Management Notes for January 2019

Date published: 03 January 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).

Fill the treatment bath to a depth of 10cm to allow good chemical penetration.


Prepared by: Christopher Breen

Soil analysis

Now is an ideal time to carry out soil analysis. Soil samples should only be taken if fertiliser, slurry, manure or lime has not been applied for at least 12 weeks. If you intend to apply slurry to grassland soon take soil samples first.

The results of the analysis allows you to make informed decisions about applications of fertilisers and slurry. If the correct levels of nutrients are applied yields should be optimised and cost savings may be possible.

A standard soil analysis gives an indication of:

  • pH.
  • Phosphorus index.
  • Potassium index.
  • Magnesium index.

Soil augers and sample bags are available from your local DAERA office. For meaningful soil analysis it is essential to take a sample that is representative of the area being tested. Therefore:

  • Always use a corer when taking samples. Never use a spade or lift a handful of soil from a ploughed field as a poor sample is worse than none at all.
  • Take cores down to 75 mm for grassland and 150 mm for arable.
  • Each sample should not represent more than four hectares. Divide large fields, noting and sampling each area separately.
  • Take cores from the field by crossing it in a ‘W’ pattern.
  • Take 20 cores from the field, bulk them together, mix and put into the labelled sample bag.
  • Don’t sample near water troughs, gates, headlands, trees, dung or urine patches or areas where stock shelter.
  • Don’t put cores from different soil types together in a sample.

Getting the cow back in calf

Breeding is well underway. All cows that are six weeks calved should have displayed a heat and are past their ‘voluntary waiting period’. Heats seen after this should be bred and a record of the service made. Assess breeding efficiency by working out the submission rate for the last three weeks. How many cows that had completed their ‘voluntary waiting period’ three weeks ago have been served? This answers the question of how many cows that were eligible to be served in the last three weeks were served. It should be all of them! If not, there is a problem with heat detection on your farm.

Tackling digital dermatitis

Is digital dermatitis a problem on your farm? An AFBI farm survey on lameness found that 45 of the 57 herds surveyed had digital dermatitis. Routine foot bathing is the most practical method of control, but to be successful it must be carried out effectively. Without regular foot bathing the incidence of digital dermatitis will increase weekly during the winter.

Ideally provide a double foot bath, a bath to wash feet, followed by a treatment bath. The wash bath is needed to remove dung which reduces the effectiveness of the chemical in the treatment bath. If there is not enough space to fit in both baths the cows feet can be washed with a hose before leaving the parlour on the way out to the foot bath. To allow time for good penetration of the chemical the cow needs to take at least three strides through the treatment bath. It must therefore be at least

3 m long. Fill the bath to a depth of 10 cm to ensure the foot is covered up to the top of the hoof.  

The frequency of treatment depends on the incidence of infection in the herd. The minimum regime is to bath after four consecutive milkings each week.

January jobs checklist

  • Calibrate parlour and out of parlour feeders to ensure accurate feeding.
  • Take soil samples for analysis to allow decisions to be made on lime and nutrient requirements for the season ahead.
  • Submit all slurry exports for 2018 online to NIEA by 31 January 2019.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould

Review of 2018

Now is a good time to review the performance of your farm business. What area of the farm could be improved? Going forward what measurements are required to monitor physical and financial performance and what are your desired targets? Determining baseline and achievable target figures are vital for assessing where things are now and where you need them to be. Good record keeping allows a farm business to benchmark itself from one year to the next and facilitates informed decision making to drive improvement. There are of course factors outside the farm gate which affect farm profitability but focus on those which can be controlled on farm. Having defined systems on farm will also make it easier to compare performance each year and measure progress. CAFRE offers a free benchmarking service to all Business Development Group members. Physical and financial data is collected and a benchmarking report issued. This report can be used to compare your farms performance, across a number of cost and production headings, with previous years and with other similar farm businesses.

Prepare for calving

In spring calving herds it is time to get supplies and facilities ready. Ideally allow one calving pen for every ten cows. Pens should be a minimum of 3.6 m by 3.6 m. Be mindful of safety as cows can become aggressive at calving time. Have an escape route planned and make sure gates and barriers are fit for purpose. Disinfect pens thoroughly and use plenty of straw.

