Management Notes for November 2017

Date published: 01 November 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).


Prepared by: Christopher Breen

Managing the freshly calved cow

You probably have a number of cows that are freshly calved and potentially ‘milking off their backs’. Manage these cows by:

  • Providing a minimum of 600mm barrier feed space and 10cm water drinker space per cow to maximise feed intake.
  • Housing them at a reduced stocking density, not every cubicle space needs filled! This gives the cows a chance to feed, drink and lie when they want to reducing their social stress.
  • Feeding the best silage on the farm. Use silage analysis to determine your best silage. Harvesting conditions were reasonably good this May and first cut silage quality is generally good on most farms. However, if silage quality is variable, it is important freshly calved cows receive your best silage.
  • Returning cows quickly to the feed barrier after milking and providing fresh feed regularly throughout the day.

Managing colostrum

Now that calving is in ‘full swing’ on many farms it is an opportune time to highlight the importance of colostrum for the new born calf. Remember the four Qs:

  • Quantity - ideally 10% of the calf’s weight or around four litres. Calves that do not receive sufficient colostrum are three times less likely survive to four months of age.
  • Quality - colostrum quality is poorer from first lactation animals, higher yielding Holstein cows and cows which have had a shorter dry period (less than three weeks). Use a colostrometer or refractometer to test colostrum quality. The threshold is 50g IgG (immunoglobulin) per litre. Anything more than this is classified as good quality colostrum. Vaccinating the cow pre-calving is often used to deliver pathogen specific antibodies in the colostrum. Vaccination protocols are critically important as pathogen (E. coli, Rotavirus and Coronavirus) inhibition levels are greatly reduced if cows are vaccinated within three weeks of calving.
  • Quickly - as soon as possible after birth and within six hours at the latest. Antibody absorption rapidly declines after this.
  • Quietly - do not stress the calf while feeding, absorption rates are lower when a calf is stressed.

Other important points include:

  • Avoid pooling colostrum from different cows due to the risk of transmitting diseases, for example Johne’s disease.
  • Good quality colostrum can be stored in a covered container in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
  • Colostrum has a 12 month shelf life in the freezer. Thaw it out gradually, not in a microwave! If flat pack bags have been used thawing time will be less due to the greater surface area.
  • Don’t forget the importance of good hygiene. If the calf is allowed to suckle, ensure the cows’ udder and teats are clean beforehand to minimise bacterial ingestion. For colostrum collection ensure clean containers are used. Thoroughly clean buckets, teats and tubes before use.

November jobs checklist

  • If you haven’t to date, do a feed budget immediately, if you have monitor regularly and act early if you need to adjust. 
  • Identify cows to dry off in the next two months and assess body condition. Cows with a condition score less than three should be fed additional concentrates to improve body condition.
  • Assess body condition of young stock, especially maiden heifers - will they be in the right condition for service? Do you need to increase the feed rate?
  • Are any vaccinations, for example BVD due well in advance of the breeding season?
  • Prepare for the incoming breeding season. How good are your heat detection rates? Can these be improved? Have you selected suitable bulls to achieve your long term breeding goals?
  • Calibrate parlour and out of parlour feeders to ensure accurate feeding.
  • Now that the hour has changed ensure all time clocks have been changed. If a time clock is only one hour wrong on a 6 kW water heater it can cost an extra £170 per year at current electricity prices.


Prepared by: Darryl Boyd


Now is a good time to check how the ventilation is working in livestock sheds. Carry out a smoke test to determine air movement and effectiveness of the stack effect within a shed. There is little or no point carrying out this test unless cattle are in the house as they create the effect. Also carrying out the test on a calm day will provide a true reflection. Make sure the inlets and outlets are not blocked up with debris, this may sound basic but can easily happen if the shed was used for other purposes through the spring and summer, especially with vented tin.

Ideally the ridge outlet area per animal should be 0.04 square metres up to 100kg liveweight, increasing to 0.1 square metres for fast growing and adult stock (note these figures are influenced by stocking densities and roof pitch). Inlet areas should be at least twice, ideally four times the calculated outlet areas. The table below provides guidelines for calculating inlet areas.

