Management Notes for June 2018

Date published: 07 June 2018

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).


Prepared by: Christopher Breen

Slurry and fertiliser for second cut silage

The online CAFRE Crop Nutrient Calculator is useful for working out slurry and fertiliser requirements for second cut silage. At soil index 2 for phosphate and index 1 for potassium (potash), typical of fields with a history of being cut for silage, slurry has the potential to provide some of the nitrogen and potash (K) and all the phosphate. An application of 22 m3 of dairy cow slurry per hectare (2,000 gallons per acre) and 375 kg (three bags per acre) of a 22:0:10 type fertiliser can meet second cut requirements at these indexes. At a practical level, evenly spread slurry improves silage fermentation and minimises sward damage.

Growing a low potash silage for dry cows

Producing a silage specifically for dry cows has health advantages. Aim for a low K grass at cutting as high K silages are associated with metabolic disorders and subsequent poor milk yields in early lactation cows. Fields previously cut for silage should not receive slurry again. An application of 315 kg per hectare (two and a half bags per acre) of CAN fertiliser (27:0:0) is enough to grow a low K silage for dry cows.

Bale silage is also suitable for dry cows. Leave cutting until early August as stem development coincides with a fall in grass K levels. To avoid mould growth or mycotoxins, harvested grass dry matter should not rise above 35% before baling. It takes seven hectares to produce enough bales to feed 100 cows in the last four weeks of the dry period. Store the bales separately and use only for dry cow feeding.

Water for cows at grass

Water for cows at grass is extremely important with 100 cows drinking 6,500 litres daily. On hot days, temperatures above 20oC, this figure can double. Trough size should allow 10% of the herd to drink at any one time, with 30-50% water intake occurring within one hour of milking. Troughs in the centre of paddocks with fast flow valves and large bore pipes ensure cows have easy access to water. Clean troughs regularly as cows are very sensitive to smell and will not drink dirty water.

Condition scoring late lactation cows

Cows calved last autumn are now over 200 days in milk and should be condition scored. Aim to have them at condition score 2.75 at calving. They should be about condition score 2.5 now. Assess fat cover over the loin, pelvis and tail area:

Loin - there should be a slight depression along the cow’s top line and loin. The shelf at the end of her transverse processes and flank should be filling.

Pelvis - there should be a good cover of tissue developing on the plates.

Tail area - there should be a good cover of tissue over the pin bones and the cavity at the tail head should be filling.

If you have cows that have not yet reached this stage and are well past 200 days in milk increase their dry matter intake. Try feeding some rolled cereal.

June jobs checklist

  • To maintain sward quality graze swards down to 1,600 kg dry matter per hectare. Top swards containing dead grass or seed heads.
  • Calibrate parlour and out of parlour feeders to ensure accurate feeding.
  • Spray docks/weeds if they are at the right stage for control and conditions are suitable. If spraying silage fields generally allow an interval of at least 21 days between spraying and harvest. Always read the product label.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould

Maximise lamb performance

To take advantage of higher prices earlier in the season, regularly draft lambs for slaughter as soon as they become fit. Young lambs can be drafted for slaughter from as low as 40 kg. Drafting weight should increase to 45 kg in the next month or so. Kill-out percentage can range from 44% in grass finished lambs up to 50% in young creep fed lambs. Lamb dependence on milk declines from now on as more of the diet comes from grazed grass. Suckling lambs on good quality grass alone should achieve growth rates of at least 250 g/day (1.75 kg per week) and 300 g per day (2.1 kg per week) for twin born lambs and singles respectively. Continue to assess worm burdens and treat appropriately. Treat hogget ewes for worms as they may not have built up sufficient immunity. When drafting lambs observe withdrawal dates.

Weaning lambs

As lambs from 12-14 weeks of age are not dependent on milk, weaning these lambs provides an opportunity to target the best quality grass. Consider weaning hogget ewes and ewes in poor condition, which may be more of an issue this year after the poor spring, from ten weeks of age. It can take weaned ewes grazing good quality grass approximately 12 weeks to put on one body condition score. One body condition score is equivalent to 12 kg of ewe live weight and ewes grazing good pasture can gain up to 1.0 kg per week.

