Monthly ‘must do’s’: March 2013

Think cow tracks

The focus in March should be on tracks, according to Jenny Gibbons of DairyCo.

“Get your cow tracks up to scratch to improve cow flow and reduce herding time,” she says.

“Well maintained cow tracks will allow cows to travel comfortably and easily over considerable distances to and from the parlour while minimising damage to claws and therefore lameness. This in turn will reduce field poaching and compaction.”

For more information on cow tracks download DairyCo’s guide

Worm young cattle

Young, weaned cattle generally need worming while at grass to avoid the production losses associated with internal parasites, says Mary Vickers of EBLEX.

“Cattle are most at risk from gut and lungworms in their first and second year of grazing. Treat them in spring, depending on the estimated worm burden of the pasture,” she says. Older cattle generally develop immunity so can be left untreated.

For more information, download the EBLEX Better Returns Programme manual – Controlling Worms and Liver Fluke for Better Returns

Gilts: avoiding ‘holes’ in the system

Aim to maintain a replacement gilt pool of at least 12% of the target herd numbers to ensure enough gilts are available to serve, in the correct condition, at the required time, says Lis Ravn, BPEX knowledge transfer manager.

“Producers need to be aware of and manage any holes coming up in the system, such as low service weeks when there has been a rise in cull rates or late returns among sows.

“Good gilt management is the starting point of a productive breeding herd and will help improve the number of pigs weaned a sow a year, the aim of the BPEX Breed+3 initiative this year.”

Download the 2TS Gilt Management pack

Record lambing losses

Katie Brian of EBLEX reminds producers of the importance of recording lamb deaths this year to give a full understanding of the effect of diseases. (As reported in the 25 January issue of Farmers Weekly).

“Record lamb deaths together with reasons in order to better understand the effect of diseases such as Schmallenberg, toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortion,” she says.

“This information can also highlight whether ewe nutrition was adequate around tupping and through pregnancy.

“The target for lamb losses from scanning to lambs born alive is less than 3% for hill flocks, less than 5% for upland flocks and less than 6% for lowland systems.”

For more information see the EBLEX BRP manual Reducing Lamb Losses for Better Returns.

Download a lamb losses record sheet

Plan your nutrition management

Take advantage of the free management software; Manner-NPK to plan manure application this season.

Manner-NPK has been developed by ADAS with funding and support from a number of industry bodies, including the AHDB, Natural England, DARD and DEFRA.

The software will quickly give you an estimate of plant available nitrogen and will provide you with the potential financial value of manure application.

You can also download the software for free or obtain a CD by ringing 08456 023 864 or email

Assess fields for compaction

Only use aerators or sward lifters when there are clear signs of soil compaction and at the appropriate time, advises EBLEX’s Liz Genever.

“First of all, carry out a soil assessment by digging holes,” she says. “If soil compaction is identified, producers may decide to use topsoil looseners – either aerators or sward lifters – depending on the depth of compaction.”

However, independent consultant Josephine Scamell of Ground Level Nutrition reminds producers that failure to address soil mineral balance and biology, along with physical structure, will only result in a short-term fix and cause ground to become structureless and unproductive.

She recommends carrying out a full detailed soil analysis on fields with the highest commercial value that are worth investing in and then acting on findings.

Read more advice on how to manage soils this season

Check semen quality

Now is the time to check your semen stock for this breeding season and to research the bull you want to use.

Breeding expert at DairyCo, Marco Winters, says: “For spring-calving herds particular attention should be paid to the cow fertility index (>5) and Lifespan (>0.2) proofs we publish on all AI bulls.”

Find out more and read a full list of bulls at

Look at labour time budgets

Greater labour use on pig units can improve sow productivity, according to the latest findings from a BPEX Innovation Fund project working with Delta-Innovation.

Where staff spent about 35 minutes a litter on sow breeding and fertility tasks, the herds achieved about 23 piglets weaned a sow a year, explains Angela Cliff, BPEX knowledge transfer manager/

“Spending 50 minutes a litter resulted in an average 27.5 piglets weaned.”

Find out more about recording labour use and working out how to use staff time as effectively as possible

Keep up to date with the latest trial findings

DairyCo will be showcasing some of the latest research, including some of the trials from the DairyCo Research Partnerships.

The DairyCo R & D event “Your future, your levy” at the University of Reading’s Dairy Research Centre on 27 March will cover findings on effective sole lesion treatments, making the most of minerals, what’s new with mastitis, dealing with soil compaction, alternative forages and grass breeding.

Register to attend at

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