Happy New Year to you all and best wishes for 2018. We’ve had quite a positive start to the year but I’ll come to that in a moment.

First though an update: last time I mentioned a two-year-old heifer with the broken front leg that the vet had put in a plaster cast. We removed the cast just before Christmas and although there was quite a bit of damage to the skin where the top of the cast had been rubbing, the break itself seemed quite well knitted.

For the first few days it looked like the leg was becoming misshapen as she started putting weight on it. But now that the tendons and muscles are strengthening it’s beginning to look much better.

December was a busy month for us with 50 cows and heifers calving, so this seems like a good time to talk about our dry cow regime.

Cows are generally dried off 5-6 weeks before their expected calving date or once their yields have dropped below 15litres per day. We’ve tried to embrace 'Selective Dry Cow Therapy', based on SCC over the few months before drying off, and have got up to around 70% of cows now receiving just sealant at dry-off.

So far, we haven’t gone as far as just treating individual quarters although that is I guess the ultimate aim. We had a few issues when we started down the SDCT route but these seem to have been overcome by taking a much more fastidious approach to preparing the teats, mainly by extra wipes with surgical spirits.

After drying off, the cows generally spend a week on a straw/silage diet in the 'far-off' group; before moving to the 'close-ups' about four weeks prior to calving. The 'close-ups' are on a full Dietary Cation-Anion Balance (DCAB) system with Calcium chloride (CaCl2) added to get the correct anion load.

These cows also get dry cow nuts which contain amongst other things LiFT, which hopefully gets their liver well prepared for the lactation ahead. Also those cows likely to put themselves under the greatest stress (cows entering their fourth or greater lactation; those carrying twins; or having peaked at more than 55kg in the previous lactation) are given a Kexxtone bolus to reduce the risk of ketosis post-calving.

We try and keep the cows in cubicles as long as possible only moving them to the calving pen when we think the birth is imminent, in case the move sets the calving back.

As soon as possible after calving the cow gets 40-50 litres of tepid post-calving drink and the calf is then removed to the calf shed and the cow milked so that we can get the fresh colostrum into the calf. We prefer, where possible, to make sure that the calf gets its own mother’s colostrum with excess being frozen in single use bags.

Hopefully all of this helps to give the cows a smooth transition and a healthy and productive year ahead.

On which note, our first piece of good news this year was the release of the NMR Annual Production Report for 2017. Once again we found ourselves topping the table with a combined milk solids of 964kg, which is around 1.5% improvement on 2016. The % fat and % protein were both down mariginally at 3.85% and 3.18% respectively; but this was offset by an increase in the milk yield from 13,079kg to 13,662kg.

The second positive news was that our processor, Lactalis, is holding the milk price for the first quarter of the year. This is a bold and very welcome move at a time when so many others are jumping on the price cut bandwagon.

Finally I’d like to congratulate my brother Stuart and his wife Charlotte, on the birth of their second daughter last Friday, January 5. Thankfully, despite being quite a large baby no calving ropes were involved! And all are doing well.

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