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Matt Ryan

Management Hints

January 2024


  • Make new year resolutions – they will give you focus.
  • Five ways to wellbeing – practice them.
  • Keep an eye out so that things don’t slip.
  • Use nitrogen and slurry efficiently this spring.
  • Measure grass covers to make the correct decisions.
  • Are you ready for calving and calves?
  • Use Mark Cassidy’s spring checklist to make life easy.


  • If you continue to do the same thing/things that you always did, you can expect the same results that you always got. Therefore, be prepared and able to change with this ‘new era’ of environmental dairy farming. This is the era of:
    • Computer/phone/high tech: are you as literate as you need to be?
    • Milk price volatility: are you risk-managing it within the farmgate?
    • Detail (not generalities): are you up to speed on choosing your AI bulls (do you know what ‘predicted difference’ means in this context)?
    • Detail on how to grow 15-17t of grass DM/ha: have you the knowledge to do so with lower levels of nitrogen?
    • Larger cow herds: are you able to deal with all the requirements?
    • Dealing with employed staff: are you competent to do so?
    • Managing all your farm resources: are you managing your farm to its optimum – answer thoughtfully?
    • Environmental care and carbon foot-printing: are you aware of what you must do to comply? Is your attitude positive to this end?
    • If the answer is no to any of these questions you must make a plan to inform/educate yourself and the farm team, so that you are ‘staying up with’ the new dairy-farming era.
  • New year’s resolutions are a very good idea because they help to focus our attentions on the most important priorities of our life.
    • Life is moving so fast now, both outside and inside the farmgate, that we can easily lose sight of the most important things in life.
    • Expansion has taken us into a new world of managing scale, managing the environment and managing people.
    • Farmers are more stressed by being over-worked, over-borrowed, over-pressurised by the speed of environmental change required, not being able to source labour but, more importantly, not being able to communicate clear instructions to staff, be they employed or family.
    • Inadequate or volatile income is also a contributory factor to stress.
  • Write your goals/targets down NOW because things have changed a lot over last few years.
    • The people who have goals are more likely to achieve them when compared with those who haven’t goals.
    • They will put you more in control and make you less likely to be stressed.
    • If you don’t know where you are going, how do you expect to get to where you should be?
  • Set yourself some short-term and long-term personal goals:
    • ‘I will work X number of hours per week.’
    • ‘I will play golf/train a team/etc, one to two times per week.’
    • ‘I will go out with my partner once per week.’
    • ‘I will go to see my children play sport or another activity every time.’
    • ‘I will join Macra or Toastmasters.’
    • ‘I will become a more active member of my Discussion Group.’
    • ‘I will do a night class to broaden my contacts and knowledge.’
    • “I will exercise two to three times per week – jogging, yoga, pilates, etc.’
    • ‘I will prepare for retirement in five, ten, or 20 years.’
  • Let me remind you of some specific farming goals you should have for 2024.
    • I will (today) fill the Dairy Profit Monitor for 2023. This is a total waste of time if you do not get a detailed report from your adviser and sit down with him and other family members to review the last year before moving on.
    • I will use the Cost Control Planner in 2024.
    • Most dairy farmers are miles off the pace on financial management. In fact, they don’t do any and expect to be ok at the end of the year.
    • I will plan to increase farm profit by 10 per cent in 2024.
    • This will be challenging as we have drifted towards high-cost, high-output farming in the recent past.
    • I will increase my herd EBI by €5-€10 per cow per year.
    • You must milk record in 2024 – the ICBF’s Cow’s Own Worth is a great new innovation and cannot be compiled without milk recording.
    • You must fill the ICBF Herd Health form.
    • You must have a breeding plan for 2024 – use the Sire Advice for this.
    • You must have a fertility plan for 2024.
    • You must condition score all your cows five times in 2024 so as to improve fertility and milking performance – write down the dates now.
  • On the grassland management front you should aim to achieve the following:
    • Have cows 270 (target 280) days, and 250 days at grass on dry and wet land, respectively.
    • Feed only 500kg meal to produce 450-500kg MS/cow at a stocking rate of 2.6 cows/ha.
  • Animal health has a major influence on farm profit:
    • Deaths and ill health will reduce sales and increase veterinary and medicine cost.
    • Prevention must be high priority.
  • Farm office (I am not a lover of caravans for this): I am a great believer in having a big farm office where staff can meet for tea and lunch if they bring their own.
    • Protocols, work routines, work/milking rotas, etc. should all be listed on the walls/whiteboard.
    • Meetings with people dealing with sales, co-op, vet, adviser, bank, etc. can and should take place here and not in the home.
  • To ‘do’ most of these, there may be many things you should stop doing:
  • Jobs that could be done by others and remove tasks that are not ‘simple’ to do or fit in with an ‘easier life’.


