Management notes for May 2022

Date published: 06 May 2022

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: Richard Gibson

Making quality forage is more important than ever this year

With the significant rise in forage costs this year it is vital to make the best quality silage possible. Focusing on cut and wilt times will help boost quality and reduce dependence on concentrates through the winter. Adopting a multi-cut silage system could help maximise quality and performance. Although cutting earlier reduces the yield per cut, quality in terms of protein, digestibility and metabolisable energy (ME) will increase. The increased cost of making multi-cut silage, which is estimated at £35 per tonne dry matter (DM) higher than a three cut system, must be recouped with concentrate savings. At £350 per tonne for purchased concentrate, concentrate rates would need to be reduced by 1.2 kg per cow per day to achieve this.

Rapid wilting is essential. As soon as grass is cut sugars start to decline as they are used by the plant. Wilting increases dry matter and reduces clamp losses from effluent. After cutting there is a two hour window when the stomata of the plant remain open and water loss is at its greatest at approximately 100 litres per tonne of grass per hour. After that, water is lost where the leaves are broken or the crop has been conditioned, if a conditioner has been used.

Some key points on multi-cut silage

  • Individual cuts will be lighter than the traditional system. It is worthwhile discussing this with your contractor in terms of pricing.
  • However, a 1.0 MJ per kg DM increase in ME is generally achievable when moving from a traditional to multi-cut strategy. DM intakes can increase by over 1.0 kg per cow per day when feeding this forage. 
  • Pay special attention to crop nutrition to ensure all nitrogen is absorbed before harvesting. Apply slurry immediately after harvesting.
  • Apply fertiliser as soon as possible and not more than two units per acre (including slurry) for each growing day between cuts.
  • As crops are lighter consider the time the crop is wilted. To achieve 28-32% in ideal weather conditions, 24 hours wilting should be sufficient.
  • Increasing the chop length to 5 cm will help with ensiling and fermentation.
  • Silos need to be filled quickly and grass distributed evenly. The key is to remove the air and make the clamp as air tight as possible.
  • Spread the grass in shallow layers and roll continuously. Ideally the silo should be covered immediately and the cover weighted effectively, paying particular attention to the shoulders of the pit.

Use of an additive

Depending on weather conditions a silage additive may be useful this year in reducing waste. Effective silage fermentation produces high levels of lactic acid reducing the crop pH. Proven silage additives can help this process. A variety of additives are available including bacterial inoculants, enzymes, non-protein nitrogen sources, acids and sugar sources. None of these products are a substitute for good silage making techniques, conditions and management but they can help make a good situation better.

May top tips

  1. As May is a peak grass growth month focus on pre-grazing grass cover for your herd. Only graze maximum 3,100 kg DM per hectare covers, higher covers should be removed quickly from the block to allow these areas back into the grazing block.
  2. Check silos and carry out any maintenance before silage making.
  3. Check there is adequate storage in tanks to collect all effluent.
  4. Calibrate parlour and out of parlour feeders to ensure accurate feeding.
  5. Spray docks/weeds if conditions are suitable and they are at the right stage for control. If spraying silage ground for docks, generally allow an interval of at least 21 days between spraying and harvest. As the interval depends on the product used, always read the label.


Prepared by: Jack Friar

Breeding the spring calving herd

Attention is now moving towards the breeding season for spring calving suckler herds. The usual body condition score of 2.5+ and also a rising plane of nutrition are important to help get cows back in calf quickly and achieve a calving interval close to 365 days.

Pre-breeding scanning of suckler cows is not a task carried out on every cow, although it should be a consideration for cows that had a difficult calving, an infection and required a ‘wash-out’ or cows that retained their placenta after calving. 

Set a defined breeding season with a definite start and end date for all cows to calve within a 12 week period. Aim for 60% to calve in the first month and 80% by the end of the second month. The advantages of this include making life easier in terms of reduced labour and better herd management at calving. There is less risk of disease spread from older to younger calves, increased performance in terms of weaning weights and more even batches of calves to sell. Other benefits include an increased number of replacement heifers that reach a suitable weight for bulling and calving at two years of age. If you think this is unachievable as your calving period is usually spread over four or five months, consider taking bulls out two weeks earlier each year to gradually reach a 12 week calving period. This should be achieved in three to five years.

