By Pat Wilson

The last few weeks seem to have been even busier than usual, particularly in the Calf shed. I regularly get help from Kamca Rackacova, a Czech girl who has settled in Fife, but she has returned home for a few weeks so “no rest for the wicked”. Our calves are fed in individual pens, made from recycled plastic, and I can’t recommend them enough. The calves were being reared on an automatic calf feeder, but it became a vector for spread of infection and many of the calves quickly contracted pneumonia. Treatment had little effect. The calves were tested, and mycoplasma was confirmed. It was soul destroying losing these calves and while I know automatic feeders are a godsend for many, personally I would never entertain another one!

We feed Harbros Buttercup Bloom milk replacer and “touch wood” have happy, healthy calves. Volac, who work closely with Harbro and produce their milk powder encouraged us to buy one of their machines for mixing milk. Not only does it mix but the temperature is always the same at 40 degrees, the consistency is always the same, and calves are always fed the exact same. Calves are the most important part of your dairy operation and optimising calf nutrition should be a priority. Our aim is to have a heifer fit to calf at 24 months so it’s essential to target early growth rates for high performance. The sooner they calve, the sooner they’re earning their keep. This means we also regularly weigh calves. Heifers which gain weight in the first few months of their life will not only be cheaper to rear but will also be more productive later in life. So far so good and most of the calves are hitting their growth potential. It pays to weigh. There’s no happier sight in the morning than seeing calves head straining through the pens, looking for milk because they want to be fed!

The pens are working, so is the machine and regular weighing. But what about spotting the early signs of health issues. A calf not keen to be fed is usually a good indicator something isn’t quite right. Is there a heave? Or perhaps a snotty nose or scour. Your eye is usually a pretty good judge but sometimes you need that wee bit more which is why ear tags which read a calf’s body temperature caught my eye. Fevertags contain a probe-like thermometer which rests in the ear canal. If the temperature is up a red-light flashes. My intention is to try some of these – and if they’re all they’re cracked up to be then I would consider them on every calf. It would sure beat sticking a thermometer you know where!! I’ll keep you posted.

After winning the Scottish Herds competition we qualified for the UK competition against a herd in Ireland and Wales and four in England. David Brewster, ably driven by Mr CIS Bruce Fairlie, visited us last week to scrutinise our herd. The results will be announced at UK Dairy Day next month. Who knows what the future holds but just to be “in the running” makes all the hard work and long hours seem more worthwhile.

Apologies – I’m jumping on the vegan bandwagon again! I recently read an article by a young Farmer who was overwhelmed by the reaction she received when she

posted her passionate views on Facebook. She was compelled to say something after seeing lots of posts on her feed about vegan lifestyle and animal cruelty. Like here I feel compelled to defend my meat-eating lifestyle after a recent visit by my husband to Paisley Abattoir. A group of these fanatics lay down in front of the lorry, forcing him to stop. One said activist wanted to see in the back of the lorry; this was denied. He then bombarded Andrew with questions about why we need to slaughter animals. These cows had reached the end of their natural life as – and to be blunt – we will some time too. He suggested all such cows be kept in sanctuaries! I’d like to know what they’re all going to be fed on and whose paying for it? He claimed we didn’t need to eat meat and that he had lost four stone because he stopped eating meat. Really! I suggest he lost four stone because he stopped eating “crap.

Keeping animals for meat, milk or egg production doesn’t mean they don’t have a good life! Most of us look after our animals with a passion and compassion; often better than we look after ourselves! In fact, it’s in our interest to have happy livestock. And it’s not all about money. How often have you got up through the night to check a calving cow or a sheep which is due to lamb? You put your sleep/social life/leisure time on hold to make sure the “baby” gets the best start in life. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours, days or weeks on end trying to keep something alive and it still dies on you. I’m not scared to admit I’ve shed tears over it. And I’m not upset because I think we’ve lost money but because a life has been lost, and not for a lack of trying! Every profession has bad eggs, but the vast majority are good at what they do. Farmers are NO different. We actually do care about what we do, and I feel insulted that these activists suggest otherwise. No-one is forcing vegans to eat meat or wear leather but for the love of god could they speak to someone who actually knows about where food comes from. Can I suggest Mr and Mrs Vegan that if you’re on a day off or are unemployed it would be much more productive to volunteer in a rescue centre, rather than lie down in front of a lorry!!! And by the way Vegans make up only 2 per cent of the population so why does veganism receive a disproportionate amount of media attention? If they shout we need to should louder.

Dairy Farmers on Kintyre don’t appear – as I understand it – to be much further forward on the future of their livelihoods. First Milk is still seeking buyers for its Campbeltown Creamery and although it seems there are some interested parties no-one has made any commitment. It would be a very bleak day indeed for these farmers if we were to see the demise of the award-winning Mull of Kintyre Cheese brand.

And to round off…can you please support the Great Glen Challenge today. 25 teams are set for this year’s Challenge, supported by a range of partners including the SF. The aim is to raise money for RSABI, Scotland’s biggest rural charity. Uncertainty for farmers has meant RSABI has experienced a surge in demand for its services in recent times, at an average cost to it of half a million pounds a year. You can find the fund raising page at