  • Recently one of my groups had a talk from Mental Health Ireland and a very good leaflet was provided to go with an excellent presentation. I briefly summarise it but log into for more details.
  • While it is most important to maintain good farming practices to reduce risk of injury and possible loss of life, it is equally important that we maintain wellbeing practices to reduce the risk of mental health challenges and illness.
  • The five are: 
    • Connect.
    • Be active.
    • Take notice.
    • Keep learning.
    • Give.
  • Connect
    • Social interaction and feeling valued by other people are fundamental human needs.
    • They cushion us against loneliness and isolation.
    • Research shows that people with good social connections are happier and healthier.
    • Farmers, particularly dairy, must create off-farm opportunities, such as golf, cinema/theatre, local games, cycling/walking, voluntary work, gym workouts, etc so as to provide oneself with good self-care. 
    • Join a bridge, a 45, or whist club.
  • Be active: 
    • Regular physical activity promotes physical and mental health and general wellbeing, as well as lower rates of depression and anxiety.
    • Planned exercise releases endorphins that make you feel more alert, more energised, and better able to cope with challenges.
    • This increased energy will improve your awareness which will reduce the risk of farm accidents,
    • Surveys show that farmers are a lot less fit than they think, therefore, make off farm physical activity a regular habit – it will also be sociable. 
  • Take notice!
    • When a farmer is very busy there is a risk of physical and mental overload.
    • As a result, the body can become physically exhausted and the mind vulnerable of being cluttered; the result is possibly an accident.
    • The most practical thing to do is stop, pause, collect your thoughts by being aware of all the good things around you on the farm and family.
  • Give:
    • Giving can make you feel good about yourself.
    • It is very satisfying when your time, words and deeds benefit others and appreciation is expressed.
    • Giving can be mentoring a staff member, connecting with a neighbour or friend that is struggling. Recently, a friend rang me up out of the blue, inviting me to go for a pint as I was due to have a hip operation in the following week – it was a surprise consideration.
    • Be kind to yourself in every way possible – it is not a selfish thing!
  • Keep learning:
    • The more we keep our brain stimulated the more we thrive, no matter the age.
    • In the present environmental driven society, it is essential that farmers learn new ways of farming, even if challenging but it will be motivating and rewarding. Farmers are allowing themselves to be over-stressed by the present farming requirements by not knowing the possible solutions.
    • We must be interested in other topics other than farming so as to be interesting when we meet others,
    • Education and Training Boards provide excellent education programmes – learn a new language, carpentry, welding, photography, etc.
    • Young farmers should join Macra – it should be mandatory!
  • I challenge you to tick off these bullet points that you participate in for self-care. 


  • It pays to be on top of things because there is money to be made in checking on animals during the house phase.
  • At least two to three times per week, walk through all animals in pens watching out for:
    • Animals not feeding when others are.
    • Lame or tender animals (remove from group and treat).
    • Empty animals (is she/he sick?). 
    • Injury (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).
    • Abortions (check if salmonella 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-March (Zoetis promoted this concept at the Dairy Day).
  • If you haven’t vaccinated for leptospirosis, do it now.
    • All breeding animals including the heifers for the bull in 2024.
    • 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:
    • Ensure all cows are getting it.
    • So, you need a wide feeding face and throw it on the silage twice a day (three times if feeding face is less than 1.5 ft/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/day.
    • Use lime, sawdust or chopped straw on the beds.
  • Calving and calf houses must be ‘at the ready’ for the imminent calving season start – some cows will calve five to 10 days before expected.
    • 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% of their mature body weight or approximately 260kg.
    • If less than that they can make 320 mating weight target by now feeding 2-3kg meal (18-20% P) with good silage.


