Management notes for February 2019

Date published: 07 February 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).

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


Prepared by: Christopher Breen

Nutrient management

You can reduce your fertiliser bill this spring by making good use of soil and slurry nutrients. As fields have not received fertiliser since mid-September or slurry/farmyard manure from the end of October they are in the ideal state for soil sampling. This is probably your last chance to carry out soil analysis before the application of slurry.

Soil sampling augers and bags are available from your local DAERA Direct Office. You should sample the soil in each field. If the field is more than four hectares sample each four hectare block within the field. When sampling a grass field walk in a ‘W’ pattern. Take at least 25 core samples at regular intervals using a 75 mm auger and place the samples in a bucket. 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.

You should receive the soil analysis results within a week and your local Development Adviser can help you interpret them. Use the DAERA Online Services CAFRE Crop Nutrient Recommendation Calculator to calculate specific field fertiliser 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 (N) to apply for first cut silage.

As a general rule grazing fields have phosphate (P) and potash (K) recycled by grazing cattle. Therefore apply slurry to silage ground, targeting fields low in P and K. This makes best use of the soil and slurry nutrients, helping to avoid nutrient shortfalls where there is greatest demand.

Take account of N in slurry when deciding how much fertiliser to apply for first cut silage 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 the slurry you will almost double the efficiency of N use.

The optimum index of 2+ for phosphorus and 2- for potassium 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 and Phosphorus Regulations.  

An application of 33 cubic metres per hectare (3,000 gallons per acre) of cattle slurry in February/early March supplies all the phosphate and potash needed for first cut silage and approximately the same N for grass growth as two 50 kg bags of 27% N.

February jobs

  • When spreading slurry do not spread on waterlogged ground, when raining heavily or when heavy rain is forecast within the next 48 hours or on ground that has a slope of 20% or more, is frozen or covered in snow.
  • Review soil analysis results and plan nutrient requirements based on soil status and crop requirement.
  • Complete any maintenance on cow tracks and paddock fencing in preparation for the grazing season.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould


Finishing spring born male calves

Some beef producers may choose to finish last year’s spring born male calves as young bulls under 16 months. Young bulls can be finished successfully on grass silage and concentrates, however silage needs to be of a very high quality. Silage analysis is therefore necessary to determine the quality and levels of supplementation. Variable quality silage will lead to a variation in performance. Animals in a bull beef system cannot afford setbacks if they are to achieve carcase weight/fat score targets. Where silage is not of a high enough quality choose straw or hay as the forage source instead.

Some producers finishing spring born bulls are currently changing them onto an ad-lib concentrate diet for the final 100-120 days before slaughter. Continental bred bulls are generally changed onto ad-lib diets when they are 200-250 kg off final finished weight. This reduces to 150-200 kg for traditional bred bulls. When offering ad-lib concentrates it is very important to gradually increase the level of concentrates for up to three weeks at the start of the finishing period. This gives the rumen enough time to adapt to the new diet and limits the risk of acidosis and laminitis. Split feeding between morning and evening will also help the adaption period. A good source of forage fibre, such as straw or hay will maintain a healthy rumen. A constant supply of fresh, clean water is key to maximising feed intake and liveweight gain. A rule of thumb is that a bull requires six litres of water for every kilogramme of concentrate eaten. Feed troughs should also be cleaned out regularly. 

A bull on a true ad-lib concentrate diet will have constant access to feed and typically eat 10-12 kg per day. Ensure high quality ingredients such as barley and maize are the main components in the concentrate and that crude protein is in the range of 12-14%. To meet target fat scores a high energy content of 12.5-13.0 MJ/kg dry matter (DM) and a starch content of 35-40% in the final finishing ration is required.

If you are producing bull beef you should have spoken with your beef processor to identify a market for your stock and the minimum fat score and maximum carcase weight accepted. The majority of bull beef markets in Northern Ireland require bulls to be under 16 months of age with a minimum fat score of 2+ and a maximum carcase weight of 400-420 kg. Penalties may apply outside these limits.