Grass quality

After a delayed start to the grazing season, grass growth rates are back on track and need to be regularly monitored to avoid a deterioration in quality. Higher proportions of stem result in decreased digestibility and reduced performance for all classes of stock. For cattle, target opening covers of no more than 3,000 kg dry matter per hectare (9-10 cm) and graze down to 1,600 kg dry matter per hectare (4-5 cm). For sheep, target lighter opening covers up to 2,200 kg dry matter per hectare (6-8 cm). Grazing down tight now will help maintain high grass quality for the next rotation. If grass quality has already deteriorated and grazing down tight is difficult, it may be necessary to top paddocks. When topping, cut down to 4-5 cm, otherwise sward quality will not be greatly improved. In set stocking systems, topping 25% of the area at a time will help improve overall sward quality without diminishing grass supplies. Only top when necessary, don’t substitute grazing down tighter with routine topping as this reduces grass utilisation and wastes both diesel and labour. However, grazing stemmy swards with high levels of dead material at the base will significantly reduce animal performance.


If first cut has not yet been harvested, monitor the crop regularly. Allowing the crop to grow to increase bulk reduces quality. Strike a balance between the two. Target high digestibility silage (D-value greater than 70) by harvesting when seed heads start to appear rather than targeting a certain date. Aim for a rapid wilt in the grass to target a silage dry matter of 30%. If there is a possibility of nitrate present in the grass, get samples tested. There is usually a quick turnaround on these tests. A rule of thumb is that about 2.5 kg per hectare nitrogen is used by the crop daily. For example, if 375 kg of CAN (101 kg nitrogen)) was spread per hectare, it would take approximately six weeks to be used. Of course, higher grass growth rates will deplete nitrate more rapidly and vice versa.

Fertiliser for second cut

Refer to soil analyses and recommendations (Table 1) when determining applications of phosphate (P) and potash (K) fertiliser. Allow for P and K if slurry is applied after first cut silage.

Table 1: Phosphate and potash recommendations (kg per hectare) for second cut grass silage

  Soil Index P or K          
  0 1 2 3 4 5
Phosphate (P) 25 25 25M 25M 0 0
Potash (K) 120 100 90M 60 40 0

Note: ‘M’ allows for Index maintenance only

Typically, 4.5 m3 (1,000 gallons) of slurry supplies 12.5 kg (25 units) of K. The amount of available P in slurry depends on the soil P index. It will supply 2.75 kg (5.5 units) of P at P index 1 or below and 5.5 kg (11 units) at P index 2 or above. Table 2 summarises the fertiliser requirements for second cut following an application of  22 m3 per hectare (2,000 gallons per acre).

Table 2: Phosphate and potash requirements (kg per hectare) for second cut grass silage to supplement beef cattle slurry applied at 22 m3 per hectare (2,000 gallons per acre)

  Soil Index P or K          
  0 1 2 3 4 5
Phosphate (P)  11 11 0 0 0 0
Potash (K) 60 40 30 0 0 0


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

Water sampling

Do you use non-mains water, for example water from a bore well or river for your pigs? If you do, and your farm is Red Tractor quality assured you need to get a sample of water tested for coilifoms and TVCs each year. TVC stands for Total Viable Count and is an indicator of overall water quality. Testing for coliforms is important as their presence indicates contamination by faeces.

When taking a sample of water it is important to avoid any contamination. The following are a few do’s and don’ts of taking a sample:

  • Do use a sterile sample bottle.
  • Don’t use an empty milk cartoon, even if rinsed out.
  • Do wear disposable gloves and change between samples.
  • Do keep the bottle closed until you are ready to fill it.
  • Don’t touch the mouth of the bottle, the cap or inside the bottle.
  • Don’t let the water flow over your fingers when taking the sample.
  • Do fill the bottle to the top to eliminate air.
  • Do label the bottle with your name, date and time of sampling.
  • Do keep the sample chilled (3-5oC) until ready for delivery and during delivery to the lab.

Don’t freeze the sample before delivery to the lab.
Do deliver the sample to the lab as soon as possible after collection.

Environmental enrichment for pigs

ALL pigs, including sows, gilts and boars must get environmental enrichment. Environmental enrichment can take various forms including plastic pipes, toys, chains, wood, natural rope, paper, straw and silage. But what is best for the pigs? The EU recently produced guidance on the best types of enrichment. 

Download document, which contains information on the provision of enrichment

As well as being safe enrichment should meet MICE, or in other words it should be:

M - manipulable – the pig can change its location, appearance or structure.
I - investigable – the pig can root with it.
C - chewable - the pig can bite it.
E - edible - the pig can eat or smell it.

DAERA will carry out inspections on farms over the next few months in relation to reducing the need to tail dock. Enrichment plays a key role in preventing tail biting. The inspectors will therefore check that all pigs have enough enrichment, and more importantly, that the pigs are using the enrichment. There is no point having enrichment if the pigs do not use it, either because it is not what they want or they have lost interest in it.

