Management notes for March 2019

Date published: 07 March 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).

Graze grass that comes to the ankle of your boot when ground conditions allow


Prepared by: Christopher Breen

Getting the most from grass

As grass is the cheapest feed for cows your priority should be to get them out to graze as soon as ground conditions allow. Walk your fields and see how much grass you have. You will have more than you think!

At turnout don’t be afraid to graze cows on a grass cover of 2,500 kg dry matter per hectare (the ankle of your boot). Graze grass down to 1,500 kg dry matter per hectare (the heel of your boot). Start grazing for three hours and build this up to half days over a period of a week to ten days. Cows should go out with an edge to their appetite, with a target of 5 kg grass dry matter intake. A grazing group of 60 cows will require 300 kg of grass dry matter.

Aim for an initial grazing rotation of between 25 and 30 days to allow the first grazing cycle to be completed before grass covers get too heavy. A surge in growth could mean that by the time you reach the end of the first grazing cycle covers are too heavy for cows to graze out cleanly. This makes it more difficult to maintain grass quality throughout the grazing season.

Improving milk from forage is still key to reducing production costs. Getting cows grazing is the simplest way to improve milk from forage. In most cases March grass has a higher energy value than the silage cows have been fed. Full March grazing has the potential to produce 20 litres of milk. Practically this requires you to increase the M+ in the parlour computer feed settings by 3.0 to 4.0 kg of milk at turnout. The few hours grazing after morning milking will save about 1.5 kg of concentrates per cow daily, replacing over half a tonne of concentrate per week for 50 cows. Continue to adjust the M+ in the parlour computer feed settings as cows move to full time grazing. In addition to the immediate savings in concentrate costs there should also be improvements in milk protein and yield.

The message is clear. Get some cows out grazing as soon as conditions allow. Adjust the M+ in the parlour computer feed settings at turnout and as cows move to full time grazing. Have your grazing rotation fully established by the third week in April.

Improving your farm lanes can pay dividends

Lameness in dairy stock can be caused by poorly maintained lanes. Repair laneway surfaces before cows go out. Focus on repairing broken or rough surfaces and maintaining effective drainage. Good surfaces that drain water freely do not damage cows feet.

The speed at which cows move is also important. If cows are allowed to walk at their own speed they will pick their way along poorer tracks. Wider lanes also increase the ability of cows to negotiate sharp stones, holes or other obstacles.

March jobs checklist

  • Spread slurry on silage ground by early March. Do not spread slurry on water logged ground, when raining heavily or when heavy rain is forecast within the next 48 hours or on ground that has a slope of 20% or more, is frozen or covered in snow.
  • Think about fertiliser needs based on soil analysis results, crop requirement and slurry/manure applications.
  • Complete any maintenance on cow tracks and paddock fencing in preparation for the grazing season.
  • Change time clocks at the end of the month when the hour changes.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould


Turning out ewes and lambs

Turn out ewes and lambs to sheltered areas as soon as weather and ground conditions allow. Marking ewes and lambs with large numbers allows easier identification and matching of lambs to ewes. This is useful to monitor and identify mis-mothering and allows individual ewes and their lambs to be brought inside if there are any health issues.

Treat ewes for fluke and worms before turnout. Healthy mature ewes generally have good immunity to most worms so the need to drench is reduced. However, the ewe’s immunity response declines around lambing time which can result in higher numbers of eggs being shed on pasture. This increases the worm burden in lambs later on. To minimise contamination of pasture, treat at least 24 to 48 hours before turnout. If the ewes are already at grass, ideally return to an area which is least likely to be grazed by sheep and lambs. Rotate products based on the wormer group that was used previous. Leaving 10% of ewes untreated will reduce wormer resistance. Only select healthy fit ewes to remain untreated. If treating for fluke, treat all ewes.


