Thomas Steele with his calves© Steffan Hill

Farming can be a funny game at times. One minute something can be working perfectly and then without warning, disaster can strike.

Since August we have calved just over 300 animals with very few problems. This is mainly due to our dry cows receiving specific forage that is grown for them with no slurry or artificial potassium and phosphorus.

This has greatly helped reduce milk fever, retained placentas and other problems around calving.

See also: Read more from our other livestock farmer focus writers  

However, as the first cut of this grass silage ended, we moved on to some bales of late third cut, taken from the same field. This later-cut grass has found to be high in potassium and has caused a host of problems; namely milk fever – phosphorus deficiency – at the point of calving.

This in turn made a few cows hold cleansings and we have been getting a lot more metritis with the first-lactation animals as well. A few tweaks to the dry-cow ration have been made and hopefully things will return to normal again.

Milk prices are still on the floor, but we are finally starting to see some positive trends in the past few New Zealand auctions.

The milk we produced in November and December has had an additional 3p/litre winter bonus, cushioning the blow somewhat.

Recent costings carried out by our farm consultant have shown that even with reduced feeding costs this winter, we are still receiving about 4p/litre below our cost of production. Hopefully things will start to improve, but normally prices can be quick to fall and slow to rise again.

At a recent Agrisearch Dairy committee meeting, it was really positive to see several PhD students give updates on current research studies being carried out.

We also listened to potential studies that could really prove beneficial to the Northern Ireland dairy industry.

With the right people on board, and time and money invested in the right areas, research and innovation will prove to be the key in moving the dairy sector forwards.

Thomas Steele

Thomas milks 450 Holstein Friesian cows on a 263ha farm in Co Down, Northern Ireland. He was 2012 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year.