The winter has been kind so far and it’s great to see the cows performing well and producing enough milk to meet our orders. The new additions to the herd are settled in and it’s a relief not to have to disappoint the shops with reduced supplies at the time of the year that’s historically been when our yields are at their lowest. With Eva gone there’s been some jostling for positions in the latest hierarchy. We’re not 100% sure who the new matriarch is yet, but the smart money is probably on Jocie (our biggest cow). Come mid-March, three more of our cows will calf and milk production will increase further so we’re thinking of expanding our catchment arrear to include Heyford Park. Ideally, we would be looking for a household to act as a weekly drop-off point where customers can come and collect their North Aston Dairy goods. We’ll be attending Heyford Park Farmer’s market this weekend and bringing along some meat and ice cream and a clipboard for anyone who would like to register their interest in joining the collection point.
Winter is the time when we usually get a few cases of mastitis in the herd which can become quite persistent and involves treatment. It’s normally something the cows pick up lying in the straw bedding of the winter housing and it can affect milk yields and sometimes cause discomfort in the udder. Over the past couple of months, we’ve implemented a new mastitis management plan which involves pre-dipping with a stronger disinfectant and so far it seems to be paying off. We’ve had just one or two mild cases that have cleared up very quickly, but no vet call-outs or antibiotic treatment has been necessary.
Last month we decided it was high time the dairy cows got weighed. It’s not something we’ve done before and we tended to just guess their weight by eye, but with the dairy’s merger to the main farm, there is more equipment to share including a cattle crush with scales. The results were interesting, to say the least. As it happens, we’d vastly underestimated their weight – by about 50%! The reason for this colossal underestimation can only be explained on our part, by the amount of meat that’s come back from the dairy cows who’ve been retired in the past. We were led to believe the weight of meat from a culled cow should be about 50% of its live weight. We’ve never received more than 250 kg of mature beef in the past so we assumed our heaviest cow was probably about 500 kg. Well, it turns out Jocie clocked in at a whopping 780 kg! which was quite extraordinary (for comparison the farm’s bulls’ weight 900-1000 kg). Well lessons learned, we’re just going to assume the 50% meat ratio is meant for beef cattle only, and that dairy cows must be built differently with heavier bone structures and bigger internal organs. But it has been useful to know the cows’ real weights as it offers guidance in how much they can be fed for organic standards, and it’s been interesting to see the weight of each individual and compare it to the amount of milk they produce. It seems the gold standard for us, is for a cow to produce ten times her weight in milk every 12 months. e.g., a 500 kg cow could produce 5000 litres of milk in a year when conditions are at their optimum, and we’re seeing that the smaller cows appear to be more efficient at producing milk than the larger ones once the amount of feed they’re eating is taken into consideration - Looks like Jocie may have to go on a new year’s diet!
The winter months are a good time to get on with some hedge management. On the ‘big farm’ we don’t have a tractor-mounted hedge-cutter, but we do have Bill, who, having retired as stockman and shepherd some years ago, took up the traditional art of hedge laying. The stems are cut and bent over which allows the whole plant to stay alive while reshooting from the base. Stakes and binders help support the hedge while it is regrowing. This leads to a thicker more stock-proof hedge which will provide more cover for wildlife, and we think you’ll agree it’s a thing of beauty! In ten to fifteen years’ time, it will be ready to be laid again.