Herd health plan: As we head into the new year, it’s a good idea to review the herd health plan.

Most farmers know when to give wormers and other doses to calves and youngstock, but linking it all in with vaccine programmes and other herd health programmes takes a bit of planning.

Many farms have a yearly planner for herd health.

This can be a laminated sheet of A4 paper or a much bigger whiteboard. The plan shouldn’t vary much from year to year, but will need to be updated as new advice becomes available, or as some problems are solved and others appear.

A herd health plan is a requirement for the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme anyway, so you may as well have one that is practical and useful.

Most vaccines should be given during the dry period and well before calving. This is because cows are generally less stressed, have a settled diet and are in good body condition.

Leptospirosis and IBR vaccines should be given in January and if still vaccinating for BVD, this should be done in January also. On spring-calving farms, salmonella vaccines should be given in August/September to protect during pregnancy, but where there is a history or risk of salmonella scour in calves, it may be necessary to give a booster vaccine pre-calving. Talk to your vet about a tailored plan for your farm.

Soil samples: If you are looking for a practical way to burn off some Christmas calories, soil sampling could be an option. A sample is required for every 5ha to comply with nitrates rules and I see in the new Nitrates Action Plan that the requirement will be for more farms to undertake soil sampling. From this year on, all farms stocked above 170kg organic N/ha will have to do soil sampling, whether in a derogation or not. From 2023, all farms stocked above 130kg organic N/ha will have to do soil sampling.

There are many labs available for testing around the country and some will do group deals for large numbers where a discussion group or purchasing group work together. Samples should be taken on fields before any slurry is spread. Therefore, take samples in early January to have results back before the slurry spreading season begins, so you can target the slurry to fields that need it the most. With increased costs of fertiliser and increased emphasis on clover, having the correct soil fertility is crucial to ensure less applied nutrients have more of an impact.

Condition score: Looking at herds over the last few weeks, cows being too fat at calving is looking like being a much bigger problem than cows being too thin. Both need to be managed. The risks associated with fat cows are harder calvings, milk fever, ketosis and excessive body condition score loss post-calving. The ideal condition score at calving is 3.25. Cows at this score now and calving in February are fine. Their intakes will reduce dramatically over the next few weeks as the calf inside them grows bigger. The bigger risk is with cows not calving until March and at 3.25 now. These will be at 3.5 and above by the time they calve. Put these cows on restricted silage, hay or poorer-quality silage.