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Coronavirus: FAQs for livestock and dairy farmers

During the COVID-19 outbreak we will be addressing the many important questions affecting livestock farmers. This page is regularly updated to help you navigate the current situation.

If you have a question you'd like answered, please email: COVID19.FAQs@ahdb.org.uk

Abattoirs and markets

The Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA) is the trade organisation for livestock markets. The LAA is in regular dialogue with Government and monitoring the situation closely.

It has been confirmed by the LAA that all animal gatherings have been suspended with the exemption of animals going into the food chain. Livestock markets can continue; a suspension on breeding sales has now been lifted by some markets.

Marts that remain open are restricting access to as few as possible. Vendors must now 'drop-and-go', remaining in their vehicle while market staff unload animals. Buyers must register in advance and are advised to stay on site only for as long as it takes to conduct business. The number of vendors allowed on site is likely to be restricted to ensure social distancing. Anyone over the age of 70 is advised not to attend sales, nor anyone knowingly ill or displaying symptoms. Children and pregnant ladies are also requested not to attend. On-site cafes and food outlets will be closed.

At present, there is no pressure on lead times being reported, but keep in contact with your market if you have stock to sell currently or within the next few weeks.

Further information will be available directly from your local market or from the LAA website: https://www.laa.co.uk/

If you do have to use a different abattoir, always refer to your vet and assurance standards should you need any advice.

If in the unlikely event you are required to keep stock on farm for longer:

  1. Is there any capacity on a different farm?
    • If so, ensure all movement licences/paperwork are correct for the type of movement you are planning. Please note there may be standstill restrictions depending on species, so check before planning any moves
  2. Ensure transporters/hauliers have an emergency plan, especially in the event of longer journeys
  3. Make extra checks if animals are being moved further than usual
  4. Review and record health and safety plans
  5. Make sure all plans consider biosecurity best practice
  6. Observe social distancing

For more information regarding temporary use of land for livestock, please visit the gov.uk website and always ensure you remain legally compliant with movement licences/paperwork before moving any animals.

For information relating specifically to breeding stock market sales, please refer to Livestock FAQs.

Do speak to your auctioneer as they will be able to assist you in the placing of stock and offer general advice.

While AHDB cannot advise which plants to use, our team is happy to chat through selection of stock for slaughter, offer clarification on the EUROP grid and give general advice. Please contact: Steve Powdrill on 07990 507299, Clive Brown on 07711 878946 or Liz Ford on 07779 322120 or your local KEM.

For pig producers, the information here may be of use as it shows the impact of pig price and reducing finisher weights on changes in top-line figures.

The latest information from the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA) is that “the Sale of Primestock, Cull animals and Store stock is still permitted” – the sales of calves would fall under the stores category.

Full information and further advice regarding livestock markets can be found here.

It has been announced that some multivendor sales of breeding stock are suspended for the time being, so it is useful to be aware of the following online services that are available via the new Signet website to aid commercial livestock producers in finding the location and availability of Signet-recorded breeding stock. Please note, the suspension of breeding stock sales has been lifted in some auction markets, as of 27th April, as long as they follow certain protocols. Please visit the Livestock Auctioneers Association website for their full statement and check with your auction market for their policy. 

Commercial producers can already use the Signet website to find the latest breeding information for individual cattle and sheep or search for cattle and sheep to meet specific farm breeding objectives.

New services include:

  • Flock finder/Herd finder – A very simple online search engine that enables anyone to find their closest Signet-recorded flock/herd (based on postcode)
  • Sheep for Sale – Provides a listing of sheep that are currently for sale – highlighting their current owner and full genetic merit
  • Cataloguing facilities – Which is a function within ‘Sheep for Sale’ that enables Signet ram-breeding clients to produce their own sale catalogues, which they can email to clients.

The business must always operate with the appropriate number of staff deemed necessary under legislation and in accordance with health and safety regulations. Any cover staff must be fully qualified and up to date with current certificates of competence.

For further information for employers, see:
www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19

For specific industry advice, speak to:

  • Association of Independent Meat Suppliers
  • British Meat Processors Association
  • Food Standards Agency

Collections and deliveries

Businesses involved in the food supply chain are considered essential. Ensure you are following the latest guidance from Public Health England to keep your employees safe. If they can work from home, they should do so.

