DARD Management Notes: Beef and sheep

Prepare for housing well in advance
Prepare for housing well in advance

My name is Darryl Boyd and I have taken over from Pat McCambridge as the writer of the Beef and Sheep notes.

I am a Beef and Sheep Development Adviser based in Mallusk covering east Antrim having come from a suckler farm in west Fermanagh.


Prepare for calving

Many suckler farms are now preparing for the onset of spring calving. Good preparation is vital, hopefully reducing calf mortality, saving labour and lowering stress on both cows and farmers.

One calving pen for every 20 cows is needed as a general guideline. This figure can be increased or decreased depending on how tight you expect your calving spread to be and how long you want the cow and calf to remain in the pen. Minimum pen size is 3.6 m x 3.6 m but ideally it should be above 4 m x 4 m. Thoroughly clean and disinfect pens beforehand to minimise the spread of disease. When calving starts use straw bedding in abundance and have all equipment in place. At a minimum include the following:

* long arm gloves

* calving and head ropes

* iodine solution

* veterinary lubricant

* calving aid

Calving should be planned as far as practically possible. An estimated calving date can be predicted using AI/breeding/scanning records and gestation lengths, but nothing replaces close observation and experience of visual assessment. Ideally move cows to bedded open sheds 10-14 days before calving to prevent slipping or injuries on slats. A change of housing too close to calving can delay some cows.

Safety is paramount as cows can be more aggressive at calving. Have an escape route planned and make sure gates and barriers are strong and fit for purpose.


Diminishing grass supplies

After what many would consider a good spell of weather during the autumn, we now had a sustained period of wet weather. There will be few farms where sheep grazing populations have not been affected and many farmers at this stage will have housed their ewes or are preparing for it. Check the following:

Ventilation: For ventilation to be effective, there should be a free flow of fresh air between the sides/eaves above sheep level (to avoid draughts) and the outlets. As many sheep houses have other uses during the year, make sure clear the inlets are clear of dust and debris, especially in ventilated tin.

Hygiene: thoroughly power wash and disinfect all sheep housing, including pen divisions, before housing. Iodine based disinfectants work well.

Floor space: unclipped lowland ewes on slats require a space of 1.0 square metre per ewe. This reduces to 0.9 square metres per ewe for unclipped hill breeds and clipped lowland ewes. Straw bedded ewes require 1.1 to 1.4 square metres.

Feed space: when meal feeding heavily pregnant ewes, provide 420-475 mm (16-19 inches) trough space per ewe to allow them all to eat at the one time. With silage fed ad lib allow a minimum of 200 mm (8 inches) feeding space per ewe.

Lambing pens should be 1.83 m x 1.22 m (6 feet x 4 feet) with one lambing pen for every 8 to 10 ewes. Ewes scanned and/or keel marked at tupping can be split according to lambing date.

The performance of lambs at grass suffers during periods of heavy rainfall due to poor grazing activity, utilisation and a reduction in grass dry matter. Concentrate feeding levels of 0.5-0.8 kg may be needed just to cover maintenance. This will need to be increased to improve performance.

Exporting/importing organic manures

As stated in the dairy notes, records of exports of all organic manures must be submitted annually to NIEA by 31 January for the previous calendar year. Exporting may not be as common in the beef and sheep sector as in the dairy sector, but it is important if you import slurry to stay below the 170 kg nitrogen per hectare limit. Do your calculations and keep records of quantities of slurry imported and from whom.