  • We are only growing 50-70% of the grass quantity we could and must grow on our farms due to:
    • Poor soil fertility – we should never again allow this to enter the debate on farm walk, as it is too obvious.
    • Poor grass varieties.
    • Poor grassland and grazing management practices.
  • An absolute necessity now is to get a soil test done.
    • Act on the recommendations. There is no point in complaining about big tax bills if your soil is deficient in the major nutrients.
  • Nitrogen: This year, use all protected urea – it is more effective than all other sources on N loss and efficiency considerations.
    • Spring N, when applied at correct time and in optimum conditions delivers up to three weeks’ extra grass.
      • Target paddocks that have been reseeded, dry and are nutrient-rich.
      • Best results from N are got when soil temp is 5.5+ degrees.
    • From late January/early February, you must apply 23 units/acre on 66% of the milking platform. Get this chore out of the way in January.
    • Where you will be applying 2,500 gallons/acre on covers less than 700kg DM, don’t apply ant bag N; that will be 30% of the milking block.
    • Never, ever apply N to paddocks that have recently got slurry.
    • For heavy land all dates should be delayed 14-21 days.
  • 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 – both must be reduced with reduced when slurry used.
    • For phosphate you require 50kg/ha to lift ppm by one and 2kg/ha to raise potash the same amount.
  • Slurry spreading: Spread as per your zone dates – anyone abusing this must be ‘called out’.

Table 1. Slurry nitrogen value per 1,000 gallons by method of spreading. 


Splash plate

Dribble bar 

Trailing shoe



6 units N

9 units N

  9 units N

11 units N


3 units N

6 units N

  6 units N

9 units N

  • From now, we must never use a splash-plate to spread slurry because two-thirds of the N is lost to the atmosphere.
      • We must spread 80% of all slurry before mid-April because 50% of the N is lost in summer.
    • Paddocks getting slurry should have covers of less than 700kg DM.
    • Use the umbilical system – it is brilliant as you minimise roadway damage, soil compaction and you will free up labour.    
  • When planning to spread fertiliser or slurry, use 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.


  • From January 20 on, measure the farm grass cover.
  • With this information you will:
    • Know what the winter growth was.
    • Be able to identify paddocks which will have covers of 700-1,000 kg DM for grazing in February, which is 30% of the milking block. Identify paddocks that should get slurry (using LESS) and paddocks that should get pro-urea.
    • Identify paddocks suitable for grazing in wet/dry conditions.
    • Have a whiteboard farm map where you record all your plans. that is when slurry, fertiliser applied and ground conditions.
    • Ideally your opening AFC (average farm cover) should be 900-1,000kg.
  • Get your Spring Rotation Plan and Grass Budget done so you are able to roll in February.
  • Having identified the paddocks most suitable for grazing in February, based on the area per day as per spring planner and when the bag N has been applied put up the wire fences for the daily grazing areas in the first two weeks of Feb.
    • This will save on a time-consuming task during the first busiest weeks of the year.


