Date published: 31 January 2017

Management Notes are prepared by staff from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). 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, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

Target slurry spreading onto silage fields that have tested low for phosphate and potash.


Prepared by: Christopher Breen
phone: 028 6634 3097


Many thanks to Trevor Alcorn for writing the Management Notes over the past six months. This responsibility has now passed to me, Christopher Breen. I am a CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone area.


Always think safety on the farm. Many of you are mixing and spreading slurry at this time so be aware of the danger from slurry gases. Follow the HSENI guidelines. Slurry gases are produced in large volumes soon after starting to mix. So think through and plan all aspects of slurry mixing and handling on your farm.

Nutrient management

You can reduce your fertiliser bill this spring by making the best use of soil nutrients and available slurry, but still grow good crops of grass for silage and grazing.

As fields have been unfertilized since mid September and free of applied slurry from the end of October they are in the ideal state for soil sampling before slurry or fertiliser is applied. Soil sampling augers and bags/boxes are available from your local DAERA Direct office. Test each field and if the field is more than four hectares, test each four hectare block within the field. Call into your local DAERA Direct office now to book an auger for immediate sampling.

Optimum use of slurry

You will receive your soil analysis results within the week and your local Development Adviser can help you interpret them. Your results can be fed into the DAERA online services CAFRE Crop Nutrient Recommendation calculator to calculate specific field requirements, whilst keeping within nitrates and phosphorus regulations.The calculator takes account of the time and method of slurry application when calculating how much fertiliser nitrogen to apply for first cut silage.

As grazing fields generally have phosphate and potash recycled by grazing cattle, apply slurry to land that is used for silage, targeting fields that have tested low for phosphate and potash. This makes best use of the soil and slurry nutrients and helps avoid nutrient shortfalls where there is greatest demand.

Allow for slurry nitrogen when deciding how much nitrogen 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 nitrogen 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.

The optimum index of 2 for phosphorus (P) and 2- for potassium (K) will maximise crop yield from the most economic use of inputs. Further applications of P or K to soils with above optimum indices are not cost effective. In addition applications of phosphate above the recommended rates in most cases will be in breach of the nitrates regulations.  

At CAFRE Greenmount, the policy is to spread slurry onto the first cut silage area. A splash-plate 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 for grass growth as two 50 kg bags of 27% N.

February jobs checklist:

  • The first day for spreading slurry is 1st February. Do not spread slurry on waterlogged ground, when raining heavily or when heavy rain is forecast within the next 48 hours, on ground that has a slope of 20% or more, is frozen or covered in snow.
  • If you applied to the EU Milk Reduction Scheme for the October to December 2016 period the claim form should be submitted to the RPA by midnight on 14 February 2017.
  • Complete any maintenance on cow tracks and paddock fencing in preparation for the grazing season.

If you need information on any of these topics contact your local CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser.                       


Prepared by: Darryl Boyd
phone: 028 7138 4309


Suckler cattle

The breeding season may seem a long time away but February is a good time to identify issues with breeding bulls as problems with semen production can take up to eight weeks to rectify. Therefore issues need to be identified 10 to 12 weeks beforehand. Check the five Ts:

  1. Toes - check feet and locomotion. 
  2. Testicles - 34 cm is a general recommendation for most breeds at two years old and they should feel firm with no abnormalities. 
  3. Tone - aim to move towards a condition score of 3-3.5 at the start of breeding. 
  4. Treat - carry out any required vaccinations or parasite control. 
  5. Test - consult your vet about a bull breeding soundness examination. Another test may be required one month in advance of breeding.

If you plan to invest in a bull during the February sales it is a good idea to discuss previous management of the bull with the breeder, especially nutrition. Ideally after purchase keep the bull on a similar feed level and adjust gradually to the level you wish to feed to avoid upsets. Generally these bulls are fed a lower protein (14%), high fibre concentrate to avoid feet problems.


Now is a good time to review your enterprises for the previous year. Do you know what your average sales figure was for 2016? Do you know your calving index?  Do you know how much it cost to keep a suckler cow on your farm last year? If you don’t you are not alone, but to improve you must first determine a starting point or baseline. Recording these key measures allows you to benchmark your farm against itself from one year to the next allowing real changes to be made. There are of course many factors outside the farm gate which affect profitability but focus on those which can be controlled within the farm.



Most manufacturers recommend four weeks before lambing as the best time to administer clostridial vaccines. This is important to ensure maximum immunity transfer to lambs. This is particularly important if there is a large spread in anticipated lambing dates as vaccines may need to be administered to batches of ewes.

Scanning and concentrates

Use scanning results to feed according to condition score and lambing date. As 70% of foetal growth occurs in the last six weeks before lambing, some ewes can lose condition quickly. Condition scoring ewes regularly, along with feed adjustments, helps reduce the problems of small lambs and low levels of colostrum/milk supply in individual ewes. Feed a good quality concentrate ration with an ME greater than 12.5MJ/kg dry matter and a crude protein level of about 18%. The quantity fed depends on forage quality, ewe condition and scanning information as discussed last month. Protein quality is very important and soya is a good source of protein in a ewe ration. If purchasing a standard blend or nut ensure a quality protein is high in the list of ingredients. Also check the ration contains adequate selenium and vitamin E (0.5mg/kg selenium and 150 iu/kg vitamin E).

Spreading season

Land applications of slurry and organic manures are open from 1st February if conditions allow. If possible use soil test results and try to target applications to fields with P and K indices below 2. It is easier saying this than doing it as a nutrient map of the farm often shows the driest fields and those closest to the tanks have the highest indices.