Treat navels with a strong iodine solution and ensure calves receive adequate quantities of colostrum as soon as possible after birth (10% of body weight within the first six hours). If thawing frozen colostrum do so relatively slowly. Over-heating will damage and destroy antibodies. Never defrost in the microwave!

Housed ewes and lambing facilities

Unclipped lowland ewes on slats require a floor space of 1.0 square metre per ewe reducing to 0.9 square metres for unclipped hill breeds and clipped lowland ewes. Straw bedded ewes require 1.1-1.4 square metres per ewe. Allow 420-475 mm feed space per ewe where concentrate is offered. If ad-lib silage is offered without concentrates allow a minimum of 200 mm per ewe.

Lambing pens should be 1.8m x 1.2m with one lambing pen for every eight to ten ewes. Increase this for synchronised ewes. Split ewes scanned and/or marked at tupping according to lambing date and litter size. Have racks, feed and water containers ready for each pen. A good supply of hot water in the lambing shed is a good encouragement for keeping hands and lambing equipment clean. A mains fed over-sink water heater is also a good investment.

Clostridial booster vaccine

Most manufacturers recommend annual administration of booster clostridial vaccines to ewes four to six weeks pre-lambing. Timing is important to ensure maximum passive transfer of immunity to lambs. If lambing dates are widely spread the vaccine may need to be administered to the flock in batches.


Be mindful of the threat of fluke in your flock. Treatment for fluke every five to six weeks in winter is sometimes necessary in problem areas. Be aware of the stages of fluke which are controlled by the product you are using. As with worms, resistance can be an issue with fluke so alternate the active ingredient used. Faecal sampling and analysis can give you a guide, however fluke damage can occur before fluke can be identified by faecal analysis. Speak to your vet about control options and previous prevalence of fluke on the farm or in your area.

Exporting/importing organic manures

Records of exports of all organic manures for 2018 must be submitted by 31 January 2019. Although exporting is not that common in the beef/sheep sector, it is important if you are importing slurry that you stay below 170 kg nitrogen per hectare. Do your calculations and keep records of quantities imported and from whom.


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

Make 2019 the year you reduce antibiotic use!

Reducing antibiotic use has been, and will continue to be, a hot topic of discussion. Antimicrobial resistance or AMR as it is commonly known is now recognised as one of the most serious global threats to human health. It has been described as the ‘silent tsunami’ and predictions are that by 2050 more people will die from AMR than cancer.

How do you reduce antibiotic usage? Reducing use is not easy but it is possible. It may involve making changes to management, husbandry, housing, ventilation and/or nutrition. It may even involve the use of autogenous vaccines which target problems specific to your farm. A good starting point is to identify where the different amounts of antibiotics are used as this will highlight problems areas. Accurate and regular diagnosis is key to ensure the right antibiotic is used for the right bacterial infection. Before making any changes to antibiotic use talk to you vet as cutting out an antibiotic or reducing the dose rate could do more harm than good.

If you would like to learn more about AMR and what you can do to reduce antibiotic use why not attend one of the Farm Family Key Skills training courses which are being held between now and the end of March. At the course local pig vets will discuss how AMR develops, what increases the risk of antibiotic resistance and what can be done on farm to reduce use. For more information on the courses please contact Susan at:

Start off the New Year by talking to your vet about the possibility of reducing use, bearing in mind you should ‘use as little as possible but as much as necessary’.

Make 2019 the year you keep your records up to date!

Record keeping is now ‘part and parcel’ of pig production with the list of records required getting longer and longer! As well as keeping detailed physical and financial performance records other information needed includes:

  • Medicine records - purchases, administration and disposal.
  • Antibiotic usage.
  • Mortality records - date, number, type, identity, found dead or euthanised and suspected reason for all sow/pig deaths.
  • Bait point inspection and replenishment dates and bait used.
  • Weekly alarm checks.
  • Outbreaks of tail biting and facial scarring.
  • Staff training records - training given, date, training provider and annual review date.
  • Slurry export records.
  • Pig movement records.
  • Meal mixing records. ­

It is sometimes easy to get behind in record keeping, especially at very busy times. Although keeping records up to date has always been very important it is more important now due to the introduction of unannounced Red Tractor quality assurance inspections. From November last year unannounced inspections will take place depending on the number and nature of non-conformances found during an inspection.

