What a difference a couple of weeks makes!

Even as late as the first week in May it seemed like we never really got a couple of days of good weather together and even when it was dry, it was cold with little drouth. Then – before you could say ‘first cut silage is going to be a struggle again’ – the weather swings completely in the other direction and now we’re wondering when the rains are going to come to wash in the fertiliser and slurry. I wonder why it is that farmers are so preoccupied with the weather?

Anyway, we got our first cut lifted on May 13, which is pretty much the usual for us. It was a pretty good crop going by the heap in the silage pit so looking forward to seeing how it analyses.

This slurry application was really the first time we had the new dribble bar and flow meter (hopefully partially funded by SACGS – although we haven’t heard anything since we submitted the claim 10 weeks ago) all hooked up and it has definitely made a big difference in giving a more consistent application.

What really surprised me was that in one of the fields, there was roughly 25% difference in flow rate between the top and bottom of the hill. Previously we’d probably have made some corrections depending on how much seemed to be coming out of the pipes but it really is no comparison when you can make the changes accurately in real time.

With the improving weather we’ve got a fair number of the youngstock out but the cold nights are making us slightly hesitant in getting the younger calves out. Before we put anything out though we had the dreaded TB testing to contend with.

Even setting aside for a second the results themselves, the whole thing is incredibly stressful for man and beast especially when dealing with the main herd. Persuading 700kg animals to go forward individually for the vet to examine, when the last time they did that, only three days previous, he stuck a couple of needles in them, is never easy.

Then you have the milk loss from disturbing the cows’ routine and almost invariably at least one cow will slip-her calf from the stress of it all. In all honesty, I don’t know how those living in ‘High Risk Areas’ cope with having to go through it every six months.

For us, it was bad enough knowing that a herd locally had a breakdown identified during their test earlier this year. Thankfully, in the end, we were all clear, but that little voice of worry is still there especially hearing the very moving contribution from Abi Reader on the NFUS TB webcast a few months ago. Certainly, the new restrictions brought in as part of the Tuberculosis (Scotland) Order 2023 are welcome, as the more we can do to keep TB out of Scotland, the better.

One thing that does puzzle me is the assessment of risk done by APHA when deciding how often farms are tested. Given that we’ve been totally closed for more than 20 years, do we really have the same risk profile as a farm that routinely buys cattle in. In fact, perversely while all our cattle will be tested by their fourth birthday, it is quite feasible for a cow in a flying herd to reach seven years of age before it gets tested for the first time.

To add to our woes at the end of March, we also had issues with our tank washer. Heating elements burning out over several days prevented the milk silo getting a full wash and this, combined with the fact that the milk is collected every second day, meant that our bactoscan reading quickly escalated reaching almost 300 at one point, putting us in severe danger of some harsh milk quality penalties.

Thankfully, after several attempts, the dairy engineer managed to resolve the problem and we’ve now got the figure down to a much more respectable 15. While modern milk silos might have a lot going for them, the old ice-bank bulk tanks were certainly much easier to manually wash!

The cows have clearly been oblivious to all our trials and tribulations as they have continued to milk well throughout. As the days have lengthened, we have seen a bit of a drop in milk solids (from 7.5% to 7.2%) but this has been more than compensated for by an increase in volumes from around 39litres/cow/day to almost 42. The only slight downside being that it means we might get penalised for exceeding our milk volume forecast. And with the milk price already down 20% from its peak, we could do without losing any more unnecessarily.

Unfortunately, earlier this month we also made the difficult decision to say goodbye to our oldest and most productive cow, Killywhan Supersonic Myra. At 15yrs and six months she had completed 11 lactations and given more than 205t of milk (including 7520kg of fat and 6160kg of protein). Perhaps the greatest regret being that we didn’t get more daughters from her. Hopefully, however, she won’t be a one off, we currently have two more cows at 150t plus, and one of our latest batch of heifers tested through Clarifide Plus had a DWP score of 1000 which ranks her 82nd out of the 46,000 UK Holstein females tested so far.

So, plenty of reasons for optimism, plus even Chris Walkland has been more positive about the milk price going forward of late!