Farmer Focus: Eight cows lost to slurry gases

We lost eight cows recently when pumping slurry. So I’d like to remind people of the dangers of hydrogen sulphide.

The cows were affected immediately: the pump was turned on and down they went.

About the author

Colin Murdoch
Ayrshire farmer and zero grazer Colin Murdoch switched from Holsteins to milking 225 Jerseys in 2019. The 182ha farm grows 40ha of winter and spring barley for a total mixed ration and parlour fed system supplying Graham’s Family Dairy.
Read more articles by Colin Murdoch

We have fitted a slurry gas monitor to prevent a repeat. At a cost of £180, it’s nothing compared with losing cows.

When it happened, I instinctively ran towards the shed, but a member of staff stopped me. I’m glad they did – even just getting close gave me a thumping headache for a couple of days.

While on the subject of gases, I should reflect on the COP26 conference in Glasgow. I thought it was barmy that some delegates flew by plane from Prestwick airport to Glasgow for the conference.

See also: Top tips for how to take on dangerous job of mixing slurry

They had about 20 miles to travel – and they opted for a plane? It strikes me as a little hypocritical if these people are going to tell me how to farm, but there you go.

This autumn sees us calve our first home-bred replacement heifers.

I’m currently enjoying a family holiday in Cumbria. The calving has started a little early (I timed our holiday to be before the calving date) but reports from the farm are: “So far so good.”

I’ve been a bit disappointed with the growth rates of our most recent batch of heifer replacements. We had a nice summer in Ayrshire this year, so didn’t bother with 1kg a head a day of meal and left them to graze.

They were 30kg lighter on average than last year at housing, with most weighing 230-250kg. They’re on blend and wholecrop silage, so they should catch up.

Our first- and second-cut silage has analysed well at about 12.2 metabolisable energy, 30% dry matter and 78 D-value. The only problem is that after a dry summer we might be struggling to find enough of it.

I’ve not bought any fertiliser yet, and it’s strange to think I’m disappointed I didn’t buy any at £400/t. Last I heard it was £580/t. I hope a 2,000t load of digestate booked for the spring is going to cover some of our nitrogen requirements.

One positive is a welcome milk price increase from Grahams. Hopefully, the price continues rising to cover higher costs.