Farm Profit Programme: calving the cow part 1 - nutrition and hygiene
In the first of our three-part series, programme advisers Declan Marren and Robert Gilchrist speak to vet Andrew Smith about pre-calving preparation on farms.

Pre-calving nutrition was discussed first and although there is little time to rectify problems around cow body condition at this late stage, there are still things we can do to minimise issues at calving.

Providing sufficient energy to thin cows around calving time will aid the cow massively.

However, feeding thin cows to try to increase body condition score will only lead to increased calf size and, in turn, increased calving difficulties.

If cow body condition has not be managed correctly in the run-up to this year’s calving, learn from it and remember to plan out and manage cow body condition next autumn.

For spring-calving cows, getting body condition correct at calving time really starts in autumn. House cows according to body condition and feed accordingly.


Mineral supplementation to dry cows needs to be correct.

Mineral deficiencies in the run-up to calving can cause all sorts of calving difficulties; ill-thrift in calves, non-cleansing cows and cows slow to start their reproductive cycle once again.

Andrew suggested using a forage analysis to see what the base line figures are for you on your farm as a good starting point.

For example, a large proportion of Scottish soils will have high molybdenum levels, which can lead to the locking up of copper.

But different areas and farms will differ significantly so you need to know your own levels.

Powder v bolus v tubs

Anything is better than nothing. However, Andrew prefers the use of boluses, as you can be sure that all cows have received the dosage.

Whatever is being used needs to suit the farm system.

Not everyone will be able to administer a bolus to cows and therefore powders can work well in these cases.

We need to remember that an oversupply of minerals can be just as troublesome as an under-supply.

For example, oversupplying iodine pre-calving can cause calves to be born hyper-mature, restricting the amount of antibodies the calf can absorb from the cow's colostrum significantly. This is why striking the balance is key.

Calving facilities

Sufficient calving facilities on farm are critically important for the safety of both farmer and their stock.

Investing in decent calving facilities will increase the number of live calves delivered on your farm each year.

Calving gates should be located in such a way that the cow’s left hand side is against the gate and not along the wall.

This allows easy access to the cow if your vet needs to perform a caesarean section.

Keeping calving gear close to hand and clean at all times, ready for the next use, will make things easier when you are up to calve a cow in the middle of the night.


Bedding may be running quite short on a lot of farms this year, but the calving shed is no place to skimp on bedding.

Remember, the newborn calf has no immunity until it gets its first feed of colostrum into it.

If the cow’s teats are dirty, the first thing into the calves system can be dirt.

Handling cows

Hygiene should always be close to mind when handling cows.

Any time you handle a cow, there is the potential of introducing dirt into the cow, which can lead to infection.

Disposable calving gowns and gloves are a great way to minimise the chance of transferring infection.

Price cuts and oversupply hit milk sector
Graham’s The Family Dairy was with a 10% increase in milk supply; and First Milk cut price paid in June.

Falling prices and increased volumes are challenging the dairy sector. First Milk has cut its price to producers due to “downward pressure on dairy markets”, and UK production has been hitting a 20-year high every month this year. Meanwhile, Graham’s The Family Dairy has struggled to cope.

“Our milk production was up by 10% this year, compared with last year. This is a real challenge for us as an independent family dairy business, as milk volumes must be in line with our customers’ needs,” said Robert Graham, managing director.

“We are having positive conversations with our dairy partners and colleagues to address these ongoing challenges, working together on the best way to understand what the milk supply needs to be, and deliver on it.”

As processing capacity is outstripped by supply, excess milk will be put on the market, having a downward effect on prices. Average UK price is 29p/l, slightly above the five-year average of 27.5p/l.

The UK milk future projections are also indicating an encouraging upward trend

First Milk has announced that its price will reduce by 0.3p/l from 1 June to 27.45p/l for liquid milk and 28.37p/l for manufacturing milk.

Jim Baird, First Milk vice-chair and farmer director, said: “Unfortunately, we now need to make this adjustment in light of the downward pressure on UK dairy markets. Looking forward, global dairy markets are looking more positive and, with peak largely behind us, the UK milk future projections are also indicating an encouraging upward trend.”

