Finally, after what seemed like an interminable wait, we were able to make some hay this week – not sure it counted as making hay while the sun shone, but at least it was dry.

Seems almost impossible to imagine now that hay used to be the main food source for cows during the winter – how did farmers ever manage to get enough dry days?

Anyway, the hay will be used alongside straw as the basis for the dry cows’ DCAD ration. It is from some of our more distant fields that don’t get slurry, so hopefully the potassium levels should be low. As we use about 40-50 tonnes of hay a year, we shouldn’t be too far from self-sufficiency.

We’re hoping to get another little break in the weather in the next few days so we can get our third cut silage done too, and then we’ll be on to whole-cropping most of the winter wheat, with the rest being combined and the grain crimped. So, a busy few weeks ahead.

As I mentioned last month, the cows are now switched over from last year’s to this year’s first cut silage in the TMR. Seems to be doing the trick, with the milk up about 0.8 litre/cow with butterfat also up a smidgeon.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though, as around the time when we made the switch in the ration, we had a rather pronounced blip in mastitis. Normally over the course of a year we’d expect around 9% of the cows to have mastitis, which works out at about three cases a month, with some seasonality meaning that we tend to get slightly more cases through the summer.

However, over the course of about four days we had five cases – most of them being severe acute e-coli infections which made the cows quite ill. In fact, one of the cows was so ill she was too weak to get herself up so we had to get the vet to give her IV fluids, and hoisted her to her feet for several days until she got her strength back.

The causative agents for mastitis are normally split into two categories: contagious and enviromental. The contagious group includes bacteria like staph aureus which generally spread between cows during milking.

These bugs tend to be pretty well adapted to living in the mammary tissue so lead to more chronic mastitis cases. To control mastitis of this type we use a clusterflush system which disinfects the milking machine cluster between cows thereby preventing spread.

The environmental group, which includes e-coli, tend – as the name suggests – to be caught from the cow’s environment, particularly bedding, or slurry splashed on the teat ends. This is why we bed the cows on sand as it provides a very poor substrate for bugs of this type to live in compared with organic material like straw or sawdust.

We think the cause of our outbreak was that the change in diet had caused the cows’ dung to be slightly looser than normal for a few days as their guts adapted to the change in silage and this unfortunately coincided with us having a few issues with the scraper that cleans the passageways in the cubicle shed.

Thankfully, everything seems to have returned to normal but it was a stressful few days to say the least. That said, having an incident like that makes it easier to appreciate that the value of the efforts we’ve made in the last few years to lower our mastitis rate.