Management notes for October 2019

Date published: 07 October 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

Winter feeding

The weather throughout the 2019 grass growing year was quite variable. Good growth conditions in late April and early May generally provided good conditions for first cut silage making, with some crops harvested earlier than normal. Second and third cuts grew and yielded well, although there were challenging conditions at times throughout June and August. In general most farms should have adequate silage reserves for the winter. However, it is still a worthwhile exercise to calculate your forage requirements and check sufficient silage is available.

Use Tables 1 and 2 to estimate the tonnage of silage available on your farm and compare this with likely winter demand. For example, the volume of silage in the pictured pit is calculated by multiplying the length (38 m) by the width (10 m) by the height (3 m) – 38 m x 10 m x 3 m = 1140 cubic metres.  

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

Assuming the dry matter of silage in our example is 25 percent, multiply the volume by 0.68. 1140 cubic metres x 0.68 = 775 tonnes of fresh silage.

Table 2: Estimated monthly feed requirement of stock eating 25% dry matter silage.

Livestock Silage (Tonnes/month)
Dairy cow in milk 1.4
Dry cow 0.9
0-1 year old heifer 0.6
1-2 year old heifer 0.9

To estimate the demand for silage, multiply the number of each class of stock by the number of months to be fed. For example, 80 cows in milk fed for seven months require 784 tonnes (80 x 7 x 1.4).

Options if you don’t have enough silage

The priority is to feed the best quality silage to early lactation/high yielding cows, then consider the following options:

  • Cull barren, poor performing or problem cows.
  • Source suitable silage supplies for young/dry stock.
  • Feed young stock a straw/concentrate diet.   
  • Use alternative feeds if available.

Silage quality on farm

Due to the variable weather conditions and cutting dates throughout the 2019 grass growing season there will be a variation in silage quality. It is therefore important to analyse your silage to know its potential feed value (M+). This will allow you to determine how much concentrate to feed at each stage of production.

Table 3 shows the difference in the amount of concentrate needed to feed a cow in early lactation with average and good quality silage.

Table 3: Feed requirement for 32 litres of milk

  Average silage Good silage
Silage ME 10.8 11.8
Silage dry matter (%) 28.1 28.1
Silage fresh weight (kg) 40 43
M+ (kg of milk daily) M+8 M+12
Daily concentrates required (kg) 11 9

October jobs checklist

  • Prepare/repair housing before winter.
  • Identify cows to dry off in the next two months and assess body condition. Now is the ideal time to improve body condition by feeding additional concentrates to cows with a body condition score of less than 3.
  • Analyse silage in preparation for planning the winter diet.
  • Change time clocks at the end of the month when the hour changes.
  • The last day for spreading slurry is 15th October. Try to ensure tanks are empty well before that date.

Date for your diary!

Unlock your herd’s potential - a conference for dairy farmers on Tuesday 19th November, Greenmount Campus, Antrim and Wednesday 20th November, Silverbirch Hotel, Omagh.Book your place at the UFU website.


Prepared by: Nigel Gould


Housing cattle

Housing can be a stressful experience for cattle, particularly young stock. Increased stress, coupled with the housed environment, can provide an ideal environment for pathogens to live and proliferate. Good animal health is dependent on the provision of housing with adequate ventilation which allows the replacement of warm, stale air containing pathogens with fresh, cooler air. As a rule of thumb, calves and adult cattle require 0.04 square metres and 0.1 square metres of outlet respectively per head and at least double this area as inlet. Use smoke pellets to determine if a shed has sufficient ventilation. Do the test when cattle are in the shed as it is the cattle that create the ‘stack effect’. Smoke pellets can be purchased from hardware and plumbing stores.

