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Matt Ryan

Management Hints

September 2023


  • This statement is no longer correct, but the following is: Perfect practice makes perfect.
    • If the farm staff member is not taught the perfect way to do things, it will lead to friction, reprimands, accidents, etc.
      and will leave you feeling as though you would be better off doing things yourself.
    • Imperfect practice results in bad habits which means that you become very good at doing things badly.
  • This is a very important principle when managing yourself, the farm manager, while imparting the necessary skills to your staff members.
  • How to do this well and stress-free? 
    • You must be a good teacher, and some key skills are required.
      • Be a good communicator – why is this skill so important to the farm?
      • Be engaging – tell stories of your experiences with a bit of humour.
      • Be a very good listener so that you hear the staff side of things.
      • Have empathy with the staff – he/she will be in an intimidating situation, will be slow to think/answer.
      • Be adaptable for student workers with different levels of knowledge and backgrounds.
      • Patience is essential.
    • You must know exactly how to do the skill you will be teaching the staff member.
      • To teach someone how to milk correctly, you must know how to do it.
      • If you do not know how to do something, get someone else to teach it.
    • You must be very patient – to others the task may not be as easy as you think.
    • Steps to teach the skill:
      • Find the best place to teach and a suitable time when both people are fresh. Make sure there will be no interruptions during the session.
      • Outline to the staff member why the skill/task is so important.
      • You demonstrate slowly how to do the skill and repeat a few times, allowing the student time to ask questions and internalise the concepts.
      • Check with the student that they are ready to try the skill themselves.
      • When the answer is ‘yes’ guide them slowly through the skill.
      • Monitor the student until he/she has reached the required level of confidence to do the task independently.
      • Videos are now common practice in helping staff and SOPs are essential.
  • Going through the above may alert you to the fact that you are not as good a teacher as you think you are.. But other family members or other staff may have the skills, therefore, be prepared to delegate.
    • Even for yourself, it is never too late to learn how to be a good teacher.
  • Good staff must be a valued ingredient on all farms.
    • Believe that all staff, with help, can learn, improve and do most tasks.
    • Mind them, train them correctly and trust them to do the job without you constantly looking over their shoulders.
    • Staff movement is an issue and will always be so. So, live with it and be prepared/organised to train people. 
  • Good accommodation makes it very attractive for staff to work for you.
    • A three-bedroom log cabin could be built on farm for €100,000.


  • I estimate that farm incomes this year will be down €850-€1,000 per cow, that is, €90,000 per 100 cow herd. Serious! 
    • Therefore, farmers must be careful about where and on what they spend money from now.
  • What must you do now to stay in financial control until April 18, 2024?
    • This is the date of your first decent milk cheque in 2024.
  • Farmers must do a financial budget from now to December 31 and then forward to April 18, 2024:
    • Record your present bank balance, adding/subtracting creditors (money you owe to people) and/or money owed to you.
    • Add on income accruing (milk and cattle sale plus single farm payments, etc.).
    • Estimate your costs, not forgetting bank payments, tax, living expenses and capital expenditure from cashflow, and subtract.
    • From this you will see where you stand financially at the end of 2023.
  • Do the same for the period from January 1 to April 18, 2023, which is the most important date.
    • This exercise will give you the reassurance that you can get there or guide you as to what additional steps you may need to take.
      • Additional working capital may need to be secured.
      • Or a short-term loan.
      • Or capital investments planned may need to be put on a long-term loan, or on the long finger.
      • Or interest-only may be an option (last of all options).
    • This is really a cost-control measure that must be strictly adhered to.
    • You should follow the following principle this autumn and next spring: Never buy what you want, but only buy what you can’t do without.
  • Judicious levels of meal feeding are justified this autumn, but only feed to animals that are productive and require it:
    • Poor milk yielders, less than 0.7kg MS per cow per day, should not get meal – dry them off. Sell if not in-calf, maybe sell off anyway as they are no use if milking so little now. The response to meal is 0.8L (worth 36c) to every one kg meal (costs 40c) – unviable!
    • Weanlings on target weights need no meals.
  • Nitrogen: only spend what you need and most low-stocked farms need none.
    • Protected urea must be the product of choice and is justified.
  • Take veterinary advice before you spend on vaccination and routine dosing programmes.
  • You must decide that your fixed costs are not fixed and they must be reduced downwards.
    • Car, electricity, and phone costs must be tackled.
    • Machinery costs are prohibitive on some farms and only spend the bare minimum.
    • There may be a case for selling off machinery (delivers cash income) and using contractors – more and more farmers are doing this.
  • It is extremely doubtful if any capital investment can be made this autumn or next spring. 
  • Table 1 highlights the investments, where necessary, that should be made because of the high return.

