With a nod to the two-faced Roman God, Janus: Amongst other things January saw me revisit our herd health plan looking at how things went and how we can improve.

Probably the largest change we made in terms of animal health last year was to begin vaccinating the cows against mastitis using Startvac.

Our mastitis levels the previous year hadn’t been too bad (15 cases per 100cows) but those cases we did see were occasionally quite severe.

The standard protocol for the vaccine seemed to be designed primarily for block-calving herds but we were advised of an alternative dosing regimen (two dose initial course, three weeks apart; followed by three monthly boosters) which would suit us better as an all year round calving herd.

We got off to a somewhat inauspicious start when we saw an overall dip of >5% in milk yield in the days following the initial dose. This was mainly concentrated in the older cows, some of which had quite bad reactions with -20% milk drop and milk fever like symptoms being not uncommon in the days following injection. Not only that, but we also saw an increase in SCC as a result of the more active immune system.

Thankfully things have improved with each subsequent injection with milk only dropping c1% for the day following last week’s booster. It’s too early to really tell if we are seeing any definitive (let alone cost-effective) improvement as a result of these treatments although we have seen encouraging indications – mastitis levels have dropped below 10% in the last 3 months; and there has been a noticeable drop in the %cows with SCC >200 in the last few milk recordings, particularly amongst the younger animals.

It is probably fair to say that treatments such as Startvac are going to become increasingly important as we face continued pressure to reduce our use of antibiotics.

With the days lengthening and the weather starting to improve we’ve also been looking at our cropping plans for the year ahead particularly with respect to the recently published “greening” (Ecological Focus Areas- EFA) requirements in the BPS.

It’s good to see that the value of hedges is now being recognised, although I would have thought there would also have been a place for dry-stone walls, as these provide an important habitat for insects and small mammals. Perhaps dykes are a peculiarly British phenomena, and none of our civil servants thought to get them included. Hopefully a combination of hedges and EFA green cover will see us meet the requirements although think I’ll spend the next sunny day out checking the size of the gaps in the hedges to keep myself right.

The next few weeks should see us restart our field work with slurry to spread, and P and K to get on before the grass starts growing in earnest. That said there could still be a fair bit of winter left (we’d only be half through in a normal year) so we’re still having to keep a watchful eye on forage stocks.

This month also sees the dinner and awards evening for the NMR Herds Competition (Scotland and Northern England). This is usually an enjoyable evening, supported by sponsorship from a large number of firms from across the region, and this year more people will benefit from individual animal prizes as they will be distributed more widely due to a change in the way they are awarded.

* Stuart Harvey, his brother John and their mother Margaret, milk more than 270 Holstein cows at Drum Farm, Beeswing, Dumfriesshire, which is a regular finalist in the NMR annual Holstein herds competition and a former winner