Parasite control in cattle

Adult cattle, greater than two years old, usually have immunity to worms, whereas there is no natural immunity to liver fluke. If there is a history or risk of infection all ages of stock therefore need to be assessed for treatment. Faecal sampling and fluke reports, provided by factories at slaughter, can be used to determine whether liver fluke are present or not. The appropriate time to wait to treat post housing is determined by the active ingredient/product used. While some products can be used from two weeks post housing others, which target mature fluke will not kill immature fluke. Discuss appropriate treatment with your vet. Control of Worms Sustainably (COWS), an industry led stakeholder group, aims to promote best practice in the control of cattle parasites. It urges farmers to follow the five R’s: Use the Right product on the Right animal at the Right time at the Right dose rate and administer in the Right way.Visit the COWS website for more information.


Lambs - sell or finish?

If there are lambs remaining on the farm, a decision needs to be made whether to finish them or sell as stores. The three main factors involved in this decision are lamb value as stores, the cost to finish them and the expected value of finished lambs, with the latter often being difficult to estimate. If surplus grass is available on farm, which may be the case this year where cattle were housed earlier, finishing off grass may be a viable option. Lambs can gain 80-130 g per day at grass, however performance is very much linked to sward quality, parasite control and the absence of prolonged periods of wet weather. Creep feed can be offered to reduce the time to slaughter but this will cost more. The other alternative is to house lambs and intensively finish indoors. Performance is increased and the feed conversion ratio can be 7.0-8.0 kg of concentrate to 1.0 kg of live weight gain, depending on the ration quality and lamb type. A source of roughage in the diet is important for rumen function. Allow a total dry matter intake of 4%. Lambs can eat 1.5 kg of concentrate in an ad-lib system and have the potential to gain up to 250 g per day during the finishing period. However, large variation will still occur between lambs. Avoid feeding ewe minerals due to the risk of urinary calculi in ram and wether lambs. Also allow for veterinary costs and mortality. 

Closed spreading period

The window for applications of chemical nitrogen and phosphate fertiliser on grassland is now closed. Organic manures, including slurry, poultry litter and anaerobic digestate must not be applied to any land from midnight 15th October to midnight 31st January. Farmyard manure must not be applied to any land from midnight 31st October to midnight 31st January. Keep a record of exports of organic manures as these must be submitted annually to NIEA, by 31st January for the previous calendar year.


Prepared by: Liz Donnelly

Space for pigs!

Do your pigs have enough space? Space requirements for all stages of pigs are laid down in legislation and are shown in the table below:


Unobstructed floor area per pig

(square metres)

10 kg or less 0.15
10-20 kg 0.20
20-30 kg 0.30
30-50 kg 0.40
50-85 kg 0.55
85-110 kg 0.65
More than 110 kg 1.00

Four important points to take from the above table are:

  1. These are minimum requirements and better performance may be achieved by providing pigs with more space.
  2. The figures refer to the unobstructed floor area per pig, in other words when calculating the amount of space per pig deduct the area taken up by feeders.
  3. If the average weight of pigs in a pen exceeds the upper limit of the weight band, even by a small amount, the pigs must be given the space requirement in the next higher weight band. If the average weight of growers for example is 31 kg each pig must have a minimum of 0.4 square metres.
  4. With the increase in slaughter weight there is a need to provide these heavier pigs with more space. If the average weight of finishers in a pen is 110 kg or more each pig must have 1.0 square metres (10.76 square feet).

Changes to Red Tractor Standards

A major review of the Red Tractor Standards takes place every three years. This ensures the standards meet all current legislation and address any areas of reputational risk. A review of the Pig Standards has just started, although it will be October 2021 before they come into effect. However, a few mid-cycle changes came into effect at the start of this month. The standards affected are:

  • FW.d.3 - this standard has been amended to reflect legislative changes to copper levels in pig diets. The maximum total copper levels allowed now per kilogramme of feed are:
    • 150 mg for piglets up to four weeks post weaning.
    • 100 mg for pigs between five to eight weeks post weaning.
    • 25 mg for pigs over eight weeks post weaning.
  • B1.a.2 - visitors to the unit must now be provided with farm dedicated clothing/overalls/new disposable overalls and footwear or new robust overshoes when entering biosecure areas.
  • B1.a.3 – this standard has been removed. It is no longer a requirement to provide a foot dip at all visitors entry points.

Prepare for the shorter and colder days!