Table 1: Potential return on investments in the dairy farm, based on response and investment costs. Source: Teagasc, Moorepark.



Annual return

Increase soil pH, P & K levels

+ 1.5-2t DM/ha/yr grown


Reseed full farm in an 8-year cycle

+ 1.5t DM/ha/yr grown


Improve infrastructure

+ 1.0t DM/ha/yr utilised


Increase nitrogen (where necessary)

+ 15kg DM/kg N


Increased meal levels to increase milk yield

Extra 0.8kg milk/kg meal



  • Before giving autumn advice on last nitrogen, I have to say I am disappointed with the attitude towards protected urea and its use by dairy farmers.
    • The decision driver seems to be cost but we must be aware of research and the nitrogen (N) losses which make protected urea competitive value.
    • N losses are not acceptable anymore.
  •  Everyone must be aware of the losses of N from the various sources of nitrogen – see Table 2.

N loss pathway


Protected urea



   % N loss

    % N loss

   % N loss





Nitrous oxide




Total N losses




Table 2: Percentage N lost from three N fertiliser products through two loss
pathways. Source: Teagasc Signpost Programme.

  • In summary, Table 2 shows that protected urea curtails N losses by reducing N ammonia loss compared with urea and nitrous oxide loss compared with CAN.
  • From Table 2, it is very important to note that:
    • 84.25% of the kg N in one tonne of urea is effective N.
    • 96.3% of the kg N in one tonne of protected urea is effective N.
    • 96.21% of the kg N in one tonne of CAN is effective N.
  • So how does this research translate into practice by a farmer who wishes to use 40kg N per hectare? See Table 3.

Table 3: The effective N available, when using 40kg N/ha, for three N fertiliser products. Source: Teagasc Signpost programme.



   Protected urea


Application rate

  Effective N (kg/ha)

   Effective N (kg/ha)

  Effective N (kg/ha)

40kg N/ha




35kg N/ha




  • Table 3 shows that that you can apply 5kg/ha less N of protected urea than urea. This has and will have implications where farmers are confined to reduced rates of N in future.
  • What does this mean in terms of cost, using Aug 2023 price – see Table 4.

Table 4: Cost per kg N and per effective N for three fertiliser products. Source: Teagasc Signpost programme.

N loss pathway


    Protected urea


Cost per tonne (Aug 2023)    




Kg N per tonne




Cost per kg N




Kg effective N per tonne




Cost/kg effective N




Cost of applying 40kg effective N on 40ha




  • It is important to note from Table 4:
    • CAN is the most expensive form of effective N.
    • Protected urea gives a saving of €80 for a 40ha farm.
    • In now making a decision on which N product to use, you must convert to “effective urea” which takes into account N losses.
  • Finally, trials were conducted in Clonakilty, Moorepark, Ballyhaise and Athenry comparing the three N products – see Table 5.