All retail and public premises which remain open must:

  • Ensure a distance of 2 m between customers and shop assistants
  • Let people enter the shop only in small groups, to ensure that spaces are not crowded

Queue control is required outside of shops and other essential premises that remain open. 

Keep in contact with your feed supplier; the main suppliers have now released issue statements on their websites, which are being updated regularly. Also maintain contact with your local feed representatives and nutritionist, who will have up-to-date information. Your nutritionist will also be able to discuss any potential diet changes that may become necessary.  

Every effort is being made to ensure sales of feed are not limited or reduced and this is currently not an issue the industry is facing. In terms of feedstocks that are suitable for pigs, they are limited to vegetables and some fruit crops straight from the field or on-farm store. These can include potatoes, root vegetables, including beets, and apples. These should never be fully substituted as pigs find them less appetising and, generally, due to their higher water content, should be substituted at a ratio of 4:1, i.e. for every 1 kg of feed removed, 4 kg of additional feedstuffs should be provided. Pigs must maintain a high percentage of formulated feed as it contains the balanced energy and mineral demands they need to retain good condition. Never remove more than 25% of the pigs’ concentrate ration, otherwise they risk not thriving and losing body condition. Any feed prepared for pigs must be fed raw and not stored in any kitchen facilities to avoid possible contamination.

While there are some co-products that can be fed to pigs, this has to be done in accordance with guidance set out by Trading Standards, based currently on EU regulations, and we would advise against this unless supported by a qualified nutritionist. These regulations identify specific ‘waste’ feeds that can be fed to livestock.

All of these require a detailed HACCP to have been performed before feed can be moved from the human food chain to livestock and should not be seen as an emergency option. Please be reminded that it is illegal to feed any catering waste, kitchen scraps, meat or meat products to farmed animals, including pigs. This includes using kitchen waste from all households and any catering waste from any establishment, regardless of whether they are vegan or vegetarian kitchens.

Further information can be found online:

For producers with liquid feed systems there may be the potential to utilise some of the raw milk that dairy farmers are having to dump due to milk requirements declining. Note that if you have not used raw milk before there are a number of guidelines that must be adhered to, these can be found on the NPA website, here. The government have also issued guidance on feeding milk and milk products to farm animals on your farm.

The National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) has published advice on its website on veterinary medicines supply and COVID-19. It advises that “Veterinary medicines manufacturers always, as a matter of routine, have detailed business continuity plans and are working hard with suppliers to help ensure veterinary medicines remain available to protect the health and welfare of the UK’s animals. Veterinary practices should continue with normal ordering patterns to ensure supplies.” Further information is available on the NOAH website.

To help protect continuity of supply, the EU has included veterinary medicines in the ‘green lanes’ to ensure the continuation of the flow of goods and materials. This covers medicines, including veterinary medicines, and industrial inputs for production and maintenance of these processes, including transport workers and operators of critical and essential supply-chain services in all modes of transport.

The British Veterinary Association has called for normal ordering patterns by vets to be maintained. Many veterinary products are for veterinary use only and will not be diverted into human medicine. Additionally, veterinary surgeons are stopping non-essential work and it is likely that the demand for some types of medicines will actually be reduced. Contact your veterinary practice should you have any questions regarding specific medications.

With specific reference to potential shortages of antibiotics for the treatment of mastitis, there has been an issue in 2020 with the availability of some products that predates the measures to control the coronavirus pandemic. NOAH has produced information regarding this, which can be found here. To the best of NOAH’s knowledge, coronavirus has not had an effect on the supply of these products.

One key point that NOAH makes is “Not all Marketing Authorisation Holders (veterinary medicines companies) are impacted. Unaffected suppliers have taken steps to increase supply to meet market needs and it is anticipated these can be met to ensure the health and welfare needs of the national dairy herd.”

Exports

If China-approved OV signatories are unable to work due to illness, the Chinese authorities have agreed to list temporary, additional approved OVs to ensure ongoing certification.

