It’s the time of year when planning is crucial on farm. Decisions we make now will have the greatest impact on farm performance for 2021. We had a super scanning result with only 7% of cows empty and 100% of heifers in calf, with 68% in calf to first service. 145 animals will calve in February 2021. It has been our best breeding season yet. Synchronising the heifers on fixed time AI really works for us and it also shows the in-calf rate for first lactation cows. I feel it just allows them time to recover after calving to prepare for the breeding season.

All first lactations have now been dried off as we allow them a minimum of 12 weeks to gain condition. The crucial thing is that they remain in the herd for as long as possible so by not over milking them in the first lactation it gives them an adequate recovery period with a knock on affect that they are better cows long term. The remainder of the herd will be fully dry by the middle of December allowing us a sufficient break over Christmas which is important. We have had less days of normality in 2020 due to Covid so we need a rest ourselves in order to be fighting fit for calving 2021.

Cows are housed full time, we stopped grazing at the beginning of November as ground conditions slipped. As well as this, we will have a high demand for grass in February when grass is more valuable to cows. In calf heifers were housed a week later with all heifers housed in mid-November. All empty cows have left the farm as we felt it was vital, we don’t over crowd sheds with so many currently in calf. Everything has a cubicle now and more than enough feed rail space.

Thankfully, silage quality is proving excellent and we are glad that we used Ecosyl additive this year, it seems to have paid for itself. it smells superb and there is also no waste on the feed rail. We sampled it in July and another sample has just gone off for analysis. Cows are milking well off it as well with protein at 3.88% and fat at 4.93% yet we are still only feeding 12% protein dairy ration.

We are looking at increasing calf housing for Spring 2020. The plan is to convert an existing shed which has loads of room and will probably house all the heifer calves. We are also looking at putting in a computerised feeder for them. We already have one feeder but want to use that to feed the beef calves. The plan would be to hold all calves on farm for a minimum of 6 weeks and personally I believe it is the way forward. As dairy farmers we need to get serious about protecting our reputation and the days of 14-day old calves being moved off farm are numbered. Better we improve our system than have it imposed on us. Live export of calves could halt at a moment’s notice as currently we rely on the good will of ferry companies. Should public perception change, then ferry companies would no longer allow calf trucks aboard. It has been reported recently that calves will be flown out to Holland in 2021, I discussed this 12 months ago in an interview and the reality is it costs  40 euro per calf to fly them to Holland versus 10 euro per calf on a truck. I await the outcome of who will pick up the 30 euro difference, it may well be the dairy farmer but I guess we won’t know until next spring.

In the meantime, I’ll be kept busy as I am speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Club conference in January, so I need to get my presentation started along with a 2,500 word paper. It is supposed to be a superb conference and certainly has a top-class lineup of speakers so it’s an honour to be speaking at it. If you are wondering what milk price will look like in 2021 then have a read of my latest piece in the Farming Indo but by all accounts, market analysts tell me we are on a steady ship going forward.