Management notes for January 2020

Date published: 16 January 2020

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).

A cow needs to take at least three strides through a treatment bath filled to a depth of 10 cm 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 when no fertiliser, slurry, manure or lime has been applied for at least 12 weeks. If you intend to apply slurry to grassland in February take soil samples first. A standard soil analysis gives an indication of pH, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium indices allowing you to make informed decisions about applications of fertilisers and slurry. Applying the correct levels of nutrients will optimise yields, save money and is good for water quality.

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

  • 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 (3”) for grassland and 150 mm (6”) 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 in a labelled sample bag.
  • Don’t sample near water troughs, gates, headlands, trees, dung/urine patches or areas where stock shelter.
  • Don’t put cores from different soil types together in a sample. Avoid small areas of a different soil type or take two samples, one from each area.

Getting the cow back in calf!

For autumn calving herds 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 completed their ‘voluntary waiting period’ three weeks ago have been served? This will tell you how many cows that were eligible to be served in the last 21 days were actually 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? 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 the cows 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 a double bath, wash the cows feet with a hose before they leave the parlour on the way out to the foot bath.

To allow the chemical time to penetrate the cow needs to take at least three strides through the treatment bath. For this to happen the bath must be at least three metres 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 bathe after four consecutive milkings each week

It is important to make up the foot bath mixture accurately using the recommended amount of chemical. Dilute mixes are not effective. More concentrated mixes may damage cows feet leading to more incidences of lameness. Using the correct amount of chemical also applies when topping up the foot bath. Measure accurately, don’t guess!

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.
  • Check there is enough slurry storage available until the spreading period opens on 1 February.
  • Complete your nitrogen loading calculations for 2019 and keep a record of the figures.
  • Submit records of slurry exported during 2019 online to NIEA by 31st January. The exception is derogated farms where export records are submitted as part of the fertilisation account by 1 March.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould


Prepare for spring calving

Prepare well in advance of the main spring calving period. Assess facilities and calving supplies to allow enough time to replenish stocks and make any adjustments. Important items include calving aids/ropes, iodine solution for navels, arm length gloves, calving lubricant, disinfectant, artificial/frozen colostrum, stomach tubes and/or feeding bottles.

A general rule is to allow one calving pen for every ten cows, but more are required where a very compact calving is anticipated. When entering a pen with a calving or freshly calved cow have your escape route planned and never turn your back on the cow. Keep dogs out of sight in particular as they can trigger a protective response. A good calving gate makes handling cows easier and much safer for you, the cow and calf.

Disinfect pens thoroughly between calvings and use plenty of straw. After the calf is born treat navels with a strong iodine solution. Ensure the calf gets adequate colostrum as soon as possible after birth (10% of calf body weight within six hours). The ability of a newborn calf to absorb antibodies from colostrum deteriorates rapidly from birth. If thawing frozen colostrum, do so in good time. Freezing in bags or containers with a large surface area reduces thawing time. Overheating will destroy antibodies. Never use a microwave to defrost colostrum. Be mindful of the risk of bringing disease into your herd via colostrum from another herd.

Cattle lice treatment

As the housed period progresses, lice may re-emerge as an issue. Continually check for visual signs of lice such as scratching or hair loss. There are two main categories; sucking and biting lice. Ivermectin based injectable products are sometimes expected to control lice, however, this is really only the case for sucking lice. Specific pour-ons which target both categories of lice are the most effective method of control. Clipping the animals back before pour-on application helps the product reach the skin for absorption. When treating cattle for lice, it is necessary to treat all cattle in the shed. Also treat any cows that may be in calving sheds as they can reintroduce lice to the shed when they return.


Ewe housing and lambing facilities

Most mid-season flocks will have pregnancy scanning completed by the middle of this month. Where ewes are housed they should be grouped by predicted litter size and fed accordingly for the final six to eight weeks of pregnancy.

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

Lambing pens should be 1.8 m x 1.2 m, with one lambing pen for every eight to ten ewes. Increase the number of lambing pens for synchronised ewes. Providing a supply of hot water in the lambing shed is a good way for keeping hands and lambing equipment clean. A mains fed over sink water heater is a good investment.

Clostridial booster vaccine for sheep

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 there is a wide spread in lambing dates the vaccine may need to be administered to the flock in batches.


Submit records of all organic manures exported during 2019 to NIEA by 31 January. Exporting may not be that common in the beef/sheep sector but it is important if you import slurry to make sure you are below 170 kg nitrogen per hectare. Complete your own calculations and keep a record of quantities imported and from whom.


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

Achievements in 2019

Although 2019 brought many challenges, overall it was a good year for most involved in the pig industry. Pig prices continued their upward trend, with many pig producing countries hitting record levels. In Northern Ireland (NI), although the movement of prices was often slow, the trend was also upwards. Let’s hope this trend continues in 2020 and it is a prosperous year for all involved in the industry.

