March tends to be the month when most calf health problems occur. Sick calves sap time and energy, and dealing with them is hugely demoralising for everyone. It is worth putting the effort into prevention.

Do a full cleanout of the calf shed in the next week or so, disinfect the floors and wall, and put back in fresh straw or bedding.

Watch that the shed isn’t being overloaded, the recommendation is 2m² per calf, so a standard 4.8m by 4.8 span shed can take between 11 and 12 calves.

Try and avoid moving calves from shed to shed, as this increases the risk of infections travelling between the houses. Keep visitors away, and if going onto other farms or going to the mart, wear different clothes and boots to what you wear on your own farm.

This will reduce the risk of introducing scour diseases from other farms/calves. At the end of the day, and even with the best of protocols in place, a scour outbreak can happen.

If it does, keep the focus on containing it by moving sick calves to a different shed, keep feeding them milk as normal, but also give them two or three electrolytes a day.

Slow milkers

Cows that are slow to milk out are the bane of most milkers’ lives. We’ve all been there – the row is finished and changed over, but you’re waiting for one slow cow to milk-out.

Meanwhile, cows on the next row are beginning to finish milking. Culling is an obvious solution but not if too many of the herd are slow milking.

It is hereditary, so not breeding replacements from slow milkers is important. Research in New Zealand has looked at the option of having a fixed milking time per cow regardless of milking speed.

The process is called MaxT, and every row has a set amount of time to milk out between clusters on and clusters off, ranging from six to nine minutes depending on the time of year.

It means there is no waiting around for slow milkers, or no skipping back and forth along the row removing clusters as cows finish.

Clusters are taken off every cow in sequence from the front to the back, with a digital timer at the front of the pit telling the milker how long is left in each row.

Contrary to what most people would expect, the researchers found no difference in milk yield, mastitis or SCC. In fact, the advice in NZ is that over-milking is more likely to lead to mastitis or high SCC than under milking.

There is more information on the Dairy NZ website for those interested.

Cash flow

Anecdotal evidence would suggest that cash is tight on many dairy farms. It’s a hungry time of year in more ways than one. For anyone concerned, do a short budget for the next few months until the peak milk cheques come in.

Take the starting point of what’s in the bank account today, plus expected income over the next few months less farm expenses and drawings that will fall due.

If there’s a prolonged cashflow deficit, it may mean applying for or extending an overdraft facility or borrowing for work already done out of cashflow, or re-arranging payment dates with creditors.