Health and welfare

For advice on TB testing at this time, please visit the TBHub for the latest and most up-to date information. 

The Dairy Cattle Mobility Steering Group has developed guidance on lameness and foot trimming – full information can be found here. This information will be updated with any further developments.

Information can also be found on this website for farms wanting to manage lameness themselves, with further resources available on the AHDB website relating to lameness and mobility.

Management

We are not currently in an NVZ closed period so slurry use and application can still go ahead for those both in and out of NVZ zones. As always, you will still need to demonstrate crop requirement for application and adhere to the farming rules for water, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-farming-rules-for-water

Guidance for NVZ zones can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/nitrate-vulnerable-zones

If you use a contractor to spread slurry, please review the recommendations for social distancing. Consider other methods to instruct the contractor on where, how, when and how much to apply, such as a slurry application map and/or written instructions to back up any conversations you may have previously had.

The Environment Agency has produced further guidance on spreading slurry or milk on land, or storing slurry, but states clearly that this only applies if you cannot comply to current guidance as a result of coronavirus restrictions COVID-19 Regulatory Position Statement (RPS). Examples of reasons for use are staff absences or supply chain failures. You must obtain written permission from the Environment Agency before using the COVID-19 RPS. The COVID-19 RPS will be withdrawn on 30 September 2020 unless it is extended, so please check the official statement for the latest information.

Always ensure you comply with legal and, where relevant, assurance scheme requirements, e.g. space allowance, movement licences, etc.

We recommend calculating estimated growth rates for growing and finishing animals, and the requirements within housing these animals; include space, water and feed. Different-aged animals will have different needs, e.g. smaller pigs are less destructive and require less robust pens, but if you have any concerns, please consult with your vet and farm assurance certification body. Consider turning out any stock if appropriate and you have availability of pasture.

Consider the suitability of your accommodation for the age of the animal, e.g. some flooring types may have a maximum weight they can hold (especially true for pigs housed on slatted floors). Ensure you have sufficient food and bedding in store as required. If you need to buy in more, look to do this as soon as possible and keep in close contact with your feed and bedding supplier.

Also ensure you have enough wormers/vaccinations in stock for routine treatments to cover having animals off farm for longer periods. Look to source any requirements at your earliest opportunity and maintain good contact with your vet.

Culling of animals would only need to take place if it is an animal-welfare issue. In this instance, please contact your vet for further advice. See contingency planning for further information.

If you have fallen stock on your farm that need to be disposed of, you may choose to contact the National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) who will be able to put you in contact with your local fallen stock collector. The NFSCo is a membership organisation, but membership is free. You can call their office on 01335 320014 to activate your membership – office hours are 8:30am–5pm, Monday to Friday. Further guidance can also be found at gov.uk

Farmers are not allowed to bury animals on farm – this is an animal disease issue. Regulations state that farmers must arrange for animals to be collected by an approved transporter/collector and disposed of in one of the following ways:

  • Knacker
  • Hunt kennel
  • Maggot farm
  • Incinerator
  • Renderer

While waiting for your fallen stock to be collected, you must ensure that animals and birds cannot access the carcase. For smaller animals, the use of a leakproof container, such as a metal bin, to store animals in prior to collection is recommended. Ensure this is cleaned and disinfected after the carcases have been removed. For larger animals, cover the carcase with a sheet until collected.

It is also advised that you walk your farm regularly (maintaining social-distancing guidance) to ensure that any fallen stock carcases do not enter waterways/courses, which could impact livestock and wildlife health.

For cattle and sheep: Carefully consider the animals’ diet. Do not restrict diets. Ensure you comply with legal and, where relevant, assurance scheme requirements, e.g. space allowance, movement licences, etc.

Use AHDB’s Feed and forage calculator to calculate feed demand by entering livestock numbers and available feed supply. Make any dietary changes very carefully and in conjunction with your nutritionist. You may need to consider alternative feeds, alternative grazing strategies or renting additional grazing land.

For cattle: Changing diets is not necessarily recommended. However, in order to slow down growth rates you may wish to consider gradually reducing cereal/concentrate intake and increasing forage, if you have available supplies. Keep reviewing the situation prior to changing growing cattle on to finishing diets.

