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Matt Ryan

Management Hints

January 2023


  • How to use these management hints.
  • Plan to be a better farm manager this year.
  • Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for all tasks on your farm.
  • Prevent animal problems by good ‘herding’.
  • Plan to grow more grass and have more in springtime.
  • Make your calving and calf-care requirement list.
  • Manage replacements by the weight they are now.


  • The way I suggest you use these management hints, which are very general in their advice, is as follows:
    • Firstly, email the hints to all staff and family members for them to read/study;
    • Secondly, read through the hints yourself, marking out, in red, the important points and those most relevant to your farm situation. This takes approximately one hour;
    • Thirdly, organise a weekly meeting with all involved to discuss opinions and suggestions – if weekly is not always possible, you must have a monthly meeting;
    • Fourthly, agree an action plan and priorities and allocate responsibilities; and
    • Lastly, at the weekly sessions,  people with responsibility should be asked to report back on progress. 
  • This approach will work on family-run farms and is badly needed on most.
    • Communication on farming matters leaves a lot to be desired on many farms – it was always that way but must, and can, improve!
    • On some farms, the daughter or son is totally treated as a worker, and given no decision-making or planning responsibility.
    • Much communication takes place in the milking parlour (not an ideal environment) or sheds.
    • Setting up a formal get together for the morning using these management hints as a basis for discussion will greatly improve communication. Night-time sessions are a disaster as people are tired and would rather be home, watching TV.
  • We all need to be reminded of tasks to do and decisions to make because we forget.
    • With timely Irish Farmers Monthly management hints, we endeavour to give you that reminder. 
    • I sometimes emphasise the ‘why’ because once we know why we should do something, then we tend to do it with more commitment and urgency.
    • It is said that the difference between a good and bad farmer is one week. Think about it in the context of monthly planning tasks.
  • Those of you who know about time management will know that the most valuable time you will spend is devoted to ‘important, non-urgent’ activities. These are:
    • Reviewing past year’s performance, past week’s task, based on fact;
    • Planning and preparing for next month and for long-term;
    • Preventative care; and
    • Visualising the future.
  • These management hints are all about these activities. You need to read them carefully, disagree, modify the ideas to suit your situation.
  • Some farmers, as a result of reading them, make out their own to-do list, comprised of one-person or two-person chores.
  • Either way, what is important is that you act and do the things you should on time.
  • This allows you to price and order farm inputs in a business-like manner.


  • A good new year’s resolution.
  • Most farmers are working so hard, they haven’t time to really manage the farm. They are working on loose routines to get things done and are making plans as they fly from one job to the next.
    • This is very stressful and almost certainly is one of the reasons that farms under-perform and farmers are totally stressed out. 
  • To manage a farm, you must have a plan, and this must evolve from good, up-to-date records. Establish where you are and then plan forward.
  • Farmers, who are serious about staying in business and maximising profit should use the following management-recording tools:
    • Dairy Profit Monitor;
    • Cost control planner;
    • ICBF milk recording;
    • ICBF herd-health recording;
    • Grass measure every week and record online (PastureBase Ireland - Teagasc);
    • Breeding chart, plus breeding plan;
    • Condition score chart – done six times per year;
    • Mastitis (clinical) chart;
    • Lameness chart;
    • Fertiliser programme/nutrient - management plan; and
    • Farm - safety statement.
  • If you don’t put these in place in early January, you won’t use them during the year.
  • Arising from these, the overall farm can be developed; a financial plan, a grassland plan, a breeding plan, etc.
    • The financial plan and the cost-control plan should be done now based on last year’s accounts. If you are unable to do so, seek help from your adviser.
    • The grassland plan must be done now so that you farm adequate hectares to provide enough grass to maximise yield and at the same time have adequate silage for all your stock next winter. Your adviser will have this planner.
    • Do the breeding plan now, because you will be too busy in February and March:
      • When to start mating (MSD); when to start heat recordings; when to start metricheck, who and when to start synchronisation, etc.
  • Using these tools, I would be very confident that comparative costs can be kept low (that is key), that 11-14t/ha of grass can be utilised, that a 90per cent six-week calving rate can be achieved by farmers who are willing and have good management capabilities.
    • The driver of profit from here on will be costs, because milk price will fluctuate greatly from one year to the next.
  • You might say you haven’t the time to do all this recording. Well, you should make time because this work will, according to the experts, deliver you €60-€200 per hour extra profit. The larger the outfit the greater the profit.
  • How can you make this happen? We will discuss later.
  • For sure, using these tools will leave far more profit this year than driving a tractor around the farm spreading slurry, fertiliser, topping, doing all milkings, etc.
  • Farmers who have a good adviser should have these individual reports analysed and reported on. Then you, the farmer, should act on the recommendations.


