September 11, 2020

Preparing the Yard for Winter

With Northern Irish weather proving predictably unpredictable this autumn, it is never too soon to think about preparing housing and yards for the winter months. It is a good idea for farmers to think ahead so they can actively move forward in preparing the yard. Below is some helpful guidance on what can be done ahead of time.

Planning what fields are going to receive any slurry that may be in tanks can be helpful, although remember the deadline for slurry spreading is 15th October (midnight). From midnight the 30th September to the 15th October, and during February the buffer zones for slurry spreading near waterways have increased. These are 10m to 15m from a waterway and from 20m to 30 m beside a lake. The maximum application rate is reduced from 50m3 (4500gal/acre) to 30m3 (2700gal/ac). Furthermore, all gutters and downpipes must be checked. Any necessary repairs should be made to avoid water running freely over dirty yards. Most agricultural pollution incidents are due to slurry, silage effluent and uncollected dirty water entering waterways, so ensure that all gullies are clear and run off from bedded sheds and silage pits can freely run into collection tanks without overflowing onto the yard. In sheds it is important to check that drinkers are all filling correctly and that there are no leaking pipes. Leaking drinkers will add to the amount of water used on farm, increasing costs and increasing the chance of overflow onto the yard. Protecting pipes from frost will help to reduce the risk of burst pipes during cold weather. Clean out sheds and clear passageways.

Preparations of calving pens for autumn calving should be completed in advance whilst checking calving gates and other handling facilities are in good repair. Also, locate the calving jack and make sure it is in working order! Disinfection of pens is vital for housing freshly calved cows to prevent infection from any remaining bacteria or pathogens from the previous calving season. When vaccinating calves against pneumonia, make sure to finish the course before the critical housing period. Moreover, if you are working with a spring calving suckler herd, it is best practice to get cows scanned. Any empty cows can be culled out of the herd and replaced. There is no point in feeding an empty cow all winter to discover she is not in calf in the spring.

Farmers must check all gates, feeding barriers and handling facilities to ensure they are in good repair, taking note of anything that needs any attention or needs to be replaced. Additionally, make sure that any maintenance necessary has been completed on shear grabs, loaders and diet feeders. It is a good time to think about getting the diet feeder calibrated to save on feeding costs. Check that all lights and sensors are working properly. You may need to get an electrician to look at any faulty light fixtures or wiring. Having handling facilities well lit makes them safer to work in, especially as evenings get darker. However, it is important to remember health and safety on farm. When working at heights make sure that you are not alone, and that you are using the appropriate equipment. If moving machinery, be aware of where other people are and ensure mirrors, windows and lights are clear of dirt that may hinder their function. It is important for farmers to think safe when working around the yard.

With regards to winter feeding, think ahead about getting silage sampled from the pit, which can happen six weeks after ensiling. A silage budget is a useful strategy to calculate prior to the winter housing period to avoid running low at the end of the housing interval, and account for any reserves which may be necessary. This is something that CAFRE Beef and Sheep Advisers will be looking at and discussing with their BDG members over the coming months.

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