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Meeting December Climate Actions

In December Climate Actions: Order protected urea for 2022 - how to value it versus other N, Organise soil sampling, Weigh finishing animals in winter to ensure they are on target for slaughter next Spring, Identify suitable heifers for breeding at 15 months and importing organic manure for tillage

Protected Urea 

In comparing the cost of protected urea, compared to other sources of straight nitrogen.  It is important that you calculate the cost of protected urea on the basis of cost per unit of nitrogen.  

The table below will allow you to do that.  At €950 per tonne, protected urea is as cheap as CAN at €475 / t. At €625 per tonne, protected urea is 19% cheaper than CAN at €450 / tonne Always compare N based fertilisers on a cost per unit of N basis

Protected Urea Cost €% NitrogenCost per Unit of NitrogenCAN Cost €% Nitrogen Cost per Unit of Nitrogen
700 46 1.52 550 27 2.04
750 46 1.63 600 27 2.22
800 46 1.74 650 27 2.41
850 46 1.85 700 27 2.59
900 46 1.96 750 27 2.78
950 46 2.07      
1000 46 2.17      
1050 46 2.28      

Soil Sampling

The results of a soil analysis are only as good as the sample on which it is based. To give reliable advice, a soil sample must be representative of the area sampled and be taken to a uniform depth (10cm).

A sample normally consists of 0.25 – 0.5 kg of soil and this is taken to represent the entire sampling area or field.

  1. To take a soil sample it is essential to have a suitable soil corer
  2. Ensure soil cores are taken to the correct sampling depth of 100 mm (4”)
  3. Take a soil sample every 2 to 4 ha. (5-10 acres)
  4. Take separate samples from areas that are different in soil type, previous cropping history, slope, drainage or persistent poor yields
  5. Avoid any unusual spots such as old fences, ditches, drinking troughs, dung or urine patches or where fertiliser / manures or lime has been heaped or spilled in the past.
  6. Do not sample a field until 3 to 6 months after the last application of P and K and 2 years where lime was applied.
  7. Take a minimum of 20 soil cores, mix them together, and take a representative sub-sample for analysis, making sure the soil sample box is full.
  8. Take a representative soil sample by walking in a W shaped pattern across the sampling area.
  9. Sample fields at the same time of the year to aid comparisons of soil sample results and avoid sampling under extremes of soil conditions e.g. waterlogged or very dry soils.
  10. Place the soil sample in a soil box to avoid contamination and write the field number and advisor code on the soil box with a black permanent marker.

The principle of soil analysis is to determine the average nutrient status of an area and to give a measure of the available nutrients in the soil.

Soil Sampling Pattern


Sampling using a W shaped path is most convenient

Weigh animals

Weigh finishing animals over the winter to ensure they are on target for finishing.

Invest in a weighing scales.  A weighing scales is an important decision support tool, helping farmers to make decisions around performance management. 


  1. Make sure the scales is correctly calibrated
  2. Weigh finishing animals at housing and again midway through the housing period
  3. Weigh animals at the same time every time you weigh them. Pick a time and stick to it. Gut fill can have a significant impact on weights so always do the weighing when they are either full or empty. 
  4. Don’t put too much emphasis on weights taken close together e.g. every month. Weighings 2-3 months apart can give a more accurate picture.
  5. Don’t put too much emphasis on the weight of individual animals. There will be significant variation in a group but the overall trend needs to be right.
  6. Take action based on the weights. Things to watch for:
    1. Silage quality
    2. Silage intake
    3. Supplementation rate
    4. Supplementation quality
    5. Housing – space allowance, feeding space and ventilation
    6. Fluke and worm dosing programme

Identify suitable heifers for breeding at 15 months

It is a major challenge to get heifers at the right weight for breeding at 15 months.  The first winter’s performance can significantly impact this. Things to look out for over the winter:

Low intake

Low dry matter intake is one of the primary causes of ill-thrift in cattle.  It is useful to put an estimate on dry matter intake as it can explain a lot.  Methods include the weighing of blocks of silage at the local weigh bridge or use of weighing systems on feeder wagons and front-end loaders.  Weanlings should achieve dry matter intakes of 2.0%+ of body weight, respectively, on grass silage based diet. 

Inadequate supplementation

Meal feeding rates will be dictated by silage quality.  Table 1 presents the supplementation rates required for weanlings offered grass silage.  Forage intake can be especially low with suckled weanlings at the start of the indoor feeding period.  It is recommended to front load meal feeding in the first half of the winter, reducing meals towards the turnout date.

Silage DMD %706560
Weanlings (ADG 0.6 kg/day 1.5 2.0 2.5


Implement a parasite control plan at housing.


Information coming from Grange indicates that the biggest factor affecting the increased animal performance on the outwintering pads is space allowance, the same holds true for the slatted accommodation.  Remember that as the stock grow they will need more space if this hasn’t been taken into account at housing.  Poorly designed barriers can restrict intake.  A shaved neck on stock can be evidence of an excessively low barrier.  Adequate air moment and freedom from draughts are important.

Water supply

Reduced water intake will depress feed intake and consequently performance.  Beef animals require approximately 6 litres water per kg DM intake. This will fluctuate depending on dietary specification, environmental temperature and rate of gain.  It is recommended that water troughs be inspected regularly and cleaned at least 2-3 times a week or sooner if water is fouled.  Water intake will be high on high concentrate feeding systems.

Mineral deficiency

Weanlings and finishing cattle need routine supplements in winter but while mineral deficiencies are often cited as the main cause of ill-thrift, deficiency is well down the line of blame in most cases where a good mineral supplement is fed.  It is important to check that minerals are included at the correct rate for high concentrate feeding systems to avoid toxicity problems.  

Nutritional diseases

Examples of nutritional diseases include acidosis, diarrhoea, lameness and liver abscesses, many of which are inter-linked. 

Respiratory Problems

Viral pneumonia is the biggest cause of ill-health and death in Irish weanlings every year.  Prevention is definitely better than curing.  Proper management of weanlings to avoid stress is important but vaccination is also worth considering. 

Look at options to import organic manures on tillage farms

Organic manures are a valuable and cost effective source of N, P & K especially with the large increase in fertiliser prices.  To maximise the recovery of N from high N manures (pig & poultry) it is important to apply and incorporate within 3 to 6 hrs. ideally test manures in advance of application to know there nutrient values and adjust application rates to supply ~ 50% of the crops P & K requirements.  For example an application of 25mᶾ/ha of pig slurry (2,200gals/ac) can supply 52kg N, 20kg P & 50kg K/ha which is ~30% of N and ~50% of P & K requirements for a crop of spring barley.  Now is a good time to look at local sources of organic fertilisers and plan for spring crop utilisation. 

Find out all about the Signpost Programme here  

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