Management notes for January 2023

Date published: 06 January 2023

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).

Horticulture established floral resource in an orchard.


Prepared by: Richard Gibson

Nutrient management

At recent BDG events in South Antrim and Co Down, independent soil specialist Mark Tripney delivered soil health and management workshops. Mark’s message was very clear when he commented: “Look after your soil and in return it will look after you.” 

The overarching message from the workshops was that we need to do more to unlock the potential within the soil. More measurements and analyses are required to better inform decisions on farm, especially in relation to nutrient application. Mark highlighted the importance of having nutrient analysis for slurry, farmyard manure (FYM) and even a detailed specification of lime applied on farm.

Some of the key points from the BDG workshops include:

  • Target slurry to areas that require nutrients. Not everywhere needs nutrients applied, for example grazing paddocks may already have adequate levels.
  • Analyse slurry and FYM to enable accurate nutrient budgeting.
  • Use forage mineral analysis to understand how nutrient applications are impacting soil and plant health.
  • Dig inspection pits to determine the depth at which soil compaction starts.
  • Correcting nutrient imbalance will ultimately improve soil structure.
  • Aerating soils to break surface compaction promotes oxygenation, deeper root development and drainage.

Tackling digital dermatitis this winter

If digital dermatitis is a problem on your farm this winter, routine foot bathing is the most practical method of control. However, to be successful it must be carried out effectively. This means regular foot bathing in a correctly designed facility using the right chemical.

Modern automatic footbaths have been adopted successfully on farms. Whilst these baths help with workload management and maintain the correct concentration of chemical, the basic principle is still the same. To allow time for the chemical to penetrate, the cow needs to take at least three strides through the treatment bath. The bath 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. Accurately measure the amount of chemical required. This includes topping up. Dilute mixes are not as effective and more concentrated mixes may cause damage that leads to an increase in lameness.

Ideally, provide a double foot bath; the first bath washes the feet and the second is the treatment bath. If using a pre-wash bath there should ideally be one cow length between the pre-wash and treatment baths, along with good drainage to remove excess water. 

Another option is to wash the cows feet before they leave the parlour on the way out to the foot bath. A clean hoof provides a perfect environment for the chemical to contact the infected area. This option will however carry an increased risk of a mastitis flare up.

The frequency of treatment depends on the incidence of infection. The minimum regime should be to foot bath after four consecutive milkings each week to minimise digital dermatitis.

Heat detection

For autumn calving herds breeding is well underway. Technology has a key role to play in this area, not only from improving heat detection rates but also from a labour-saving aspect. Heat detection equipment or activity monitor technology is now widely used across the dairy industry. This equipment, linked with drafting facilities, eliminates the guess work in heat detection, while at the same time significantly reducing the time and effort required during breeding. Use the technology for pre-breeding checks on your herd. Early identification of cows that are not cycling ultimately improves conception rate. Your system needs to be well set up, but you also need to trust it and utilise all the information it provides.

January’s top tips

  • Use heat detection aids/systems to improve accuracy of heat detection. 
  • Check there is enough slurry storage available until the spreading period opens on 1st February.
  • Complete your nitrogen loading calculations for 2022 and keep a record of the figures.
  • Submit records of slurry exported during 2022 online to NIEA by 31st January. The exception is derogated farms where export records are submitted as part of the fertilisation account by 1st March.


Prepared by:  Jack Friar

Pre-calving preparation

As spring calving is just around the corner, now is a good time to get supplies and facilities ready. Make a checklist to ensure everything is to hand when required. It is impossible to avoid some contact with cows during calving season. Good, well-maintained facilities are therefore essential for your safety. You should have sufficient calving pens available for your herd size and calving pattern. Ideally, one calving pen for every ten cows and the pens should be at least 3.6 m by 3.6 m. A head-locking gate and calving gate are extremely useful to assist cows to calve or for suckling a newborn calf. Always have an escape route planned and make sure gates and barriers are fit for purpose. Be mindful of young children around the yard as they can be seen as a threat by freshly calved cows. Keep children away from calving sheds.

