WINTER definitely seems to be upon us and we’ve had the first couple of hard frosts to contend with – you know it must be cold when the space heater makes an appearance to stop the parlour freezing between milkings overnight. 
And then, of course, inevitably there are the frozen water pipes to deal with. Thankfully, the troughs in the cubicle shed tend to be ok, so it’s only the ones in youngstock sheds and it is often as easy just to nip round all of them with a ‘cubie’ rather than thaw the pipes.
Probably the biggest issue when it’s really cold, is that the slats on which the cubicle shed scrapers run tend to choke up as the semi-frozen dung is too thick to fall through, so we end up having to clean them with a spade. It is particularly annoying as this is the main thoroughfare in the shed, so has to be kept clear so the cows don’t have to trail through the ‘dung sorbet’.
On the plus side, though, the frost has meant that we’ve been able to get out and pick the stones in some of the winter wheat fields. On the whole, the wheat has come up pretty well given the less than optimal conditions when it went in last month.
One thing which appears to have enjoyed the wet back-end is the local rat population, which seems to have exploded. Despite the farm being as free of clutter as it’s ever been, they’ve been finding no end of new places to set up home and if they can’t find one, digging a burrow at the edge of the concrete aprons. Hopefully after a couple of extra visits from the pest control guy, we’ve got them on the run.
In my last article I made a comment about this not being a winter for ‘passengers’. Needless to say a few days later those words came back to bite me, as one of our heavily in-calf heifers somehow managed to break one of her front legs between the knee and the ankle. 
Following a discussion with Roddy Dunse, our vet, it was decided that, even though given her size there was certainly no guarantee of success, we’d put the leg in a plaster cast, as the other option wasn’t particularly palatable.
In her favour, she is quite a docile heifer, so we got the cast on reasonably easily. And she has been quite the model patient so far, but it is a long wait until we can get the cast off and she how she’s done. And even then, there’s likely to be quite a period of rehabilitation as there’s likely to be lots of sores etc currently hidden under the plaster. Fingers crossed though!
We’ve had a reasonably busy time (for us at any rate) with calvings in the last month and the next few weeks aren’t looking much quieter. When it came to monitoring the transition from dry cow to milking cow, although the data on milk fever, retained cleansings, etc, is there in the medicine book, we never really managed to find the time to collate it in a meaningful way. 
Probably for example, judging ourselves more based on how fast the calcium bottles/boluses seemed to be disappearing, or whether there seemed to be more ‘dirty’ cows at post-natal checks than usual, rather than anything concrete.
This means that although we can probably spot short term blips (which you can always somehow rationalise away anyway), we don’t really know how we’re doing longer term. To try and address this and hopefully identify weaknesses for improvement, we’ve recently got involved in the Premier Nutrition ‘Transition management system’ (TMS) via Davidson Animal Feeds. 
We’ve had our first couple of visits now which will give a baseline and I’ll update you on how we get on in a future article.
Finally,  I can’t really avoid a mention of the rather worrying signs around the milk price. The downward pressure on the price really is the last thing that we need as an industry right now. 
Having only just seen the price recover to a sensible level in the last few months to now be looking at another down-turn, particularly when so many are going to be tight on forage, really does risk doing serious lasting damage to the country’s production capability. 
We can only hope that the signals are recognised by the processors and especially the supermarkets – maybe the recent progress towards Brexit will focus their minds when thinking about future supply.

John Harvey is part of a family-run award-winning 300-plus cow dairy farm based at The Drum, Beeswing, near Dumfries.