Within the next four to six weeks, the workload will begin to ramp up again on the majority of livestock farms, as attention turns to calving, lambing, slurry and planting spring crops.
Planning ahead is the best way to prepare for any task, and, more often than not, it helps reduce the number of unexpected problems that crop up during a busy spell.
Therefore, use your time wisely over January to make preparations for a busy workload in early spring.
Outlined are 10 tasks to consider, and while not all of them are applicable to every farm, they will help set the farm up this spring.
1 Soil testing
Taking soil samples in January is recommended before any slurry, farmyard manure or fertiliser is applied this spring.
Make sure to include any fields that have been earmarked for reseeding in 2023, as well as any field reseeded last summer or autumn.
Ideally, samples should be taken from fields that have not received any form of fertiliser, or have been grazed by livestock for a period of four to six weeks beforehand.
On cattle only farms, this is unlikely to be an issue in January. But it may be more of an issue on farms running sheep or store lambs.
If samples are being taken following grazing this month, avoid areas where feed troughs have been located, as well as areas where dung is visible.
2 Fertiliser plan
Once the results of the soil analysis have been returned, use this information to pull together some form of fertiliser plan for the farm.
If lime is required, make a decision about when this will be applied. If lime will be spread this spring, avoid using urea on these fields in February and March, as nitrogen will be less readily available.
If urea has already been purchased as the primary source of spring nitrogen, then lime is better off delayed until late April or May.
In the case of slurry, leave two to three weeks after spreading before applying lime. Again, this increases the availability of nitrogen for growth.
Target slurry to as much silage ground as possible, along with grazing swards that are low in phosphate (P) and potash (K).
The start of a new year is a good time to get a handle on the cost of production inside the farm gate.
Tally up the inputs purchased and any stock purchased from the start to the end for the year. Next, tally up sales from stock, forage etc.
This should give some info for costings on a per breeding unit (e.g cow/ewe) basis, or a cost per kilogram of beef and lamb sold and milk produced.
The sooner this task is completed, the more valuable the information and easier it is to act on.
Once calving, lambing and field work starts, this task will mostly likely be put off or forgotten about.
4 Store cattle and finishing budgets
There are more farmers storing cattle over the winter than normal, due to higher concentrate costs. In many cases, the plan was to either put cattle back to grass or sell them live in spring. Take the time to weigh up your options, then decide what is the best marketing route for these animals. Weigh cattle and get a firm handle on liveweight now.
If the plan is to kill cattle off grass this summer, then stores need to be in the region of at least 450kg to 500kg liveweight in January.
Cattle that are lighter than this may require another winter inside to reach a suitable slaughter weight.
With a better handle on cattle numbers and liveweight during January, it will be easier to plan out where these animals will be grazed and whether there is enough ground to carry them.
If not, there is still time to get stores into saleable condition for selling live in late spring.
5 Pregnancy scanning
The breeding period for sheep is now over. On many autumn-calving suckler farms, breeding will also be finished. Scanning animals over the coming weeks will indicate barren animals that can be offloaded.
In the case of sheep, many farmers struggled to get scanning technicians last spring, due to a shortage of people offering this service for a variety of reasons. Therefore, make contact with your scanning technician early and get a date in the dairy.
Removing passengers from the farm as early as possible offers financial, feed and labour saving benefits.
6 Get herd and flock health up-to-date
Make sure animals are up-to-date with any routine treatments for parasites such as fluke. January is also a good time to vaccinate spring-calving cows for scour and ensure ewes are covered for clostridial diseases.
7 Get calving and lambing pens set up
If calving and lambing is due to start in early to mid-February, use the time over the next month to wash sheds used as a maternity wing, especially if they have been used to house sick animals.
Once washed, allow to dry and spray a disinfectant or lime. Setting up pens for cows and ewes post-lambing should be the next step.
There will always be a few cows that calve early and need such facilities. The same goes with ewes.
Having a few pens ready takes a lot of hassle out of such situations, especially if a cow calves at night.
8 Replenish the calving and lambing kit
Take a look to see if calving and lambing aids are clean and in good condition. Wash and disinfect as necessary, then store where they can be easily located once calving and lambing start. Stock up on things like gloves, iodine, electrolytes, colostrum and medicines to treat cows or ewes after a difficult labour.
Check there are new needles and syringes of suitable gauge for injecting sick or weak newborn calves and lambs.
9 Pre-calving minerals
Pre-calving minerals should be offered to cows from six to eight weeks before the first calf is due to be born. Minerals will improve calf vigour and reduce problems around calving time, such as cow’s holding the placenta or a case of milk fever in animal’s with greater dairy influence.
Having cows penned based on calving date means that minerals do not have to be offered to the whole herd at once, just the cows closest to calving. This saves time and money.
10 Fodder and straw budget
Do a quick check on silage reserves to ensure there is enough fodder to last until the typical turnout time.
At the same time, do a quick tally on straw bales to make sure there is enough in reserve for calving and lambing.
If there is a shortage, act now before demand increases and potentially sees straw begin to increase in value.