Management Notes for November 2018

Date published: 06 November 2018

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 now that are freshly calved and wanting to ‘milk off their backs’. Manage these cows by:

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

Managing colostrum

As calving is now in ‘full swing’ on many farms it is a good 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 about four litres. Calves fed colostrum by stomach tube or bottle within the first hours of life are almost three times more likely to have adequate immunity. This allows them to fight off neonatal diseases and survive to four months of age compared to calves that are left to suckle their mother.
  • 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 cows 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 as absorption rates are lower when a calf is stressed.

Other important points include:

  •  Avoid pooling colostrum from different cows due to the risk of disease transmission, 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, but thaw it out gradually, not in a microwave! If flat pack bags have been used thawing time is less due to the greater surface area.
  •  Good hygiene is extremely important. If a calf is allowed to suckle ensure the cows’ udder and teats are clean to minimise bacterial ingestion. For colostrum collection ensure clean containers are used. Thoroughly clean buckets, teats and tubes before use.

 November jobs checklist


  • Identify cows to dry off in the next two months and assess body condition. Feed additional concentrates to cows with a body condition score less than three to improve condition.
  • Assess body condition of young stock, especially maiden heifers. Will they be in the right condition for service? Does the feed rate need to be increased?
  • Carry out 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?
  • Calibrate parlour and out of parlour feeders to ensure accurate feeding.
  • Check that all time clocks are changed.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould

Winter feeding

Most farms have sufficient winter fodder supplies but silage analysis to date indicate quality is very variable. It is therefore important to get silage analysed now to help calculate supplies and determine what supplementation is required, if any. If supplies are likely to run out before next spring take action now. Use Tables 1 and 2 to estimate the quantity of silage available and compare this with your likely winter demand. Calculate the volume of silage by multiplying the length of the pit by the width by the height. For example, the volume of silage in a pit measuring 40 m by 10 m by 3 m is 1200 cubic metres.

To convert the volume of silage to tonnes multiply the volume by the correct conversion factor (Table 1). For example, if the silage is 25% dry matter multiply 1200 by 0.68. This equates to 816 tonnes of fresh silage. In many cases silage harvested this summer will have a much higher dry matter percentage than would normally be expected.

Table 1: Conversion factors to convert silage volume to tonnes of silage
Silage DM % Tonnes of silage/cubic metre
20 Multiply by 0.77
25 Multiply by 0.68
30 Multiply by 0.60
40 Multiply by 0.48

To estimate silage demand of your herd this winter, multiply the number of each class of stock by the number of months to be fed by the monthly feed requirement (Table 2).

Table 2: Estimated monthly feed requirement of stock eating 25% dry matter silage
Livestock Silage (tonnes/month)
Dry spring calving suckler cow 1
Autumn calving suckler cow 1.2
350 kg+ 1
250-350 kg 0.8
200-250 kg 0.7
Calves 0.3
Ewes 0.15

Parasite control in cattle

Adult cattle, greater than two years old, normally have immunity to worms. However there is no natural immunity to liver fluke. All ages of stock therefore need to be assessed for treatment if there is a history or risk of infection. The dry summer may have resulted in few cases of acute liver fluke in September and October, however fluke activity could peak in early winter. Faecal sampling and fluke reports provided by factories at slaughter can be used to determine whether liver fluke are present or not. Discuss treatment with your vet as the time to wait to treat post-housing is determined by the active ingredient/product used. Some products can be used from two weeks post-housing whereas others, which target mature fluke, will not kill immature fluke. COWS (Control of Worms Sustainably), an industry led stakeholder group, aims to promote best practice in the control of cattle parasites. It encourages the 5 five Rs - Use the Right product on the Right animal at the Right time at the Right dose rate and administer in the Right way. Download more information on COWS.

Suckler cows - Assessing body condition score (BCS)

Assess cow body condition score post-weaning and group cows accordingly. Body condition is scored on a scale of one to five, with one being emaciated and five obese. One BCS in a suckler cow equates to approximately 70-90 kg of live weight. The ideal BCS for spring calving suckler cows is 3.0 at weaning and 2.5 at calving and mating. Body condition scores of 3.0-3.5 may be more common this year at housing where cows have had access to good supplies of quality grass. Allow very thin cows unrestricted access to moderate to good quality silage. Offer cows in good body condition a restricted amount of silage to either reduce or maintain body condition score by calving time. Unless silage is of poor quality, allowing unrestricted access will result in cows laying down more condition which may increase the incidence of calving difficulty, which in turn may negatively affect subsequent fertility and calving interval. Silage analysis will help determine individual cow requirements.

Parasite control in sheep

As mature ewes have good resistance to stomach worms some farmers now dose ewes for these worms just once a year. This is not the case with liver fluke and dosing ewes for fluke using a suitable product needs to be considered. Talk to your vet about an appropriate fluke drenching programme. You may have to fluke drench again before housing and lambing. SCOPS (Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep) is an industry led initiative which promotes best practice in the control of parasites in sheep. It provides regular forecasts for the likelihood of infection during the year. For more information visit the SCOPS website.


Prepared by: Kieran Lavelle 

Post-harvest orchard management

With this year’s harvest coming to an end carry out post-harvest orchard management operations. If some orchards or parts of them still need to be harvested, remove fruit from the trees as soon as possible. Delays in harvesting can lower flower numbers next season, especially if other risk factors may be a problem.