For sheep: If you are finishing store lambs, consider how fast you want them to finish and adapt the ration accordingly. Any dietary changes should be gradual. Manage this year’s lambs appropriately. Consider your business plan and the speed at which you want the lambs to grow and finish. You might need to slow lambs down or speed them up depending on the supply and demand of this unprecedented year.

For pigs: Changing diets is not necessarily recommended and you should speak to your nutritionist for guidance on what is most suitable for your system. More information on reducing the slaughter weights of pigs can be found here. Consider selling pigs slightly earlier if possible to create some buffer.

Prioritise animals to sell first, considering ages, weights and finish levels. Be sure to market stock when ready to maintain a steady throughput of animals. You may wish to consider a sale or slaughter outlet, even at a financial loss. For further information, see AHDB’s contingency planning for your business.

Other useful links:

Now is the time to plan and calculate your feed and forage demand for the upcoming months. AHDB feed and forage calculator provides a guide to calculating your stock demand and how much forage you have left in your clamps or as bales. If you estimate a deficit, or are required to change your feed source due to availability, contact your feed adviser, nutritionist or consultant to discuss.

  • Discuss with your nutritionist the rations and the potential use of alternative ingredients in the diets. Keep in regular communication with your nutritionist/feed supplier to manage any changes in feed availability well in advance
  • Calculate how much feed you will need during the critical periods for supply, including potential wastage
  • Where possible, feed animals according to their needs at the different stages of production (phase feeding)

It is crucial that those operating a pasture-based system keep walking their platform to monitor grass growth and supplement diet according to grass availability as we come up to magic day. Check out average grass growth at AHDB Grass and GrassCheckGB for further details and top tips.
Other general feeding management factors are as follows:

  • Consider drying off dairy cows early if feed supplies are limited to reduce pressure on feed. Prioritise the nutrition of transition cows and if the diet composition changes, plan ahead to avoid drastic changes to feed
  • Initially, do not feed youngstock ad lib. Instead, provide feed in troughs or hoppers several times a day to allow ready and easy access, especially in the first few days if animals are moved (especially true for pigs)
  • Clean containers used for feed/water and feed bunk before use and ensure troughs are kept clean
  • If any adaptive feeding systems for pigs require alternative feeders, these can be made from plastic drums or adapting plastic sheep troughs by cutting off the bases to approximately 10–15 cm deep
  • Check feeders and stored feedstuffs (included bagged feeds) are protected from rain and any other potential damaging agents
  • Minimise silage spoilage (reduce clamp face area and exposure, move across clamp quickly), and make sure the new silage is made properly
  • Minimise TMR spoilage, especially in the warmer periods (i.e. consider feeding fresh TMR twice a day)
  • Minimise feeder concentrate dropping on the floor
  • For grazing animals, maximise pasture utilisation – check out average grass growth at AHDB Grass and GrassCheckGB for further details and top tips

It is strongly recommended to use gloves during milking to improve hygiene and reduce the opportunity to spread mastitis infections.

However, if you cannot get the type of gloves you usually use for milking, check if a suitable alternative is available. If no suitable alternative can be found, the cows will need to be milked with bare hands. It is difficult to make recommendations on how to effectively decontaminate hands, but if cows have to be milked with bare hands, consider the following:

  • Cuts, wounds and sores must be covered
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before milking
  • Once hands are clean, wash hands in a disinfectant solution to reduce contamination
  • Try to avoid getting milk on your hands during milking
  • Use running water and disinfectant regularly to remove milk and dirt from hands during milking
  • If disinfectants are not available, make arrangements for hands to be regularly washed with soap and water during milking
  • Be prepared to find your hands will become dry. Hand cream should mitigate the effects of detergents and disinfectant on skin

The main aim of using single-use disposable paper towels or medicated wipes is to remove dirt and bacteria from the teats before milking and so that the teats are clean and dry when the clusters are attached.

If single-use wipes are not available, you could consider:

  • Torn-up squares of old newspaper
  • Cotton (face) flannels can be used to dry teats (one per cow) but need to be washed, disinfected and dried between milkings
  • Do not reuse home-made udder cloths to clean multiple cows

Teat disinfection is one of most important things we do on farms to control mastitis.

