It’s a bit late in the day, but a happy New Year and I hope it’s happy and prosperous and more importantly a healthy one – 'A healthy man is a wealthy man'.

I will only touch on Brexit as I’m sure – like me – you’re sick to the back teeth with the back stabbing, those out for their own political gain and not that of their constituents, or just to simply try and bring the government down.

Like it or not, we are a democracy, we voted for out, so out it should be. We can’t call for another referendum every time something happens and it’s not what we want to hear. Anyway, whatever the deal, fingers crossed it supports our industry. To quote Jim Walker, we need stability, certainty and cash – all of which are in short supply.

I had hoped to get to the Semex Dairy Conference, in Glasgow, this year. Alas, time got the better of me, with cows calving a rate of knots, lots of colostrum to be administered and others to teach to drink milk. This is a time-consuming job, but one which reaps huge benefits if given the patience it undoubtedly requires.

Nothing can be more pleasurable than seeing a wobbly new-born calf get to its feet, learn to drink from a bucket quickly and flourish in the weeks ahead.

Going back to the Semex conference, though and one message coming out loud and clear from NFU president, Minette Batters, was that the pride and strength of the dairy industry has to be restored in the face of the attacks of the animal rights movement. The only way to tackle this is with zero tolerance, although she admitted that new ways of selling the industry had to be found, including the better use of labelling.

We need to restore the pride and strength in the industry, so get your thinking caps on and let’s come up with new and innovative ideas to sell our products. For every untrue negative comment coming our way, we must counter it with a true positive.

As I mentioned, we are in the midst of a calving flush. Trying to keep calves healthy in the present climate is no mean feat. I started the winter with every calf being born being put in a cosy jacket. Before we knew it, the temperature moved high for the time of year, so I stopped.

I took the decision to leave jackets on the calves already with them, but in some cases I was forced to remove them for health purposes as some were just too hot and showing signs of pneumonia. The atmosphere in the shed was too stuffy which is, of course, a no, no. So out comes the draxin and metacam as I try to pre-empt symptoms.

The next day, the temperature plummeted from plus 8°C to 0°C! How the hell do you keep a handle on that? Calves are hard enough to rear without the weather fighting against you as well.

A big freeze is predicted along with snow this weekend. Let’s hope the latter doesn't happen too much.

The best start for a calf, as we all know, is to give it good quality colostrum. Ours is tested with a refractometer and if it’s below standard and we have no other colostrum available, frozen or fresh, I use Harbro’s powdered replacer.

Yes, it’s expensive, but I would rather have it on hand when good quality stuff isn’t available, rather than feed poor quality. In an ideal world I like to feed a calf 10% of its body weight as soon as possible and usually within two hours.

This, though, isn’t always possible. Timing is one of the main challenges, as if a calf is born at night, it could be longer before it gets its first feed.

The silage is pushed in and calving cows checked around 9.30pm and I like to be in the calf shed by 5.30am – so that leaves an eight-hour gap. If the colostrum management is right, ie fed in good time and the right quality, scours would drop and overall calf health will improve in the first three weeks, where the calf relies on this natural protection.

Pneumonia, though, can be an on-going battle. Can we blame it on global warming, with the weather sometimes changing drastically from day to day? I always think it would be great if we had a sixth sense just to predict it.

Or should we vaccinate? There are different strains, so 'one size' doesn’t fit all. No-one likes having to treat calves, but if we don’t have them, we don’t have replacements and no future.

This year brings with it the issue of milk contracts to prominence for all involved in our sector. NFU Scotland has highlighted the upcoming consultation on the introduction of mandatory milk contracts as a 'unique and tremendously significant' opportunity that is unlikely to be offered again in the lifetime of this generation of dairy farmers.

This is important, because 90% of a dairy farmer’s income is directly driven by the terms of the business' contract, rather than support. I agree entirely with union vice-president, Gary Mitchell, who said: “The opportunity to be offered by the UK and devolved governments recognises that the dairy supply chain does not represent a balanced, fair refection of the vital part played by producers”.

Not everyone will agree, but there is a strong case to be made that an efficient, competitive dairy sector can only be achieved by an understanding that all in the chain rely on each other. Therefore, a fair share of risk and reward must be established. A consultation is to be formally launched and it is hugely important opportunity that all Scottish dairy farmers should engage in. I urge you to have your say.

Some good news to end on. Apprently, 1.4m primary shoppers have said they will trade up and buy Red Tractor food instead of cheaper alternatives following the assurance scheme’s autumn advertising campaign. As well as the spike in purchasing intent, the number of shoppers associating the logo with ‘traceable food from farms to pack’ has nearly doubled to 62%.

That's a fantastic result. Increasing confidence in Red Tractor is vital, particularly as we approach Brexit – sorry, mentioned it again! This is just the start, though and we need to continue to enhance the reputation of our world-leading assurance schemes.