Management notes for June 2019

Date published: 07 June 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).

Water troughs should be large enough so that 10% of the herd can drink at any one time.


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 cubic metres 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. If the field was previously cut for silage it 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 days where temperatures are 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 will 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 head.
  • 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

Drafting lambs

Draft lambs for slaughter as soon as they become ‘fit’. Lambs can be drafted from as low as 40 kg live weight early in the season as kill-out percentages tend to be higher. This is particularly the case for young, creep fed lambs which can kill out as high as 50%. Kill-out percentage can be as low as 42-44% for lambs fed only grass later in the season. Bear in mind carcase weight limits of individual factories and aim to draft lambs before they become too heavy. However it is equally important to have adequate fat cover on lambs. Ensure withdrawal dates of any anthelmintic treatments or other animal medicines used are observed.

Weaning lambs

Aim to wean lambs at 12-14 weeks of age. Target the best quality grass to lambs. Ewes in good condition can be used as followers to graze poorer quality swards. After eight to ten weeks of age the contribution of milk to the overall diet of lambs is minimal. Early weaning at ten weeks of age is an option for hogget ewes, especially if body condition is poor. It may seem a long time until the next breeding season but remember it could take ten to 12 weeks for a ewe to gain one body condition score (BCS). A rule of thumb is that one BCS is equivalent to 12 kg of live weight and ewes on good grass can gain 1.0 kg of live weight per week.

Bluefly control

Warm, damp conditions provide the ideal environment for blueflies and maggot strike. A darkening of the wool at the site of attack is the common primary sign of bluefly attack, with wool loss in the more advanced stage. Closely monitor lambs in particular and decide on appropriate preventative treatments as some provide a longer period of protection than others. Traditional dipping, pour-ons and showering are the main options. Pay particular attention to the withdrawal periods on these products as some are relatively long and will not suit heavier lambs closer to finishing.

Continue to monitor worm burdens

Monitor worm burdens in both cattle and sheep. Damp, warm conditions can increase worm burdens. Mixed grazing of cattle and sheep reduces their individual worm challenge as the worms infecting cattle are different to those infecting sheep. Burdens will increase as calves and lambs become more reliant on grazed grass. Dairy bred beef calves are particularly susceptible due to their higher grass intakes from an earlier age compared to suckler bred calves. A leader-follower system also reduces burdens on young stock.

Silage harvesting

If first cut silage has not been harvested yet assess the crop regularly. Strike a balance between silage quality and yield. A later harvest date generally leads to higher yields but poorer grass quality. Target a silage dry matter of 30% and a D-value greater than 70. This can be achieved by harvesting before a lot of seed emergence occurs and ensuring a good rapid wilt. A concern sometimes is that nitrate may still be present in the grass, particularly if fertiliser spreading was late, as this can negatively affect silage fermentation. A rule of thumb is that two units of nitrogen per acre is used up by the crop daily. Therefore if three 50 kg bags of CAN (27% N) was spread this equates to 81 units of nitrogen. This would take just under six weeks to be used up. It is important to note that this is just a general guide, the rate will be higher during periods of high growth and lower in periods of poorer grass growth. Any nitrate present in grass at harvesting is less of an issue where a good wilt has been achieved.


Prepared by: Pamela Gardiner

Electronic management of farm data

Which picture looks like your farm office?  Are you good at managing the paperwork associated with your farm business or do you feel weighed down by a paper mountain? Benefits of managing your farm data electronically:

  • Accessibility - it can take time to find and access paper records, whereas accessing electronic records is almost instantaneous. There are many ways to ask the device to search for information, if it’s not stored where you originally thought, for example by animal identifier or fertiliser name.
  • Sharing - having your farm records stored electronically means it is much easier to share them with others, such as farm business members, farm advisers, bank managers and your vet. 
  • Transferring - electronic data unlike paper records can be easily transferred between systems. This reduces the amount of time required to enter in data. The principle being enter data once, reuse many times.
  • Updating - version control is simple with electronic records, you can see who has made changes to a record, when the change was made and what the records looked like before the change. Updating and keeping track of latest versions is more cumbersome on paper. DAERA’s online Single Application Form (SAF) allows you to review and update your application if you wish to make changes after your initial submission.
  • Processing – a key benefit of electronic data recording is the ability to process the data into information which you can then analyse to help you make management decisions about your farm business.
  • Backing up - with paper records you really are putting ‘all your eggs in one basket’. If your paper records are destroyed, for example by fire, flood or stolen this could mean you lose your information for good. It is true electronic data can be corrupted by computer viruses but the benefit of electronic data is that it is easier to back up the data to other locations whether that is physical or cloud storage, reducing the risk of permanent data loss.

