After a bit of a dodgy start through May this has turned into the sort of summer I thought only existed in the rose-tinted recollections of my youth. That said, there are some large existential black clouds looming but I’ll come to them later.

In all, we ended up being a full two weeks later than usual in getting our first cut silage done. The quality was back a bit with an ME of 11.2, protein 13.8% and sugars 11.1% (2020 figures were 12.1, 14.8 and 12.1 resp) but with the extra growing time it was a pretty reasonable crop. It might have been over wilted a bit as the DM is 46% (38.9 last year) but it seems pretty stable coming out of the pit even in the scorching days we’ve had lately.

The biggest down side is that with it being so dry and then combined with a largish quantity of wholecrop silage, we’re having to add around 8litres of water to the ration to help keep the cows’ intakes up. Rather than waiting all day with a hose pipe to add the water, we’ve rigged up an old stockmol tank so that it can be added at the same time as the maize and meal from the silos.

The cows seem happy enough with the ration though with milk still at around 41 litres sold. We did see quite a large drop in the butterfat back in May as the days lengthened going from 4% to 3.7% with protein also coming back a touch too. They are starting to edge up now but our overall solids are more in line with our long-term average, rather than the highs we saw in the spring.

Other crops have been doing really well. We took advantage of the weather, along with a lot of the rest of the district it seemed, to get 36 acres of hay at around 10 bales/acre. Overall though, it might not be that plentiful though as I was reading an article by someone in the SE of England decrying what a disastrous year it was for hay.

We also lifted 19 acres of winter rye as wholecrop last week. Some bits of the field were quite literally lifted as a cloud burst the previous week had knocked a fair bit of it down, so kudos to George Prentice’s team for doing such a good job of clearing the field. It’s maybe not surprising that some of it had went down though as it was over 23t/acre which was fully two thirds more than we got from a spring rye crop in the same field last year.

We had been pretty lucky over the first 12 months of the Covid pandemic that we were able to maintain our staffing at sufficient levels. But in line with all those news reports over the last few weeks the twin storm clouds of Covid and Brexit are hitting us hard. We were already tight for staff but in the last two months we’ve lost three people (two of them having been with us for more than six years) as they wanted to get back to Poland to be with family they’ve not been able to see for over 18 months.

In more ‘normal’ times we would have managed to recruit either by word of mouth or through an agency. But agencies are having a huge difficulty finding people especially as any Europeans need ‘settled/pre-settled status’ in order to work plus there is the added complication of quarantining when arriving from abroad.

Now I’m sure there are a couple of Brexiteers out there saying but you should be trying to employ British people anyway. Well, we tried advertising through the Job Centre but there was no interest in a full-time job (even with accommodation). And, although we had some interest in a part-time position, of the three people that we started none lasted more than five days, as the job was apparently more arduous than they had expected. Fair enough I guess it is harder than an office job but as manual jobs go, I think it would be rated as pretty run of the mill.

We have had two bits of ‘luck’ though. Firstly, we’d already arranged for a placement student from Harper Adams, and Hannah has been great as she pretty much knew the ropes from day one.

Also, one of the people that left had a friend who worked in hospitality down in Leeds. Pawel decided to move up to work for us as the rent-free accommodation and better wages would let him save for the future.

That said though, we are still really stretched. We did consider dropping a milking and switching to twice a day but that could cause a lot of problems especially in the higher yielding cows and could actually lead to more work if we got a lot of mastitis as the cows adjusted.

Instead, we’ve decided to work to reduce our cow numbers through a combination of heavier culling and selling freshly calved first and second lactation cows. The aim being to reduce each milking by 40mins. So, if anyone is interested in some milky young cows, please let me know.

I’ll finish on a more positive note, as yesterday we got seven live healthy calves from three cows. As for the first time in my mother’s, let’s just say, long career in dairying we had a cow with triplets. And that was followed several hours later by not just one but two sets of twin calves. Now I’m not normally one for omens but that has to be a good one surely….