I wanted to get the calf vaccinations and castrations done before splitting the herd into mating groups. The adults all needed a copper injection too, to set them up for mating. That treatment is supposed to be given at least two weeks before mating, but I've generally given it a day or two before, for practical reasons, and in every year I've done that the conception rates have been excellent - presumably the cows' need for copper is higher than the possible stress they undergo in receiving it, so it doesn't interfere with their ability to conceive.
Today we gave them the injections, but left them in their groups. Tomorrow we'll split them up.
We brought the mobs back in again and weighed the calves before then drafting cows and calves into my planned mating groups. A herd of this size would ordinarily only require the services of one bull, but as I have four at my disposal, I'll use them!
Meanwhile the bulls were waiting, having no idea today was the day their lives would change for the better.
What an odd patch of grass. It looks very much as though Mr Big 87 has been sitting here rather often, squashing and shading the grass.
I took the bulls out of the paddock and distributed them into the planned paddocks where I'd already put some of the drafted cows.
As I followed the heifers up the lane to see them into the paddock with their bull, I wasn't sure that Mr 134 had realised that these lovely heifers were coming to join him.
Maybe he was just shy. After all, he's never done this before...
I weighed the heifers before drafting them in or out of this mating mob. After last year's difficulties I've upped my minimum mating weight from 320 to 330kg and have not allowed any leeway. Therefore Eva's daughter, Deva 135 at 325kg, doesn't make the grade even though she's close. Last year's mild winter was surprisingly hard on the smaller pregnant heifers and I'd like to lower my (and their) stress levels this year.
If she and her half-sister Dexie 136 mature into nice-looking two-year-olds, I might decide to bring them into the herd next year. Their sire, BT Right Time 24J, does not appear to have worked very well in my herd. The heifers are slow to mature and a bit rangy for my liking but they may well improve. Their half-brother, Imagen's son 133, will have some calves of his own next spring.
A family of Swallows lives somewhere around the bottom of the Windmill and Camp paddocks. I have seen them on the gates every time I've ridden up the lane over the last few days.
Processing the calf weight data is always exciting for me. The best calf so far this year is the son of young 714. Her first calf, last year, was the heifer who looked almost exactly like her and also grew very well, now being in the yearling mating mob.
714 is one of those very satisfying "I was right!" examples. Her mother was 601, daughter of white-faced 517 and a carrier of one of the Angus genetic defects. When 714 tested clear, I got rid of 601. The defect was one of three marks against 601, the other two being an inability to maintain adequate body condition and unacceptably long toes. But I believed that 714 had the makings of a good cow, on the basis of her breeding and her good growth despite the state of her mother. It appears my belief in her was justified and I've ended up with an excellent little cow.
So began my mating period vigilance: out to check on all the mobs as early as possible, then again sometime during the day and a last check in the late afternoon or early evening. Most bulls will hang around with a cow who's coming on heat for a day or two before she's receptive to mating, so I take copious notes for deciphering later. It's hard to tell which observations are meaningful at the time and it's often later that I'll return to the notes and work out when conception probably occurred.
I decided not to do any artificial insemination this year because I'm so deeply tired. Whether as a result of the last year's tribulations or my state of menopausal transition, I don't know, but it seemed like a really good idea to take the easy option which doesn't require my tramping around the paddocks at 11pm every night and potentially getting cows in to the yards before dawn; I need far more sleep at present than that would allow.
Stephan, on the other hand (or foot) is making a huge effort to catch up with the fencing he was to have done last summer. Over the Road, where work stopped so suddenly last summer, he has stripped out the old fence from the roadside beneath the trough, moved the trough and is about to start thumping posts.
Some parts are a bit tricky. Having laid some posts down in the mud to allow him to take the tractor across, Stephan will dig them out and make this wet bit look pretty again before restoring the fence around it, once the boundary fence is finished.
I went Ragwort hunting this afternoon, pleased to find that areas like this, in the Camp Paddock, have far fewer plants than in previous years. I feel that we may be getting on top of the Ragwort problem. We'll always have to control it, but there's less to remove than there used to be.
The orphan calf has been drinking four litres twice a day, but his weight yesterday was not as good as it should have been. With his mother he was gaining 1.3kg/day; since she died, only 0.92kg/day. I could see from his body condition that he was falling behind the others and I'd rather he didn't. This evening I upped his feed to 4.5 litres and we'll see what difference that makes.
After dealing with a frustrating jamming of the wire rope on the thumper, Stephan got most of the posts in, with only two or three requiring hand-digging where there were trees and/or roots in the way.
