Opinion: Concentrating on calving amid the bad news

We failed our annual TB test last week. The timing is terrible – just as we go into calving season, with about 60% of the herd in-calf to beef.

We would like to move the test to the summer to put less stress on the animals and give us more time to go clear, but for now we are back on the merry-go-round of 60-day tests.

When the reactor was found about two-thirds of the way through, she had a lump the size of a golf ball – measuring it was just a formality.

TB testing

© Tim Scrivener

It would be easy to let this setback spoil our optimism for this year’s calving – we had high hopes that the beef calves would add a nice supplement to our milk cheque.

Instead, we have spent the last week on the phone trying to find someone who will buy restricted calves for more than rock-bottom prices.

Core business not affected

However, selling milk is the core of our business, and we should be grateful that isn’t affected.

The price is certainly looking healthier than it was this time last year. A 0.76p/litre increase for February was welcome, if perhaps not quite as much as we would have liked given where spot prices have been. But it certainly puts us in a strong position to start the year.

See also: My three pre-calving resolutions 

Liz-HainesLiz Haines and her husband Nick milk 320 spring-calving cows in north Shropshire.

I just hope the UK doesn’t repeat the mistakes of two years ago and flood the market with milk at this fragile time, with tonnes of powder still in intervention storage and no radical shift in global demand for milk.

Global political shocks

Meanwhile, as the country careers towards Brexit, and Donald Trump shocks the world by actually sticking to his election pledges, it feels as if more than ever before is at stake for British farming, and suddenly our TB problem pales into insignificance.

Theresa May’s refusal to guarantee protection for our high food and animal welfare standards in a US-UK trade deal is a worrying first glimpse of what the reality of Brexit could mean for British farmers.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump’s apparent belief that climate change is a hoax dreamed up by Prince Charles could dramatically affect food production the world over if international measures to reverse global warming are abandoned. The world doomsday clock has been moved to its closest point to midnight since 1954.

If there was a farming doomsday clock, where would the hands be sitting today? (Suddenly this column has gone a bit more apocalyptic than I intended.)

I probably shouldn’t waste my time thinking about it. Right now we have 354 cows to calve in the next 12 weeks, and all my attention needs to be on them and keeping myself, my family and staff sane through the process.

TB, Brexit, climate change and all the other problems in the world are outside my control, and I’m actually quite grateful for that. Instead, I’ll stick to focusing on the things I can affect.

For a second year we are rearing our heifer calves in a marquee. It worked surprisingly well last year, and our rising two-year-old heifers are now well above weight target.

With a few modifications this year (stock boarding on all the hurdles, jackets on all the calves), there is plenty of reason to believe this will be a great calving season, regardless of TB and what’s going on elsewhere in the world.

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