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ON THE FARM: Start to calving season in sight

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Excitement is building on the Melody farm with the starting line for calving season in sight.

We are just at the starting line of our calving season this week. The preparation work has been done and the home yard for the next few weeks will be part farm yard, part maternity ward. There is already a buzz about the place, whisper it but there’s a sense of spring in the air with the anticipation of what’s to come. When it comes to this time of the year there is always a cautious excitement for the arrival of the class of 2021.

One of the areas we have really tried the focus in on over the past few years is calf health and we have made some progress in this area. I put most of this down to doing the simple things right. So the plan is as cows calf, we will try and get three litres of colostrum into that calf within 2 hours of birth if possible. Farmers often get inundated with calls from various companies pedalling the latest potion to “help” a calf for such and such an ailment. The word “help” is apt as the efficacy of these supplements is for nought if that same calf hasn’t got its quality colostrum at birth with all the essential antibodies the calf needs to super charge its immune system.

In the area of calf rearing we are actually going back to the future with our latest hifalutin disinfectant, the humble white wash. Any shed that has a plastered wall is being whitewashed as it can be hard to get all bacteria out of these surfaces and simple whitewash will create a seal and should curtail any n’er do well bugs from causing scours in the infant calves. It was advised to me by a vet who specialises in consulting on calf health all over the world that whitewash is still among the best disinfectants for calf sheds.

The fact is that many spring calving dairy herds of today are calving down over 90% of their herd in six weeks. This creates huge efficiencies in terms of a more streamlined business that has a cow who gets a long year producing milk leading to greater profitability. However there are challenges around the area of labour and skilled labour at that because at the end of the day working around livestock is a competency that takes time to acquire and a commensurate love for animals. One of the things we have done to reduce our man hours required to run the farm is to invest in a computerised calf feeder. This feeds the calf several times a day almost mimicking the regularity at which the calf would feed off its mother. It has been a great addition over the past few years and provides us with lots of data in terms of calf health even the speed at which the calf drank it’s milk.

Hopefully we will get some slurry out this week, weather permitting. In the past few years we have really tried to get the most out of our organic manures such as muck and slurry, the price of fertiliser appears to be on the up so all the more reason to focus on reducing those input costs where practical.

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