Calving assistance

Check on progress of cows at calving. Calving usually takes place within two hours of the water-bag appearing for mature cows and three hours for heifers. Intervene if calving hasn’t happened within this time. Check that the calf is positioned correctly, two front feet with the nose above them. Use a calving jack as an aid only, jacking in conjunction with the cows natural contractions. Indiscriminate use can damage both the cow and the calf. Use plenty of lubricant. If inexperienced or unsure seek veterinary help. If the calf shows little sign of life at birth use a piece of straw to irritate the nostrils. This will stimulate the respiratory system. Pouring cold water on the ears may also help to liven up the calf. Hanging a calf over a gate from its back legs can help remove fluid from the airways. However, holding for more than 20-30 seconds can put increased pressure on the lungs as the other organs are pushed downwards on them. Put the calf in the recovery position, sitting up. Difficult calving often results in drowsy calves which are less willing to suckle. If a calf won’t suck from a bottle and teat use a stomach tube. Ideally feed 2.5 to 3.0 litres of the cow’s own colostrum within an hour of birth.


The increased workload on farms at this time of year increases the risk of farm accidents. Be aware of the specific risks on your farm and take action to remove or reduce the risks where appropriate. ‘Stop and Think SAFE’ is a farm safety campaign developed by the Farm Safety Partnership to address the high rate of farm related injuries and fatalities in Northern Ireland. The word ‘SAFE’ focuses on raising awareness of the four main causes of accidents on local farms; Slurry, Animals, Falls (from height) and Equipment. More information on the campaign can be found on the hseni website.

Slurry spreading and cows after calving are particularly high risk on beef and dairy farms at this time of year. Assess all slurry equipment and PTO shafts to ensure they are fitted with secure guards and replace if required. Don’t leave agitation points to slurry tanks open while unattended. Be aware of the risk of hydrogen sulphide gas released from slurry during agitation. Do not agitate on a calm day, wait until there is a breeze which will help dissipate the gas released. Remove all animals from the shed before mixing. As the majority of gas is released in the first half hour after the start of agitating avoid being in the shed during this period. Ideally have a second person present or let someone know what you are doing beforehand.

Cows at calving can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Don’t assume a generally quiet cow isn’t capable of an attack, especially if she has a new born calf at foot. Don’t turn your back on a freshly calved cow and have an escape route planned.


Prepared by: Pamela Gardiner

Single Application and Maps Service and Entitlement Transfer Service now open

The 2019 Single Application and Maps Service and Entitlement Transfer Service is now available within DAERA online services. DAERA is urging farmers to take note of important dates for submission of their Single Application or Transfer of Entitlements. 

  • The deadline for submitting online Single Applications is midnight on Wednesday 15 May. Applications after this date will incur a penalty.
  • If you wish to claim payment for the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) this facility will be available within your Single Application from 8th April. You can still complete the rest of the Single Application early and save or submit it and then return to finalise the EFS part of your application on or after 8 April. The Single Application should be submitted by 15 May to avoid penalties.
  • The 2019 Entitlement Transfer service is also open to transfer Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) entitlements where it is a straightforward transfer (sale, gift or lease) from one farm business to another with no business change or inheritance involved. If you plan to complete a transfer for the 2019 scheme year note the deadline for using this service is 2 May. 

Need help?

There are a number of options available to you if you need help to complete your 2019 Single Application. Call our Single Application Advisory Service on 0300 200 7848 (Monday to Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm) or use the convenient web chat facility within the application. Our advisers will help you with any queries about your application or the schemes.

If the Single Application adviser thinks you need further assistance, there may still be ‘one to one’ appointments available at your local DAERA Direct office where staff can help you complete your application. This is an appointment only service so you must ring the Single Application Advisory Service to arrange an appointment. If you think you will require this help act immediately while appointments are available and don’t take any unnecessary risks.

DAERA are running a series of ‘How to Complete your Single Application’ workshops at CAFRE campuses in Enniskillen, Cookstown (Loughry) and Antrim (Greenmount). These workshops are very popular and you don’t need any particular IT skills to attend as our staff will be there to help you. Book a place now by contacting 028 7131 9955. This is an appointment only service, so make the call now and don’t miss out while places are available.

Check out the DAERA website Area Based schemes section for more information and helpful videos that demonstrate how to complete your application online

Alternatively you can use the services of an agent or trusted person you know who can be given online access to complete your application on your behalf. You will need to complete a form to nominate an authorised person if you have not previously done so. You can download this form from the DAERA website or your agent may provide this for you.

Nutrient management planning

CAFRE are organising nutrient management planning courses for spring 2019.