Suckler farmers finishing their own bulls should only select animals of high growth potential, generally with a pre-weaning liveweight gain of at least 1.2 kg per day. A good target for a bull is to be 500 kg liveweight on its first birthday. Bulls failing to reach this targets may struggle to reach final carcase targets.

When doing a budget for a bull beef system it is important to be aware of the large variation in liveweight gain. Liveweight gain can vary by up to 1.0 kg per day between individual bulls. Feed conversion efficiency, along with purchase and final sales prices, are key determinants of profitability in this system.


Monitor ewe condition pre-lambing

The majority of mid-season lambing ewes should be already grouped by scanned litter size and body condition score and fed according to a silage analysis. The last six weeks of pregnancy accounts for 70% of foetal growth. If the ewe’s nutritional needs are not met at this stage she will lose body condition quickly. Underfeeding ewes leads to lower lamb birth weight and vigour and poorer volumes and quality of colostrum and milk post lambing. Feed a good quality ewe concentrate with an energy content of at least 12.5 MJ/kg DM and a crude protein of 18%. A good quality protein source such as soya bean meal is essential.

End of the closed period

You are now allowed to spread organic manures and chemical fertilisers, but only when ground and weather conditions are suitable. Ideally target fields with low P and K indices or fields that do not normally get slurry/manure.


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

Antimicrobial Resistance

The silent tsunami, a growing global threat, the biggest threat facing society, the world is running out of antibiotics – these are just some of the headlines used to describe Antimicrobial Resistance or AMR as it is commonly known. The World Health Organisation is forecasting that by 2050 more people will die from AMR than cancer, a worrying thought.

AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them. The development of antibiotic resistance is due to their overuse, using the wrong antibiotic for the wrong bacteria and inappropriate use, for example using them to treat viral infection.

Due to the seriousness of AMR and the need for everyone to play a part in reducing the use of antibiotics CAFRE, in partnership with local pig vets, have organised AMR training. The main focus of the training, which is delivered through the Farm Family Key Skills programme, is reducing antibiotic use in pig production. Topics that will be discussed include what increases the risk of antibiotic resistance, the responsible use of antibiotics, target usage levels and alternatives to antibiotics.

During February training courses will be held in Portadown, Omagh, Antrim and Ballynahinch. If you, any family member or employees are interested in attending a course please contact Susan at:

As well as this course providing practical solutions for reducing the use of antibiotics on farm, attendance will help meet the Red Tractor requirement for training for yourself and your employees.

Tail biting

Inadequate feeder space, overcrowding, high levels of ammonia, variation in temperature, long narrow pens, a change in feed and poor health are just some of the causes of tail biting in pigs. Anything that increases stress levels in a pig or pen of pigs can cause an outbreak. Sometimes it is difficult to find a solution to the problem as the cause of the outbreak is not known. On a local pig farm the solution to an outbreak was cow mats! On this farm tail biting was occurring in the two end pens of a new finishing house. After ‘scratching the head’ for a while the farmer realised that draughts were the cause of the problem. Slabs covering the two outside mixing points were not a tight fit. A 25 mm gap around the slabs was allowing the fans to draw air from outside up through the slats. This created a draught on the pigs causing them to tail bite. By placing cow mats over the slabs and blocking off the gaps the tail biting stopped. A simple solution to a tail biting problem!

Electronic Medicine Book reminder

The deadline for uploading antibiotic usage onto the Electronic Medicine Book for the quarter ending December 2018 is 11th February. It is important to upload quarter four data on or before this date as the ‘Antibiotic Holding’ report, which the Quality Assurance inspector asks to see during an inspection, now has the date the data was uploaded printed on it. This is one of several changes made to the Electronic Medicine Book. Another change is the inclusion of benchmarking graphs. The graphs are very useful as they allow you to compare the antibiotic usage for your farm with other similar types of farms. You can see if the amount used on your farm is higher or lower than the average. Another change that some of you may find useful is that you can now upload the data every month instead of quarterly. A summary of all the changes can be found on the Electronic Medicine Book welcome page.


