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).


Prepared by: Michael Garvey
telephone: 028 3752 9054

Growing a low potash silage for dry cows

A dry cow fed ‘typical grass silage’ only during the dry period consumes potash well above the recommended level. High potash reduces the cow’s ability to mobilise calcium at calving. This leads to an increase in milk fever, retained placentas, more uterine infections and poor milk yields. 

Grow low potash grass and make this into bale silage specifically for feeding to your dry cows. Seven hectares of grass produces enough bales for 100 cows during their last month dry. Apply 100 kg per hectare nitrogen fertiliser and no slurry to fields identified for low potash silage, leaving until early August before cutting. To avoid any potential dangers from mould growth or mycotoxin production the dry matter at baling should not be allowed to rise above 35%. Store the bales separately and use only for dry cows.

Condition scoring late lactation cows

Cows calved last autumn are now in late lactation and should be assessed so that they are condition score 2.75 at calving. Check fat cover over the loin, plates and pin bones of the pelvis and tail areas. There should be a slight depression along the cow’s top line, loin and the shelf at the end of her transverse processes and flank should be filling. There should also be a good cover of tissue developing on the plates and over the pin bones. The cavity at the tail head should be filling. These cows should be around 2.5 condition score at the moment.

If you have cows that have not yet reached this stage and are well past 200 days in milk then you will need to increase their dry matter intake. At Greenmount Campus these cows are fed a second low protein/cereal based concentrate. This is a practical option you can use on your farm to increase the overall feed intake of these animals.

Always look ahead!

Typical performance for June from the County Armagh farms that have been working with me over the last few years has been:

Average daily milk yield 25 litres per cow
Average daily concentrate fed 6 kilos per cow
Average daily milk from forage 11.5 litres per cow
Average daily concentrate feed rate 0.24 kilos per litre

In June target 23 litres of milk from cows grazing fulltime on a good supply of quality grass. Have confidence in the ability of your grass to produce milk. Walk swards at least once per week to assess grass cover and quality. Try to identify if there will be enough grass or a period of surplus/shortage and allocate your grass to maintain supply and quality throughout June.

For high yielding cows the June target grass cover before grazing is 3700 kg dry matter per hectare and 1900 kg dry matter per hectare after grazing. At this residual cover there is sufficient leaf material available for rapid re-growth when followed up with 40 kg per hectare of nitrogen fertiliser.

In these circumstances cows yielding less than 23 litres do not require concentrates but higher yielding cows will need meal feeding. The table below indicates the required daily feed level at various yields:

Yield (litres per day) 23 25 30 35 40
Concentrate (kg per cow) 0 0.9 3.2 5.4 7.6

Beef and sheep

Prepared by:   Darryl Boyd


telephone:      028 9034 0957



Two months after turnout is a good time to review parasite control in young stock. Reviewing control at this time allows you to monitor if earlier controls are working and also assess the risk for the remainder of the grazing season (second half has the greatest risk of illness and production losses). The most important parasites to look for are gut and lungworms, liver fluke and rumen fluke. Monitoring daily liveweight gain, having knowledge of your own farm and using faecal egg counts are the best ways of assessing the risk level.

Where high stocking rates exist (in excess of 2500 kg live weight per hectare) closer monitoring is required as any infection will be more easily picked up by stock.

Although the greatest burden is later in the season it is important to act now if the signs are there. Move young stock onto silage aftermaths as cleaner pasture; if the cattle have a worm burden it is best practice to use a suitable product 48 hours before moving to clean them out. If this is the second grazing year for animals hopefully immunity will be built up from previous exposure and treatments, but this is not always the case.

Generally spring born suckler calves won’t be at high risk at this time of year as they don’t yet have a high dependence on grass. Dairy bred beef calves require more monitoring now as they have a higher dependence on grass.