In terms of hygiene, disinfect pens thoroughly between each calving 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 as overheating will damage and destroy antibodies. Never defrost in the microwave!

Pre-lambing vaccinations

Vaccinating for clostridial diseases is common and good practice on sheep farms. It is important ewes receive their booster, with most manufacturers recommending booster vaccines are given four to six weeks pre-lambing. If lambing is spread out, the vaccine may need to be given at different times depending on due dates. This is important to ensure maximum passive transfer of immunity to lambs which provides them with protection for approximately the first three weeks from birth. After this clostridial vaccination of the lambs is required. The potential financial losses due to clostridial disease makes vaccination a worthwhile investment. Always get advice from your own vet before starting a vaccination programme.

Complete soil analysis now

Soils samples should only be taken from fields that have not received fertiliser, slurry, manure, or lime for at least three months. Now is the ideal time to carry out soil analysis, especially if you intend to apply slurry to grassland during February when the closed period ends.

With fertiliser prices still high, a soil analysis can help you make informed decisions about applications of fertilisers and slurry. Applying the correct levels of nutrients will optimise grass yields. Cost savings may be possible by targeting the correct fertiliser type and application rates of both fertiliser and slurry. 

If you are planning to take soil samples, augers and samples bags are available from your local DAERA office. 

Key points when taking a sample include:

  • Always use a soil auger, sampling to a depth of 75 mm for grassland and 150 mm for arable ground.
  • Take core samples from the field by crossing it in a ‘W’ pattern.
  • Take 20 core samples from the field, mix them in a bucket and put into a correctly labelled sample bag.
  • Do not sample near water troughs, gates, headlands, trees, dung/urine patches or areas where stock shelter.
  • Do not put samples from different soil types together in a bag. Avoid small areas of a different soil type or take two samples, one from each area.

Organic manure export deadline

Details of organic manures exported must be submitted to NIEA annually before 31 January for the previous calendar year. It is the responsibility of the person exporting the slurry to submit the details to NIEA.  Although exporting is not that common in the beef/sheep sector, it is important if you are importing slurry to stay below 170 kg nitrogen per hectare. Do your calculations and keep records of quantities of slurry imported and from whom.


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

Storing vaccines

The UK pig industry has made great strides in reducing the use of antibiotics. In 2015 the average use, based on data from the electronic medicine book, was 278 mg per Population Correction Unit (PCU). Six years later the figure is 87 mg/PCU. This 70% reduction is a credit to everyone involved in the industry. Off the shelf and autogenous vaccines, which are specific to a farm, have been central in achieving this reduction. To ensure vaccines provide the level of protection required, it is essential they are handled and stored correctly. The recommended storage temperature for most vaccines is between 2 and 8o C, with both high and low temperatures affecting efficacy. If vaccines are stored at too low or too high a temperature, they undergo changes that affects their ability to provide the protection required. Thawing or cooling a vaccine that has been exposed to extreme temperatures will not restore to its original state. As you cannot tell by looking at vaccines if they have been affected by temperature it is important to store them correctly.

When storing vaccines:

  • Use a good quality domestic or pharmaceutical fridge and not a ‘cast off’ from the dwelling house.
  • Do not keep food and drink in the same fridge. As well as being a health and safety issue it is also a requirement of Red Tractor.
  • Do not overfill the fridge. Leave room around the vaccines to allow air to circulate.
  • Keep them in the body of the fridge where the temperature is more constant.
  • Regularly check the fridge door to make sure it is closing tightly.
  • Check the temperature of the fridge regularly using a min/max thermometer or temperature data logger.

Importance of water

We all know the importance of providing pigs with adequate water. Pigs are prone to water deprivation and very quickly develop salt poisoning if they do not get enough. But even minor dehydration can create problems, causing reduced intake, slower growth, less efficient use of feed and lower milk production. Providing adequate water is essential for the health, welfare and production efficiency of all stages of pigs.

