OVER the last week there have been plenty of sunny spells, but interspersed with a variety of weather systems that brought some more rain and a blustery snowstorm. Throughout the week the temperature has remained low, with our thermometer showing readings below zero on a few occasions.

One sunny morning, whilst on my way to check the sheep still resident on Manor Farm, I looked in on the milking cows in their cubicle barn following morning milking.

They all looked very contented; some tucking into a hearty breakfast; some lying down in freshly cleaned and bedded up cubicles; others enjoying soaking up the sunshine that was finding its way into the barn via a number of unobstructed routes.

On this occasion there were no cows using the brushes which are fixed to the wall at one end of the barn. These brushes revolve when nudged by the cows, so they can then stand under them to be groomed.

Mid-week we had a routine visit from our vet. This was mainly to do post-natal checks on cows that had recently calved and pregnancy diagnoses on others that calved last autumn. Whilst on the farm our vet is also available to talk through and advise on any issues that may have arisen regarding any of the cattle.

On Stowell Farm, the small flock of ewes currently giving birth to their lambs after being artificially inseminated is progressing well. The ram lambs born to these ewes will be used to introduce new genetics into the main flock without having to source rams from other farms, so reducing the risk of bringing any new diseases onto the farm.

The 1,000 pregnant ewes brought in from Corsham Park just over a week ago have now been sorted into groups. The ewes were scanned just before being housed in barns and at that time were marked with a colour depending on the number of lambs they were carrying.

This enabled the ewes to be split into three groups very easily once they had settled down in their pre-natal accommodation. The groups are those expecting singles, those expecting twins and those expecting triplets or more. The largest is the group due to give birth to twins.

The main reason for splitting the flock is to ensure every ewe will receive the correct balance of nutrients in her diet. All the ewes are being fed grass silage plus a vitamin and mineral supplement. Those expecting twins are also being fed some sugar beet and those carrying multiples are being fed some oilseed rape meal. The vitamin/mineral supplement contains extra vitamin E, which has been found to enhance immune function and the growth of unborn lambs. Sugar beet is included in the ration in late pregnancy as an energy source. Producing milk requires a lot of feed energy, so it is a good idea to begin giving it as part of the diet in late pregnancy, for the ewes due to give birth to more than one lamb. Rapeseed meal (the meal produced after the extraction of oil) provides a valuable source of protein and replaces the use of soya meal.

Richard and I recently attended a south west dairy conference in Taunton. The conference was entitled Dairy in a Day and included presentations from eight people on a variety of topical issues for dairy farmers.

One session was about animal health, disease and antibiotic usage. Due to the increasing resistance of some bacteria to antibiotic treatment it is essential that antibiotic usage is carefully controlled wherever used, which includes use in dairy cattle. Volatility was another topic discussed, as milk prices often fall and rise dramatically, making management of dairy units particularly challenging. The final presentation was regarding promoting our product. I need no convincing of the value of milk and dairy products in my diet. I love them all!

By Denise Plummer