Between 12 and 14 weeks of age lambs no longer depend on milk. Weaning at this stage is a very effective management tool as you can:

  • Group lambs by target finish date and weight for planned marketing
Weaning weight Estimated finish (1.0 kg live weight per week)
Less than 30 kg More than ten weeks
30-40 kg Six to ten weeks
More than 40 kg Less than 6 weeks
  • Avoid high risk worm burden pastures
  • Move lambs to better pasture
  • Prepare ewes for next season

Over 1.0 kg of live weight gain per week by weaned lambs is achievable from grass alone if grass quality is good and worm burdens are kept under control.  The live weight gain depends on grass quality and can be increased by supplementary feeding about 0.2 kg per head per day.

Aim for a ewe body condition score between 2 and 2.5 at weaning. Weaning early allows you to manage ewe condition for the mating season. One body condition score equates to 12% of mature body weight and it can take six to eight weeks to gain this from grass alone. Only delay weaning if ewes are in ideal condition and there is plenty of grass. If lamb growth is below 200 grams per day this should trigger weaning as they may be competing with ewes for grass.


After a poor start to spring, conditions improved throughout May and grass growth was back on track. Aim to have about 12-15 grazing days ahead for a group of grazing livestock during June. Live weight gain in lambs and beef often declines in June due to grasses heading and becoming stemmy when dry matter digestibility falls from 75D to 60D.

Graze swards out fairly tightly during June to avoid the build-up of poor quality grass as the season progresses. Maintain good quality swards with entry covers of 3000 kg dry matter per hectare (9-10 cm) and continue to graze down to 1600 kg dry matter per hectare (3-4 cm) for beef. With sheep aim to enter  lighter swards at 2200 kg dry matter per hectare (6-8cm) and graze down to 1600 kg dry matter per hectare (3-4 cm).This type of management helps reduce seed head production and maintains a leafy sward. If there is excess grass cover take paddocks/fields out for silage or include more stock in the grazing system.


Prepared by:   Kieran Lavelle


telephone:       028 3752 9060

Bramley’s seedling crop management

We were fortunate to experience excellent weather over the Bramley bloom period in mid-May, which ensured as good conditions as possible for pollination. There is every chance of a substantial and uniform Bramley crop across the region.

However this situation brings its own challenges and decisions in terms of yield versus crop quality or inputs versus returns. It makes sense to plan now for the destination of the fruit from your orchard(s). This could mean:

  • bulk gathering of whole crop for juicing soon after harvest
  • grading and selection followed by short to medium term storage for peeling or
  • medium to long term storage for packing and/or processing outlets

Obviously these various destinations have widely differing crop values per tonne, but they also merit very different levels of input. An early decision on how to manage the orchard can help minimise wasted effort or crop protection usage and save small but cumulative costs.

Heavy fruit set is an excellent natural growth control, so you may be able to exclude chemical growth regulation from your orchard programme, or at least reduce the rate and total dosage for the season. In fact a full or nearly full apple set will place extra nutrient demands on the trees, so that some additional potassium and nitrogen sowing could greatly benefit your final bin count per hectare. This is most cost-effectively achieved with a low phosphorus (P) or zero P blended fertiliser, applied before the end of July/early August. Similarly fruit for juicing needs little or no foliar supplements reducing your spray bill a little for orchards destined to ‘bulking’. Use regular tissue and fruit mineral analysis for mineral elements to help make fertiliser decisions. Soil levels are not always reflected in the nutrient concentrations in leaf and fruit.

Disease control is important for the long-term productivity of all orchards, regardless where the crop ends up, so it is vital to maintain a decent protective programme against scab infection until early July, when primary scab spore release should end.

Producer Organisation Meeting

Horticulture industries in Northern Ireland (NI) are facing a challenging time with ever increasing pressure such as, the introduction of the National Living Wage and tight margins that result in little financial return. With this in mind, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and DAERA organised a meeting on Tuesday 3 May focusing on Producer Organisations (POs) to engage mainly the top fruit, soft fruit and vegetable sectors. Over 40 growers attended.

