So, seems like winter is finally upon us with the first proper cold snap of the backend.

But with the Met Office predicting that we might not get sub-zero winters in 20 years’ time, you can almost guarantee this is going to be harsh one!

The wet, mild autumn hasn’t been the best for the cattle as we’ve seen quite a bit more pneumonia in the youngstock than we’d expect, even after vaccinating with IBR marker live vaccine.

We’re also having the annual debate around whether to give the very youngest calves the PI3/BRSV intranasal type vaccine. The guy that buys our beef calves insists on it for the calves he buys, which makes sense as they have the stress of both moving and mixing with calves from other farms, but we’ve never really felt that it helps much in reducing the illness in the calves we rear on.

On the whole, the cows are faring well though with the milk sold at just over 40 litres per cow at 4.1% BF and 3.30% P. That said, there are odd exceptions, for example. Last week we had a reasonably fresh calved cow (60 days in milk) suddenly stop producing milk. We did all the usual checks – temperature, ketones etc but everything seemed normal, so just put it down to her having an off day.

Two days later, there was no improvement so we had to get the vet to check her out in case it was a displaced abomasum. It turned out that guts were turning OK but the cow was highly anaemic, which was a bit strange as there was no evidence of blood loss.

At this point the only reasonable course of action was supportive therapy (fluids and pain relief) in the hope that whatever was ailing her sorted itself out.

Unfortunately, just over 24 hours later she passed away, and a post-mortem revealed the cause of the anaemia to be a massive blood clot around the kidneys.

In many respects, such an idiosyncratic loss of a cow is harder to handle than say having to put her down because of a broken leg, or die of pneumonia, as there are no learnings or things you could have done different to alter the outcome.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced in the last six months has been staffing. Although, superficially, our workforce at the end of the year will be pretty much the same as it was in January, it hasn’t been the smoothest of roads.

In late summer, while we still had a back log of people wanting to take days off that had been accruing through the first lockdown, we had two of our staff leave.

Our usual routes to find replacements (word of mouth, agencies) had not been as fruitful as before mainly because people are deterred by a combination of Covid-19, quarantining and Brexit. Thankfully, one of the workers that left decided that the grass wasn’t so green elsewhere after all, so hopefully we’ll all be able to get some respite over the festive period.

Going forward, though, we will have to think about what we can do differently as the recruitment issue is only going to get worse.

With a view to using our time more efficiently, we recently installed a suite of cameras to cover not just the calving pen but also the close up dry cow pens. The cameras we opted for are lower spec’ than those covered but the recent Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme as they are fixed rather than tilt/pan/zoom.

That said, the picture quality is such that you can do quite a good digital zoom on the laptop and still have a clear view. So clear in fact that I was able to spot that a cow was having a breech calving.

I think the real boon will be that we’ll be able to monitor calving from the parlour while doing the night milking, and more importantly, less trips from the warm house into cold when following the progress of evening calvings.

It’s the small things…..