Management Notes for May 2017

Date published: 02 May 2017

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).

To speed up wilting spread grass over the entire field straight after mowing


Prepared by: Christopher Breen

Best time to cut silage

Aim for a D value of 67-70. In most areas this corresponds to cutting in early to mid May. Grass should be cut at the first spell of good, settled weather. A bright day is ideal to increase the sugar content of the grass giving improved fermentation. Sunshine also promotes a more rapid wilt, reducing the amount of water ensiled. It is important grass is mown dry, cutting wet grass means a longer wilt time and a reduction in nutrients. Mowing grass later in the day is more preferable than starting early in the morning when dew may still be on the swards.

Wilting grass 

  • To speed up the wilting process spread the cut crop over the entire field straight after mowing.
  • Aim for a grass dry matter (DM) of 30% at harvesting.
  • A rapid wilt prevents excessive sugar and protein losses.
  • In ideal wilting weather a crop is ready to lift within eight hours if it has been spread out.


Ideal chop length promotes good consolidation in the clamp and provides enough fibre for the cow to ruminate.
Set chop length at 25 mm for grass with a DM of 30%.
If grass is wetter (less than 20% DM) consider a chop length of 50 mm.

Clamp management

The purpose of ensiling grass is to preserve and minimise the loss of nutrients, thus improving silage feeding value. Silage fermentation is divided into two phases:

Phase 1 - Eliminating oxygen by chopping grass to the correct length, filling the silo quickly, distributing grass evenly and ensiling at recommended dry matters.

Phase 2 - Micro-organisms in the grass produce lactic acid which is the primary acid responsible for lowering the pH, producing silage and making it stable.

The key is to remove air and make the clamp as air tight as possible. Ensure the ensiled grass is spread in shallow layers, rolled continuously and always covered at night. At the end of harvest apply a suitable cover and weight the cover effectively paying particular attention at the shoulders of the pit.

Use of an additive

Effective silage fermentation produces high levels of lactic acid. Silage additives can help this process. A variety of additives are available, including bacterial inoculants, enzymes, non-protein nitrogen sources, acids and sugar sources. It is important to emphasise that none of these products are a substitute for good silage making techniques and management but they should assist in making a good situation better.

Second cut silage – nutrient requirements

The phosphate and potash recommendations for second cut silage vary according to soil reserves. Do you have recent soil analysis results for your silage fields? If you do, use the online CAFRE Crop Nutrient Recommendation Calculator to work out slurry and fertiliser requirements.

As a guide, at soil index 2 for phosphate and index 1 for potash, typical of fields normally cut for silage, slurry has the potential to provide some of the nitrogen and potash and all of the phosphate needed.

Evenly spread slurry will improve silage fermentation and minimise sward damage.

May jobs checklist

  • Ensure good grazing management by grazing swards down to 1,600 kg DM per hectare to maintain sward quality.
  • Check silos and carry out any maintenance well in advance of silage making.
  • Check that tanks have adequate space to collect effluent.
  • Calibrate parlour and out of parlour feeders to ensure accurate feeding.
  • Carry out spraying if conditions are suitable and docks/weeds are at the right stage for control. If spraying docks in silage fields generally allow an interval of at least 21 days between spraying and harvest. Always read the label as interval depends on product used.


Prepared by: Darryl Boyd


With lambing finished, the main focus now is growth to ensure a reasonable proportion of lambs finish off grass. There is an opportunity cost for every day lambs spend on the farm and they continue to contaminate pastures for next year’s lambs. Actions now will affect performance later in the summer:

  • Maintain high stocking rates to ensure quality grass for July and August.
  • Address soil nutrient and physical status to produce a leafy quality sward.
  • Maintain short, leafy swards (4-6 cm) with high intake characteristics.
  • Control scald or any other setbacks which may affect growth rates.
  • Reduce the worm challenge, monitor Faecal Egg Counts and where necessary use long-acting products on ewes and treat lambs with a high count.
  • Avoid weaning stress.