  • SOPs are now common on most well-run dairy farms.
  • What are they?
    • They are specific, written instructions to supplement normal on-farm training as to how we do things on the farm.
  • What are their benefits?
    • They enable all farm staff to work towards the farm’s overall goals.
    • They provide direction for all staff on specific task procedure.
    • Communication is improved – there is less chance of ambiguity of message.
    • Training time is reduced. 
    • Tasks are completed to a consistent standard.
    • Emergency staff will know the standard way of doing things at a glance.
    • They create a sense of teamwork on the farm.
  • SOPs, generally, should be:
    • Written in bullet points with not more than seven per SOP on a single page;
    • They should be clear, readable and understood by all;
    • They must be farm specific and linked to the farm’s goals;
    • They must be located near the workstation where required;
    • Pictures help the understanding;
    • Laminate them – a laminator is not very expensive;
    • Take feedback on content but, more particularly, monitor how staff are implementing the SOPs. If poorly, check out why;
    • Review and update regularly; and
    • Continue to train staff on how to perform tasks on the farm and train them to follow the SOP as outlined.
  • The following are examples of calf-rearing SOPs:
    • Calf-shed procedure;
    • Managing new-born calf;
    • Calves on feeder;
    • Sick-calf identification and treatment; and
    • Cleaning calf shed.
  • From this, you can see that all tasks must be broken down into short, specific sections.
  • Students and staff should be encouraged to photograph them, store on phone and refer to them whenever the need arises.
  • Many farmers use WhatsApp to great effect, to record the correct way to do certain tasks such as milking, dehorning, etc.


  • Even though animals are housed they must be ‘herded’ two to three times per week, watching out for:
    • Animals not feeding when others are;
    • Lame or tender animals (remove from group and treat);
    • Empty animals (are they sick?);
    • Injured animals (remove from group immediately);
    • Bullying (take out the bully as they prevent resting and regular feeding);
    • Lice, coughing, scratching, etc. (dose and/or treat);
    • Sore eyes;
    • Dribbling, etc. (check for IBR and pneumonia); and
    • Abortions (check if salmonella is the cause).
  • Cows should be put through the footbath on three consecutive days once per month to prevent lameness.
  • All vaccinations, where possible, should be done in January to reduce the workload in February and March.
  • If you haven’t vaccinated for leptospirosis, do it now. This includes all breeding animals, including the heifers, for the bull this year.
  • If salmonella scour was a problem in calves last year, vaccinate now – talk to your vet.
  • Cows that are within 30-40 days of calving should get 100g/day of pre-calving mineral.
    • So, you need a wide feeding face and throw it on the silage twice a day (three times if feeding face is less than 1.5ft/cow)
  • The beneficial effect of the dry-cow mastitis tube is now ending:
    • Cow is at greater risk of mastitis;
    • Stress must be minimised (each cow needs one cubicle) as her life is more stressed as she gets near calving;
    • Cubicle beds must be cleaned every day and passages must be cleaned two to three times per day; and
    • Use lime (protect your eyes), sawdust or chopped straw on the beds.
  • Calving and calf houses must be ready for the imminent calving-season start.
    • Houses must be clean,, disinfected, and well-aired
      without draughts.
    • Have your calving jack, all back-up requirements in place as well as all gates secure.
  • Body condition score (BCS) – you can’t do much now about February-calving thin cows, but fat (3.4+ BCS) should be put on restricted/poor-quality feed.
    • Yearling heifers should now be 47 per cent of their mature body weight or approximately 260kg.
    • If less than that, they can make 320 mating weight targets on May 1  by now feeding 2-3kg meal (18-20%P) with good silage.


