Well, 2022 couldn’t just leave the scene quietly. First there was the cold snap which would have been relatively unremarkable here apart from the fact one of the cottages was empty and despite the heating being on we still managed to have a burst pipe!

This was however only a small taster for the more epic floods that hit this part of the country on December 29. By all accounts the floods were the worst in more than 40 years and even though we are about halfway up the hill there was certainly plenty of water passing our way as it headed down the hill.

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On the whole 2022 was quite a mixed bag of a year. On the plus side the milk price pushed up strongly and we broke the 50ppl litre barrier for the first time. But the higher milk price only reflected a surge in a whole manner of costs: feed, fuel, electricity and wages; and it is unlikely to stay at that level and some people are already talking about it being nearer 40ppl around spring flush 2023. However, having already reached the heights of 50p once then next time should met less resistance.

On the whole, the cows milked well last year but we have definitely seen the effects of our decision to reduce cow numbers a bit in autumn 2021. The herd is now a bit younger but as a result of losing the older cows we’ve seen a decline in milk yields by about 1000litres (albeit with higher %butterfat and %protein) and we missed out on the top spot on the NMR APR (Annual Production Report) for the first time in seven years. At 988kg of milk solids/cow we’re still higher that we were even as recently as 2019 though.

Cow health has clearly always been important in achieving our production figures but I think for us it has really taken a leap forward this year since we started using the Smaxtec boluses. We’re definitely identifying cows that need intervention quicker.

I had worried a little that we might over medicalise things: spotting and treating those fleeting ‘one day illnesses’ that would normally fly under the radar and consequently increase our antibiotic usage. But looking back at the figures it appears that what has actually happened is that because we see things earlier and have ‘real-time data’ on a cow’s health we’ve become more comfortable going for first line usage of NSAIDs, vitamins and drenches; with antibiotics only being used if we see no improvement. We’re also hopefully be being more proactive and stopping minor ailments developing into something more major that requires antibiotics.

Another key improvement in 2022 was the addition of a robotic silage pusher. Automating these valuable but mundane jobs is going to be increasingly important as sourcing labour continues to be a challenge.

One other change we made last year was in how we ensiled our field beans. In previous years we had them crimped and then mixed with a moist feed such as Trafford Gold which worked well. However, due to issues getting moist feeds last autumn we decided to try mixing the crimped beans with some of our own crimped wheat, adding some water (to make the wheat a bit more porridge like) and then ensiling. We’ve now started to feed this out to the milk cows and it seems to have preserved pretty well, with no detrimental effects to the milk production.

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So now looking forward to 2023 what other changes are we thinking of doing? Well, high up the list is to look at what we can do by way of energy efficiency. Our electricity contract thankfully runs til August next year but I recently got a renewal quote and our annual bill is expected to jump from around £24,000 to in excess of £85,000.

We already do quite a lot to try and keep our electric cost down: LED lights, solar panels etc; but going forward I think we’ll need to look at things such as: on-demand vacuum pumps and heat recovery from the milk cooling. Also I was intrigued to see in last week’s SF that the Logans of Holehouse have a hydroplant – maybe that’s worth a thought given the rain we get!

Another thing I’m intending to try next year are Rumen Yeast Caps, as an alternative to ProRumen drenching, for cows showing decreased rumination. The drenching on the whole works well but it can be rather messy when the cow doesn’t cooperate, so a bolus seems like a good idea.

We’re also going to take another look at genomic testing of the youngstock. There are clearly efficiencies to be realised through having better data to guide us when it comes to breeding decisions. It is just a matter of finding the right method to do it within our current business model.

Certainly, plenty to think about and no doubt other things will come to the fore as the year progresses. So, just want to finish by wishing you all a happy, healthy and hopefully prosperous 2023.