Hopefully by now the most acute effects of the “Beast from the East” will have dissipated for all of you.

It really has been a mixed few weeks here. We’d taken advantage of the dry spell to get some ploughing done and some more winter wheat and beans sown. The contractor had finished drilling the last of the wheat late on the Tuesday evening and the following morning we had plummeting temperatures and snow.

We were, it has to be admitted, relatively lucky in that, unlike a few years ago, the council managed to keep the nearby A-roads clear. So, although my brother had to dig out and salt the road from the farm to the village at least we were able to get the milk lifted. So a huge thanks to the tanker and feed lorry drivers for their efforts in such testing conditions.

My thoughts go out to those farms though that couldn’t get their milk lifted. We remember the frustration of having to dump milk you’ve worked so hard for, at what is already such a taxing time. It is good to see Arla trying to act like a true co-operative, and hopefully their support will ameliorate the effects for their members.

The impact that such a relatively brief winter storm can have on a dairy farm go far beyond the simple economic loss of milk. On the human side there is the stress and the extra time taken each day for clearing roads, thawing parlours.

Where pipes are too far frozen to thaw, giving cattle fresh water even using IBCs (1000litre containers) can take a lot of time. With milk being c92% water, a milking cow needs over 30 litres just for the milk and further 50-60 litres to keep her hydrated that soon adds up to quite a bit.

It was noticeable that the cows dry matter (food) intake dropped during the coldest few days, with the milk yield also dipping 3-4%. There are also likely to be longer terms consequences for cow health too.

There was a clear drop in the bulling activity of cows so it is likely we have missed some “silent” heats. Also with the negative energy balance in the cows during this period we’ll probably see an increase in cystic cows in a few weeks’ time. Both of which have consequences for cow fertility, with the negative energy also likely to increase susceptibility to diseases like mastitis.

We were at least lucky in that no cows calved during the cold snap as this would have increased the likelihood of milk fevers and other metabolic problems due to the reduced intakes. With AHDB continually trying to persuade people to switch from AYR calving to spring/autumn block I think it would be wise for them to warn of such potential pitfalls.

The other group of animals particularly vulnerable to the cold weather are obviously the young calves. We give all the calves up to six weeks old calf jackets. These were a bit of an investment at the time but are now in their fourth winter and still going strong (bit of stitching to the straps aside) so the cost per calf isn’t really that much.

Also to help the calves maintain their growth rates despite the extra loss of energy keeping warm we turn up the concentration of milk powder in their feed by about 10%.

Additionally we are able to control the conditions in the calf shed pretty well as the walls are insulated sheeting with forced ventilation via roof extractors. By adjusting the air flow we were able to keep the temperature inside to just above 0°C even on the coldest night.

With any luck things will start getting a bit warmer now and the grass might start growing. Goodness knows we could do with an early turnout.