Beef and sheep management notes from the Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).  

Grassland management


Decisions about fertiliser purchases should always come down to matching the product to the soil needs and crop requirements, as well as value for money. It is time to review your soil reports and remember that the reports for soils sampled in the last four years are still relevant. If you have not spread slurry yet or applied any compound fertiliser there is still time to carry out soil analysis. If you need help with interpreting your soil report, contact your local Beef and Sheep Development Adviser.

Nitrogen (N)

This spring Urea (46 per cent N) is very good value for money relative to Nitrochalk (27 per cent N). For spring dressings Urea works best where there is some grass cover and enough moisture in the soil.

Phosphate (P)

Only apply fertiliser containing P where there is a need shown through a soil analysis report for that area of land. This is a requirement of the Nitrates Action Programme and Phosphorus Regulations.  A soil with a phosphate index of two does not require P for grazing.

Potash (K)

Check K levels, particularly on intensive silage areas where there is a very high demand. If insufficient levels are applied, K levels can drop and if not corrected low potash levels will affect grass performance and silage yields.


Spring calving cows         

Check cow condition on a regular basis to ensure that cows calve down in the correct condition score. (body score 2.5 – 3.0). Ensure that adequate levels of a high quality mineral and vitamin supplement are provided pre and post-calving.

Now is the time to be extremely vigilant with hygiene in calving areas/pens using good cleansing and disinfecting practices on a regular basis. Isolate scouring calves immediately and get an early veterinary diagnosis. Aim for a tighter, more distinct calving period, as calving over a long period often increases scour problems.

Autumn calving cows

If autumn calvers, which are now settled in-calf, are in good condition (body score 2.5-3.0) you can restrict silage intake by up to 20 per cent. Maintain calf performance by feeding 1-2 kg of concentrate per head per day. Plan your feeding and management to have autumn calvers in condition score 2.5 at turnout.

Beef cattle

Finished cattle must be presented dry and clean for slaughter to avoid potential contamination of the carcase with harmful bacteria. The type of ration fed in the last three to four weeks before slaughter greatly influences stock cleanliness. Feeding hay and straw in the diet helps, along with increasing levels of concentrate.  Also ensure that protein levels in the diet are not excessive. Concentrates for finishing rations should not contain more than 14 per cent crude protein. Straw bedding for the last month greatly reduces the level of pre-clipping of cattle prior to slaughter.


Achieving good lamb birth weights

The nutrition of ewes in the last three weeks of pregnancy influences the quality and survivability of lambs after birth. This means ration quality should always come before price. Crude protein gives an indication of overall protein content but does not tell you anything about the protein source.

High quality rations are generally cereal based and contain high quality protein sources such as soya bean meal. Soya bean meal is the preferred protein source particularly in the last two to three weeks prior to lambing. A high quality protein improves udder development, foetal growth and colostrum quality and ensures that adequate birth weights and survivability are achieved. On a well managed sheep farm good lamb birth weights result in heavier weaning weights.

By Pat McCambridge of DARD. 

Pictured: Feeding high quality protein rations in last two to three weeks before lambing, improves lamb survival