Now that Christmas is over and children are back in school the realisation is dawning on dairy farmers that the first of the calves are only a few weeks away.

Those farming in the south will be calving a little bit earlier than those calving further north, where early to mid-February is the usual start time.

A question for those that have already started calving is why? These cows are unlikely to see grass for at least another month meaning they’re already in a high-cost system.

Other than delivering a strong calf and milk in the tank, there’s little else of value to be got from calving this early.

Back to preparation, the following is a list of jobs that farmers will do as they get ready for the calving season;

  • Herds that are vaccinated for rota virus scour in calves should get cows vaccinated around three weeks before calving.
  • Make sure that all calf-feeding utensils are clean and disinfected. Teats should be changed and buckets and feeders should be left to soak in water and disinfectant.
  • Cows closest to calving should be grouped together, in a shed or part of the shed that is close to the calving facilities and where drafting cows is easy.
  • Assess the yard and handling facilities for efficiency. Are there extra gates that could be erected to make moving and separating cows easier?
  • Clean out water troughs and drinkers in the calf shed. Calves need access to clean water supplies.
  • Assess roofs and shoots for leaks on a wet day. Go into the calf shed and calving shed on a wet day and looks for leaks in the roof. It’s amazing how wet one small hole in a roof will make a pen. Wet straw will lead to sick calves.
  • Some farmers will use some of the downtime now to have pens bedded in all calf pens so there is one less job to do in February.
  • Do as much farm administration now as possible. Tasks such as cash flow budgets and gathering information for the nitrates derogation and BISS applications can all be done in January.
  • Now is a good time to pick both dairy and beef bulls for the 2024 breeding season.
  • Do an opening grass walk and come up with a plan for where slurry is going to be spread.
  • Adjust cow feeding times to a time that suits the farm, such as after breakfast or early afternoon. Try and get into a programme of feeding every two or three days, if possible.