Material Specification Void area
Ventair sheeting   4.5% void
    12% void
Space boarding

152mm board, 20mm gap

152mm board, 25mm gap

100mm board, 25mm gap

11% void

14% void

20% void

Yorkshire board

As above plus

152mm board, 50mm gap






25% void

Galebreaker   25% void
Ventilated cladding   25% void

Clipping a 150mm strip along the back and neck of cattle reduces heat stress in housed animals. Back clipping also provides a better site if using pour on products. Clipping the head and around where the neck joins the head and ears can reduce the effect of external parasites.


There are still large areas of grassland to be harvested if conditions allow. Caution must be taken with grass harvested now (and also grass cut earlier in the year) with regards to listeriosis. Listeriosis affects the brain of sheep and cattle and originates from bacteria in the soil. In difficult harvest conditions you can expect more soil contamination. Listeriosis is more likely to affect younger animals so be extra vigilant with these groups. Tilting of the head, drooping eyelids, dullness, partial paralysis and unexplained abortions in pregnant cows are all symptoms. If in doubt talk to your vet as early diagnosis and treatment is critical.    

As discussed in previous months calculating a fodder budget this winter will be a worthwhile exercise for highlighting shortages.

Use this online tool for calculating a budget



Mature ewes have a good resistance to stomach worms and some farmers now dose ewes for these worms just once a year around lambing time. This is not the case with liver fluke and dosing ewes for fluke using a suitable product should be considered. Talk to your vet about an appropriate programme as treatment will be more important this year due to the poor summer weather which has increased fluke numbers on many farms. You may have to fluke drench again before lambing.


Scan 80 to 90 days after ram turnout as this gives the most accurate results. This may be coming up soon for those of you who run an early lambing flock. If you delay scanning this can leave it difficult to accurately determine litter size depending on the condition score of the ewe. Use scan results to make decisions about feeding and the future of barren ewes.


As much as possible tupping time should remain uninterrupted to reduce stress. Ideally rotate rams within groups if they are being run in single sire groups after 14 days. Also change raddle colours every 14 days from lighter to darker colours. Make a decision as to when you want to remove the rams and move them on that date as much of the extra labour and other problems that occur are associated with late lambers. If grass supply diminishes or conditions are extremely poor, trough feeding a high energy feed, such as straight cereals, may be worthwhile for extremely prolific flocks.

Prepared by: Kieran Lavelle


In a year when apple crops in many European countries were significantly reduced by spring frosts and poor growing conditions, local Bramley growers saw better than average fruit set and reasonable growing conditions through late spring and summer months. While it is always gratifying to see decent yields in many Northern Ireland orchards, a note of caution must be sounded regarding the mineral composition of this fruit and, from that, its suitability for medium to long term storage.

Most Bramley fruit samples analysed this autumn show calcium (Ca) readings of between 3.6mg per litre and 3.9mg per litre, appreciably lower than the recommended minimum of 4.5mg per litre. Similarly, the phosphorus (P) values in fruit averaged below 7.0mg per litre, where the preferred minimum for longer term storage is 9.0mg per litre. The reason for such poor fruit nutrient composition is probably the weather. Low sunlight levels and cool mean temperatures throughout August, followed by a warmer September with rainfall to swell the fruit rapidly, faster than roots could uptake the Ca and P at levels needed. Foliar nutrient sprays will have helped to counteract this problem to some extent, but the indication is still for low storage quality of the crop into 2018. 

Monitor stores carefully and sample fruit at regular intervals if you intend to hold stores longer than six months. Keep an eye out for bitter pit (‘tick’) arising from early spring, especially once the suppressing influence of ‘Smartfresh’ treatment begins to wear off. Since low temperature breakdown (LTB) disorder is at higher risk when P values are low, run stores slightly warmer than normal (40 degrees Fahrenheit) and check fruit flesh for any signs of disolouration. As ever, run internal fans frequently through the day to circulate the store atmosphere and monitor gas levels closely.

