On my 3.30am check, I found 605 lying with her sleeping calf. She'd looked a little like she may have been in labour last night, but I wasn't sure. I only brought her into this paddock a couple of days ago when her udder started to change rapidly, even though on my calving sheet she wasn't due for another week.
605's udder is dreadful, worse every year. Even though that front teat looks shiny, I suspect the calf has only mouthed its surface, rather than getting it into her mouth. I'll have to watch carefully during the day to ensure she gets a feed.
Demelza was standing alone when I rode past the paddock and by the time I went to check on her, she had some membrane hanging from her vulva, indicating that the calf's embryonic sac had already burst. I watched her for a while, waiting to check that the right bits of calf were emerging, but nothing at all happened. She didn't even appear to be experiencing contractions.
I decided that no progress at all wasn't a very good sign and that it would be prudent to check that all was well inside. Back at home I mixed a bottle of warm water with a splash of antiseptic and took it to wash Demelza down a bit, before inserting my hand to find out what was going on. I immediately discovered a couple of feet and some teeth (easier to distinguish than a soft nose) and pulled the feet up and out a bit. The calf pulled back, so I knew it was alive. Demelza was almost threatening, so I withdrew and went home to watch her through the binoculars.
An hour later, she finally delivered her calf, a heifer, while lying down. Demelza often calves standing. I dashed out and across to the paddock to check all was well, because the calf looked rather flat. Her head had folded back as she'd slid out, so she wasn't breathing very well, but once I straightened her out, she looked a bit better. The calf was born an hour after I'd had a feel inside Demelza, so not too long, but I'm not sure why she seemed so slow about the whole process in the early stages. Maybe there was much more going on than I could detect.
Meanwhile, in Flat 1, 714 had been standing concentrating on one of the calves, and then began following it around the paddock. She had some vulval mucous and was obviously starting labour, so I decided I'd prevent any mismothering issues by separating her from the calf she looked like claiming. She was quite determined and it took a bit of determination on my part to get her away from the others, but once at a distance from that calf, she moved quite happily along to the House Paddock with Emergency.
As I moved Zella and Dexie along the lane, 714 showed extreme interest in Zella's calf. She really wanted a calf! The hormones are strong in this one.
This one should have been a small and easy calf, but I felt some help was in order when her feet were out for a long time, but nothing else happened. My taming efforts in the heifers have been well worthwhile, in enabling me to assist them where they are when necessary, rather than having to walk them to the yards to restrain them before helping.
The little heifer calf has very similar markings to her mother. The greeny colour on her white hair is the residue of the fluids in which she was born. Several members of this family have inherited that trait from 114, this calf's great-great-grandmother.
What a busy calving day!
I'd stepped out onto the deck to see how 714 was getting on at the other end of the House Paddock, and noticed a large number of flying insects, accompanied by a definite hum. A swarm of bees was circling, gradually getting closer to the Puriri tree where I could see some of the foliage appeared to have changed colour, as dozens of bees collected together on the leaves and the branches.
More and more of them gathered together on a branch, drawing in the stragglers from the leaves and the others from the air around them.
Eventually they formed one large, buzzing clump.
We know a few people who keep bees and I tried to think who'd said they were interested in collecting swarms. William was, and said he'd be round in a while with a beehive box and the visiting offspring, all of whom we would be very pleased to see.
William gave the branch a few violent shakes to dislodge the bees onto a newspaper spread in front of the bee box and left them to make their way inside. We weren't sure whether the transfer was entirely successful, because as we returned from a walk, a swarm passed us on the track. It was a very likely sort of bee swarming day, so it may have been a coincidence that another swarm came through, but it could also have been the queen from our lot moving on to somewhere less prone to violent shaking.
We took everyone for a walk to see some of the new calves, particularly Jaz, Samuel's partner, who hasn't been on a farm before. I don't think she was terribly comfortable about Eva's proximity when we first walked toward her in the lane. Cows are big animals when one is next to them and can seem rather intimidating.
I had decided to take Eva away from her sister, Emma, and mother, Demelza, and graze her with her daughter, Emergency, until calving. Since I need to watch and time the delivery of her calf, I'd rather she was near the house, especially for those 4.15 and 5am calving time guesses!
Elizabeth and William had bought and brought a Cherry tree named Stella, so we all went up the road to check on the orchard and plant the new tree.
I came up with a subtitle for my one-day-I'll-write-a-book: My Friends and Other Dinners: farming with threats and belligerent acts.
I had become concerned that 605 did not appear to have fed her calf yet, primarily because the poor little thing couldn't get those huge front teats into her mouth. I told her I was going off to give the other cows their molasses and if, when I returned in ten minutes, she wasn't feeding her calf, she'd be off to the works at the end of the season.
I could hardly believe what I saw when I returned: the calf, sucking for all she was worth, tail high and waving from side to side in feeding pleasure. She'd finally discovered one of the rear teats and the milk was obviously flowing well.
Imagen had a son sometime around dawn. She has developed a similar technique to that of her mother, Ivy, for cleaning up the afterbirth - the best way to devour it is to break it into bits, so flinging it around helps, in between chewing bits off.
It took me a moment to register what black movement I was looking at when I rode up and around the last corner out the back: three little feral piglets were nosing around in the ground, then dashed off as soon as I startled them. Something must have happened to their mother - probably a pig hunter - and these three won't survive for long without her. They're in good condition at present, but in a week they'll be starving. We'll try and shoot them in the mean time, if we can, to prevent them suffering a lingering end.
