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The week beginning the 8th of September 2007.


Saturday the 8th

Stephan's nephew, Mathew, and his family came out for a visit, so the boys could go eeling in the river and we could meet their recently-born fourth son - we're not very good at baby visiting, obviously.  We figured he'd turn up here sometime and we could have a look at him then.

Later on we got the harassed sheep in to the little yards and drenched the ram and the sick-looking wether.  We didn't do the one which is still looking pretty healthy, because he's headed for the freezer some time very soon.  The ewe hogget out in the lambing paddock is also looking good.

We had lovely guests for dinner and when I later, in a tired and well-lubricated and well-fed state, checked Ingrid and noticed that she was a little restless, I put it down to the change in the weather, since it was just beginning to rain.  Some time in the night I woke and thought of going out to have a look at her, but I thought, no, she'll just be lying around, as usual.


Sunday the 9th

Just before 7am I looked up the paddock and saw Ingrid paying a lot of attention to a black smudge on the ground.  She's getting good at this dead baby lark, is Ingrid.  I have to tell myself that even if I'd checked in the middle of the night, I may still have missed whatever happened during the birth of this very small heifer calf.

Because of the date and the size of the dead calf, I got Stephan out of bed and we took Ingrid in to the yards.  The next calf was presenting correctly, very much alive and unwilling to have her legs pulled, so we let Ingrid out and watched her for an hour or so.  I tried some more intervention later, but that calf just wasn't ready to cooperate.  Ingrid wasn't going to get comfortable where she was (she did lie down once and there were feet and nose on their way out, but they went back in again as soon as she got up), so I let her back to where she wanted to be, after first getting Stephan to go up to the end of the House paddock and remove the dead calf so she'd not be distracted from getting on and having the live one.

Most farmers would have pulled the calf out then and there, but unless there's some obvious difficulty I'm inclined to leave the cow to herself.  So far I've not suffered any fatal consequences of that approach.

Ingrid took ages to get on with doing anything and when she finally pushed the calf out so its head and legs were visible, she didn't seem particularly keen to get on with the rest of it and watching her standing there not doing anything more, I became concerned.  The calf was still inside its very thick bag of fluid and now that it was part-way out, I thought it might well need to start breathing, so, with a small sharp stick in hand, I leapt through the fence from my dry sitting spot and lanced the bag, letting a lot of greeny fluid out, then grabbed hold of the calf's legs and didn't let go until she was out on the ground!

The calf was another heifer, small, and not terribly robust in her behaviour.

I had checked the sex of the dead calf when Stephan brought it out of the paddock, so was pleased this one was the same.  If they were one of each, then their breeding potential would be very much reduced: the heifers of mixed-sex twins have a 90% chance of being infertile, called freemartins, and the bulls are usually sub-fertile as well.

Ingrid and calf
Ingrid's calf

Little calf spent a bit of time trying to get to her feet unsuccessfully and eventually gave up and just shivered, looking a bit like she might just slip away beyond help.  I decided I'd better get some colostrum from Ingrid (since she's quiet enough to attempt to milk) and feed it to the calf by bottle.  This is only day 264 of her gestation, so she's a couple of weeks premature.  It was also a cold, wet day, so I wanted to provide as much help as possible to get the calf up and on with her life.

I milked a litre of so of colostrum from Ingrid, warmed it up again in hot water and fed it to the calf via the trusty old bottle.  She wasn't too keen, but drank most of it.

Later I milked some more and fed her again.  The most successful milking occurred while Ingrid munched her afterbirth - something to keep her occupied, in which Demelza had no interest in at all, so wasn't trying to push Ingrid away.

At some point it became clear that the calf wasn't going to be able to stand.  She appeared, like Bendy the triplet lamb, to have suffered too much cramping inside her mother, and her left leg doesn't work properly.
We shifted her down into the lee of the Totara tree to gain as much shelter as possible for the night and hoped for the best.

Ingrid's calf

The first, dead calf weighed 16.9kg and the live one just, 26.5kg.  They are very much the same size as Ivy's second set of twins, of which only one, Imagen 33, survived.  Ingrid is of course Ivy's first calf of her first set of twins.


Monday the 10th

the back of the farm

Little calf survived the night.  Good.

