Last week I had a fleeting flirtation with the idea of doing something with the NCEA exams again this year. Since I gave up the job of Exam Centre Manager, Kaitaia College has had a succession of one-year-only organisers, which is pretty hopeless and I always get a call (or many) at some stage to ask how best to do things. I was asked if I might possibly step back into the role this year and it was tempting, for a few minutes; I liked the whole organisational challenge. But calving has moved back out into October and early November and I really didn't like having to be away from the farm every day during the early weeks of the calves' lives.
When first contemplating the proposition I discovered that I had never finished collating my mating records from the summer, so actually had very little idea when most of the cows were due to calve. Today I spent some time getting that job done. I go through my notebook and transcribe my numerous notes on the cows' interest in each other and the bull, the appearance of mucous, etc. and then go through the collated observations of each cow to determine on which day she probably conceived the calf she's about to have.
I also have an enormous spreadsheet with all the calves' gestation periods (676 records to date), so that I can closely estimate when the cows are most likely to calve. That hadn't been updated either!
When finished, I had a list of the forty cows due this year and 38 of them should calve during October, which is pretty good going. A nice tight calving period is a very good thing - less time for worry, calves close to each other in age and size. One of the three-year first-time heifers will be late, as will Zella, who should for emergency colostrum supply be first but is again last. At least Stephan gets what feels like an extended milking holiday.
I pulled the seven non-pregnant animals out of the cow mob today, so there is not so much feed pressure on the cows. They went over to Jane's place which needs some hard grazing to tidy the pasture.
Jacob came over for a visit and I took him out for a long walk, up the Big Back North to open the gate into the Middle Back for the cows and then down the hill and across the big swamp to have a look at the fallen Puriri and its growing population of Sun Orchids. Any single leaf on this log is a Sun Orchid plant, some now quite sizeable.
Then up and through the fence to call the yearlings to follow us out of the paddock, where they made their way along the lanes to the flats while Jacob and I went into the reserve and through the lovely trees.
I've sent my fern identification books back to the library, so I'll come back and identify this one another time. I find a lot of this fern climbing the small Kahikatea trees.
At dinner last night just down the road, we were offered some spare hay (no, not for dinner). I really need to be allowing the grass on the flats some more recovery time in preparation for calving and hay would help a lot. Sadly it was pretty dreadful hay and while some of the animals ate some of it, they really weren't very keen and left most of it lying in the paddocks.
On this delightfully sunny and warm day of my birth, we spent a couple of hours in the orchard, pruning apple and pear trees.
Then a wander through the area around the felled Pine tree to see how the population of orchids is getting on. They've finished flowering and now the ovaries are growing, ready to produce seed in the next few weeks.
Birthday dinner was a roasted whole eye fillet with Béarnaise Sauce and roasted or steamed vegetables. Delicious!
At about 5am I woke up thinking about what to do about Jill, in her tiny and increasingly cluttered rest-home room in Auckland. I feel I need to go and sort her out and need to do it before calving starts. Today we had an appointment in Kerikeri and so decided it would be very sensible to carry on from there, down to Auckland.
Lots of cattle were consequently moved so they had enough grass for an extra day, including Zella and Imagen.
We stayed in a motel on Carrington Road, ate some reheated steak (still delicious!) and fresh vegetables Stephan had brought with us and found a movie to watch on the TV, a ridiculous thing with zombies, vampires, werewolves and aliens! It was surprisingly funny.
In the morning we drove out of the motel's gateway and straight along Carrington and Pt Chevalier Roads to Selwyn Village, arriving a minute before Jill opened her curtains and spotted us in the car looking at her. For the next couple of hours we sorted and boxed stuff she really didn't need. We learnt that it was best to "disappear" things as soon as Jill had agreed they could go, or we'd have to go through the whole process again a couple of minutes later.
After lunch Jill's friend Rose joined her for a while and we were introduced to her every two minutes. Stephan went out of the room and I discovered a muffled knocking sound was him banging his head on the wall outside.
We left Jill in a more ordered space without things stacked on the floor, in the corners, behind and under other furniture. She lives in her present moment without thought about anything not directly in front of her - and even something she's holding doesn't remain current for long. A letter (via a staff member's email) had arrived from Rachel, my sister, while we were there and Jill read it to us four times within five minutes, with the same surprised comments every time. Thinking she might do anything with the boxes of letters under her bed of her own volition was pointless and as she has no other family in Auckland at present to go through them with her, such clutter might as well not be making things difficult for carers and cleaners.
We left Auckland in time to make it home before dark.
I went to check the cows this morning and discovered they'd split into two groups. I decided to leave them that way, bringing this group of twelve out of the Big Back North and along to Mushroom 1, then went around the other side of the central hill to the Middle Back and found the other 15, who then went in to the Spring paddock. It feels a little easier to feed them when the groups are smaller, since they don't run out of feed quite so quickly.
The pregnant heifers, just after their last copper injection before calving.
The cattle on the fenceline across the road are now having to put up with a little less feed than before. I'd prefer to be able to feed the yearlings as much as possible but because they've been grown steadily to date, they won't suffer too much from a bit of a shortage now and will catch up again when the grass starts growing faster.
When I started farming, and for several years afterwards, I kept hearing and reading information which I now entirely distrust. (It may have been presented poorly and I may have partly misunderstood, in my general state of agricultural ignorance.) Essentially one could allow cows to lose weight over winter as they tidied up poor areas of pasture which had been left by younger stock, which require better feed to keep growing well. The other gem was that young stock exhibit "compensatory growth" when provided with adequate food after periods of restriction. Both are true to some extent but were presented without their limitations being well explained. If you don't feed your pregnant cows well, you affect the whole lives of their calves and probably their calves' calves too. If you don't feed young stock well enough when they're young, they'll never reach the potential they could have if they'd been properly nourished throughout their early lives. I always had a feeling that cows shouldn't be restricted too much during pregnancy and research since that time has certainly borne out that belief; and restricting young cattle too much just stunts them and creates unhealthy, feeble creatures.
For a bit of extra entertainment, we're having a twins guessing competition too. This year they both got in calf on the same day, Saturday 2nd January, to Eva's son, bull 144. Below are the guesses received.
|October||Gem 698||Meg 699|
|1||6.25am: heifer, Suzi|
|2||10.30am: bull, Suzi|
|6||9.45pm: heifer, Sue|
|7||11pm: heifer, Megan|
5am: heifer, Megan|
11am: heifer, Ruth
7:23pm: heifer, Joyce
|11am: heifer, Ruth|
|9||4pm: bull, Melanie|
|10||10am: bull, Sandy||
1am: heifer, Renée|
2am: bull, Sue
10am: bull, Melanie
9:04pm: heifer, Joyce
10pm: bull, Bernie
10pm: heifer, Sandy
1:30am: heifer, Bernie|
3.30pm: heifer Shelley
midnight: heifer, Renée
|12||11.15pm: heifer, Shelley|
8.00am: bull, Jenny
10.00pm: heifer, Jenny