  • Calving: Feed minerals and meals if cows are thin. But make absolutely certain that cows or in-calf heifers aren’t getting too fat – restrict their intake.
    • Feed mineral, 2-4oz per head per day to cows and heifers for 42 days before calving. March calves should not get any until January 20. 
    • As cows must calve in body condition of 3.25-3.5, thin cows must get meal, particularly if silage is poor, and fat cows must be on restricted silage.
    • As dry-cow mastitis treatment is now wearing off it is essential that cows and particularly heifers are kept on clean beds to avoid early lactation mastitis.
    • From your records, list out your cows’ expected calving date on your diary.
    • Have the calving equipment and houses ready.
  • Calf rearing: The calf house must be clean, disinfected, well aerated, the calf feeding equipment at the ready, adequate calf rearing space, etc.
    • To avoid or minimise Johne’s disease, isolate calf from the cow, only feed colostrum from mother and feed milk substitute to replacement heifers. Don’t feed bulk ‘new’ milk to replacements, but this is OK for males.
    • Buy a refractometer now to test colostrum quality.
  • Milking: Servicing the milking machine – get a qualified agent.
    • You should shop around for liners and rubberwear.
  • Mastitis: Keep 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 nighttime silage feeding.
    • If mastitis in heifers has been a problem teat seal them four to six weeks before calving.
  • Long working hours: Rest well and get relief help, even at this late stage, if short.
    • Your working-day duration will be long – 12-16-hours – so be sure to get help to divide that workload safely 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. Be honest – have you been like that? If in doubt, ask your partner or another family member.
  • Ragwort problem: Spray in early January with MCPA or 24D.


With Mark’s permission I publish this very useful task checker. You can add or subtract to suit your own circumstances (tick the box when done):

        • In-calf heifers – teat sealed on December 20.
        • Train in-calf heifers to milking parlour.
        • Clip in-calf heifers’ tails.
        • Silage analysed for DMD, UFL, PDI and trace elements. 
        • Dry-cow diet, feeding plan in place, and supplementation purchased if required. 
        • Thin cows sorted and fed to gain 1 to 0.5 of a condition score.
        • Dry-cow minerals ordered to compliment silage mineral results.
        • Make out a list of daily and weekly jobs and allocate who does what and completion time to each job.
        • Vaccinate cows for calf scours and dose with Zanil on the 
        • same day.
        • Vaccinate cows for IBR at end of January.
        • Fence reels repaired or replaced – number required.
        • Temporary fencing posts purchased and stored at central point – number required.
        • Roadways cleaned and repaired.
        • Fences checked and repaired.
        • Grazing plan for spring and paddock splitting plan done and displayed in dairy.
        • Temporary fences put up immediately after pro-urea is applied on January 20.
        • Woodchip ordered.
        • Woodchip pad and calving shed ready for calving.
        • Calving gates working properly.
        • Straps for moving downer cows.
        • Sled with ropes to pull calves out of cubicles.
        • Calving jack, leg ropes – two sets, head rope/eye hook.
        • Disposable long-sleeve obstetrical gloves.
        • OB lubricant in a squeeze bottle.
        • Oxytocin to give cows after difficult births, or with twins, 
        • or dead calves.
        • Headlights and flashlights (with batteries that work!)
        • Calf shed cleaned out and repaired.
        • Calf shed and teat feeders disinfected. 
        • Teats – make sure that the calf-feeder teats aren’t perished. 
        • Order spares and replace.
        • Update calving and calf shed procedure sheets.
        • Containers to freeze colostrum and system for thawing same.
        • Electrolytes in stock.
        • Iodine navel disinfectant – around 10-15ml per navel
          (330x10ml) = 3.3L.
        • Stomach tube – 4L Speedy Feeder x 3 with spare tube lid.
        • Milk feeding pipe, nozzle and meter cleaned and working/calibrated.
        • Order spare waterproofs.
        • Replace any broken or blown lights.
        • Clean out meal bin, augers and feeders. Set feeders to 3kg/cow/day.
        • Change liners and cracked rubberware, service milking machine.
        • Order coloured leg straps, tail tapes and udder marking spray.
        • Order teat dip, clean and service teat sprayers.
        • Order CMT liquid and test paddle – number required.
        • Hydrated lime – adequate to disinfect cubicles 3x1t bags.
        • Calf tags ordered.
        • Calf taggers in good working order.
        • Small tagging toolbox stocked up – tag box, pen, taggers and iodine.
        • Print labels for tag box.
        • Fit labels to tag box.
        • Injectable antibiotics for cows/calves, prescribed by your vet.
        • Sterile syringes and needles.
        • Calcium and magnesium injectable, flutter valve and hook/stand 
          to hang up bottle.
        • Tetany/milk fever – ‘grab bag’ fully stocked.


Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things – Peter Drucker.

A very happy new year to all our readers!