Last night the final payment on the tractor went out of our account to the finance company who administered the loan. The great orange machine is now entirely ours! Thanks to all those who helped, celebrated its presence and participated in our pleasure in having it over the last two years.
I had a sudden thought yesterday and phoned to ask if Ryan could bring some Lime, since there's probably going to be some rain this weekend. It's a bit windy, but good to get some on while we can. He brought a couple of truck-loads this afternoon, for some of the flat paddocks.
While Ryan was off collecting another load, Sarah, Miriam, Jonathan and the boys arrived to go Ragworting, so I dashed around supervising three work crews: the ragworters, the fencer and the lime spreader!
The trees which stand out against the lime dust are growing along the Flat 1 fenceline beside the big drain. Stephan did some pruning earlier in the year to clear their lower branches from the fence. I suggested that we leave the trees (Totara and a couple of Kanuka) where they've grown from bird-dropped seeds, since they already have some size and will begin to provide some meaningful shade as they mature. Flat 1 otherwise has little shade during some parts of the day.
Intending entrants to the annual Eva's Calving Date Competition might like to take note of this date. Mr 87 spent most of the day grazing with Eva and by the following morning had "done the deed". I was a little concerned to find that Eva was bleeding a little, something which should ordinarily not happen, but no doubt does more often than farmers notice. She must have suffered some minor internal injury during mating. I separated her from the bull early in the day and put her back with the mob later on, when she'd stopped being of interest to him.
We had a pleasant evening gathering around the pond with some of the family. Maihi, Kerehoma and Sarah went over to the island and entertained us for a while after dinner.
We weren't the only ones watching.
This is a hybrid Pohutukawa/Rata, given to us a few years ago by my brother-in-law, Roger, who'd used a few such trees on a film set (he's a "greensman"). I'm always a bit uncertain about the presence of such trees, since they'll interbreed with the local Northern Rata; but since there are Pohutukawa around here anyway, it's probably too late to worry about purity of the normally-resident species.
This summer, this tree has been blooming spectacularly, grabbing my attention whenever I look out from the house, or come home along the track. In the evening there's a steady, audible hum from all the bees working in the flowers. I have very much enjoyed its presence.
Stephan attached the slasher to the tractor and went to mow some paddocks, to knock down the Parsley Dropwort flowers before they harden off and set seed (they are the white flowers in this picture).
This is Flat 5a, after he'd gone around a couple of times on a low setting, then lifted the blades to cut only the flower stems, leaving the grass to continue growing.
Grass plants grow more grass if they've already got some size, so this paddock will grow more feed faster, if we leave some length to the grass already there.
He cut the Mushroom 1 paddock a bit lower, since the cattle have only just finished with it and eaten the grass down between the flowers.
During the spring, the cattle eat the Parsely Dropwort plants because they're often the fastest growing plant and have quite good feed value. Because feed is a bit tight at that time of year, they keep the plants from flowering, so that the only places the white flowers bloom and mature is along the drains and in some of the tree reserves. But later on, when the weather is warmer, the Parsley Dropwort (which we usually call Carrot Weed) gets ahead of the animals and blooms. The animals continue to eat it when the flowers are soft and small, but when they grow up their heads and stems become hard and unpalatable, so at that point we've started to mow, so the grass beneath can grow better and so the animals can graze it more comfortably, without the hard flower stems in the way.
We have a lawn rabbit. It's a cute little thing, coming out from under the big flax plants along the end of the back lawn, then happily hopping about with the geese. It can hop through the gaps in the wire on the ute cage, so grazes in or out of that area, as it pleases.
I still can't decide whether the geese are aggressive or imposingly friendly.
When the weather is really hot the cattle all disappear. Under big trees the shade is really cool and pleasant, so they often spend hours during the middle of the sunny days lying around in the shade.
I still see paddocks around the countryside without a single tree. I can't believe some farmers have so little empathy with their animals.
Native bees are busy wherever there is this sandy clay. I have not previously noticed the bees with pollen sacks on their legs. Perhaps I've only watched them during the building phase of their homes.
The roadside fencing is finished!
Good fences make relaxed farmers. Our cattle had never got out of that paddock, but the neighbour's irresponsible grazier's cattle got in with ours over some low spots from the roadside (he didn't care when his cattle got out on the road and went looking for company, repeatedly). Now they can't. There are hot-wires along the tops of the fences wherever cattle could potentially come up from the road and an electric spring along the top of the gate - we'll have to put one above the other road gate around the corner too. That other gate is quite high from the lower ground level at the roadside, but after Zella jumped our internal gate, I no longer believe ordinary fences will stop determined cattle if they want to go over them!