Overstocking due to being closed with TB, and a desire to make the best use of silage reserves, has recently seen me cull cows like the Conservative Party culls prime ministers.
While I hate the process of culling I do find that the removal of problematic cows can be a therapeutic experience.
I was recently shown a video by a Japanese ‘organising consultant’ Marie Kondo whose mantra when deciding what items to keep in your life is to dispose of anything that does not ‘spark joy’ in your heart.
I can assure you bad udders and repeat cases of mastitis most certainly do not ‘spark joy’ in my heart and the removal of such issues is a relief.
We have housed all but one group of cattle who are still enjoying what is considered in north Antrim to be an extended grazing period.
Part of the housing process involves deciding what dairy heifers will be artificially inseminated (AId) and which will go to an Angus stock bull.
This year we have decided to limit the number of maiden heifers that will be AId to sexed dairy semen to fifteen. Due to the effectiveness of modern sexed semen it could be argued that it has become too easy to breed replacement heifers, with the result that capital is tied up in surplus stock that in our situation cannot be sold due to TB restrictions.
By limiting the number of maiden heifers I am forced to be very selective, and heifers are chosen on the basis of their pedigree performance.
A select number of first to third lactation cows will also be served with sexed Holstein semen or conventional Fleckvieh straws. The plan is to end up with a total of 30 heifer calves. It means the most extensively used sire this year will be Angus.
In preparation for the breeding season I asked a salesman from a local AI company if he would be able to retrieve straws from the tank that had floated off over the years.
As well as finding some straws I suspected had gone astray, he also uncovered some surprises, including two straws of Leif, a bull born in 1999 that had a fantastic impact on our herd, adding strength and power in all the right places. Despite being conventional semen, Leif almost always threw us heifer calves, unlike Mascol, who was the bull of the moment the following year, but who threw almost all bull calves, except for three previous heifers.
I will save these Leif straws for the right candidates - after all I am told that a 90s revival is the current fashion.
But back in modern times, I have chosen one of the Holstein bulls I will use this year as a result of a post on social media site, Instagram.
My first experience of someone buying an item marketed on Instagram came from my wife. One day when she was still at work I came into the house in a hurry to get ready for a meeting to find a note from a delivery company to say that they had left a parcel.
Without looking at it (assuming the delivery had been left in the shed beside the house as every previous delivery had been) I stuffed the note into my pocket.
Two days later my wife asked if the order she placed though an Instagram promotion had arrived. I remembered the delivery note and to my great distress read that it stated ‘parcel in blue bin’.
The same blue bin had been emptied the day before - I can only hope that the good people of Ballymoney recycling centre enjoy the aroma of the ‘artisan’ candles I inadvertently gifted them.
Back to the Holstein bull I found on Instagram, it was an animal that I had somehow overlooked during my research and yet fitted all of my rather pedantic criteria with regard to milk quality, health traits, lineage and pedigree.
However I hope that the move to social media proportion does not spell the end of sire catalogues. I enjoy looking through old catalogues to see what the breeding trends were at a given period, and what sires were in demand at the time.
The catalogues from 10 to 15 years ago highlight just how far the industry has come and makes me extremely enthusiastic for the potential gains to be had in the future.