Start off the New Year by getting all your records up to date and keeping them up to date!

Make 2019 the year you weigh pigs!

What weight are your pigs at weaning and at the end of first stage and second stage? Weighing batches of pigs at the end of each stage provides valuable information. It allows you to check if your pigs are reaching their target weight for age and to calculate their growth rate. Regular weighing is important as it identifies any changes in growth rate. If you detect a decrease in growth rate you can then target changes to that part of the system to improve performance. As the saying goes you cannot fix a problem if you don’t know what it is!

Start off the New Year by weighing a few batches of pigs and checking if they are meeting their target weight for age.

Chinese ‘Year of the Pig’

2019 is the Chinese ‘Year of the Earth Pig’. According to the Chinese zodiac ‘2019 is a year of fortune and luck. It is a great year to make money and a good year to invest’! Let’s hope it is right!


Prepared by: Kieran Lavelle

Choice of fertilisers

Everyone advising on the use of fertilisers should have a high degree of competence and due regard for the protection of the environment. The Fertiliser Advisers Certification and Training Scheme (FACTS) is a nationally validated course developed by the fertiliser industry as a form of self-regulation. The emphasis is on practical knowledge applicable when selling or advising growers and giving advice that is economically and environmentally sound.

For relatively short production crops like bedding, pot plants, nursery stock and container grown cut flowers, the most practical method of fertiliser application is to use a low rate of base fertiliser or Controlled Release Fertiliser (CRF) supplemented by liquid feeding. This pattern provides flexibility as the strength, frequency and ratio of nutrients can easily be adjusted according to crop requirements.

CRFs are manufactured and used in the form of granules. They are blended with the growing medium or applied to each pot either during the potting process (in the potting hole) or as a top-dress. The granules contain water soluble plant nutrients which are released over a period of time (5 to 6, 8 to 9, 12-14 or 16-18 month formulations). The time together with the rate of granule application determines the amount of nutrients potentially available to the plant. Both the nutrient release period and rate of application vary across the crops grown according to requirements and market supplies availability. It is important therefore that changes in the base fertiliser and in the type or rate of CRF are followed by adjustments. In case CRFs become exhausted before the plants leave the nursery or are transplanted, additional fertiliser can be added by top-dressing or liquid feeding. Time for nutrient release in the media must be allowed in the case of top-dressing. There are also variations, in terms of the frequency of nutrient release at the start of a crop, the so-called ‘fast start’ and ‘slow start’.

The growing media also plays a role in the type of fertiliser used. For instance, calcium nitrate could be used to compensate for nitrogen immobilisation in bark or wood-fibre containing mixes and lime might be needed to raise the pH in peat based media (around 5.5 but 4.5 for ericaceous species).

Integrated Pest Management

Under the title ‘Build to Adapt’ the recent International Plant Propagator Society European Region conference focused on aspects that directly impact the sustainability of our industry. One area of particular relevance was plant protection. Integrated Pest Management (IPM), as a decision making process that uses all available techniques to grow crops and suppress pests, diseases and weeds effectively, economically and in an environmentally sound manner was discussed. IPM steps for managing pest populations include:

  • Planning and managing ecosystems to prevent organisms from becoming pests.
  • Putting in place mechanisms to identify pest problems at early stages, for example carrying out regular crop walks and keeping simple records of findings.
  • Monitoring populations of pests and beneficial organisms and damage caused by pests and environmental conditions.
  • Using injury thresholds to make treatment decisions.
  • Suppressing pest populations to acceptable levels using a combination of biological, physical, cultural, mechanical, behavioural and chemical controls.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of treatments.

IPM takes into account factors that influence plant health and vigour as well as those that affect the health and reproductive capacity of pests, diseases and weeds. The need for optimising growing conditions for the crop while making them less favourable for pest development was emphasied. Key aspects in IPM programmes are:

  • Sanitation.
  • Optimising crop growth.
  • Monitoring crops for pests.
  • Knowledge of the life cycles of the main pests.
  • Timely use of a range of control tools.

Good crop hygiene focuses on starting clean and preventing the introduction of pests. Prevention is easier and less expensive than managing established problems.

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  2. All media enquiries to DAERA Press Office or tel: 028 9052 4619.

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