Management notes for March 2020

Date published: 06 March 2020

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

Spring turnout

Grazed grass is still the cheapest feed for milking cows. To capitalise on grass this spring you need to plan and budget ahead. Yes, infrastructure is important, but in many cases simply opening the gate and selecting the correct cows to turn out is all that is required.

Soil fertility is key for early spring growth. Low fertility soil (P index 1 or below) results in a loss in grass growth over 12 months of more than 2 t dry matter per hectare. Soil testing and fertiliser planning are therefore key requirements for improving grass production, especially in early spring.

At turnout don’t be afraid to graze cows on lighter grass covers of 2,500 kg dry matter per hectare (the ankle of your boot). Grass should be grazed down to 1,500 kg dry matter per hectare (the heel of your boot).

To capitalise on early spring growth:

  • Walk your farm to increase awareness of ground conditions and help identify where grass is on the grazing block.
  • Select cows yielding less than 26 litres per day. In autumn calving herds cows calved in September/October/November should be back in calf and eligible for turnout this spring.
  • Graze cows, even for a few hours per day. This can yield benefits in terms of a lower feed cost helping to increase financial margins for the business. Grazing cows early in the season also develops a grazing wedge or structure to the grazing block. This improves subsequent grass quality through the grazing season.
  • Minimise ground damage when grazing. Use simple techniques such as putting cows out with an appetite, using back fencing, having multiple access points into paddocks, selecting dry paddocks and only grazing cows for a few hours per day.

Aim to have the first grazing rotation completed by the end of the third week in April before grass covers get too heavy. A later turnout and 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.

In most cases, March grass has a higher energy value than the silage cows were fed. Full time March grazing has the potential to produce up to 20 litres of milk. Getting your cows to grass in March and good management will allow you to increase your milk from forage. 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. This is one of the most important times of the year to review parlour feed settings as they are dependent on grass quality and time spent at grass. A few hours grazing after morning milking will save about 1.5 kg of concentrates per cow per day, 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 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.

March jobs checklist

  • If possible, spread slurry on silage ground by early March. Do not spread it on waterlogged 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.
  • Adjust time clocks at the end of the month when the hour changes.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould


Lambing records

Record as much information as possible at lambing to help with future replacement and culling decisions. Identify ewes for culling based on poor mothering ability or persistent health problems such as prolapse, lameness and mastitis. Tagging lambs at birth allows selection of suitable ewe lambs as replacements. If the aim is to increase prolificacy, select lambs from twin or triplet births. Select more than you need to allow for mortality and further selection at a later date, based on individual lamb performance. Good record keeping isn’t dependent on EID (electronic identification) recording systems, however EID will significantly reduce the labour requirement. There are a range of options available to suit a range of budgets.

Turning out ewes and lambs

Turn out ewes and lambs to grass as soon as the weather allows. Where good quality grass is available and weather conditions have improved, you may not need to supplement ewes with concentrates. However, for ewes rearing triplets or year old hoggets rearing twins supplementation may be required. Be aware of the risk of grass tetany associated with early spring grass and poor weather conditions. Magnesium lick buckets are the most common method of prevention.

Healthy mature ewes generally have a good immunity to most worms. It is common practice to treat ewes for worms after lambing as traditionally immunity levels were expected to reduce around this time. However, recent research on anthelmintic resistance suggests that there is no need to treat healthy, fit ewes for worms. Ideally, use faecal sampling to identify if there is a need to treat for worms. In all cases talk to your vet about the best worm control strategy for your flock. Treat all ewes for fluke.


Calving assistance

Good record keeping at service helps identify cows coming close to calving. The average gestation length for most suckler breeds ranges from 283 to 286 days. Individual dams and sires can result in this figure being considerably lower or higher. Monitor progress of cows at calving. Calving usually takes place two hours after appearance of the water-bag for mature cows and three hours for heifers. Intervene if calving hasn’t happened within this time period. Check 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. Take extreme care to avoid permanent damage to the cow or calf. Use plenty of lubricant. If you are inexperienced or unsure get veterinary assistance. If the calf shows little signs of life at birth use a piece of straw to irritate the nostrils to stimulate the respiratory system. Pouring cold water on the ears may also help. Hanging a calf over a gate from its back legs can help remove excess fluid from the airways. However, if this is done for more than approximately 20 seconds it can increase pressure on the lungs as the other organs are pushed down on them. Put the calf in the recovery position, sitting up. A difficult calving can result in the calf being unable to suckle by itself. If this is the case, ideally milk the cow and feed the calf with a stomach tube. Target colostrum intake as soon as possible after birth, with 10% of calf live weight recommended within the first six hours. Calves from difficult calvings are often larger than average. For a calf weighing over 60 kg target colostrum intake will be more than six litres within the first six hours.

Prepare for turnout of cattle

Although turnout may seem a long time away due to the recent inclement weather, it is important to be prepared for when ground and weather conditions do improve. Weanlings and growing cattle can have their concentrate allowance reduced coming up to turnout. It is important that cattle are not in too good of condition if compensatory growth at grass is to be maximised.

