February started with a bang with a few cows and heifers clearly not interested in what the records say and popped out calves early. This is a challenge if they do so on the beet as the calves are fleet-footed and our herdsmen and ladies are often seen chasing a rather speedy calf or stalking a sleeping calf in order to take them to the warmth of the shed. This must be done without provoking the ire of the mothers, some of whom are not shy to use their heads to dispatch anyone who touches their calf. It is great to see how the cows that are brought in to the shed from the cold and wet and relish their new straw bed.
We have also installed cameras in all our sheds so that cows and calves can be monitored from a mobile phone; we can also now review actions taken and use the footage for staff training and animal welfare.
Our new calf rearing facility is working as planned and the calves love their warm straw igloos. Our milk heating plant is working very well and has proved to be very reliable. We have had a few miserable days, but the calves have been immune to this due to the design of the building. The calves are a real pleasure to go and see with our calf man Tom Broadhead always ready with a quick chirp and his infectious laugh. It is really exciting to see the milk tickets every day to check how much more milk we have done from the previous day as every day brings in a new batch of freshly calved cows.
The dairy team are working long hours and it is refreshing to see that no matter what the previous days challenges were, the team turns up every morning at 04h45 with smiles and a can-do attitude. Not everyone is cut out to calve 1600 cows in 8 weeks, if the hours don’t get you, the attention to detail might, so to have a team like this is a feather in the cap of our HR manager Emma Morton. This new and relatively inexperienced team has really stepped up and shown their mettle in the amazing results they have managed to achieve, led by our herd manager Beth Kirby.
Knights Construction have done an amazing job on the sheds and it is really exciting to see them transformed from paper to reality. It has been a bit of a juggling act as the cows and construction vehicles sometimes have had to share the same tracks but apart from a few cows running through the building site, scattering the normally macho builders up ladders and into loaders, it has all gone very smoothly.
Our grass is growing steadily and under the watchful eye of our Grassland Manager Matthew Edwards, we hope to surpass all previous records. What people don’t see on a farm of this scale is the logistics of getting cows from one unit, or from one end of the farm, to another. We have miles of tracks and somehow at the end of the day after planning and allocating staff to the task, we seem to end up with everyone in the right place at the right time. It can be a logistical nightmare. Managing this is a collaboration between the calving team, led by Ioan (who has done an amazing job keeping cows and calves happy), milking, grassland and tractor teams and without communication between all of them it would not be possible.
The unsung heroes of the farm are the herdsmen and ladies, Josh, Emily, Shelly, Chris, Heidi and Ryan who no matter the weather, are out there moving cows around and making sure the dry cows and heifers on the beet are looked after. It is many a day when they arrive at the dairy covered in mud from head to toe, not a job for the faint-hearted.