Examples of electronic data recording:

Electronic Identification (EID) tags

Using EID tags to identify your animals has many advantages. EID tags facilitate and simplify the collection of data as the tag is read by an electronic reader. This reduces the time required to identify an animal and minimises human errors. It is also less stressful for the animals and safer for you. The real benefit of EID tags is when you integrate the tags with other IT systems, such as electronic weighing systems and automated parlour systems. Regularly capturing animal data easily and accurately allows you to continuously monitor the performance of your animals and make decisions for your farm business to improve profitability.

CAFRE benchmarking

With the introduction of ‘Making Tax Digital’ and the requirement for businesses to keep electronic records and submit tax returns electronically, it is now even easier to participate in benchmarking. CAFRE benchmarking helps you assess your own business performance. You can compare your physical and financial results with previous years, other similar farms and industry standards. The benchmarking system produces an overall farm report and a financial and physical report for each enterprise on the farm. This will help identify reasons for variation, highlight where improvements can be made and provide information to set realistic targets for your farm business. 

Farm management software

Farm management software systems allow users to integrate data from various sources, for example APHIS, Dairy Parlour, Weighbridge, vet, accounts and analyse this data in a way that helps you make decisions which will benefit the farm business.

Whatever level of electronic data recording you have on the farm, whether you use simple spreadsheets or invest in bespoke farm management software packages, entering, processing and analysing your farm data electronically can ultimately help you analyse your farm data efficiently and effectively in order to make the right decisions for your business.


Prepared by: Kieran Lavelle

Growing plants without soil

Hydroponic is defined as growing plants without using soil. Nearly all greenhouse grown UK tomatoes and cucumbers and 25% of herbs and 70% of lettuce in the US are grown in hydroponic systems. The move to hydroponic production is driven by advantages such as increased yields, lower incidences of soil borne diseases and very high water and fertiliser use efficiencies.

To address the knowledge gap in this area the Horticulture Centre at Greenmount Campus is constructing three hydroponic production systems for use in student work and technology demonstration projects. The hydroponic systems under development are:

  • deep water culture (DWC)
  • nutrient film technique (NFT)
  • deep flow technique (DFT)

In DWC (photo 1) plants are planted through openings in polystyrene sheets which are then floated on a ‘pond’ of water. In NFT plants are gown in troughs along which a thin layer of nutrient rich water 2-3 mm deep flows from one end to the other. DFT is a hybrid of DWC and NFT systems where NFT troughs are used (photo 2) but the outlet pipe is raised to create a layer of water approximately 5 cm deep along the base. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages but in all of them the nutrient rich water is recycled. They are all ‘closed’ hydroponic systems with minimal nutrient loss into the environment. Over the summer lettuce and herbs (primarily basil) will be grown in these systems to help develop a cropping programme suitable for NI conditions, evaluate the different techniques and identify areas for improvement in future work.

Growers will be invited to see the systems in operation at Greenmount during the growing season. If you would like more information on this area, please contact Mark Huey on 07785 344 244 or email:

LEAF Marque

CAFRE have been awarded the LEAF Marque for the past 11 years and will shortly go through the 2019 annual inspection. LEAF Marque is becoming a leading assurance system recognising sustainably farmed products. The LEAF certification organisation supports farmers with training and technical guidance for the implementation of on farm integrated management methods.

LEAF Marque is underpinned by the sustainable farming principles of Integrated Farm Management and recognises more environmentally sustainable production, demonstrates continuous improvement and measures performance.

LEAF Marque certification is being sought by supermarket suppliers to assure consumers that the agricultural and horticultural products they sell have been environmentally and sustainably produced. They use this standard to show their customers that they are empowering them to make positive choices for environmental sustainability.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The department may take photographs and videos at announcements and events to publicise its work. Photographs, interviews, videos or other recordings may be issued to media organisations for publicity purposes or used in promotional material, including in publications, newspapers, magazines, other print media, on television, radio and electronic media (including social media and the internet). Photographs and videos will also be stored on the department’s internal records management system. The department will keep the photographs and recordings for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which they have been obtained. The department’s Privacy Policy is available on our website.
  2. Follow DAERA on Twitter and Facebook.
  3. All media enquiries to DAERA Press Office or tel: 028 9052 4619.

Share this page

Back to top