Prepared by: Stephen Graham
phone: 028 9442 6745

Avian Influenza overview

Due to the autumn/winter migration Avian Influenza (AI) has reared its head once again, this time in the form of H5N8. This is a very aggressive strain and causes high mortality very quickly. The virus moved across mainland Europe making its way down to France on the 26 November 2016 where infection was confirmed in a commercial duck flock. Due to its proximity DEFRA put a housing order in place on the 6th December 2016.

On the 16 December 2016 an outbreak was confirmed on a turkey farm in Lincolnshire. Following the outbreak protection and surveillance zones were put in place. Since then there have been a number of wild bird findings in England and a back yard flock (chickens and ducks) confirmed positive on the 31 December in Wales. On the 23 December 2016, as a precaution, a housing order was put in place in Northern Ireland (NI) for all poultry. Unfortunately on the 30 December 2016 a wigeon (wild duck) was found with the virus in Wexford, with a second finding in Galway and a further back yard flock (chickens and ducks) confirmed positive on the 6 January 2017 in Yorkshire.  As I write this note there has been another outbreak in turkeys in Lincolnshire close to the previous outbreak in December. It is clear that AI is now throughout Europe with the exception of NI. Vigilance and the strictest biosecurity by both commercial farmers and back yard flock keepers is the only way to try and reduce the likelihood of an outbreak in a commercial flock in NI. 

Biosecurity throughout the AI threat   

Reassess hygiene and biosecurity and put extra measures in place to protect the health status of your commercial or back yard poultry flock. 

Only allow essential visitors access to the farm and ensure you find out where they have been previously. Minimise foot traffic between houses. Keeping house specific boots and overalls in each control room is good practice. The visitor’s book must be filled in by every person before they enter the site not after the visit has taken place. 

Replenish foot dips twice weekly; foot dips that are outdoors and don’t have a lid may require more frequent changing. Ensure the correct concentration of disinfectants is used.

Check all vehicles are clean before entering the site and that all wheels and arches are sprayed thoroughly. Unless access is necessary it is good practice to get vehicles to park outside the site. If you have a breeding or commercial laying farm make sure egg trolleys and trays are clean before allowing them into the egg store.

Keep all outside areas maintained, cutting tall grass and weeds that make ideal coverage for rodents which are a major disease carrier as well as wild birds. Maintain a robust rodent control programme as per your processor/packer company guidelines. Remove any dead birds from the house immediately and put them in enclosed bins before collection or incineration.

When entering or leaving a poultry house wash hands. When leaving the farm change clothes and shower as the virus can be spread from person to person through fomites, that is, clothes, shoes, hair and hands. Although the virus will not affect humans you could spread it to your own or other flocks.

If you require any advice please contact your local vet or DAERA office and if you are concerned about the health of your flock seek immediate veterinary advice.


Prepared by: Ronan Coll
phone: 028 9442 6865

Give it a go ... use DAERA online services today!

Farmers and growers are clearly seeing the benefits of doing their business online with over 15,000 individuals now registered to use DAERA online services. 62% of Single Applications Forms were submitted online last year and 63% of all calf births are currently notified online.

In the December IT Management Note I discussed some of the services available through DAERA online services namely, APHIS Online, Single Application and Maps, CAFRE Nutrient Calculators, BovIS, CAFRE Benchmarking and the Farm Investment Planner. This month I will highlight some of the other DAERA online services available to you which are all free, easy to use, available 24/7, safe and secure.

CAFRE Farm Business Planner

The CAFRE Farm Business Planner is a new online service that allows you to create two financial business plans for your farm over a five year period; one is a baseline plan where there is no significant investment or change made, the second includes significant change or investment. The reports generated allow you to determine how a change in the farm business would affect the figures over the five year period, helping determine the feasibility of an investment. The reports are also useful when seeking a loan for an investment from banks and other finance providers.


Pig farmers need to know the performance of their farm on an ongoing basis to be able to respond to changing conditions. Pig Performance, Analysis and Comparison (PigPAC) brings together a number of support tools to help pig farmers make informed decisions.

PiGIS is a tried and tested programme that allows you to assess the quality of pig carcasses over time and benchmark with others in the industry. Automatic texts sent after each delivery of pigs ensures you are kept up to date on carcase quality.

Many pig farmers have excellent records for their sow herds but the corresponding information for growing and finishing pigs is lacking. The Batch Performance Calculator allows the live weight gain and food conversion to be accurately determined for pigs finished in all-in all-out systems.

Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) entitlements

From early March you will be able to transfer BPS entitlements using the online Transfer Service where it is a straightforward transfer (sale, gift or lease) from one farm business to another, with no business change or inheritance involved. This is a convenient, quick and easy service which provides automatic transfer of entitlements. To do so you will need the Business ID and Entitlement Transfer ID of the person you are transferring your entitlements to. Once completed you will get a confirmation email straight away. If you want the transfer to take effect for the 2017 BPS scheme year the closing date for completion of the online transfer is Tuesday 2 May.

CAFRE Business Tools

CAFRE have developed a wide range of decision support applications to help farmers and growers make day-to-day decisions relating to their business in areas ranging from animal health to nutrition and renewable energy.

An example of one of the applications available is the Total Mixed Ration (TMR) M+ application, which enables a dairy farmer to calculate the ‘maintenance plus milk production’ (M+) potential of the diet being fed to a group of cows (either TMR or silage only). This allows milking parlour feed levels to be set on a ‘feed to yield basis’ (above the calculated M+ of the ration).

To find out more about these services, up and coming training courses or how to register for DAERA online services:

phone: 028 9442 6699
Text: Easy to 67300
Go to the DAERA website

Notes to editors: 

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

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