Table 5: Effect of nitrogen type on grass yield (kg DM/ha) per hectare. Source: Teagasc Open Day booklet)



Protected urea


Pre-grazing yield (Av, 10 rotations)




Total grass grown




  • Conclusion
    • There was no difference in grass production at any rotation, at any site between protected urea and CAN.
    • There was an overall benefit (+424kg DM/ha) detected over 10-site years from using protected urea versus using urea.
  • Recommendations by Teagasc Signpost programme:
    • Use protected urea all the time.
    • Use 18:6:12, 10:10: 20, as a compound source of N.
    • Avoid Cut Sward, Pasture Sward or similar high N compound (unless the N is in the form of protected urea), because of high emission risks – costly to farmer.
  • In case you are buying and storing protected urea this autumn, be aware that the shelf-life of protected urea is:
    • 12 months.
    • But only six-months if it contains sulphur.
  • Now, let us recommend N for mid-September:
    • Moorepark 250 (kg N/ha): 33 kg N (27units/acre).
    • Moorepark grass clover 150 (kg N/ha): 12 kg N (10units/ac).
  • There is obvious merit in applying either 18:6:12 or 10:10:20 this autumn where soils are Index 1 or 2.
  • Many, many farmers need to apply extra potash and half-to-one bag potash should be applied this autumn to Index 1 and 2 fields.


  • AgNav is a digital platform on the ICBF web page, that will assist farmers in improving sustainability on their farms.
    • The big advantage is that you will have hard facts to convince non-farming sceptics that you have and are doing a lot to protect the environment.
  • It is available through your Teagasc Signpost adviser, contact them now:
    • You must be Bord Bia quality-assured and signed up for the Teagasc Signpost programme (a free service).
  • It will be available on the ICBF web page just like your HerdPlus farm information.
  • It will create a farm-specific action plan, that will support clear communication on positive progress achieved at farm and national level.
    • With data from ICBF and the Bord Bia sustainability survey, the farmer and his adviser can establish current farm performance for relevant environmental sustainability indicators.
    • Using the forecast button, you will be able to predict the environmental activities that will bring about the greatest improvements on your farm.
    • Thus, you will be able to deliver an action plan to create a sustainability plan for the farm which can include targets and timelines.
  • Initially, it will focus on greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions.
  • This is the tool that dairy farmers need to make their case with decision makers that they are producing great food in a sustainable way – better than anyone else in the world!


  • Every extra day’s grazing, even for three hours daily, achieved this autumn will increase profit by €2.80/cow/day.
  • Good grassland planning now will minimise costs and increase the benefits, including profit, later in October/November.
  • To extend the grazing seasons this autumn and have early grass next spring, you must achieve the following target covers (kg DM/cow) and rotation lengths for the different stocking rates:


 Stocking rate (cows/ha) on milking platform (MP)


    2.5               3.0            3.5         Rotation Length   

September 1

    300             330         280               30 days

September 15

    450             370          340               35 days

October 1

    400             380          335               40 days

October 15

    350             300          270               45 days

Nov 1 % MP closed for spring

    60%            60%         70%                    -

  • If your stocking rate is 3 cows/ha on MP in mid-September, then your average farm cover (AFC) requirement is 1,100kg DM/ha (3 x 370) and be on a 35-day rotation.
  • You will be aiming for highest farm covers in mid-September.
    • But pre-grazing covers (PGC) should not be greater than 2,300kg DM; otherwise, quality will be very poor.
  • Use the strip wire to ration grass if covers are greater than 2,000kg DM and/or if cows are remaining in a paddock/field longer than 2.5 grazings; and/or if weather is wet.
  • Paddocks must be grazed out tight to 3.5-4.0cm:
    • This encourages winter tillering.
    • Makes it easier to graze out the last rotation.
    • And sets the farm up with less dung-pads for winter (they rot).
  • Where grass demand is greater than grass growth, quality round bales and meals must be introduced, otherwise, grass will run out in late October.
    • Most highly stocked farmers will have to feed 2-4kg meal/cow/day (citrus, palm kernel or soya hulls).
  • You will be working off the autumn rotation plan from September 20 on wet farms and from October 5-12 on dry farms – do the plan on PastureBase now.
  • Remember every 1kg DM/ha of grass left on paddocks in early November will result in 1.6kg DM/ha available in springtime.


