Management notes for November 2019

Date published: 08 November 2019

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

Building your cow from the calf up!

There is a growing interest in feeding calves on an accelerated growth programme pre-weaning. Increasing the plane of nutrition for calves on milk during the first two months of life reduces the age at first calving and increases lifetime yield in dairy cows. Known as metabolic programming, the idea is that early life events can have an impact on later physiological outcomes. It is a dynamic process where the effects are dependent on a specific, critical window of opportunity. In calves this critical period is before weaning and starts with adequate colostrum at birth. A 4 litre first feed, followed ten hours later with a secondary feed of 2 litres of a high Brix score colostrum is recommended. The accelerated programme targets increased feeding during the first fortnight to 6 litres containing 900 g of milk replacer for four weeks, with concentrate intakes increasing from four weeks of age. Good quality hay or straw and clean fresh water must always be available. By six weeks of age milk feeding begins to reduce before the final weaning phase from eight weeks of age. At this stage concentrate intakes should be 2 kg per head.

Dr Leonel Leal from Wageningen University and Trouw Nutrition Research and Development describes colostrum as “liquid gold” and says the “first feed is the most important meal in a cow’s lifetime”. Leonel will outline his research findings on calf rearing and how this impacts on the cow’s health and performance on entry to the milking herd at the upcoming Dairy Conference.

Samantha McCarroll, a dairy farmer from Omagh, will also talk at the Conference. She will describe how she has improved calf rearing on her farm following a visit to Dutch units advised by Leonel. The Dairy Conference, organised by CAFRE, the Ulster Farmers’ Union and Dairy UK will be held on two dates. Greenmount Campus, Antrim will host the event on Tuesday 19 November and the Silverbirch Hotel, Omagh will be the venue on Wednesday 20 November. The conference is aimed at dairy farmers and those involved in the industry. Tickets are £20.00 per person if booked before 8 November and £25.00 thereafter. To book, please visit the UFU website.

Health management using less antibiotics

This is an important time for health management on dairy farms with calving, housing youngstock and calves being reared and weaned. A good environment, correct nutrition, use of vaccinations and effective biosecurity can greatly reduce the number of sick animals that may require antibiotic treatment. The guidance for antibiotic use is, ‘as little as possible, but as much as necessary’. With good management and working with your vet, antibiotic use at farm level can be significantly reduced. As well as lower veterinary bills and reduced chance of a bulk tank failure, you are building a more resilient herd. Lloyd Holterman from Rosy Lane Holsteins, USA has eliminated the need for antibiotic use in his 1000+ herd of cows. He is a keynote speaker at the forthcoming Dairy Conference and will explain how antibiotics are no longer used on his farm.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould

Winter Feeding

Most farms are likely to have sufficient quantities of silage in store for the winter ahead. However, it is advisable to determine the quantity and quality of silage in store and use this information to develop a feed plan for the different classes of stock. Year on year silage analyses show a wide variation in quality between farms and sometimes even within the one farm. High quality silage should be prioritised towards animals such as weanlings, lactating suckler cows and housed ewes in the final six to eight weeks of pregnancy. Poorer quality silage is sufficient for animals with a lower nutrient requirement such as dry suckler cows.

Feed accounts for the largest proportion of costs during the winter period. To reduce feed costs the aim should be to make top quality silage as this will reduce the quantity of more expensive concentrates required. If silage quality is poorer than usual, additional concentrates may be required to make up the deficit. After you have the silage analysed use Tables 1 and 2 to estimate the quantity of silage available and compare this with your likely winter demand. The volume of silage is calculated 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 1,200 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 dry matter is 25% multiply 1,200 by 0.68. This equates to 816 tonnes of fresh silage.

Silage harvested in damper weather conditions this year is likely to have a lower dry matter compared to silage harvested during the dry spell experienced last year. For example, on a weight basis only 1.0 tonne of fresh silage with a dry matter of 30% is equivalent to 1.2 tonne of fresh silage with a dry matter of 25%. In reality, very low dry matter silage also tends to have poorer fermentation leading to poorer overall quality, compared to silage with the target of 30% dry matter content.

Table 1: Conversion factors to convert silage volume to tonnes of silage

Silage DM %

Tonnes of silage/cubic metre


Multiply by 0.77


Multiply by 0.68


Multiply by 0.60


Multiply by 0.48

To estimate the silage demand of your herd 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 consuming 25% dry matter silage


Silage (tonnes/month)

 Dry spring calving suckler cow


 Autumn calving suckler cow


 350 kg+


 250-350 kg


 200-250 kg






Parasite control

Mature ewes should have a good resistance to stomach worms. Some farmers have changed to dosing ewes for these worms just once a year, with some only dosing young ewes or those in poorer body condition. As this is not the case with liver fluke, dosing ewes for fluke using a suitable product needs to be considered. AFBI have predicted that the risk of liver fluke this winter is high. This is based on their forecasting system which takes climate data into account. Higher than average rainfall will have helped multiplication of the mud snail, which is the intermediate host. There are two forms of liver fluke; acute and chronic. Acute fluke affects sheep, mainly in autumn, while chronic affects both sheep and cattle. Acute liver fluke disease is caused by the migration of a large number of immature flukes through the liver which can be severe on the animal and result in death. The chronic form can persist through the year but mainly occurs in winter and spring. It can result in reduced thrive and in some cases animals show swelling under the jaw.