Representing the Dutch Producers Association (DPA), Ad Klaassen gave an overview of the collective of POs that the DPA represents, which consists of 12 Producer Organisations distributing 85% of fruit and vegetable produce in Holland. However Mr Klaassen’s key point was that cooperation within a PO encourages a grower to become better. He also pointed out that a collective holds more power and allows growers to work with bigger players in distributing produce.

Elaine Shaw, CEO of Northway Ltd and mushroom grower Frank Donnelly both gave a local perspective of the benefits of POs. Ms Shaw, along with technical advisers and a board of directors, helps to manage 30 mushroom growers and five soft fruit growers. The Northway PO helps growers invest in cost saving measures and works closely with growers to provide production planning. Mr Donnelly shared his experience as a grower. Thirty years ago the mushroom industry was facing a similar fate to that of the edible crops industries in NI today. He and other mushroom growers agreed that the PO saved their industry. Being part of the PO has allowed the member farms to develop individually and together.

Naturally POs are not a magic fix. They require transparency within the group and cooperation to build an organisation that can help growers move forward. The meeting resulted in a ‘Think Tank’ of growers who will progress this option for NI growers with the help of UFU and DAERA representatives.


Prepared by:   Stephen Graham


telephone:        028 9442 6745

Red mite and flies in commercial layers

A rise in temperatures can lead to increased problems for commercial layers from red mites and flies. For something so small they can have a devastating effect on a poultry flock.

Red mite

Indications suggest that while red mite has been an ongoing problem in Europe for many years, it is on the rise, affecting enriched, barn and free-range systems. The red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) is very robust and can live up to eight months, sucking blood from the host to survive and enables the female to lay more eggs. Each ‘blood feed’ can last up to two hours before the mite returns to a protective area within the poultry house.

Physical impact on flock

  • Severe irritation to birds, especially in hours of darkness when mites are more prevalent
  • Reduced feed intake leading to weight loss
  • Decreased egg production and shell quality
  • The birds can become anaemic through loss of blood when many mites are feeding at one time
  • Can cause birds to stress peck and spread disease in flocks


At this time total eradication of the red mite is ‘wishful thinking’, therefore the only possible action is to try and break the life cycle of the mite. Abrasive and desiccant products are available, which cause damage to the exoskeleton and dehydrates the mite. These products are usually sprayed over the house and stick to surfaces that mites crawl over. Detergents are also available that help reduce adult mites in the poultry house. Heating a house to high temperatures over a period of 48 hours after emptying and reducing the moisture content in the atmosphere through recycling the air will dehydrate the mites and dry out eggs. While this is a valuable option it is expensive.

Much needed research is ongoing to discover novel treatments for the control of red mite and eggs. Researchers are investigating naturally occurring, plant derived products that will not taint eggs, as well as silicate products to reduce the build-up of mites within the poultry house. Vaccination is another area of research and may prove valuable over the next few years.


The warmer weather has also resulted in flies becoming a significant pest to both farmers and their neighbours. More seriously, these flies can be a vector for transmitting disease up to several miles away from the original farm.

The most common flies in poultry sites are the common housefly (Mucas domestica) and the lesser housefly (Fannia canicularis). The life cycle of both the common and lesser housefly are similar, with the flies laying their eggs (75-150 eggs per lay) on manure or other waste within the poultry house which hatch into larvae. The larva then changes into a pupa before hatching into a fly and the cycle begins all over again.

To control flies an integrated fly control programme is essential to kill both the flies and larva. There are various products on the market. Powder based and spray products are available and should be applied to manure or granular versions on card and hung over manure below slats. Be proactive and treat before you see the flies multiplying throughout the site. 

Contact your packer/company or vet to obtain advice on the most suitable and effective product for you and your system. With all products, for both red mite and flies, read the instructions carefully and apply per manufacturer’s instructions.

Notes to editors: 

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

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