Breeding replacement heifers

The aim is to calve replacements at 24 months of age, although there is still some reluctance to try this even though there are many benefits. Some of the advantages of calving heifers at 24 months of age include:

  • Increased lifetime output of cows, one more calf is produced during their time in the herd.
  • Allows for faster genetic progress in the herd.
  • Lower rearing costs and quicker payback of rearing costs.
  • Help towards reducing the carbon footprint of the herd.

Unlike cows, heifers should only have a breeding season of eight weeks. This allows heifers to be served at least twice. After this heifers not in calf should be culled as they are likely to have future fertility issues. Having a four week shorter breeding season also allows extra time for recovery after calving and to resume cycling again before the start of the next breeding season.

Sire selection is critical for making two year old calving work. Use an easy calving bull so that the size and shape of the calf allows it to be born easier. Bull selection should also focus on low calf birth weight and short gestation length to reduce the risk of calving difficulties.

It’s not too late to introduce rotational grazing!

In many cases farms that have rotational grazing in place will be well into their second rotation. If you don’t have it in place it is not too late to implement it. What are the advantages? Sub-dividing fields into paddocks offer a number of benefits. These include giving ewes and lambs access to leafy grass on a consistent basis which will improve performance and allows for forward creep grazing lambs in the build up to weaning. It helps improve grass utilisation and provides more control over grazing management. Another advantage, especially relevant this year, is that it allows for a more targeted fertiliser programme.

Watch out for!

Weed infestations - as silage harvesting is only weeks away on some farms always read the label and product information before using herbicide products. Adhere to label recommendations regarding application rate, cutting and grazing intervals etc.  

Kill out percentage of lambs –. record liveweights and carcase weights of lambs and work out kill out percentages. As the kill out of spring lambs can be deceiving act accordingly on weights to ensure you maximise farm profits.


Prepared by: Leigh Mc Clean


A relatively mild spring, after a winter of good growth, means crop development is generally a little ahead of normal and some level of disease can be found in most winter cereals. Keep a close eye on crop development making sure key timings of fertiliser and sprays are not missed. It is important to maintain good timing as fungicides are more effective when applied preventatively. This means the effect of a missed timing will only be visible weeks later by which time the fungicides curative activity is less active at controlling disease and protecting yield potential.

Winter barley disease control

T1 sprays applied from mid-April will be due their T2 fungicide three to four weeks after T1, ideally when the flag leaf and the first few awns have emerged. Best performance comes with Prothioconazole plus a SDHI in the mix where crops have the yield potential to justify the additional expense.

Winter wheat disease control

A well timed T2 fungicide gives a bigger yield response in wheat than any other spray timing. Apply at flag leaf emergence no later than four weeks after the T1 spray. New active ingredients from BASF and Corteva have shown in AHDB fungicide trials to give better disease control than existing top performing SDHI/Triazole fungicides. They may be worth the extra spend at T2 for high yield potential crops under high disease pressure. 

To maintain longevity and efficacy of fungicides it is important to use them responsibly as part of fungicide programmes which minimise the risk of resistant septoria strains developing. Follow label advice on applications per season, only use where necessary, keep up dose rates of actives in mixes and always use in combination with a multisite protectant such as Folpet which protects other active ingredients in the mix. 


Spring cereals were mostly sown in time into good seedbeds. Where herbicide has not yet been applied, apply a mixture of at least two broad spectrum herbicides when most of the weeds are at the two to four leaf stages, ensuring weed competition is removed early.

Early sowing should mean good yield potential for spring cereals. Tank mixing a low rate fungicide with the herbicide will prevent the establishment of disease and protect yield potential.

Apply nitrogen (N) top dressing 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.

Inspect protein crops for grass weeds and volunteers. If necessary, apply a graminicide (grass weed herbicide) once grasses have emerged and before the crop canopy closes over. A fungicide is recommended for beans at mid-flowering to control chocolate spot and bean rust, usually applied in the second half of June.  


Plans should be in place for early weed control. Where using pre-emergence herbicides, check regularly to ensure they are applied on time to avoid crop damage.

For later plantings take the shorter growing season into consideration and reduce N by 1.0 kg per hectare per day past the target planting date and apply the remaining N pre-crop emergence.

Careful N management now will encourage earlier natural senescence and improve the probability of a successful burndown using PPO inhibitors.

You are reminded that blight samples submitted from Northern Ireland (NI) were predominantly of the A37_2 strain which has reduced sensitivity to fluazinam (Shirlan). Given the widespread occurrence of this strain in NI fluazinam for blight control can no longer be relied upon.   

Notes to editors: 

  1. Follow DAERA on Twitter and on Facebook.
  2. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office.

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