Talk to your vet about an appropriate fluke drenching programme. 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 updated forecasts for the likelihood of infection during the year. For more information, visit the SCOPS website.


Prepared by: Jason McFerran

Managing your costs

Like many businesses in Northern Ireland, farm businesses face challenges that are outside of their control. The cost of inputs and the price received for produce that is sold is controlled to a large extent by market forces.

Review expenditure

It makes sense to review all expenditure to ensure it is both necessary and good value for money. A good starting point is to look at your farm bank statements. Take a fresh look at each direct debit. Are you paying for a service you don’t use? If the answer is yes, then consider cancelling, but check first in case there is a notice period required and/or cancellation fee. If you do make use of the service make sure it is a net benefit to your business by either adding value or saving you more than it costs.

If you’re not the book-keeper in the family, take some time to review invoices to keep up to date with current input costs. Are you getting value for money? Have you priced around? Could you reduce quantities purchased? By looking at the costs it may highlight the areas to focus on within your business. When margins are low or you are under financial pressure, a cash flow budget should be completed.

What is cash flow?

Cash flow is simply the movement of money into and out of your business. It is possible to get a good idea of the farm cash flow by looking at the monthly bank balance. However, any cash only dealings must be included as these are not shown on the bank statement. Cash is essential for farms to meet monthly running costs. It allows you to pay the bills, including tax, cover the cost of repairs and make essential improvements. In the long term, a business with more money going out than coming in cannot keep going.

Doing a cash flow budget

A cash flow budget is simple to do. It is a forecast of the money that is expected to be received and spent over a certain period of time, usually the next 12 months. It helps you build a timeline and plan for the future. It should include realistic estimates of production levels, prices and timescales. Cash is needed throughout the year but is not spread evenly as there are certain times in the year when large expenses, such as conacre or contractor bills must be paid. In the same way, some farm enterprises bring in sales receipts at different stages throughout the year. The budget shows the difference between money coming in and money going out each month and the knock-on effect on subsequent months. It highlights times in the year when borrowing money may be necessary to keep the business going until sufficient income is generated. It also shows when peak borrowing will occur. This allows you to know your maximum requirement for a bank facility. A bank overdraft is ideal for short term, flexible borrowing such as this, but not for longer term borrowing.

Discuss your options

Since the cash flow budget is a prediction of how the year will ‘pan out’, it needs to be regularly monitored and updated. This allows you to take account of such things as changes in input prices, a delay in sales of stock or changing sale prices. If it looks like there will be a shortfall, it is vital that you discuss your options and don’t ignore the problem. If additional borrowing is required, approach your bank manager sooner rather than later. A cash flow budget gives the bank confidence in you and your business and is often required before they consider lending you money. It also helps you choose the most appropriate source of finance and so maintain a positive cash flow. A cash flow helps give control.

Use the right tools

Cash flow budgets can be done using pen and paper, but using a computer makes it a lot easier. A spreadsheet may be all that is needed to draw up a simple but effective cash flow budget to provide you with the confidence to manage your finances or discuss the options with your bank manager or accountant. CAFRE have a template available on under CAFRE Business Tools.


Prepared by: Kieran Lavelle

Post-harvest orchard management

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

The time between harvest and leaf fall is short but very important for the tree. It is the period when the tree’s nutrient and carbohydrate reserves must be replenished for a 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 to be addressed. For instance, low post-harvest nitrogen levels may result in poor fruit set in the coming season or in extreme cases even biennial fruit bearing. Therefore, depending on the nitrogen status, you may have to adopt 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. Less fertiliser is therefore 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 tree 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. The root growth immediately after harvest is very important for next spring’s growth flush. Good root growth may become even more important given this autumn’s high rainfall which might have already limited root growth. Therefore, check root health and in particular ensure good drainage.

Cut flower review

During October a cut flower event was held at Greenmount Campus to assess a range of herbs (grown for use as scented foliage and flowers) and a number of more typical cut flowers. Traditional herbs are of increasing interest as a cut flower as they can potentially provide attractive flowers and scent in bouquets. Of the eight basil cultivars grown, the most interesting cultivar was ‘Liquorice’ which has stiff, highly coloured stems offering an excellent contrast between the flowers and the leaves. The dill (cultivar ‘Bouquet’) was also identified as a very attractive filler, with mint viewed as good foliage material. 

The other flowers that generated interest were the Amarathus and Lavatera. The two most attractive Amaranthus cultivars were ‘Rotschwanz’ and ‘Foxtail’. The Lavatera offered potential if stems could be shortened to show off the flowers at the top. There was also interest in the potential of taking two crops of a single planting of antirrhinum by overwintering the plants, with a harvest taken in autumn and a second crop of flowers appearing in early spring.

During the event growers also saw the ‘caterpillar tunnel’ that has been erected. The tunnel, which is 14 m long and 3 m wide, is a low cost alternative to a standard polytunnel. It is a three season structure, but does offer the capacity to speed up soil warming in early spring and provide protection from heavy rain which may damage flowers at harvest.

From the discussion that followed technology work on carnations, roses, herbs, and evaluation of the caterpillar tunnel for cut flower production are likely to be demonstrated in the New Year.

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