  • We are only growing 60-70% of the grass quantity we could and must grow on our farms – this is due to:
    • Poor soil fertility – we should never again allow this to enter the debate on farm walks, as it is too obvious;
    • Poor grass varieties; and
    • Poor grassland and grazing-management practices.
  • An absolute necessity now is to get a soil test done on the whole farm and act on the results.
  • Nitrogen (January/February): Minimise nitrogen (protected urea, only) use by using slurry and background nitrogen to supplement lower quantities of protected urea.
    • Apply 2,500 gallons/ha on one-third of the farm, covers less than 700kg, to be grazed from March 17 to end of the first rotation.
    • Apply 23 units urea on each of the remaining area on the milking platform – best growth results when those fields have ryegrass and have a soil temperature of 5.5oC.
    • Spread the nitrogen in January/February on dry farms and February/March on wet/late farms.
  • Lime – there is no fertiliser more important than this and it gives best value for money. I don’t know what words to use to get you to apply lime, but you are wasting your time farming without having soil Ph 6.3+.
  • Phosphorous and potash – as a result of all the environmental talk, many farmers don’t know how much P and K to use:
    • As a basic requirement, apply two bags 0:10:20 on grazing fields, three to four bags 0:7:30 on silage fields (reduced with slurry use); and
    • For Index 1 and 2 you need much more.
  • Slurry spreading – to get more efficient use of slurry, you must use low emission slurry spreading (LESS) with a trailing shoe or band spreader. This saves 20 units nitrogen/2,500 gallons – a saving of €30-40 per acre.
    • Spread from January 12-31, depending on your slurry storage zone; and
    • Use the umbilical system but never, ever more than 2,500 gallons/acre – it is brilliant, as you minimise roadway damage, soil compaction and you free up labour.
  • When planning to spread fertiliser or slurry, check the weather forecast to be sure you have two to three dry days after spreading.
    • Don’t spread within 1.5 yards of a river, stream or well.


  • Now is the time to get your ducks in a row for calving, as follows:
    • Calving intervention guide booklet available;
    • Develop SOPs for identifying cows due to calve;
    • Calving jack with ropes in good working order;
    • Bottle of lubrication plus examination gloves;
    • Iodine disinfectant – you need to apply 10-15ml to each naval;
    • Stomach tube is an essential requirement to ensure new-born gets his colostrum requirement within a few hours of birth. Check that the bag is not leaking or that the tube isn’t worn or damaged.
    • ICBF calving book with biro and pencil;
    • Calf tags and tagger;
    • Bottle of calcium and magnesium plus flutter valve;
    • Hydrated lime – required to disinfect calving pen after calvings;
    • Have you an adequate number of calving pens;
    • Have you a restraining gate in one or two calving pens;
    • Is the camera in good working order;
    • Have you a worker/overseer worked out for your staff, family and yourself? A night-time calver for large herd or where two to three farmers combine, has real merit, costing €70-120 per night;
    • SOPs - Are they laminated and nailed to the calving pen wall?
  • The following is your checklist for a successful early calf rearing season:
    • Develop SOPs for calf rearing and management;
    • Do you have adequate space available for all calves;
    • Are the pens hygienically clean and disinfected? Cyclix and Kenocox best;
    • Hot water provided;
    • Soap, gloves, and handwashing facilities;
    • Calf feeders with teats, buckets and scrubbing brush;
    • Medical requirements at hand, such as, electrolytes, provision to treat scour, pneumonia, etc.;
    • Disinfectant facilities ready for inside and outside calf shed;
    • Bedding material;
    • Do you have adequate area available for all calves?
      See Table 1; and
    • Get your adviser or discussion group to check over the calf-house ventilation.