Stephan went out with Terry again to learn one of the trapping runs in the hills behind the farm.  At some point he phoned from Terry's cellphone to tell me he was somewhere on one of the ridges behind the pines.  There's not a lot of telephone coverage around this area, but up there is slightly closer to Kaitaia than we are, so it gets a signal.

I spent the day attempting to get more milk from Ingrid and feeding it to the calf.  I hadn't been able to get Ingrid's front teats working while in the paddock, so took her down to the yards to see what I could do with some warm water.  The teats have a plug, the hardened secretions from the udder which end up forming a seal which effectively protects the udder from stuff getting in from outside, which needs to be sucked or squirted out before the milk will flow.  It took a bit of pressure to get the milk squirting out and Ingrid wasn't too happy about the squeezing.  I suspect she wasn't letting her milk down either, since I was able only to get about a litre from those very full-feeling front teats.  Yesterday I'd got two litres from one back teat, when she was happily lunching on her afterbirth.

When Stephan came home in an exhausted state, I got him to help me get the cows back to the yards and then together we carried the calf from the paddock to the yards and got her feeding from Ingrid, while I held her up.  She has enough stability in her front legs and her back right leg to enable her to stand with assistance.  I wanted to re-establish the cow-calf bond before it was further weakened, since Ingrid seemed to be losing interest in the calf, the more I had to interfere.

We left Ingrid, the calf, and Demelza in the grassy yard for the night, so we could repeat the feeding process in the morning.  This is exactly the sort of situation for which I needed to have the wandering dog situation resolved!  As far as I can tell, the council-imposed fines for letting the dogs wander appear to have led to their being more tightly restrained in recent days, for which I am very grateful.

Because Jill and Bruce had come to stay for the night, Stephan then made us a fantastic dinner.  He said he was tired, but we didn't let him get away with it.  A big bloke like him ought to be able to walk miles for hours in the bush and still come home and cook a decent meal for his family, don't you think?


Tuesday the 11th

In the yards this morning, I managed to get the calf up and under Ingrid's udder for a feed, without having to put Ingrid in the race.  She's been a bit scary since calving, as newly-calved cows often are, but she has become a basically tame animal over the last three years and she's generally quite comfortable having me near her.

I went out to check on the thin mob this morning, having not seen them for several days with all the chaos at the front of the farm - dogs and early calves have distracted me somewhat.  Walking along in the sunshine I was keeping an eye out for any of the animals I was expecting to see and spotted a back and some ears, so headed down to see who was there.  Strangely I could see only one animal.  They tend to range as a mob, although there will be the odd animal with an individualist streak.  But the reason this one was on her own was that she was trapped!

This is the little reserve fencing area around one of the large Puriri trees and 473 must have pushed her way into it when the fences were turned off for a while over the last couple of days and then when they were back on, she couldn't, or wouldn't, push her way out again.  I found a long forked branch from some pruning Stephan had done nearby and pushed it under the (rather slack) wires to hold them up enough so she could walk out underneath, which she eventually did with some prompting from behind.  She went straight down to the river for a drink, but as she didn't stay there long, I don't think she can have been trapped for much more than the last day or so.

473, trapped

Wednesday the 12th

Virago Dateline 42 AB

Virago Dateline 42 AB jumped out of the race several weeks ago and I swore that would be the last time he'd have the chance.  I phoned the stock agent to book him in to the works and was talked into sending him to the Kaikohe Sale instead.  On the day he was due to go I was so sick with 'flu that I had to cancel his trip and then had a bit more time to think it all through again.

Today he's off to the works, as I'd originally requested.  I will not sell an animal I know to have bad behaviour traits, to some unknowing buyer.  I bred this bull expecting him to have a good temperament (because he has a quiet mother) but he doesn't.  He's been growling at and threatening me for months and I don't like that sort of carry-on at all.  He's not particularly dangerous, but he's not good enough either.

There are six more cows in calf to this bull (his first calf is Ingrid's twin).  Maybe his calves will be great and I'll keep his daughters and maybe they'll be dreadful and I will be glad I sent him away.  His EBVs were excellent, but I'm more and more suspicious that while his sire worked well in a feedlot situation in the US, his progeny are far less well suited to a warm climate on a Kikuyu grass diet.  Like most of the bulls I keep here, he's not had the amount of feed needed to grow out to his potential, so he's still a fairly small animal.