Stephan mentioned he's seen lots of greenhood orchids out at Whakaangi, where he traps for the Landcare Trust, so I went hunting for our own population of the plants in the Back Barn Paddock.
I don't think I've gone looking for them quite this early before, but it's a good time, because the flowers are new and there are still many more plants to bloom.
This has the look of an exotic dancer, with hands linked above its head.
There is something particularly charming about a matching cow and calf. Of course most of my cows and calves match, being black, but when the "coloured" ones match, it's special somehow.
For the last several weeks, the rabbit population around the farm has been increasing steadily. Whenever I ride along the tracks I surprise tiny, ridiculously cute tiny rabbits, which dash away into the long grass along the drains. The whole season has been drier than usual, which has facilitated their multiple breeding efforts.
We will have to "harvest" as many as we can, before they over-run us. They make very good bait for stoat traps.
Riding eastward on my way home after an early morning check on the cows, this shadow in the sunrise caught my eye. There must be some very high peak away in the Maungataniwha Range behind which the sun was rising. I'll have to find a good topographical map to figure out which one it might be.
In spring time some of the trees take on some of the colours of autumn in other parts of the world. The Kahikatea trees are displaying a range of hues at the moment, as their pollen cones change colour from creamy yellow to deep red-brown.
As I mounted my bike this afternoon I heard a high-pitched whine and identified the source as this Mason wasp, stinging its prey, an orb-web spider, into submission. I watched as it then flew over into the porch and up inside a coat hanging on a hook. I shook the coat and a shower of spiders fell onto the floor.
They were all orb-web spiders, with their pretty markings and each would have stayed locked in its paralysed state and dark mud cell until the single wasp's egg laid with it hatched and the larva began to devour it.
Having tagged another eight calves yesterday, I combined the whole lot today out in the Back Barn paddock. I moved them out there in the mob of nine pairs first, then the eleven. Three of this first lot became separated from their mothers and there was nothing I could do to get them moving in the right direction, so I went away and left them to wait wherever they would, hoping they'd not head off into other paddocks and disappear.
Later in the afternoon, I found the three of them beside the first river crossing, so we moved the eleven pairs out along the track, hoping the three stragglers would join with them and end up back out with their mothers. It took some work, but we got them all out there and mostly across the river with their mothers, so the calves weren't inclined to run back to where they'd come from in confusion.
It looks like the Spur-winged Plovers were successful with both their chicks.
I think the colours of the new flax flower spikes are beautiful.
The flowering this year is going to be spectacular, so different from last year's minimal blooming.
Emergency! Emergency has had her calf, a son. She's the last of the heifers to calve, so I can stop getting up and wandering around in the dark at three in the morning. I've had about enough of that and look forward to sleeping through whole nights again.
Emergency and white-faced 714 were the smallest of the heifers mated last summer, but they've come through the process in great condition and I look forward to watching them do very well.
I helped with the calf and unlike some of the others, this one, once his head was out, just slithered out onto the ground. New grandmother, Eva, came over to meet her grandson.
He hadn't yet worked out how to find the milk yet. They're so lovely to look at when they're new.
I don't know what this was about, but it had an interesting sort of symmetry, the two animals being 107 and 701, circling each other, each licking the other's udder and bashing up under her belly. It's quite possible that 701 is coming on heat, her calf now being four and a half weeks old and she being in quite good condition. They've also been in different mobs for a while, so there's probably still some social re-ordering to be done.
Eva calved just before 6.30 this morning, a daughter. Nobody in the competition entries guessed today as the day, but Sheryl from Whangarei guessed closest, so she wins the prize. Congratulations Sheryl!
My own guess was two days out. This season I've only correctly guessed the dates of two of the 31 calves born so far. I've been up to ten days out on some of them. This has happened partly because the bull I used for Eva and some of the other pedigree cows has caused longer gestations than I expected and because the heifers are always a bit of an unknown quantity and this year was the first year I've calved daughters of bulls 87, 89 and Joe 90.
605's calf appears to have found one of her front teats, relieving the obvious internal pressure. I'm very glad she has; I was a little concerned that she was only accessing one quarter of the feed available to her.
548 calved this afternoon. I snapped this picture just as she gave the last push to expel the calf, after doing most of the work while lying on the ground. He flew out and landed splat on the ground. It would have been quite nice to have a heifer again from this cow, since this may be her last year, but at least this calf will grow fast and big, despite his late-in-the-season birth. 548 is a great mother.
The cows still to calve are 456 (Onix's daughter), grey 607, and second-calvers 657 and Dexie 101. The fact that those two young cows are amongst the last to calve indicates that I will need to pay some attention to how well I feed my first-calvers this season. It's a good start to get them all safely calved without trauma, but the next important step is to feed them well enough that they get back in calf in good time for next year. Because I'm not intending to continue with the NZQA Exam Centre Manager job next year, I'll be able to drop the mating period back by a couple of weeks this season, something I've been feeling pleased about, considering the feed pinch this spring.
The NCEA exams start next Friday and I'm well behind schedule in my preparation. Fortunately my deputy (Stephan) was able to sort through all the papers on his own today, a job we normally do together, while I worked on the rolls and seating plans and then on finalising an article for the magazine, which required submission to a number of other people for comment before publication. I feel stretched in several different directions!
The Twins' Calving Competition results may be seen here.