Pig and Poultry Fair

Thirty five Pig Business Development Group members recently visited the Pig and Poultry Fair at Stoneleigh. There was plenty for them to see with the following being of particular interest:

  • A 3D scanner that hangs above finishing pigs and automatically ‘weighs’ them.
  • Needle free vaccinators that reduce the risk of disease transfer when vaccinating pigs.
  • Mobile recording software that allows you to record weanings, farrowings and services on your mobile phone or tablet.
  • Cleaners that remove ammonia and odour from air leaving a pig building.
  • Products that breakdown and remove biofilm from water pipes producing cleaner water.
  • Balcony systems that can be installed in weaner and finishing houses to provide extra space for pigs. As a point of interest Red Tractor recently issued guidance on the design and construction of balconies, including distance from the ground, width of the balcony, ventilation requirements and ramp width and angle.


Prepared by: Kieran Lavelle

Foliar calcium sprays for apples

Calcium is a highly important nutrient in post-harvest apple fruit quality. Low calcium concentration in the fruit is associated with a number of physiological disorders, such as bitter pit, as well as disease sensitivity which all result in non-marketable fruit.

Apple fruit size plays a role in calcium concentration. Small fruits usually have a higher calcium concentration relative to large fruits and therefore store better. Due to market reasons, growers often try to optimise fruit size. It is therefore essential to increase calcium concentration in apples to enhance their storability. Foliar application of calcium is the most reliable and economical.

Control of apple fruit disorders and disease susceptibility depends on the amount of actual calcium applied to the trees. Assuming the recommended amount of calcium required by a tree is 25-30 kg, regardless of spray volume, a higher number of sprays will result in higher fruit calcium concentrations.

Traditional sprays must start after petal fall, in early, mid or late June depending on the maturity class of the apple cultivar. The introduction of more sophisticated technologies has allowed earlier spraying (through the flowering period) to optimise the loading of calcium into fruit during cell division. Apples trees only place calcium in the fruit during the period from fertilisation until fruit expansion. Therefore it is important to optimise calcium sprays during this period. The apple is a non-transpiring organ so late applications (two to four weeks pre-harvest), although important for the tree, will have little to no effect on increasing calcium levels in the fruit.

With early sprays, use products designed for use during this important period. If using traditional products, calcium nitrate, calcium chloride, keep calcium concentration in the solution low to avoid damage to young foliage and increase spray events to ensure adequate calcium application and uptake.

Strawberry nutrition

Nutrition is paramount for fruit yield, in terms of, quantity and quality such as fruit fresh weight, size and shape. The recommendation is to optimise the growing medium in terms of structure, pH (should be 5.5-5.8) and nutrient levels.

Water used for fertigation can be from various sources. ‘Soft’-termed water is more suited to fertigation as ‘hard’-termed may be of a higher pH, leading to leaf chlorosis and poor crop growth and blockages in irrigation lines and nozzles.

For ‘hard’ water, 60% nitric acid is often applied to lower the pH (5.5-5.8). Mains water is a good source as its electrical conductivity (EC), a measure of the concentration of dissolved salt ions, is typically around 500 micro-Siemens per centimetre (µS/cm). Dilute sources with EC of 850 or higher with others of lower EC. Class 1 yields can fall at EC values greater than 4.0 µS/cm (combination of drip EC and drain EC) as demonstrated for Sonata and Vibrant.

Nutrient level application in feed depends on the type of crop (June-bearer or

ever- bearer), crop staging and year of cultivation of an existing crop. Decide from the following which type of feed to use:

  • proprietary feeds - the easiest, basic option for those who operate a very simple system.
  • bespoke mixes - more expensive, based on farm specific growing conditions aimed at optimising yields.
  • straight fertilisers - a less expensive option allowing flexible adaption of liquid feeds to crop needs.

When irrigation is applied, take into account different crop growth stages, time of the day, weather conditions and growing media. Monitor nutrition carefully throughout the crop life by analysing leaf tissues, growing media and liquid feed. For the latter it should be done both at the point of drip and in the drainage water at least three times a week but ideally on a daily basis. Take readings, which should be recorded, at the same time each day. EC of the input feed should be slightly different for different crop stages starting with a value of 1.4 µS/cm for the first two weeks, increasing to 1.6 µS/cm up to fruit set and up to 1.8 µS/cm during fruit picking.

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