Soil attention

The main focus for February should be soils, says DairyCo research manager Debbie McConnell.

“Walk the fields in preparation for the grazing season, looking at soil nutrients, drainage and compaction problems and assess the quality of cow tracks and fencing.

“Carry out soil sampling – it’s recommended you sample about one-quarter of the farm every year. With the wet year last year, a lot of nutrients will have been leached out of the soil and these will have to be replaced. Use your soil analysis to guide fertiliser purchases and nutrient application.”

Achieving a good soil pH is also key. At extremes of pH, nutrients get locked up in the soil and become unavailable to plants, so maintaining a soil pH of 6-6.5 will ensure nutrients remain available for plants as they begin to grow.

“If you need to purchase lime, look at its neutralising value,” stresses Dr McConnell. “The higher the neutralising value the more effective the lime will be at increasing the soil pH.”

February is also a good time to get the spade out and assess your soil structure and drainage, she says.

DairyCo is holding a webinar on soil compaction with Paul Hargreaves from Scotland’s Rural College on 19 February.


“Straw up” correctly to reduce piglet deaths

“Strawing up” farrowing arcs correctly is a critical factor in reducing pre-weaning mortality on outdoor units, particularly in colder weather, says BPEX knowledge transfer manager Richard Bows.

“Newborn piglets need a warm, dry environment and easy access to teats, so check whether more straw is needed just prior to farrowing.”

For tips on strawing up see 2TS Action for Productivity number two


Prepare for lambing

It is important to have all equipment ready and organised in advance of lambing, says EBLEX’s Katie Brian.

“Wash your hands and wear disposable gloves to assist ewes, bed lambing areas well and disinfect them between ewes. Treat lamb navels with a strong alcohol-based iodine solution. Ensure you have adequate indoor lambing pens and a hospital area.”

More information can be found in the EBLEX Better Returns Programme manual, Reducing Lamb Losses for Better Returns and the EBLEX Lamb Survival DVD.


Calf care

Check the temperature in your calf sheds to see whether you need to up feed rates, says DairyCo extension officer Karen Bond.

“When the temperature falls below 15C in your calf shed your calves have to use extra energy to keep warm. The colder it gets, the more energy they have to use.”

As calves below three weeks don’t have any fat reserves and are not eating much concentrate feed they are wholly reliant on the milk you feed them. So when it’s cold they will need more energy in their feed, in the form of more milk or milk powder.

“Look at the manufacturer’s recommendations for cold weather feeding on you milk powder. If they don’t get the extra food needed, they will use all of their energy just to stay alive, leaving them no reserves to fight infection or grow,” says Ms Bond.


Dealing with damaged grassland

Waterlogging can cause significant damage to grass, leading to decreased yields and lower nutrient value for grazing animals, warns EBLEX’s Liz Genever.

“There is little we can do when grass is under water other than wait for it to recede,” she says.

“Completely submerged grass can only survive for a limited amount of time and excessive moisture will limit grass growth. It can lead to soil structure problems, for example compaction or poaching.

“Once things start to dry out, carry out a grass MOT to assess the damage.”

For more information, download the EBLEX grass MOT.


Body condition score

Spring-calving herds should keep a close eye on body condition change in the period before and after calving, says DairyCo research manager Jenny Gibbons.

“Aim to calve cows down at a body condition score of 2.5-3 and ensure cows lose no more than 0.5 body condition from calving to the start of breeding,” she says.

Download thebody condition scoring chart here.

View Farmers weekly’s video on how to body condition score dairy cows

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