Calves: After all the rough weather last week and with cold weather on the way, keep a particular eye on calf health.
Pneumonia and scours are the big risks which can be magnified if the calf is under stress such as after dehorning or even moving from a whole milk to a milk replacer diet. With temperatures set to fall, feeding rates may need to increase slightly to compensate.
Watch that automatic calf feeders are not overcrowded as these machines tend to take longer to heat the mixed milk in freezing conditions. Make sure that there are no draughts at calf level in the shed.
Blocking gaps in doors with straw or rubber strips will make a huge difference to ambient temperatures, which should be 15°C in the calf pens.
I see a lot more farmers are using calf jackets now.
While farmers that use them tend to like them, I haven’t seen any research to say that healthy calves need jackets in normal conditions. They are definitely beneficial for sick or weak calves as it helps them to retain more energy, but for healthy calves they should be well down the pecking order in terms of priority – good nutrition, ventilation and a good dry bed are more important. If concerned about low temperatures over the coming days consider placing a few heat lamps in the calf shed.
Other things like a canopy are a great addition. These can be as simple as straw covered gates placed horizontally against a wall at about 4ft high.
Fertiliser: The majority of farmers have no nitrogen spread yet for price and weather reasons.
While there is much less rain in the weather forecast for next week the weather is set to get much colder, so it’s not ideal conditions for spreading.
There is certainly no need to panic spread as it’s still early enough in the season and on most farms there is more grass available than normal.
The best policy is probably to let the next week or so pass and then see what the forecast is like. Soil temperatures are still about 2°C higher than normal and are currently above six degrees in most places. Even though this is a good indicator, a lot of land is wet and soil temperatures are likely to drop.
The question then is, when nitrogen is applied how much should you spread? On parts of the farm that haven’t got slurry and won’t get slurry within a few weeks I would be inclined to go with 30 units/acre of urea and either give this area slurry or another 30 units/acre in late March.
We are three weeks away from mid-March when demand for grass and grass growth really starts to ramp up. It’s important to have nitrogen out in advance of this period. Those that have no nitrogen ordered are playing a high risk game in light of what’s going on in Eastern Europe.
Mastitis: Using a CMT test on all cows before they enter the tank is a good habit to get into. This will help to identify cows with sub-clinical mastitis before they enter the bulk tank. In some cases this will be stress related and extra time will solve it but in most cases a quarter of cows failing the CMT test will need to be treated.