These courses use the DAERA online Crop Nutrient Calculator to complete a nutrient management plan for the crops grown on your farm. With your soil analysis you can use the calculator to work out:

  • How much nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) your crop needs to grow (crop requirement).
  • How much N, P, and K is supplied from slurry/manure.
  • How to minimise the need for chemical fertiliser by using the right type and rate of fertiliser.

A report is then produced which you can use as a record to show compliance with the nutrient limit measures of the Nitrates and Phosphorus Regulations.

You can submit an expression of interest in attending the nutrient management planning courses via the CAFRE website Industry Training Agri-Environment section or contact the CAFRE Industry Training team on 028 9442 6880 for more information.


Prepared by: Leigh McClean


What a difference a year makes! This time last year we were still enduring one of the most prolonged wet periods in recent times. Since then we have had one of the driest summers, followed by a drier than average winter. These provided a chance to remedy damage done to soils in previous wet years. The dry autumn also provided the opportunity to apply lime, phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and organic manures to more land than usual. The continuing good weather meant a larger area of winter crops was drilled in mostly excellent conditions, rolled where necessary and sprayed with herbicide. Mild weather and moderate rainfall since mean those crops have grown well through the winter and present different management challenges to last year in order to realise their full potential.  


A dry second half of February provided the opportunity to sow the first dressing of nitrogen (N) on winter barley. Where this hasn’t been possible aim for one third to half of total N during late tillering, as soon as conditions allow. For winter wheat a third of total N before the start of stem extension is sufficient, usually before the end of March. The exception to this is late drilled or thin wheat which should receive N earlier to encourage tillering. 

When applying the balance of N in later dressings consider there may be more residual soil N available to the crop this spring. Lower winter rainfall means less leaching of nutrients particularly N and sulphur from manures, as well as N applied to last year’s crop during dry weather which was never fully utilised. If you decide not to cut back N rates consider an additional growth regulator (PGR) now or higher PGR rates than usual as dense lush crops, combined with more available nitrogen, can lead to lodging later in the season. 


Where autumn herbicide was not applied, prioritise winter barley as the few remaining grass weed herbicides effective for this crop only work on small grasses. The cut off dates for latest application are generally earlier than for winter wheat. Consult product labels carefully for latest application growth stages and dates.

Disease control

Due to the mild winter disease is easily visible in some earlier sown lush crops of wheat and barley. Certain varieties of barley have suffered particularly badly from mildew and would benefit from a T0 fungicide now to provide knockdown of existing disease and protection if the T1 spray is delayed. It is worth noting differences in disease levels between varieties as the armoury of fungicides will be reduced in years to come. In future we will rely more heavily on good varietal resistance for effective disease control. 

Spring barley drilling

There is still time to soil sample fields before spreading slurry or farmyard manure. Soil sampling is money well spent as the analysis highlights the P and K status of soils and lime requirements.

Sowing should take place as soon as a good seedbed can be created. Aim for a seed rate between 350 and 400 grains per square metre. The lower rate should suffice for March sown barley drilled into a good seedbed, increasing the seed rate in poorer conditions such as cold, wet or heavy soils or if sowing later.


Seed preparation for planting

Attention to detail during the handling and preparation of seed before planting can result in an increased early tuber yield, while optimising fry colour and skin quality.

It is important to carefully check the seed as it arrives on farm and have a sample hot boxed to determine the presence of disease and overall sprouting vigour.

Sprouting and chitting

Pre-sprouting, including tray and bag systems, must ensure adequate temperature control and ventilation (to control sprout growth and protect against frost) and light (to control sprout growth). Seed of early potato varieties should be set up in sprouting boxes. The aim of this is to promote apical dominance, producing one strong sprout per seed tuber, one stem and a small number of large tubers early. The opposite applies to maincrop potatoes where multiple sprouting is encouraged to produce many tubers which can increase in size over a longer growing season.


This system of seed preparation aims to produce seed tubers with sprouts no more than 2 mm long. Seed is stored at 3-4oC until close to planting time. The refrigeration unit is then turned off for seven to ten days to allow chitting to occur. Once sprouts of 1-2 mm have formed evenly, cool the seed down again to 3-4oC to prevent further sprout growth up to planting. Mini-chitting, whilst not having the benefits of earlier harvesting associated with pre-sprouted seed, produces a crop that emerges quickly and evenly.

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