The dead calf has been lying in state (curled into a Topmilk bin and left on the back of the ute) for the last three days, partly because I wasn't entirely sure she'd not end up with her twin for company in the hole we'd need to dig.

Our approach to dead calves is reasonably practical, but they're still little creatures for which I had enormous hope, as I looked after their mothers from conception to their unsuccessful births.  These days they get buried in the native tree reserve we're creating between our place and Jane's next door.  We planted another Puriri tree on top of this one, quite near the place we buried her sister last year.  I really didn't set out to breed pedigree Angus tree fertilizer.

calf burial
Stephan and the heifers

Two of the little bulls went along to the yards as company for #42 while he waited for the truck, early this morning.  After we took them back to their paddock, we walked through the yearling heifers on our way to opening their next gate.  Some of them are getting very friendly.

Now Ingrid is happily feeding her calf whenever necessary, we were able to move the two cows and the calf back to the House Paddock, where I can keep a closer eye on them and they are nearer for me to go out for feed times.  I help the calf stand up, then prop her on her left side while she feeds.

Later in the afternoon I noticed the calf seemed quite physically distressed.  Her respiration rate had sky-rocketed and she was panting with her mouth open, which is not normal calf behaviour.  What I think had happened was that her anus had become glued shut by too much sticky faecal matter and she was all blocked up!  With some warm water and some gentle attention, I managed to get her unstuck and she soon looked a great deal calmer.


Thursday the 13th

Last night I spoke to Mary-Ruth, my veterinary friend, and she asked some scary questions about the calf - like was I completely sure the hips weren't dislocated and were there definitely no bone injuries?  The calf's joints are rather clicky when I move her legs during exercise, but I haven't the knowledge to say what's normal.

This morning I phoned and spoke to Nathan, one of the vets in town, and he also mentioned the possibility of the calf having been born with arthritis, at which point I decided it would be sensible to have her checked properly.  If there's anything too serious going on, there's not much point in spending all my time helping her survive.

Nathan had some available time, so we told him we'd be there in half an hour, picked the calf up from the paddock while Ingrid was looking the other way and bundled her into the passenger foot-space in the ute where I sat with my feet around her, and off we went.  She's a bit bigger than I imagined, but we managed to fold her in comfortably enough.  Nathan and Chris pushed, poked, pulled, prodded and watched her out on the grass at the back of the vet clinic and then we took her inside and laid her on the X-ray table.  I thought we might as well make absolutely sure of what was going on inside her, since we were there.

The X-rays showed that everything is where it ought to be, so Nathan gave her an anti-inflammatory injection and an antibiotic for a suspected minor navel infection and we took her home again to her belated lunch.  Ingrid didn't look too concerned about the calf's absence and came over to feed her.

The triplets, and Babette's one ram on the right.

four lambs

For about the last three years I've been looking at a hole under some trees and wondering what sort of huge, toothy predator might live deep within it.  It doesn't ever have spider webs around the entrance, so it looks like it's regularly occupied, but I've never seen any sign of what sort of creature might be using it.  We asked Terry about it and he suggested it might actually be a Kiwi burrow!

We took a mirror and the big torch and went on an adventure, to see if we could see what might be in there.

a Kiwi burrow?
a Kiwi burrow?

But the hole is too deep to see far into it and it goes off around a corner and we couldn't get the mirror in far enough or at the correct angle to enable us to see anything more than the sides of the tunnel.  Stephan very gently leant in with a long stick in his hand and said he thought he felt something interesting, but naturally has no idea what it might have been.

We'll have to try something else.  Perhaps one evening we'll come and sit out here in the dark and try and discover who comes out of the hole.


Friday the 14th

The calf tried to go for a run this morning!  Calves skip around when they're feeling good and this one would like to do some jumping, but of course unless she can stay upright, that's not possible.  However, if I'm holding onto her left hip and run along with her, she can go quite a distance!

Ingrid and her disabled calf
Ingrid and her disabled calf

On the left, the calf was stable for several seconds, but then fell over.  Her attempts to get up again are unsuccessful.


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