Market for dairy calves

Finding a market for male dairy calves was the subject of conversation at the Exiles dairy discussion group meeting in Dumfries last Tuesday.

Up until now, the only real market for these low beef-merit Holstein Friesian and Jersey-cross calves was for pet food production

The discussion group – primarily made up of spring-calving, grass-based dairy farmers in southwest Scotland and northwest England, are trying to find alternatives to slaughter for male dairy-bred calves.

Up until now, the only real market for these low beef-merit Holstein Friesian and Jersey-cross calves was for pet food production. But milk buyers, responding to concerns from the public, are beginning to enforce rules around minimum age for slaughter.

The dairy farmers say that finding an alternative market for these calves is difficult and that an industry-wide initiative needs to be put in place to reduce the number of low beef-merit calves, but also to find a market for beef calves from the dairy herd.

One farmer said it cost him £12/head to transport three-week-old Hereford-cross calves from his dairy herd near Dumfries to a market at Carlisle, only for the calves to make an average of £28 in the ring – below the cost of feed and transport.

Scottish beef and lamb markets experience a dip in price
Farmers Journal Scotland editor John Sleigh has his take on the week's lamb and beef sectors.

Cattle prices slipped a little this week as abattoirs took advantage of decent supply, with prices paid closer to £3.60/kg compared with £3.65/kg last week for an R4L steer.

The official AHDB reported price dropped 1p/kg to £3.67/kg for an R4L steer.

This maintained a premium over the northern English price of 9p/kg for the same grade cattle.

Heifers are reported by the AHDB as a good trade at £3.70/kg for an R4L.

Deadweight cow prices rose 5p/kg to £2.73/kg for an O-4L carcase, which is 8p/kg more than northern England.

Lamb market

The live market for lambs tumbled by 19p/kg to £1.88/kg for medium-weight lambs.

Heavier lambs also fell by 18p/kg to £1.76/kg live weight.

Numbers of old-season lambs sold through the live ring fell back again as the season is drawing to a close, with 1,300 fewer lambs sold, with 8,941 head through the live ring.

Meanwhile, 5,211 store lambs were sold through Scottish marts, with a big sale at United Auctions.

The AHDB is reporting a UK price of £5.04/kg for an R3L carcase, with a kill of over 16,000, which is up 7,000/head.

Numbers of new-season lambs sold through the live ring rose again by 700 head to 1,565 lambs.

Ayr, Lanark, St Boswells, UA Stirling and Thainstone marts sold over 100 new lambs each.

The average price for medium-weight lambs was £2.28/kg liveweight. Cast ewes through the ring fell nearly 1,000 head on the week to 2,668 head, as the average price dropped £5/head to £63/head.

Beef wobble worry
Farmers Journal Scotland editor John Sleigh has his take on the week's big news.

It’s worrying that a few abattoirs cut their beef price this week to just over £3.60/kg for an R4L steer. It would seem increased beef supply and weak consumption are allowing processors to claw the price back a couple pence.

Retail sales have been struggling, sliding by around 4% on the year

After a sharp fall in supply from mid-March to April, we have seen a recovery in the last three weeks. While our beef kill is unchanged on the year, when you factor in a higher average carcase weight there is 0.6% more volume on the market.

Meanwhile, retail sales have been struggling, sliding by around 4% on the year, with roasts taking a significant hit.

The good news is the current supply peak usually finishes just after the Highland Show, and barbecue season should kick in soon, helping to increase consumer demand.

No cars at future shows

Having no cars at the Highland Show was one of the recommendations by a transport expert to chief executive officer Alan Laidlaw.

Alan found it hard to imagine how thousands of farmers could descend on Ingliston without using motor vehicles.

But future planners are serious about the combustion engine’s demise, and felt that not much parking will be needed for the double centenary year in 2040.

If this comes to bare, then we better widen doors on the trains from Mallaig if we want a Highland cattle class.