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The week beginning the 18th of October 2008.


Saturday the 18th

We finally heard back from the vets about the Neospora blood test results: three of the eleven tested were positive, one is a daughter of 449 and two are daughters of Irene.  Both of those cows lost their calves this year and both tested positive for Neospora.  It would appear that we're dealing with vertical transmission (mother to calf) rather than an environmental contamination, which is a bit of a relief.

Thinking back over the last few years, I am piecing together a picture I hadn't seen before.  The first cow to slip her calf back in about 1996 prompted the vets to urge us to vaccinate for Leptospirosis, which can also cause abortion; I wish somebody had thought to check for Neospora then!  That cow failed to get back in calf again.  Her only daughter had one calf, but her second pregnancy ended in the production of a mummified fetus.  I strongly suspect they had Neospora.  We have had a few more empty (not pregnant) cows from time to time which I could not then explain.

449's mother slipped a couple of pregnancies, so she would have been positive; her mother left the farm after missing a year's calving; grandmother was one of the cows here when I arrived and my records show she missed a couple of years' pregnancies.  It is possible there were other Neospora positive cows amongst those early cows.  The largest family still remaining from that time is that of the grey cows, and so far I have not found any of them to be positive.  I will continue to ponder the problem and we will probably do more testing.

Kikuyu growing in an old Puriri post

I wasn't quite quick enough to snap this heifer grazing this bit of grass.  The post is Puriri, probably over 80 years old and Kikuyu will grow anywhere!

The older heifers and a couple of the yearlings were in the Big Back paddock and I let them through this gate to recombine them with the 11 yearling heifers in the Middle Back paddock.  I need to start growing grass for the cows and calves and as the grass is beginning to grow more quickly now, a larger mob of young stock will be manageable again.

This morning I opened the gate to the Back Barn paddock for the 20 cows and calves.  A number of them found their way to the new grazing spot, but several of the calves lost track of their mothers and came back to a familiar gathering spot to wait.  Their mothers will walk back from about a kilometre away to collect them when they miss them for feeding time, and they'll go together to the new paddock.
Calves appear unperturbed by this abandonment, as long as they're not frightened or disturbed while they're waiting.

Calves, left behind by their mothers!

Sunday the 19th

Jill leading the cows to the Back Barn paddock

Jill and I walked out this afternoon to check that the cows and calves had all moved themselves successfully and in whole pairs to the Back Barn paddock, but found ten animals still in the nearer paddock.  She led them along the track while I followed from behind to ensure that all the calves kept up with the group.


Monday the 20th

turkey hens
turkey chicks

Two of the turkey hens appeared this morning with eighteen chicks between them.  Before the end of the day we caught them all and put them into a newly-prepared enclosure.  The turkeys are quite good mothers if confined to a small space.  Left to wander too far, they gradually lose most of their chicks.

Irene 35 produced a live and apparently healthy calf this evening.  Two of the three heifers which tested Neospora-positive have calved successfully.  The third and last will be Irene 48, who's not due until the end of the month.


Tuesday the 21st

While I was out moving cattle in the delightfully crisp early morning air, I was engulfed by a toxic-smelling cloud from our 10-acre neighbours upwind.  The air was not moving much, so once it was around me, there was no getting away from it.  Nasty!

stinky smoke in the valley
478 and her dead calf

I observed both 478 and 349 in early labour just before noon.  By 12.15pm 478 had a couple of feet sticking out and things seemed to be progressing normally, so I went away to check on something else.  When I came back 15 minutes later, she got up with the calf out as far as its chest, which concerned me enough that I went to try to help get it out.  478 wasn't cooperative and I wasn't strong enough to move the calf, which seemed quite stuck where it was.  Within the next few minutes it was born, but by then it had died.

I don't know why it got stuck at that point and can only guess that at that particular stage the umbilical cord was compressed and its chest was too constricted for it to be able to breathe the oxygen it consequently needed from outside.  I felt very cross and disappointed, having watched it die and been unable to do anything about it.

