The turn of the month saw a shift to wintrier conditions with the first couple of hard frosts of the season. And with it we had the first chance to play every dairy farmer’s favourite parlour game: “Will my milkline be frozen in the morning?”.

And so we check the space heaters are working and try and reduce those drafts that had made the hot summer milkings bearable because, as any seasoned player will tell you, in most cases it’s not the absolute air temperature that gets you but rather the penetrating cold blown in the last few hours before the morning milking starts.

So far so good but there will no doubt be many more cold nights between now and spring.

Aside from that things are pretty much settling into the winter routine now with most of the cattle housed. So it was nice a couple of weeks ago, to welcome a bus load of farmers from across the Irish Sea who were on what they euphemistically called a “Study tour”, with a couple of nights in Edinburgh and the day at AgriScot.

Visits like this are quite provocative from our perspective too as it gives a fresh pair of eyes on what we do. And it can be interesting to see which of the procedures that we do as routine surprise them most.

For example although I think most of visitors offered their cows some fluids immediately post calving they were surprised that we normally give our cows 50-60litres of Premier Nutrition’s 'Fresh Start' (other post-calving drinks are available, as the saying goes). This might seem like a lot but when compared with the 40kg calf and associated 'gubins' that the cow has just expelled it’s not that much.

I’m pretty sure in most cases the cows would attempt another 30litre bucket if it was offered but a bucket on each arm is more than enough to carry. In fact, it’s clear from the behaviour of the older cows, that seem almost impatient as you struggle to get the lid off the bucket, that they remember the drink from last time they calved and obviously appreciated it.

Our visitors were also surprised that as part of the milking routine we hose down the cows’ lower back legs and feet before prepping their teats. Most people imagine that this would lead to quite a lot of dunging in the parlour but because it is part of the routine the cows are accustomed to it.

The rational for washing the legs is two-fold. First it removes any loose sand thereby stopping it building up on the clusters as the milking goes on. But also we’re stopping dung accumulating on the hoof which might eventually lead to slurry heel. So although there is a cost in terms of time and water usage this is balanced against a reduced need to footbath (around every 2-3weeks) and the reduced environmental impact from copper sulphate usage.

The other thing that struck the Irish farmers was quite how much wheat wholecrop and straw we put in the cows diet mainly I guess because they’re so focused on a wholly grass system. Currently our high yielders are on 7.8kg of DM from grass silage, 4.9kg from whole crop and 0.4kg from barley straw.

We feel the high whole crop inclusion is important in providing stability in the rumen especially where the silage is from multi-cut silage. It provides the structure to the diet that the bacteria can thrive on. And also give the cows a slower release form of starch by way of the wheat grains which compliments the faster release from the ground maize which is also part of the ration.

There have also been studies that show that having a mix of forages in the ration increase intakes. This probably shouldn’t be overly surprising as the slight variation between each mouthful will make it a bit more interesting to each.

Certainly the ration as a whole seems to be working for us at the moment as the cows are producing just a touch under 3kg of milk solids per day which is in fact around 5% higher than usual. So the big question for us as we start to look forward to the New Year is how to keep them there.