It’s hard to believe it’s the middle of January – the fields are reasonably dry and green and the weather is so mild that aside from the short day length, it could almost be March.

No doubt the cold snap is coming but at least we are better set for it with regards to forage than we were last year, when we had to ease back on the cow numbers a little to make sure the silage would stretch through to the spring.

This winter, after a decent summer, we will probably have a surplus of silage. The quantity doesn’t seem to be at the expense of quality though, as the cows are milking well on it and are currently averaging just under 41litres in the tank at 3.72%BF and 3.27%P.

However, the last month has been far from plain sailing as just before Christmas we had a small group of cows presenting with LDAs (Left displaced abomasum). For those not familiar with bovine anatomy the abomasum (one of the four chambers of a cow’s stomach) usually lies along her belly. If a cow suffers impairment to her normal digestive process, particularly if her rumen fill is less than it should be, the chamber can slip up round the wall of her abdomen and start to fill with gas leading to further reduction in appetite.

The typical signs of an LDA are a loss of appetite and reduction in milk yield with the vet giving a firm diagnosis using the stethoscope on the cows flank and tapping to hear a distinct ping or drum sound from the gas-filled abomasum.

Normally this process occurs in early lactation cows, but the first of the cows affected was a mid-lactation cow, already back in calf, which is reasonably unusual. Then over the next 10-14 days, we identified three fresh calved cows that on inspection by the vet also had LDAs.

The corrective action for the affected cows is unfortunately a surgical procedure which involves opening the cow’s abdominal cavity and releasing the gas before stitching the abomasum back in its correct position. As with any procedure of this sort, there are risks but by and large the operations are pretty successful.

However, prevention is much better than a cure so we had to find out what was causing the problem.

We’d noticed some weeks earlier that the wheat straw we were adding to the cows’ ration appeared to have more evidence of pre-harvest fungal growth than usual, presumably due to stress as it ripened during the drought. Consequently we’d sent a sample off for mycotoxin analysis which had come back relatively clear.

The problem is of course that it is very difficult to get a representative sample from straw, without opening up lots of bales to get a small sample from inside each, so it’s possible that this result gave us false assurance.

Anyway, we decided to try adding a clay mycotoxin binder to the ration in the hope that this would clear the problem up. And so far, touch wood, that seems to be the case. Although, on the other hand, maybe there was just a couple of bales that had the high levels of mycotoxins and the problem resolved itself.

And therein lies the dilemma for us now – at what point are we going to be able to feel comfortable removing the binder and its additional cost to the ration.

The key thing though is that the affected cows have all now recovered from their operations and are doing well.