478 cleaned him up and nudged and encouraged him to get up, eventually sitting down beside him to wait.

349 successfully had yet another bull calf, while Jill and I watched on our way out for a walk.

I brought the young mob in and weighed them before putting them over the road.  A couple of the yearling heifers have done spectacularly well, considering the awful winter we've had, nearly reaching 300kg already.


Wednesday the 22nd

478 spent her day lying with, or grazing near her dead calf.  She continues to lick and moo gently to it.

478 with her dead calf
Mallard duck and ducklings

A Mallard duck and her collection of ducklings in a rain-formed pond in the middle of Flat 4.  I took photos, went a short distance to check something and when I returned I couldn't see her anywhere.  They must have moved away very quickly.


Thursday the 23rd

Rain again; very depressing.  We just start to dry out and then there's more rain to fill up all the pug holes and turn everything back to slushy softness.

Because he couldn't do anything else on a rainy morning, Stephan drove over to Kohumaru to collect two piglets he'd arranged to buy.  A house cow which is not being share-milked with a calf will always produce far more milk than an ordinary household can consume, so pigs are often raised on the excess.

We haven't kept pigs in the time I've lived here, although with a paddock named Pig, you may guess that Stephan and the family formerly did.

We are told that these are Wessex Saddlebacks, both boars.  Stephan says they're called Porky and Porky.

For the moment they're in the sheep shearing pen, until Stephan builds them a proper enclosure.

our new piglets

When I was 16 I was given five Muscovy ducklings.  One Sunday afternoon while we were out sailing, one of the plump young birds strayed in to the pig's enclosure and was promptly killed and mostly eaten.  On our arrival home, I found only one still-warm thigh and leg left of my lovely duckling.  I have disliked pigs ever since.  Stephan's sister, Rachel, has a similar story about a pet lamb.  I'll feed and tend to these little guys when I have to, but don't intend having a great deal to do with them.

Turkey hen, sitting on a nest

One of the turkeys has taken over the Goose's nest.  They appeared to have been sharing it alternately for a while, but the Turkey is now the constant resident.

This is the very not-black calf of 546.  He's a nice looking little animal and so far he's most definitely brown.

a new shade of black
cows and calves

I moved the cows and calves from the Back Barn Paddock out on the right, or northern, side of the farm, forward and around to the Bush Flat Paddock on the southern side.  I was mostly successful, getting nearly all the calves to keep up with the cows, but then a few "bounced".  They'll be going along quite nicely until something distracts them and they stop and lose track of the rest of the mob and so they try to go back in the direction from which they came.

Once they do that, it's really hard to get them to where they're supposed to be, until their mothers come back again to call them.  I made sure they were settled and not likely to go off around the corner and back out to the other side of the farm, and left them to it.

The Cabbage Tree I grew and we planted in Flat 5d is about to flower for the first time.

Cabbage tree flower stem

We're treating 446's large calf for navel ill.  His front leg joints look very odd, and his navel has some protruding pinkness, so I thought it wise to assume he has an infection and get onto doing something about it.  He's a big calf to handle, at nearly 60kg already.

The antibiotic we were prescribed for the last calf we treated was one we could inject under the skin; this one has to go into the muscle, an altogether more uncomfortable experience for the calf and requiring this large calf to be held very still while it's done.

Heavy rain is forecast.


Friday the 24th

The heavy rain didn't happen, thankfully.

539, the eleventh two-year-old heifer calved sometime before 7am this morning.  I'm glad they're doing so well this year.  I've had to provide no serious help to any of them, only aiding a little if I was on hand and the process was well underway anyway.  I ought probably to stay out of the way, getting involved mainly because I find the process so interesting and the heifers don't mind my proximity.

hidden calf

Find the hidden calf!

You can see why we sometimes spend ages searching for little animals, never sure if they're in the paddock, overlooked, or have fallen into danger somewhere.


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