Protecting horticultural crops against cold weather

This is a timely reminder to protect horticultural crops against cold weather. Don’t let the unseasonably mild weather experienced during October make you complacent about protecting your horticultural crops this winter. Remember the winter of 2010 when Northern Ireland experienced an overall average temperature of -0.6 degrees Centigrade which was the coldest December on record. These extreme sub-zero temperatures caused wide spread damage to commercial horticultural crops and nursery irrigation facilities.

Plants in containers are more likely to suffer winter damage than field grown plants. The root system of container grown plants is above the ground and exposed to much lower temperatures than in the soil. Freezing damage occurs when ice crystals form within plant tissue and rupture the cells. Research has shown that roots can be killed on plants, such as Ilex (Holly), at -4.0 degrees Centigrade. A lot of plants initially appear to have survived the sub-zero temperatures but collapse when growth starts the following spring. Desiccation or drying occurs because water uptake by the roots is exceeded by loss from the leaves and stems. This happens when the root ball is frozen and the air temperature begins to rise. The effect is made worse by cold winds. As we did not experience cold winds in 2010 at the time of the low temperatures, frozen root damage did not show on many plants until growth restarted in spring.

The extent of winter damage can vary depending on the location of a nursery or farm and between regions. Minimise the risk of damage to your horticultural crops and equipment by:

  • Using appropriate insulation and frost protection measures.
  • Bringing plants under protected structures and using wind breaks.
  • Covering plants with protective fleece materials.
  • Careful watering of plants, to avoid overwatering.
  • Draining out irrigation systems and equipment before cold weather sets in.
  • Setting thermostats to give a regime -1.0 degree to +5.0 degrees Centigrade.


Prepared by Claire Anderson

Avian influenza update

Biosecurity is a recurring theme of the poultry management notes for which I make no apology. The Poultry Health and Welfare Group recently delivered its third series of avian influenza roadshows for poultry producers at Greenmount, at which there was full attendance. The incidence of avian influenza or bird flu is a concern at this time every year, with cases following the migratory paths of wild birds. The bird flu virus has already been identified this summer in Italy and Switzerland. Here in Northern Ireland we have some protection by our western position. As producers we should protect this advantage by adopting the highest level of hygiene and biosecurity at all our sites.

DAERA and DEFRA have recently produced more guidance for poultry keepers which provides four key tips on cleaning, feeding, fencing and staying aware. By law, suspicion of bird flu is notifiable and an outbreak can affect poultry movement and trade. Any very sick birds or unexplained deaths must be assessed by your vet.

Tip 1 Cleaning

Clean footwear before and after visiting your birds. Keep areas clean and tidy and regularly disinfect hard surfaces. Humanely control rats and mice.

Tip 2 Feeding

Place your birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds and remove any spilled feed regularly.

Tip 3 Fencing

Keep your birds separate from wildlife and wild fowl by putting suitable fencing around the outdoor areas they access.

Tip 4 Stay aware

Check the latest bird flu advice and how to register your birds, if you have not already done so.

For larger sites there are company specific biosecurity programmes and health plans set out for your benefit to help protect both your farm and that of your neighbours. It is incumbent on us all, large and small, to adhere to this and DAERA’s guidance.

Exporting poultry manure and litter

As the year end approaches it is useful to remind you of your obligations under the Nitrates Action Plan 2015-2018 and the Phosphorous Regulations with regards to manure export.

The regulations are concerned with controlling the amount, type and timing of manure spreading on the land to prevent leaching or run-off into water courses. An important part of manure management is also the export of manure to other farmers or facilities.

If you are importing or exporting organic manures including anaerobic digestate you need to keep a record of the quantity and type of each manure moved on or off your holding, the date of any movements and the name and address of who it was imported from or exported to. This applies regardless of whether the imports/exports are within Northern Ireland or elsewhere. In addition, when manure is exported, the farm business identification numbers of importers must be recorded. If a third party transports the manure, their name and address must also be recorded. A template for recording this information can be found in Annex N of the Nitrates Action Programme 2015-2018 and Phosphorous Regulations Guidance Booklet which you can download from the DAERA website. Records of manure exports must be submitted to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) by 31January for the previous calendar year. 

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