Definitely been quite a change in the weather over the last few weeks with a much more autumnal feel now.

Thankfully though, we’re pretty much done with harvest with only the beans left to combine and final smallish cut of silage. And then of course we start it all again getting some grass and winter wheat sown!

We switched the cows from second to third cut silage a few weeks ago when we took our fourth cut of silage and it was a somewhat stressful experience. We had expected there would be a negative impact on the milk but in the days following the change the milk seemed to just melt away – dropping about 10% in total.

Because we only get the milk lifted every other day and then have to wait another two days for the bulk tank analysis it was an uncomfortable four days as we waited to see if there had been a corresponding impact on the butterfat and protein levels in the milk. Thankfully they had both risen, albeit not by enough to compensate for the milk loss, but overall the solids per cow were only down about 4%.

A couple of months ago I mentioned that we were trying out the Smaxtec boluses. The original reason for trying them was as a replacement for our rapidly obsolescing heat detection collars but really there are turning out to be much more useful than that.

On the fertility side they are picking up all the heats that the collars are (we’ve a group of cows with both bolus and collar to allow comparison) plus they’ve also picked up a couple that weren’t detected by the collars. It’s a bit early to have truly accurate data but the conception rate certainly doesn’t appear to have deteriorated.

One interesting anomaly with the boluses is that on the really hot days, we had a few 'false heats'. What appears to happen is that because the bolus sits in the reticulum when the cow is panting due to heat stress this movement gets mistaken by the algorithm as the cow being more active giving the 'oestrus alert'. It’s pretty easy to spot these erroneous heats on the cows’ charts and hopefully at some point the algorithm will be updated to eliminate them automatically.

Thing is there are really loads of systems for heat detection, what we’re really finding useful with the bolus is, the alerts it gives us on cow health, through changes in either temperature or rumination, and also the fact we can get pretty much real-time feedback on whether the interventions we make are impacting the cow.

For example, for a while now we’ve used a product called 'ProRumen' on freshly calved cows where we’ve been worried that their appetite had not recovered post-calving. In some respects, it was a classic 'pixie dust' – good rational for why it should work but difficult to tell if it was doing much good. But in a good number of cows now where there has been a clear deterioration in rumination, we’ve seen marked improvement on the bolus’ rumination chart within a few hours of giving the 'pixie dust'.

Another thing I’m now much more aware of, is just how hard vaccination can hit the cows. We routinely give the dry cows the Rotovec vaccine so they produce antibodies to protect their calves from E. Coli scour.

While younger cows barely seem to notice they’ve been vaccinated some of the older cows (who will have had the vaccine several times) seem to have a huge inflammatory response with quite a large temperature increase detected by the bolus.

Hopefully all these little things help improve our understanding of what is going on in the individual cows and will help our management of them. As with most technology I don’t think it’s about subjugating good stockmanship but enabling it.

Finally, we’ve had a couple of bits of good news in the last month or so. Firstly, our oldest cow Killywhan Supersonic Myra 2 has now passed a lifetime production of 200 tonnes of milk which by way of visualisation is about eight articulated milk tankers (or roughly 1/12 of an Olympic swimming pool), which is some going in more than 11 lactations in just over 15 years of life.

Secondly, we were pleased to be 'Highly Commended' in the 'High Performance Dairy' category at the Cream Awards 2022. Definitely no shame coming second when up against the phenomenal Willsbro herd.