Prepared by: Byran Irvine

Nutrient efficiency

With numerous environmental challenges facing farming, land managers need to maximise the efficiency of all inputs. Four ways of achieving this are:

  1. Correcting the soil pH to maximise release and uptake of nutrients.
  2. Delivering slurry to the land that can benefit most from its considerable nutrient and organic matter content.
  3. Using low emission spreading techniques to minimise N losses.
  4. Selecting a chemical fertiliser which has a consistently high fertiliser recovery rate.

Stabilised urea is a chemical fertiliser with a proven high fertiliser recovery rate.  Research by AFBI and Teagasc has shown considerable advantages of using stabilised urea fertiliser for early season dressings over other nitrogen options. 

Stabilised urea, also known as treated or protected urea, contains additives such as NBPT. It has been shown to reduce ammonia volatilisation losses compared to urea by 78.5% on average, whilst maintaining comparable yields to Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN). Whilst losses of ammonia from CAN are lower than urea, CAN is vulnerable to loss of nitrogen by one of the most potent greenhouse gases - nitrous oxide (N2O), and in wet years by nitrate leaching. For spring dressings stabilised urea will release much less ammonia than straight urea and have significantly lower N2O emissions than CAN, yet produce reliable yields.

For many producers straight N will be the only requirement this spring for grazing where nutrient levels are optimum. Silage ground with a history of slurry dressings and a correspondingly high nutrient status will have first cut phosphorous and potash requirements met from 33 cubic metres per hectare (3,000 gallons per acre) of slurry and just require a top-up of straight N fertiliser.

‘The Ammonia Challenge’ video

CAFRE has prepared a short video entitled ‘The Ammonia Challenge’ which shows how ammonia has become a threat to sensitive habitats and that farming is an important source of ammonia. It also looks at some useful techniques to reduce ammonia emissions. 

Ammonia is a powerful air pollutant and agriculture is responsible for 94% of atmospheric ammonia in Northern Ireland. High levels of ammonia cause damage to sensitive habitats and species loss. Nitrogen loss by ammonia also reduces the fertiliser value of slurry and manure.

The video shows some methods of reducing ammonia emissions that are being used at CAFRE. These include increased grazing, reduced protein in livestock diets, advanced livestock flooring and slurry storage systems and slurry application using the trailing shoe system. To view the video open up CAFREtv in YouTube and then select ‘The Ammonia Challenge’.

Birds and their habitats rules

Birds and the habitats they rely on are increasingly under threat and the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) aims to preserve, maintain or restore habitats for all species of birds that are resident or visitors to the European Territory. 

Any area in NI considered as an internationally important site for breeding,

over-wintering or migrating birds has been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA). BPS applicants within these areas and within Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) have to comply with SMR2 which aims to protect wild birds, their eggs, nests and associated habitats. However, following clarification by the EU, the requirements of SMR2 will now also apply to all lands claimed in NI in or outside these areas.

This means that, on all lands declared as part of your farm, you must not carry out any activities which are likely to result in the disturbance of birds or the deterioration of habitats affecting birds. Examples of activities likely to cause disturbance of birds and deterioration of habitats affecting birds as applicable to all lands are conversion of uncultivated lands, large scale habitat clearance, scrub clearance, including hedge row removal and significant landscape change.

2019 Cross-compliance verifiable standards can be found on the DAERA website.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The department may take photographs and videos at announcements and events to publicise its work. Photographs, interviews, videos or other recordings may be issued to media organisations for publicity purposes or used in promotional material, including in publications, newspapers, magazines, other print media, on television, radio and electronic media (including social media and the internet). Photographs and videos will also be stored on the department’s internal records management system. The department will keep the photographs and recordings for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which they have been obtained. The department’s Privacy Policy is available on our website.
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