We are now mid-way through autumn and the days are getting shorter and colder. If you haven’t already done so check sows and gilts are getting 16 hours light per day. The benefits of providing light are well documented and include reduced infertility, an increase in milk yield and gilts coming on heat quicker.

The simplest way to ensure sows and gilts get 16 hours light is to install a timer. If you have timers installed check they are working accordingly. As light intensity or brightness of light is equally as important it is worthwhile cleaning light fittings. Dirt on lights can reduce the amount of light by 50%.

As the weather gets colder rodents make their way from the hedges and ditches to the warmth of pig buildings. Keeping rodents under control is essential as they cause structural damage, spoil feed and carry and spread diseases. Setting bait is an important part of rodent control. However, there is much more you can do to reduce the risk of infestation and make baiting more effective. This includes keeping the place clean and tidy and removing any vegetation, debris, rubbish, pallets etc. that provide nesting sites for rats and mice.


Prepared by: Leigh McLean


Slug monitoring

Continue to monitor all winter sowings until plants are beyond the vulnerable seedling stage. The highest risk is following rape or vegetable crops where slug numbers are high, seedbeds are cloddy, damp and seedling emergence is slow.

Metaldehyde slug pellets are still approved for use. Remember to adhere to metaldehyde stewardship guidelines. No pellets are allowed to fall within a minimum of 10 metres of any field boundary or watercourse. This is to protect birds and small mammals which feed and breed in hedges and to protect watercourses. Where metaldehyde cannot be used ferric phosphate pellets provide an alternative.  Evidence of success is less visible when using ferric phosphate as slugs often die underground. Look for a decrease in feeding damage after spreading ferric phosphate pellets to gauge the effectiveness of this treatment. For further details on metaldehyde stewardship visit the Get Pelletwise website.

Aphid monitoring and virus control

Controlling virus carrying winged aphids is key to minimising the cereal virus risk post sowing. Migration of winged aphids are monitored by AFBI, along with a risk forecast and advice on threshold aphid numbers, above which an aphicide application is justified. Populations are posted weekly at AFBI's website.

Weed control

To achieve good weed control this autumn apply residual herbicides to a reasonably fine, clod free seedbed before or soon after crop emergence when any grasses or broad leaved weeds are still small or yet to emerge. Prioritise winter oats and barley as active ingredients, particularly those effective on grass weeds, are limited to a few products and spring herbicide options are fewer than in winter wheat. 

Monitoring crops in store

Continue monitoring stored grain weekly until both grain moisture and temperature have stabilised. Store pests can multiply rapidly in heated grain. Early detection of increases in temperature is the best way to prevent rising pest populations and grain spoilage. 


Minimising harvest damage

With potato harvest ongoing, continue to watch out for mechanical damage to tubers.   Damage most frequently occurs at any drop from harvesters into boxes or trailers.  Bruising is often the result of insufficient soil on the web or excess agitation. Exposed sharp edges or an incorrect share setup cause slicing and bruising. Oversize tractor tyres running in the drill bottom or stacking overfilled boxes are two of the most common causes of crushing. Excessive damage often leads to increased problems in store and eventual down grading of produce. Early identification of damage is critical to minimise losses. To do this take a sample of the harvested crop either daily or when entering a new field, wash and inspect for damage. Hotboxing gives a quicker indication if damage has occurred. Everyone involved in harvesting should be made aware of the importance of damage and bruise prevention. Often they are in the best position to identify problems and do something about reducing damage.

Drying and curing

Drying potatoes quickly post harvesting prevents the development of skin blemish diseases and soft rots. Drying within 48 hours using positive ventilation systems significantly reduces the development of diseases such as silver scurf. The curing period immediately following harvest is one of the most important storage phases. Wound healing occurs most rapidly at high temperatures and high humidity.

Maintaining the crop at 12 to 15 degrees centigrade and 85 percent relative humidity for about two weeks, often referred to as ‘dry curing’, allows wound healing to take place, whilst minimising the risk of disease development. Ventilating the store on dry afternoons during the curing period will normally provide adequate curing conditions.

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