However, providing adequate water is only part of the story. Water quality is equally important. Several tests are available for determining quality, including those that detect the presence of bacteria. Total Viable Count (TVC) provides a general indication of overall quality as it gives a reading for all micro-organisms present at 37o C (body temperature) and 22o C (ambient temperature). As the TVC analysis does not provide information on the type of bacteria, it is also important to test for specific bacteria such as coliforms, E. coli, enterococci and clostridia. To meet Red Tractor standards TVC and coliform levels for a sample taken at source must be less than 1000 colony forming units (cfu) per ml and less than 100 cfu per 100 ml respectively.

Over the past 12 months almost 100 samples of water have been collected from the farms of Business Development Group members. These samples were analysed for the presence of bacteria, in particular E coli and coliforms. Although most samples were satisfactory, extremely high levels of coliforms and E. coli were detected in some samples. Indeed, the levels were so high they could not be counted, indicating excessive bacterial contamination. This shows the importance of checking water, whether it is from the mains or a bore hole, by sending samples to an accredited lab for bacterial analysis. If levels are high talk to your vet or adviser about options available for cleaning water and water systems. Do not assume the water your pigs and perhaps yourself and employees are drinking is clean.

And finally…

Wishing you all a very happy, more prosperous, less stressful and less challenging 2023!


Prepared by: Conor Gallinagh

Crop management for effective pest and disease control

For effective pest and disease prevention, cultural controls are a fundamental step in minimising the effect on the crop. As the horticulture industry progresses towards a more sustainable future, a new approach will be required for pest and disease prevention. Crop walks are crucial for quickly identifying issues or outbreaks within an environment and a crop. Allocate time to check the crop and keep a close eye on any deviancies within the crop. A plant showing signs of stress could be an indication of a pest or disease issue.

A hand lens is an important piece of equipment that helps to identify pests and diseases that are difficult to see. Correct identification leads to the development of a more effective programme. Also, identifying plants that are under attack from a pest or disease and removing them from the cropping area can greatly reduce the spread. Reduce the likelihood of further contamination by carefully placing the affected plants or plant parts into a bag. Also, sterilising equipment after use will help reduce the risk of further contamination and spread.

The environment can play a significant role in the spread and development of pests and diseases. Poor ventilation, which can result in high humidity, provides a very favourable environment for the outbreak and spread of large populations of pests and diseases. Crop spacing and irrigation management can help reduce the likelihood of this occurring. Large populations of weeds can also harbour pest and disease populations which could easily spread on to the crop. Having an effective weed management programme in place will help eliminate this.

Increasing floral resources in orchards

The alarming drop in pollinator populations has resulted in a range of projects and policy initiatives aimed at reversing this trend throughout Europe. One such project, BEESPOKE, is supported by the North Sea Region Programme. This project aims to provide land managers with practical information on how to increase pollinator numbers and biodiversity in different agricultural and horticultural enterprises.

One of the major concerns of establishing floral resources in orchards is that the flowers may draw pollinator insects away from the trees, reducing fruit set. However, over a three year period, researchers have not found evidence of this and in some years numbers in the apple crop actually increased. The adoption of flower resources in orchards significantly increased the range and number of pollinators in the test areas and was particularly beneficial to solitary bee populations.

The impact on boosting levels of apple pest predators was hugely beneficial as well, with an increase in aphidophagous (lacewing) and general predators such as ground beetles and spiders. This was linked to a decrease in capsids and codling moth larvae and levels of damaged fruit in the orchards. However, researchers found that in certain years levels of some pests such as woolly aphids and rust mites were higher in areas close to floral resources. A concept discussed at the event was spillover. This is a measure of how far predators will travel from the floral resources to hunt their prey. For instance, aphidophagous hoverflies are common within 18 m of a floral resource, but spiders can extend their range to 60 m. As a result, beneficial effects of floral resources are enhanced if they are inside the crop rather than at the margins.

All the floral resources established at the different sites were based on a 20:80 mix of perennial flowers and grass species. Marek Novichowski, from Wildlife Farming, reviewed the establishment and management of these areas. He stated that if they were properly established, they could be maintained for 20 to 30 years without any decrease in their value to wildlife.


Notes to editors: 

  1. Follow DAERA on Twitter and Facebook.
  2. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office:

Share this page

Back to top