Table 1: Effect of calving rate and age at sale on peak calf numbers for 100 cow-herd

 6-weekcalving rate  Age at sale of beef calves  Peak calfnumbers  Space requiredsq. meters
70% 2 weeks 47 80
70% 4-5 weeks 58 100
85% 2 weeks 50 85
85% 4-5 weeks 69 118

Source: Teagasc.


  • With 60-70% of your cows calving in February, list out your cows’ expected calving date in your diary and move the early February calvers into an area on their own.
  • Has your milking machine been serviced?
    • This is a must-do task before starting the spring calving.
  • Prevent mastitis by keeping the animals’ environment very clean and minimise feeding and bullying stress.
    • Move the expectant cows into the calving area seven to 10 days before and practice night-time silage feeding.
    • If mastitis in heifers has been a problem – more than 10% of them calved down with it last year – teat seal them four to six weeks before calving.
  • Rest well and book relief help for a few days per week.
    • Work hours are going to be 12-16 hours per day but get help before accidents happen due to tiredness and running from one job to the next.
    • Being tired will result in you being cross, irritable, impatient, not able to think straight and not respectful of family/employees/other farm visitors. 
    • At this late stage, it will be very difficult to get help so, what can you do:
      • Get your contractor do some or all of the following tasks: spread slurry, spread all fertiliser, feed silage to all stock, dehorn calves, your contract calf rearer may be in a position to take your calves earlier;
      • There are a lot of students living at home at weekends that would be only too glad of an income from milking and general farm work – so put the word around; and
      • Transition year students are another good resource.
  • Kill ragwort now by spraying in early January with MCPA or 24D.
  • Young farmers, male and female, must make it high priority to join their local Macra club. The benefits are enormous:
    • It provides a constant source of friends  – never more important in an era where isolation is becoming the norm;
    • It acts as a valuable training ground so that you will be able to rationally debate your views in other non-farm situations;
    • Socialisation is fundamental to all our wellbeing; and
    • You will meet like-minded people from your own age group.


  • Too many farmers’ first calvers are producing over 700-1,000 litres of milk less than their genetic potential. This also manifests itself in lower lifetime yields, higher culling rates, and longer calving intervals for second calvers.
  • Target weights now for yearling heifers should be 47 per cent of the cows’ mature weight:
    • British Friesians – 260kg;
    • Jersey Crosses – 250kg; and
    • Holsteins – 265kg.
  • Heifers below target must be fed extra meal from now:
    • For every 1kg they are under target, they will need an extra 5kg of meal (16-18% P). If they are 10kg off target you must feed 50kg of meal over the next 30 days.
    • Plan to get them to grass in early February with 2kg meal.
    • Animals over target need no meals if they have good silage.
  • It is crucial to manage in-calf heifers carefully over the next few weeks:
    • It would be a good idea to now mix in-calf heifers with thin cows to minimise stress, post calving, when they will be exposed to ‘bullying’.
    • ‘Run’ in-calf heifers through the milking parlour from now, feeding them 1-2kg meal to get them familiar with the parlour and the new routine. 
    • Of course, they must be getting pre-calving mineral from 40 days before expected calving date.
    • More than the cows, they must be kept on very clean cubicles/bedding pre-calving because their intakes can be as low as 4-6kg DM and their immune system will be very low making them very vulnerable to mastitis infection.
  • As an aside, heifer calves that get severe scour will never reach their full potential because they will not be able to digest food effectively because the scour ‘burns off’ the tops of the papillae in the gut. You are forewarned!

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year to all my readers.


Monitoring, manpower, motivation and management
are the four legs of your springtime table.