  • This is a very important task NOW. Be guided, in planning your sequence of grazing paddocks this autumn, by the suggested dates in Table 6.
  • It is vital to get into the correct paddock grazing lane on the September rotations, otherwise, you will be short of grass on some paddocks next rotation with too much on others.


  • Salmonella abortions: to prevent abortions, vaccinate now, early September, but follow instructions – do R2s twice.
  • It is essential to vaccinate weanling replacement for leptospirosis now.
  • Dose for hoose in weanlings if coughing.
  • If calves have stomach worms (sticky dung around tail head) they must be dosed.
  • Lameness is becoming a very costly issue on farms. Some of the preventable solutions can be very cost effective: 
    • Patience when driving the cows.
    • Removing water from the roadway.
    • Reducing the amount of time cows spend on yards.
    • Reducing the number of times the backing gate moves. 
    • Feeding the correct meal type, etc. 
    • Footbath every week and make sure there is adequate fibre in the diet.
  • Mastitis is next to infertility as the main reason for culling cows. Change liners after 2,000 milkings, continue teat dipping at 15-20ml/cow/milking, and cull chronic cows now.

Other bits and pieces

  • See last month’s advice on assessing winter-feed deficit.
    • Don’t panic into selling stock cheaply before you have considered all your options.
  • Castrate or vasectomise male calves now.
  • Sell off cull cows now to make more grass available for milkers.
    • Some farmers are going to put them on ad-lib meal now but I’m not sure there will be much profit in that; it also affects your stocking rate.
  • As a result of the weather-driven crises this year, you must ask yourself if your system is robust enough to deal with the same problems next year and the year after? Being over stocked is asking for trouble!
  • It will be difficult to graze out high N, low dry matter grass this month but it will be twice as hard to do so in wet conditions. 
    • Therefore, ‘on-off’ grazing will have to be practiced.
    • Feeding silage before cows go to grass will only make it difficult to graze out paddock – don’t do.
    • Leaving post-grazing grass after you is wasting feed – which no one can afford this year.
  • In-calf heifers should be 73% of mature cow weight now or 380kg and 403kg respectively for 520kg and 550kg mature cow herd. While the equivalent weanlings should be 172kg and 183kg.
    • Animals under these target weights should be fed 1-2kg meal/day. But no meal to animals above target.
    • Check weights with contract rearer.
  • Get your silages analysed, your farm soil tested and dung samples analysed for parasites now.
  • €750 discussion group participation grant in 2024 – apply to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, now.

Table 6: Sequence of paddocks, plus % of paddocks, to be grazed during second-last and last rotations, based on the spring grazing sequence.


First rotation next spring

Last autumn rotation

Second-last autumn rotation

% paddocks grazed + timing

% paddocks grazed + timing

% paddocks grazed + timing

30% grazed in February


Dry, close to yard, guarantee early grass, 

PGCs 800-1,200kg DM/ha

30% grazed from Oct 20-Nov 5


Dry, close to yard, multiple access points,
sheltered, quickest growing, reseeded.

30% grazed from Sept 10-25


Dry, close to yard, multiple access points, s
heltered, quickest growing.

30% grazed from March 1-15

PGCs >1,200kg DM/ha, dry with ok access

30% grazed from Oct 5-20

Further from yard, ok access and dry

30% grazed from Sept 1-10

Further from yard, ok access and dry

40% to be grazed Mar 15 – Apr 5

Awkward paddocks, furthest from yard, poor grazing structure, old pastures, slow growing, silage ground

40% to be grazed Nov 5-20

Awkward paddocks, furthest from yard, poor grazing structure, old pastures, slow growing, silage ground

40% to be grazed Sept 25 – Oct 10

Awkward paddocks, furthest from yard, poor grazing structure, old pastures, slow growing, silage ground

Note: the approximate dates suggested are for dry land; for heavy ground autumn dates should be 8-10 days earlier, while the spring dates should be 8-10 days later.

Thought for the month

“Alone we can do little, together we can do much.”

Helen Keller.