TEMPERATURES once again varied widely over the past week, rising and falling like a rollercoaster. We started with a miserable rainy day, followed by a mixture of fog, frost, cloud cover and sunshine.

On my walks around Manor Farm, when the sun has been shining, I am still seeing red admiral butterflies and our resident buzzards using the opportunity to rise on thermals. Red admirals are easily distinguishable with their black upper-wings marked with bright red stripes and white spots. They are to be found throughout Britain, seen in a diverse range of habitats. They are primarily a migrant to our shores arriving in May and June from central and southern Europe. However, red admirals are now considered to be residents here, especially in the south, where they are seen early in the year in both mature and immature stages, although most will not survive our winters.

During the week the last of our Friesian/Holstein dairy calves was born. The calf was a heifer, so will join the other dairy calves born since the end of August to be reared on to join the milking herd in two years' time. The newborn calf's mother is five-year-old Bluebell, so she has just given birth for the fourth time.

This means that she has just completed her third lactation, a lactation usually being defined as the 305-day period each year when a cow is producing milk. During the remaining two months of the year the cow will be what we call 'dry'.

This means that her milk production over the 305-day period will have fallen to a very low level, so she will then be given her annual holiday and not milked until she calves again. Bluebell has been a very good cow with annual milk yields of 8,273, 11,953 and 11,158 litres over the last three years. The butterfat and protein levels in her milk have been good, with butterfat (BF) averages of 4.43 per cent, 4.11 per cent and 3.81 per cent over the same period and protein (Pr) averages of 3.38 per cent, 3.31 per cent and 3.06 per cent.

Our cows' individual milk samples are also analysed for somatic cell counts (SCC), the main indicator of milk quality. The somatic cells are mainly leucocytes (white blood cells), which usually increase following an immune response to a mastitis-causing pathogen, when infection occurs. Farmers are rewarded for low cell count averages, but heavily penalised for high ones.

In EU law milk is deemed to be unfit for human consumption if the cell count reading is more than 400,000 (usually shown as 400). Bluebell's milk has been of a consistently high quality with readings of 59, 29 and 68 for the three years she has been in milk.

Apart from her latest arrival, Bluebell has another daughter in our herd, called Celandine, who gave birth to her first calf in September. Celandine seems to be following in her mother's footsteps with a first month average yield of 33.3 litres per day, at 4.05 per cent BF, 3.08 per cent Pr and 48 SCC.

During the weekend of the past week, our niece Natalie, currently studying for an agriculture degree at Reading University, came home to help Ian (her father) disbud our dairy heifer calves born during the last two months.

This is a simple process whereby a local anaesthetic is applied at the site of each horn bud before it is cauterised, thus preventing its growth. The procedure is easily carried out while gently restraining the calves.

Horned cattle on farms are a risk to other stock and handlers, so preventing horn growth at this early stage is the best way to provide a safe environment for all concerned.

There are now an increasing number of polled breeds of cattle, such as the Hereford and Aberdeen Angus. Polled means that these animals will naturally not grow horns due to long-term selective breeding.