Spread fertiliser when conditions allow. Average soil temperature needs to be at least 6o C for a sustained period, however other local factors may delay spreading. Urea is often the nitrogen source of choice for early spring applications as it is cheaper than CAN per unit of nitrogen. However, it is advisable to spread in cool damp conditions to minimise nitrogen losses to the atmosphere. It is for this reason that late spring and summer nitrogen applications are usually CAN fertiliser. Protected urea products are gaining in popularity as alternatives to CAN and ordinary urea. These consist of urea coated with a urease inhibitor which prevents nitrogen loss to the atmosphere. It is approximately between ordinary urea and CAN in cost.


Prepared by: Pamela Gardiner

Single Application and Map Service and Entitlement Transfer Service now open

The 2020 Single Application and Map Service and Entitlement Transfer Service are now available within DAERA online services. Take note of important dates when planning to complete your Single Application or Transfer of Entitlements:

  • The deadline for submitting online Single Applications is midnight on Wednesday 15 May. Applications received after this date will incur a penalty. The final date an application will be accepted is 9 June.
  • If you wish to claim payment for the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) this facility will be available within your Single Application from 8 April.  You can still complete the remainder 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 2020 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 2020 scheme year you should note the deadline for using this service is midnight on 4 May. 

See the Area-based schemes section of the DAERA website for more information on the key dates for submitting your application and telling us about any changes.

Need hep?

There are a number of options available to you if you require help to complete your 2020 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 are ready to help you with any queries about your application or the schemes.

If the Single Application adviser thinks you need more help, there may still be ‘one to one’ appointments available at your local DAERA Direct office where staff can help you complete your application. 

DAERA have organised ‘How to Complete your Single Application’ workshops at CAFRE campuses in Enniskillen, Cookstown (Loughry) and Antrim (Greenmount), where you can learn how to complete your application. Additional workshops in the north west and south east will be considered subject to demand. The workshops are very popular and you don’t need any particular IT skills to attend as our staff will help you. Book a place now by contacting 028 7131 9955.

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 get 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.

Government Gateway – two factor authentication for HMRC customers

HMRC have introduced two factor authentication. Each time you sign in to HMRC you'll need your Government Gateway ID, password and a unique six digit access code which can be sent to the HMRC app for smartphone or tablet, as a text message or as a voice call.

How does this change affect DAERA Online Service users?  If you use the SAME Government Gateway ID for HMRC services and DAERA Online Services you will now receive a six digit access code each time you sign in to access DAERA Online Services. It is important to check the details you use to receive this six digit access code are up to date with HMRC. If you use a DIFFERENT Government Gateway ID for HMRC services and DAERA Online Services you will be unaffected by this change.


Prepared by: Leigh McClean


Winter cereals

In contrast to last spring when winter crops were sown in excellent conditions and enjoyed a dry winter, more of this year’s crops are thinner and showing signs of stress due to continually waterlogged soils. High winter rainfall means a bigger proportion of soil nitrogen (N) has been leached out of the rooting zone. The priority for these crops is early nitrogen to kick start them back into life. 

Normally winter barley should receive at least one third of its total N during late tillering, before mid-March and winter wheat the same proportion before the end of March. For thin or struggling crops either sow N earlier to encourage tillering or if ground won’t travel, increase application rates at first dressing once field conditions allow. Sulphur, similar to N, leaches easily. Include at least 20-30 kg per hectare sulphur in your early fertiliser dressings and top up remaining phosphate and potash.

Where herbicide was not applied in the autumn, prioritise winter barley, as the few grass weed herbicides effective for this crop only work on small grass weeds. Generally latest application dates are earlier than for winter wheat so check product labels for latest application date or growth stage.

Spring cropping

Poor autumn weather has resulted in a smaller area of winter crops sown on some farms than was initially planned. You are advised to use the 2020 single online application to check your crop diversification requirements to help make cropping decisions. It is worth noting both fallow and temporary grass count as individual crop types for the crop diversification requirement within greening. This could be a useful option for growers with a two or three crop requirement who were unable to get their planned winter crops sown.

With demand for spring cereal seed likely to be strong this spring, you may be thinking about using home saved seed. If so, a seed germination test is money well spent in confirming the purity and viability of the seed and the starting point for seed rate calculations. Seed testing is carried out at the Official Seed Testing Station at AFBI, Crossnacreevy.

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, raising the seed rate in poorer conditions such as cold, wet or heavy soils or if sowing later.

Nutrients Action Programme

From 1 January 2020 the latest Nutrients Action Programme requires a fertilisation plan to be prepared and kept up to date for farms using chemical phosphorus fertiliser, phosphorus rich manure and anaerobic digestate. In addition to being good practice, an up to date soil analysis (within the last four years) is required to demonstrate crop need for phosphorus fertiliser. The CAFRE crop nutrient calculator fulfils the fertilisation plan requirement and can be accessed via the DAERA Online Services homepage.   


Seed preparation for planting

Check seed as it arrives on farm and have a sample hot boxed to determine the presence of disease and overall sprouting vigour. 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). Set up seed of early potato varieties in sprouting boxes, with the aim of producing one strong sprout per seed tuber, one stem and a small number of large tubers. The opposite holds for 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 3-4o C until close to planting time. Refrigeration is then turned off for seven to ten days to allow chitting to occur. Once sprouts of 1-2 mm have formed evenly, seed is cooled down again to 3-4o C to prevent further sprout growth before planting. The main benefit of mini-chitting is a crop that emerges quickly and evenly.

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