Before weaning lambs gain 300g or more per day. However after weaning liveweight gain can drop to 180g per day. As discussed last month regular weighing and recording is vital to monitor performance and highlight individual problems with ewes and lambs, for example insufficient milk production.

An unsettled spring, such as we have had provides ideal conditions for ewes ‘on their backs’. Rain on a full fleece followed by sunshine makes ewes sweat and become itchy. Methods to help prevent sheep getting stuck ‘on their backs’ include:

  • Strategically placing ‘scratching poles’ in fields.
  • Checking sheep twice per day.
  • Putting ewes (breeds) prone to the problem in fields with a slope.
  • Clipping sheep as early as the weather allows.
  • Evaluating treatment with an ectoparasite to prevent itchiness caused by mites, if shearing is delayed.


Weed control

High levels of weeds in grass swards not only reduce the nutritional value but restrict grazing areas. Nettles, thistles and ragwort discourage grazing and can make hay and silage unpalatable. A number of weeds, for example ragwort are classed as noxious and must be controlled if they pose a threat to agricultural land. Use the right product for the weed and apply it at the correct rate and time. Tackle weeds when they are actively growing and before seeding.


Breeding season

Many decisions are made around the breeding season which not only affects the farm for the rest of the year but also for years to come. In recent years a move towards more traditional breeds for replacements has been noticeable. Interestingly out of the top ten bulls on ICBFs beef replacement list six are continental. There is no ideal breed of cow type but it is important to remember the importance of hybrid vigour and using top genetics whichever road you choose for your farm. 


Is synchronisation worth considering on your farm?  This allows a batch of females to be inseminated at one time minimising labour requirement at AI and calving. It also reduces the need for heat detection when using fixed time insemination and allows the marketing of batches of calves of similar age and weight. A disadvantage is the additional cost although this may be offset by the labour savings and having uniform batches of calves. The need to handle cattle several times may be a difficulty on some farms. A recent trial on Northern Ireland farms found conception rates to first service variable; typically between 45 and 75% and cost between £15 and £25 (excluding AI). The minimal handling protocols generally resulted in poorer conception rates.

Things to watch out for in May!

  • Watch out for outbreaks of coccidiosis and nematodirosis. Follow the information at about predicted hatches along with keeping a close eye on your own sheep.
  • Keep on top of grass quality as we enter what is usually a peak month for grass growth.
  • Mineral supplementation for cattle at grass may be needed, use pooled blood samples from groups of animals to identify needs.


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

Quality Assurance standards

Every three years Red Tractor review the quality assurance standards. The review consists of the introduction of new standards and the revision of existing ones. A review of the pig standards has just been completed and assessment of the new/revised standards will start on 1st October this year. In the last pig management notes I discussed one of the new standards which is to upload antibiotic usage quarterly to the electronic medicine book. ‘The need to provide pigs with adequate access to a supply of fresh, clean drinking water’ is a standard that is being revised. From the 1st October the standard will include the following:

‘Water requirements are related to the feeding system in operation, that is, dry or combined wet and dry feeding systems. In growing/finishing units a drinker within a wet and dry feeding system does not constitute a separate water source.’

What does this mean? It means if you have wet and dry feeders the nipple drinkers in the feeder will not count as drinkers and you will have to provide separate drinkers. The number of separate drinkers required will depend on the number of pigs in the pen and the type of drinker; for ad-lib feeding the requirement is one nipple drinker per 15 pigs or one bowl drinker per 30 pigs. A pen of 20 finishing pigs will therefore require two nipple drinkers or one bowl, a pen of 50 finishing pigs four nipple drinkers or two bowl drinkers.

On some units with wet and dry feeders extra nipple drinkers or bowls are already provided. However the existing number may not meet the revised standard and depending on group size additional drinkers may be required.

Sometimes the simple way is best!

The information below may not mean much to you, but to the farmer on whose farm I took the photograph it means a lot! On this Co Down farm synchronisation of oestrus (heat) in gilts takes place. Synchronisation allows a batch of gilts to come on heat when you want them to! Very often getting gilts to come on heat is either a ‘feast or famine’; too many come on at the one time or none come on at all! Serving too many gilts creates problems when it comes to farrrowing as there may not be enough farrowing crates. Not serving enough means sows that should be culled are inseminated again or service targets are not met.