The time between harvest and leaf fall is short but very important. It is the period when the tree nutrient and carbohydrate reserves must be replenished for a potentially fruitful next growing season. Visual and/or analytical checks of nutrient levels in the soil, leaf and fruit are beneficial in determining which nutrients need addressed. For instance, low post-harvest nitrogen levels may result in poor fruit set in the coming season or even biennial fruit bearing. Therefore, depending on the nitrogen status, you may have to apply a robust nitrogen fertiliser programme to improve the quality of flowers in the subsequent spring. The post-harvest fertiliser programme should be foliar based because of the higher efficiency of foliar uptake relative to soil and thus, less fertiliser is needed.

Before the dormant season, take out strongly growing shading branches in the upper tree. It is easier for these branches to be identified before leaf fall. Improved light penetration into the lower canopy and reduced export of carbohydrates to other parts of the trees will have a calming effect on tree vigour and strengthen bud development.

Once harvest is completed, tree support systems maintenance followed by tree support must be given high priority, especially after this year’s storm damage. The root will likely start growing immediately after harvest and this is very important for next spring’s growth flush. Root growth may become even more important if we take into account last summer’s drought which might have limited root growth. Therefore, check root health and in particular drainage.

IPPS European Conference – 50th anniversary

The 50th annual International Plant Propagators Society (IPPS) European Conference was held in Breda, Holland. The conference offered opportunities to hear about developments in areas as diverse as the use of robotic systems, applications for mobile software devices as management tools, as well as improvements in grafting, traceability in the supply chain, weed control options and strategies to deal with quarantine pests and diseases. 

As well as gaining information from key speakers and industry experts there were also visits organised to leading and innovative horticulture businesses. Although the businesses visited varied in size, crop specialisation, staffing and technology capabilities, some common threads could be recognised as pillars to their success. Not least the passion for their businesses and the dedicated attention to detail that allows them to continuously identify development and optimisation areas. One example of this passion was in the considered use of integrated pest management strategies, where applications of biological pest control agents and cultural practices were seen as standard options alongside chemical control. Some highlighted improvements made in crop management and overall outputs through the implementation of specialised feeding regimes and strict environmental controls to maximise productivity. All showed evidence of proactive approaches to problems and an enthusiasm for continuous learning. 


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

New ‘monia’!

As farmers you are all aware of pneumonia and how it affects your livestock. Thanks to improved housing and ventilation, good management and the availability of effective vaccines pneumonia is no longer a major problem on pig farms. However a new ‘monia’ that is causing problems for all sectors of farming is ammonia.

What is ammonia?

Ammonia is a colourless gas released from livestock urine and faeces and chemical fertilisers. It has a pungent smell which can cause your eyes to water if levels are high.

Why is it a problem?

Ammonia is emitted from livestock housing, slurry tanks or when slurry is spread on fields and is eventually deposited onto land and water as nitrogen. Although nitrogen encourages the growth of many plants it can harm plants that are sensitive to high levels, for example lichens, ferns and mosses. Due to the negative effect of ammonia on the environment, pressure is on the agricultural industry to reduce emission levels.

What can you do as a pig farmer to reduce ammonia emissions? 

Many factors influence ammonia emissions, some are related to housing and tank design, others to nutrition and slurry management. Although it may not be possible to change the design of an existing house, you may be able to reduce ammonia emissions by adjusting diets. This is because there is a link between the crude protein level in diets and the amount of ammonia produced. In fact some farmers are already feeding lower protein finisher diets that have been specifically formulated by their feed company following extensive research. These diets are proven to reduce ammonia excretion with no detrimental effect on pig performance. Review diets with your feed company or nutritionist to determine what you can do to in relation to ammonia excretion. If you are a home mixer it is particularly important to talk to a nutritionist before making any changes as it is not just a matter of simply reducing protein by including less soya in the diet. If diets are not properly formulated pig performance will suffer! If you are planning to build a new pig house, again, talk to your adviser or building/equipment supplier about what you can do in relation to house and tank design as these can also reduce ammonia emissions.

African Swine Fever – It’s getting closer!

If you are a regular reader of the pig management notes you will know that I have written about African Swine Fever (ASF) before. Due to the devastating effect an outbreak could have on your business and the industry I make no apology for writing about it again!

In mid-September ASF was confirmed in two wild boar in Belgium. At the time of writing the number of wild boar testing positive to the disease had increased to 96. Thankfully it has not been found in commercial pigs in Belgium, although over 4,000 were slaughtered to reduce the risk of spread.

Irrespective of the number of pigs you keep, whether it is one or thousands, you are responsible for keeping ASF out of Northern Ireland. This means taking biosecurity serious, not just paying lip service to it but actually putting strict measures in place. It also means educating your family, your staff and others about the risk of feeding food waste to pigs. The ASF virus can survive for weeks and even months in meat products, with frozen meat posing a very high risk.

Visit the DAERA website for more biosecurity advice and the latest news on African Swine Fever.

Disease alert service

As a follow on from the previous management note, DAERA has recently launched a new text alert service for pig farmers. Through this service you will receive texts about disease outbreaks and other important disease information. I would encourage you to subscribe to this service as it is a simple way of keeping up to date on disease issues. Subscribe by texting ‘PIGS’ to 67300.

Notes to editors: 

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