If disinfectant is in short supply:

  • Prioritise post-milking teat disinfection
  • Most pre-milking teat disinfection products may be used for post-milking teat disinfection but are not ideal as they may be short-acting and may not contain emollients for teat skin
  • If you normally use an RTU teat disinfectant, consider purchasing a concentrate, which can be diluted in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations
  • Products only authorised for post-milking teat disinfection must not be used pre-milking
  • Only use products approved for pre-milking teat disinfection before milking
  • If changing supplier, buy teat disinfectants from a reputable company and ensure products have a label and market authorisation information
  • Teat disinfection products are specially formulated and contain other constituents to protect and improve teat skin health – do not use products which do not have a marketing authorisation for use in lactating dairy cows
  • Many disinfectant formulations are very aggressive and can be an irritant if used as the base for a home-made teat dip

The points below will help you to start thinking about how to reduce milk volume:

  • Discuss with your nutritionist and vet the possibility of changing feeding strategies to reduce milk production without compromising health
  • Do not restrict water intake
  • Be careful of mineral and mineral balance if reformulating diets
  • Dry cows off earlier, where possible, but beware of unintended consequences of body condition on subsequent calving. Further information regarding dry cow management can be found here
  • Reduce milking frequency, where possible. Information on reducing milk frequency can be found here
  • Incomplete milking may also be an option to look into, i.e. leaving 30% of milk in the udder may also help reduce milk production. There are some suggestions it may be positive for cows in the first five days of lactation. More information on incomplete milking is available here
  • If you have access to abattoirs, think about bringing culling forward
  • Feed whole milk instead of powdered milk to calves – ensure milk from Johne’s cows is not fed to calves
  • Consider postponing weaning when feeding whole milk
  • If milk does need to be disposed of, please see questions 1 & 2 in the ‘Collections and deliveries’ section of the livestock and dairy farmers FAQs page

Further information on reducing milk production and management costs is available here and by watching AHDB webinars:

A hardship fund has been announced for dairy farmers in England and Wales who have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

The sale of raw drinking milk and cream is legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – but can only be sold by a registered raw drinking milk producer directly to the consumer and via the following routes:

  • At the farmgate or farmhouse catering operation
  • At registered farmers’ markets
  • Distributors using a vehicle as a shop, such as a milk round
  • Direct online sales
  • Vending machines at the farm

It is illegal to sell raw milk and cream in any other setting. Giving milk away free of charge is also considered to be sale and so is subject to these rules.

To protect consumers, stricter hygiene regulations apply to the production of raw drinking milk provided to the public. It must be:

  • From animals that are healthy and free from brucellosis and tuberculosis
  • From a farm that complies with hygiene rules and is routinely inspected twice a year
  • Labelled with the appropriate health warning
  • Subject to a verification sampling programme undertaken by Food Standards Agency (FSA) inspectors. Testing is carried out on behalf of the FSA by Public Health England

Raw or unpasteurised milk and cream may contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning. The Food Standards Agency advises that people with weaker immune systems are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning and should not consume it. These include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Infants and small children
  • Elderly people
  • People with a compromised immune system, such as cancer patients

Any producer now wishing to supply raw drinking milk must meet a number of requirements set out by the FSA, including a detailed food safety management system. For more information, please follow this link.

AHDB has resources that can help you identify appropriate alternative bedding materials for your system:

The Farm Advisory Service has produced a resource looking at alternative bedding materials with a focus on straw.

There are some areas of caution that should be noted when new bedding materials are being explored:

  • It is illegal to use gypsum as bedding material
  • Fresh sawdust in particular (i.e. not kiln-dried) can contain mastitis-causing pathogens
  • Use must be permitted to be spread to land and Environment Agency waste exemptions may apply:
  • The use of recycled manure solids have restrictions in place – further information can be found here
  • Cereal by-products can been used if available and competitive, e.g. oat husks, wheat feed. Oat husks are an effective replacement for chopped straw or sawdust and as an alternative to sand in deep bedding systems
  • Be mindful that farm assurance schemes (and some retailer contracts) may have limitations in place on the use of some materials – if in doubt, please speak to them before any changes are made

If you have any concerns over any animal health aspects, you should discuss these with your vet.

