The last few weeks have been busy for the time of year because I have extended the milking parlour by two more units. This will bring me up to a 10-unit parlour.
Like so many of these jobs, the thought of doing them is worse than the actual job itself. It did involve a few slower-than- usual milkings as some inquisitive cows wondered where their space and freedom was gone, but things are getting back to normal now.
The main rails and concreting is done and I have been promised the two units will be working before Christmas.
The Dairymaster parlour was installed in 1996 as part of a new building on a greenfield site. I decided to go with two second-hand units so that they will blend in with the existing parlour. I am also thinking about installing the automatic teat-dipping system, but I must check out the cost of it.
I couldn't have put in any more units as there is a wall at the back of the parlour that adjoins the slatted house. I have left just enough space between this wall and the parlour that my small tractor can move around the parlour.
The new milk tank is up and running well. It certainly is a lot easier to wash as there is no brush or elbow grease required. I thought I might have had to put in a bigger hot water heater, but so far it seems to be adequate.
A new 6t V-mac meal bin was also installed. It has replaced a lot of shovelling of nuts to fill the parlour hoppers.
I claimed back the VAT on the milk tank and the meal bin and I must say I was very impressed with Revenue, which had my original invoices back and my claim processed within five days.
I will now send off the paperwork to claim back the grant and, who knows, maybe Santa will bring me a welcome cheque in the post.
The beautiful dry crisp weather of last week was welcome, but it also alerted me to the threat of frost and snow. The very bright morning moons remind me of 2009 and 2010. Frost can bring so much hardship.
In anticipation of this, I had the tractors serviced and batteries and antifreeze checked. The tractors go into a shed every night.
The automatic scrapers have also been serviced. Frost and scrapers don't work well together. Stripping the silage pit can be even a big job in severe frost as the tyres stick to the cover like glue.
I will have to invest in a couple of suitable heaters for the dairy and milking machine plant room. Having well-sealed doors also helps to keep the heat in.
Ensuring the cows had running water was a huge problem in the last big freeze.
Running water is critical for the cows as we are feeding so much straw and meals.
As farmers, we also have to make sure we work safely during frosty periods. Even a simple fall, landing on your back, would have many costly implications for the farm.
Be prepared by planning well in advance and by doing only what farm work is absolutely necessary.
The last of the weanlings are being housed now. All weanlings have been dosed with Levicide Diamond and given a lice pour-on.
Cows are being dosed with Zanil as they are dried off. I am using Cepravin dry cow tubes with no teat sealer.
Two Friesian bull calves have been sold off, with another two waiting to go once I get my supply of tags. Hopefully they will arrive before Christmas.
I am currently feeding 3kg of a fodder extender ration, along with 2kg of straw and silage to the dry cows and in-calf heifers.
It looks like I will have to open my first cut silage pit before Christmas. Forty cows will be milked during December, including eight freshly calved cows.
John Donworth's advice in his article last week about closing the parlour for December sounds enticing but it wouldn't be practised by many dairy farmers around here.
Last weekend I attended the local Breiffni-Oriel Holstein club's dinner dance. The club celebrated 40 years in 2012, making it the oldest club in the country.
The club has a great spirit of co-operation among its members and works hard to promote dairy breeding in so many ways. After such a difficult and challenging year, it is good to have an excuse to celebrate.
Of course December brings the greatest celebration of all in Christmas. The weather of 2012 will long be remembered as being the worst ever, but Christmas and the New Year will bring a new hope and enthusiasm.
My wish for this Christmas is that everybody will enjoy time out with their families and friends. Happy Christmas to all readers.
Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org