Beef and Sheep Management Notes – December
November 24, 2020
Flock grazing management
Challenging grazing conditions in recent weeks has, in some cases, led to flocks moving through grazing quicker than expected. Utilisation wasn’t as good on some farms with higher residuals left than desired. Avoid the temptation to re-graze closed ground. Generally, March lambing flocks should have 60% of ground grazed by the beginning of December, with 80% grazed by mid-December. If grass supply is scarce, offer supplementary feeding or consider early housing. Although it has been shown to be beneficial for ewes to lose some weight during mid-pregnancy, this needs to be limited to 5% of ewe liveweight.
Scan ewes 80-90 days after the introduction of rams. Ewes can then be grouped by litter size and body condition score and fed accordingly in the last six to eight weeks of pregnancy. 70% of foetal growth occurs during this time increasing total energy demand of the ewe. However, feed intake also decreases by up to 30% at this time due to the increasing foetal spatial requirement. Housed ewes on a grass silage diet generally require concentrate supplementation in the final six weeks of pregnancy. The rate of feeding depends on the results of a silage analysis. Mineral supplementation of ewes is also important in the final six weeks of pregnancy. This is usually achieved in the form of a bolus, dry bagged minerals or lick buckets.
The only method of establishing the nutrient status of soils is through soil analysis. This allows you to calculate crop requirements by balancing the soil nutrient availability with slurry, farmyard manure or chemical fertiliser applications. Also, for land receiving applications of chemical phosphorus (P) fertiliser or P-rich manures, there is a legal requirement to show a crop need for the applied P. It is recommended that sampling is done at least three months after any application of organic/inorganic fertiliser or lime. December is often an ideal time to soil sample however, if slurry was spread just before the closed period, sampling is better left to January. Samples should be taken every four years. Carry out soil sampling by using a soil auger which samples down to 75 mm and 150 mm for grassland and arable land respectively. To ensure an accurate representation of soil within a field walk in a ‘W’ pattern across the field and collect a minimum of 25 cores. The more cores you collect, the more accurate the analysis. Collecting one or two samples from a field will not provide you with a reliable soil analysis. Avoid areas where cattle congregate, for example, around water troughs and gateways and dung pats.
Soils can be analysed for pH, phosphate, potash and magnesium. Low soil pH is a common problem across Northern Ireland. Your soil analysis report will indicate the amount of lime required (if any) to increase pH to the target of 5.5 and 6.2 for peat and mineral soils respectively. The report can be used to determine the fertiliser requirement of the soil depending on the crop type for example, grass silage or grazing.
Winter provides time on some farms to carry out maintenance and repairs to machinery and equipment. It is also the time of year damage to roofs is more common due to high winds. Be mindful of the risks involved in the specific task and take measures to remove or reduce the risks where appropriate. It could also be a good time to assess safety features in the calving shed in advance of the busy period. A calving gate is probably the most important of these to consider. ‘Stop and Think SAFE’ is a farm safety campaign developed by the Farm Safety Partnership to address the high rate of farm related injuries and fatalities in Northern Ireland. The word ‘SAFE’ focuses on raising awareness of the four main causes of accidents on local farms; slurry, animals, falls (from height) and equipment. More information on the campaign can be found at: www.hseni.gov.uk/articles/stop-and-think-safe.