It was also a good year for the local industry in terms of performance. Several performance records were hit. Worthy of note are the following:

  • Born alive continued to increase. For all units benchmarking with CAFRE average born alive reached a new high of 14.8. The top 25% of units averaged 16.5, the first time benchmarked units achieved this level of performance.
  • A further increase in pigs weaned per sow per year. For the first time the average figure for all units benchmarking hit almost 30 pigs, with the top 25% averaging 33.3 pigs weaned per sow per year.
  • Heavier slaughter weights. The average deadweight for all NI pigs slaughtered in 2019 was just over 90 kg. For the last quarter the average weight increased even more, averaging over 91 kg!
  • As a result of both the increase in the number of pigs sold per sow per year and slaughter weight many units produced over 3,000 kg of pigmeat per sow per year. Producing 3.0 t of pigmeat per sow is indeed a huge achievement!

Stress training courses!

Stress affects us all, with some people able to cope with higher levels than others. Although a certain amount of stress is good, too much can affect our health and wellbeing. Pigs are the same. They can cope with some stress but too much reduces growth rate, lowers health status and affects fertility. The behaviour of a stressed pig also changes, resulting in an increase in vices, for example ear, flank and tail biting.

CAFRE, in partnership with local vets, are holding ten training courses on ‘Reducing Stress in Pigs’. The training, which is funded through the Farm Family Key Skills programme, focuses on how to reduce stress in pigs, the causes of tail biting and the provision of environmental enrichment. Providing the right type of enrichment in the right way will help reduce stress in pigs and therefore tail biting.

Over the next few months courses will be held in Portadown, Omagh, Cookstown and Antrim. If you, any family member or employees are interested in attending a course please contact Parkland Veterinary Group on 028 8676 5765 or email:   

As well as this course providing practical suggestions on reducing stress in pigs, attendance will also help meet the Red Tractor requirement for training for yourself and your employees.

Fineness of grind

Research shows that feeding pigs a finely ground ration improves feed conversion and growth rate. In practice finely ground means about 60% of particles are between 0.5 and 1.4 mm. If you are a home mixer how do you know if the meal you are feeding is ground finely enough? The simplest way is to do a sieve test. A number of sieve tests have been carried out recently and although most rations were of the correct particle size some were too coarse. For example, the results of one test showed that only 40% of particles were between 0.5 and 1.4 mm and 13% were over 2.0 mm. By grinding a finer ration this producer could not only improve feed conversion, representing a saving in feed costs but the pen floors will be cleaner and there should be less crusting of slurry. Be careful not to grind the feed too fine. Too fine a ration can cause problems, including an increase in stomach ulcers.


Prepared by: Kieran Lavelle

NIFGA Apple Conference 2020

Local bramley growers experienced a strong demand for quality fruit from the 2019 harvest as yields were lower due to a late spring frost. In some orchards, especially those at lower altitude, the crop was only 10% of 2018, but other orchards were better with minimal reduction in yield.

Producing consistently high yielding crops of quality fruit year after year is an ongoing challenge for apple growers. It requires close attention to soil nutrition, disease control and other aspects of agronomy and fruit storage. Several of these issues will be discussed at the Northern Ireland Fruit Growers (NIFGA) Conference on 28th January at 2pm in the Armagh City Hotel. Aspects of orchard nutrition, which depend on routine analysis of soil, leaf and fruitlets will be covered by Chloe Kyle from Yara UK Limited. Dr Sean Mac An tSaoir will summarise work he has carried out on apples and pears, including disease control, orchard planting systems, growth regulation and fruit storage.

I am also taking part in the Conference and will present the results of an agricultural European Innovation Partnership Focus Group (EIP-AGRI) which looked at ‘Protecting fruit production from frost damage’. The results of this partnership may help growers better overcome challenges relating to frost damage.

Fruit growers are very reliant upon seasonal workers to help with harvest. It is imperative they ensure procedures are in place to protect their business from the risks of hidden labour exploitation and infiltration by human traffickers. David Camp’s presentation will include current labour supply challenges, the impact of Brexit and tips to attract and retain workers.

If you would like to attend the NIFGA conference on 28 January contact the Secretary, Dermot Morgan by 17 January.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

IPM is now practised in protected crops. The effectiveness of scouting and maintaining predator populations can be enhanced by utilising certain plants. Early identification and subsequent control of a pest infestation by scouting can be improved by using indicator and trap plants. Indicator plants are more attractive to pests than the crop itself, so flying pests are drawn towards them. You can inspect these plants on a weekly basis and if a pest is found more time can be spent inspecting the crop adjacent to the infested plant. Common examples of indicator plants are eggplants for whitefly and marigolds for thrips. However, plants must be inspected on a regular basis otherwise they can act as a source of pest outbreak.

Trap plants are similar to indicator plants. You can use them as a location to release beneficials to enhance their establishment or as a focal point for ‘hot spot’ pesticide applications. Alternatively, fresh trap plants can be introduced on a regular basis. When they become heavily infected they can be bagged and removed from the greenhouse to reduce pest populations. The cycle is then started again with a fresh trap plant. Chrysanthemums are a highly effective trap plant for thrips in protected horticulture. Some chrysanthemum growers use earlier flowering cultivars interspersed in their main crop to divert and trap thrips in these locations.

Plants can also be used to attract and retain natural predators in the greenhouse. A new approach using habitat plants has been developed based on the ability of flowers to attract predators by providing food (nectar/pollen), shelter and a reproduction site. A recent review in the US showed that Alyssum was a highly effective, year round habitat plant, capable of supporting populations of parasitic wasps, predatory bugs and hoverflies. If you would like more information on IPM, please contact Mark Huey on 07785 344 244 or Email:

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