In the event that stock gets backed up on farm and cannot be moved to slaughter due to plant closures, leading to a severe welfare situation, destocking via euthanasia may be considered as an absolute last resort. Using this method for any animals should only ever be considered following discussion with your farm vet and government departments, and only where every other option has been exhausted.

Euthanasia should only be undertaken by competent and experienced personnel. Ensure that you have the resources required to carry out the most appropriate method for your unit in a location that allows access for deadstock removal.

There is a range of information available on the Humane Slaughter Association web page.

Mass euthanasia can be physically and emotionally straining for all involved. Further support and resources to support your team can be found here.

The AHDB eFoodchain map can be used to locate your nearest abattoirs, markets, cutting plants and rendering facilities.

Defra provides a live document of deadstock collectors and processors of animal by-products.

Contact the National Fallen Stock Company for further information on deadstock collection. Membership is free and members will receive a list of collection centres in their postcode region.

People

Basic hygiene and good biosecurity measures should always be implemented when dealing with livestock. This includes handwashing before and after being around or handling animals, at feeding and when cleaning out. When possible, people who are sick or under medical attention for coronavirus should avoid close contact with livestock and, if possible, use alternative people to look after the animals. If they must look after livestock, they should minimise contact, where possible, and maintain good hygiene practices.

The predominant route of coronavirus transmission appears to be from human to human. There is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are spreading the virus. Globally, there are millions of coronavirus cases in humans. There is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans, but the number of reported cases of animals testing positive is extremely low and the evidence is inconclusive. While it is likely that the initial source of coronavirus was an animal source, there is currently very little evidence to show that animals are involved in spreading the disease.

There are a number of studies currently trying to understand whether different animal species are susceptible to coronavirus, but evidence of spread so far is extremely limited. Animals and people can sometimes share diseases (known as zoonotic diseases) and it is therefore still recommended that people who are sick with coronavirus limit contact with animals (companion, farm and wild animals) until more information is known. If someone is sick and avoiding contact with animals is not possible, they should:

  • Ensure the basic needs of the animals are met.
  • Stay 2 metres away from other people
  • Thoroughly wash hands before and after dealing with animals

If you are too unwell to care for your animals and there is no one to help you, you should call your local authority.

Keep up to date with the government advice for pet owners and livestock keepers on maintaining the welfare of animals during the coronavirus pandemic.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you must remain at home for 7 days, or 14 as a household.

If you have a horse in livery, you must not visit them while you are self-isolating. You should contact your yard manager or vet to make suitable welfare arrangements.

If you have livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, or any other types of livestock, you should arrange for someone else who is not self-isolating to care for your animals. Where this is not possible, you should ensure the basic needs of your animals are met. You must make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your animals and ensure you remain 2 m away from other people.

If you are too unwell to care for your animals and there is no one to help, you should call the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) or your local authority.

More information is available for people with animals, here.

If you have livestock, you should arrange for someone else who is not self-isolating to care for your animals.

Where this is not possible, you should ensure the basic needs of your animals are met. You must make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your animals and ensure you remain 2 m away from other people.

More information is available for people with animals, here

You can visit other farms if absolutely necessary but avoid close contact with other people while you are there. If you can, remain outside and maintain a distance of at least 2 metres (6 ft) from others. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially before you arrive and after you leave, and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. 

If you are aged over 70, have an underlying health condition or are pregnant, you should stay at home. You should send somebody else to visit the farm on your behalf. Also consider the age and health condition of the people you may come into contact with.

If you are displaying symptoms of coronavirus (a high temperature and/or a new and continuous cough), stay at home to avoid transmitting to others.

Follow public health advice on social distancing. Guidance is different in England, ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

If you are self-isolating – follow public health guidelines. If possible, ask others to check stock for you (friends/ family/the farm/landowner). Remember they may be infected or self-isolating too, so make sure you agree a plan with them before you enter their property.