January 2017 Gold Cup Comment: A year to reflect and look forward

This month 2016 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Simon Bugler from Dorset explains calving intervention policy at Pilsdon Dairy Farm and looks forward to 2017 with some trepidation.

Simon Bugler

Simon Bugler

December started well for us with the two inconclusive TB heifers both passing, which meant all restrictions could be lifted.  We were immediately pre-movement testing so that we could consign heifers and cows to the Sedgemoor Christmas Cracker sale.  We ended up with two second calvers and thirteen heifers for sale and we had good trade considering the milk climate.  We also won Reserve Champion and Best Cow with our second calver by Jenny Lou Trump  (not a winner like her namesake!)

We have calved a lot of heifers through December and the early part of January, so we plan for a large consignment for the next sale at Sedgemoor on January 24th.

Targeting 5% mortality

With a high proportion of heifers calving, we have found it difficult to reach our target mortality of less than 5% at birth to thirty days of age.  This target seemed impossible when first introduced and struggling to achieve less than 5% highlighted that the largest area of losses were at calving.  Most professional advice I have had, or from reading I have done, would encourage us away from assisted calving.  However, I have always had difficulty accepting this for fear of losing a calf right under my nose.

Targeting less than 5% mortality has actually encouraged us to assist with more calvings not less and the result is less dead calves.  This has made me realise how many calves can be saved if careful intervention is applied for a leg back, head back, upside down calf or breach which, if left too long, would surely be dead.

There are several of us at the dairy able to calve cows and over the last six months we have recorded fourteen potentially saved calves with presentation problems.  As long as we continue to assist in a careful responsible way, I don’t believe we will have any reason to change this policy.  Our key indicators would be RFMs and metritis, both of which have stayed at low levels. 

Christmas and New Year went well on the farm as did family festivities on Christmas Day.  However, the following week was challenging with all three children suffering with colds, then chicken pox with a sick bug thrown in for good measure.  I thought I’d escaped with just a cold but no, the bug wiped me out for a day.  By New Year’s Eve I was feeling a lot better, but still not eating, just managing to function with the help of some Life Aid Extra.

Separator problem

This was all I needed to give me the energy to sort out a problem on the separator.  The main liquid drum had tripped out due to a worn pin that holds a nylon roller on which the rotating drum sits.  It had dropped out of position and was resting on its housing, not able to work.  There’s not an abundance of willing help for a job like this on December 31st, so I convinced myself it was possible that a cowman like me could probably just about cope with a mechanical repair job.

Fortunately, we had the spare parts, and all that was needed was two 19mm spanners, a punch, and the best bit—a hammer.  This was the most useful tool, as I had some difficulty getting a sleeve off the pin (thanks to sand), but with everything replaced with new parts, I set it going and amazingly it worked.  I felt quite pleased with myself, not being a natural mechanic.  Thinking back a few days, when I couldn’t actually drag myself from bed, I realised how lucky I was to be up on the separator gantry on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. 

Brexit and Trump

It’s been a year of unexpected outcomes, for me.  I had thought we would stay in Europe and I didn’t really think the American electorate would put their trust in Trump—but how wrong I was.  If I’m honest both concern me, but has daily life changed? No—not yet.

The only knock on effect so far has been on currency with the weakening of the pound.  This of course meant that just as we approached the prospect of some falling feed costs, with the large world soya stocks, we all have to spend more to buy the same feed.

It would have been helpful to a lot if feed could have been bought a little cheaper as the milk price rises struggled to get started.  I wonder how many people that voted us out really expected the pound to plummet like it did and add to their feed costs with quite such bad timing.

One thing is for sure, ties have been severed and if you are in the EU, you will most likely make life difficult for Britain’s exit.  As we enter the on-going discussions for exit and the pain becomes apparent, there could be more twists to the story yet.

Equally unlikely was the prospect of Trump as President but come the end of campaigning, I think there was genuine lack of choice.  Perhaps we just need twitter to break down for the next four years, or is Trump right using tweets?  Perhaps I should run the farm via social media too.

An escapee from the dairy was recently a hit on social media!

An escapee from the dairy was recently a hit on social media!

Pictured above is Bettiscombe Lavaman Sabrina who my wife discovered was already familiar with social media.  She recently featured on Facebook having escaped from the dairy into the rest room for a cup of tea!

Happy New Year!