There are several products on the market for synchronising gilts. The technique is successful provided you follow the simple rules below:

Gilts must have been on heat before they are fed the product.
Each gilt is fed the correct amount for 18 days. Accurate dosing is vital.
The product is fed the same time each day, plus or minus 15 minutes.

Synchronising gilts on this farm helps ensure the target of 13 services per week is met. If we look at the information recorded for the weaning date 4th May, ten sows are due for weaning, two of which the farmer plans to cull. To meet the target of 13 services five gilts have to be served. Therefore on 15th April the farmer started to dose a batch of five gilts with the synchronising product. On 2nd May which is 18 days later the product is withdrawn. The expected service date for the eight sows and five gilts is 8th May.

By recording the seven pieces of information on a white board for a five week period the farmer knows exactly how many sows are due each week for culling, how many gilts are required and when to start and stop feeding the synchronising product. This information could also be recorded on computer but sometimes a simple whiteboard and marker can do the same job!


Prepared by:   Leigh McClean


Winter crop development

Winter crop development is more variable this spring than in recent years. This may be partly due to a longer than normal autumn drilling window where neighbouring crops could have been sown in acceptable conditions through most of the autumn from September to December. Rain during March meant short working windows delaying fertiliser application and emphasing differences between early and late sowings in some cases. Keep this in mind when planning spray and fertiliser timings. Treat crops on a field by field basis as differences in development stage can be significant, even on the same farm. 


By now most winter barley will have received all the nitrogen (N) required. The exception is six row varieties on continual arable soils which can respond to a late top up at flag leaf of 30-40 kg per hectare. Apply remaining N to wheat by flag leaf emergence bearing in mind different crops may reach this stage at different times.   

Winter barley disease control

Flag leaves have emerged on the majority of winter barley. Aim to apply T2 fungicide no later than four weeks after T1, ideally when the flag leaf has fully emerged and the first few awns are appearing. The best performing products are similar to those used at T1 containing an SDHI and either Triazole for example Aviator, Adexar, Strobulurin for example Priaxor or a mix with three different modes of action such as Ceriax or Concorde+Rubri. Prothioconazole with a Strobilurin for example Fandango or Mobius also gives good protection if the crop is clean. 

Winter wheat disease control

Prepare for a timely T2 treatment at flag leaf emergence no later than four weeks after T1 spray. A well applied T2 spray gives a bigger yield response in wheat than any other spray timing. Triazoles continue to lose their activity against Septoria and remain most effective when used in a protectant situation as part of a mixture with an SDHI. Only use SDHIs where necessary, never apply more than twice in a season, keep up rates and always use in combination with a multisite protectant for example Bravo or Phoenix and a triazole fungicide.

Whilst the main target of our wheat fungicide programme is Septoria, look closely for the presence of yellow rust. Changes in the yellow rust population over the last couple of years have resulted in previously resistant varieties suddenly breaking down to the disease. SDHIs and Triazoles, particularly Epoxiconazole, give good protection, as does the addition of a Strobilurin to the mix. If yellow rust is present include a morpholine fungicide which gives good short term knock down. 


For late sown spring cereals the option may still exist to apply residual herbicides more commonly used on winter cereals pre or early post emergence as extensions of minor use (EAMUs). These herbicides provide a different mode of action and improve annual meadow grass control. 

If crops are too far forward for the residual option apply a mixture of at least two broad spectrum herbicides when most of the weeds are at the two to four leaf stage. This ensures weed competition is removed at an early stage of crop development and may allow a reduction in dose rates.

It is also good practice to prevent disease becoming established at this stage by tank mixing a fungicide with your herbicide. As Rhynchosporium is the most damaging disease, product choice should reflect this. Products previously mentioned for winter barley are equally effective on spring barley, although at a lower rate.

Nitrogen top dressing is best applied once tramlines are visible at the two to three leaf stage (GS 12 to 13). Later applications than this may green the crop but add little yield.

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