After a week off, sleeping through every night, I got up at 2.15am to check on the next two heifers expected to calve, 150 and 788.
The new garden is now complete.
The primary point of these gardens is that they allow us to grow things without Buttercup and Kikuyu taking over, which has happened in all the gardens at ground level. If those two species invade, we'll empty, sift, start again; but any such colonisation will take some time before it becomes a problem.
When my greenhouse was first built, Stephan used some recycled or left-over decking material from someone else's rubbish pile to build a small deck out the front, facing the pond. It was a nice place to harden off plants getting ready for planting out but over recent years it rotted in places, becoming too dangerous to stand on and Kikuyu grew up through it and it was all a terrible mess.
This deck is better designed, with new materials and enough space for the barbecue, so it can stay here up out of the reach of floods and be where we can use it during the summer.
Henrietta 141 started her labour just before dark and I watched from the house while I could see her. At 9.15 she'd produced some membrane (the burst first bag, usually) and while I watched the calf membrane bag appeared, broke, and there were two reassuring feet. Seeing everything in order, I went home for a while, expecting to come back and find her with her calf in an hour or so.
An hour later, still much the same. But as I approached her in the dark, I realised I was looking at the wrong animal: 150 was hunched with a long string of mucous, looking like she too was in labour.
141, a little further away, was surprisingly still in labour, the calf's nose now visible. As I concentrated on watching what 150 was doing, 141 got on and pushed her calf out while standing, so I didn't realise she was doing anything until I looked back again and noticed the calf hanging at her rear. So that one was out and alive and a bull.
150 though, was waddling and expelling fluid and looking for all the world as though she had begun labour, except I was suspicious for some reason and put my finger in the stream of fluid so I could smell it: urine. Weird. It turned out she wasn't in labour at that stage but presumably the calf was pressing somewhere really uncomfortably. When I came out again just before midnight 150 was far too interested in the new calf for my liking, since I still thought she was probably in early labour, herself. I tried moving her out of the paddock with the other heifer, 788, but couldn't do it in the dark on my own. Gave up, went home to sleep.
At 4.10am everything looked normal again with 150, other than some thick mucous hanging from her vulva, which suggested she had not begun calving.
In the morning I moved the two heifers to the House paddock, for easier, closer observation from now on.
Stephan bought himself a present, a vacuum sealer for his cheeses, to save having to mess around melting wax. Here's the first one and we'll see what happens to it over the next few weeks. Now he's a pensioner, he thinks he can afford tools.
This beautiful flower is on a daughter plant of my original Amaryllis, below.
There are lots of child plants but only that one has flowered. I didn't take great care of them, letting them get too dry where they were in the greenhouse and everywhere the snails got to them before I noticed in the last few weeks.
This flower is on a stem with half its flesh missing, a snail having munched along its entire length one night.
The new deck progresses. It'll provide a nice lot of extra seating around the edges for people with dinner plates.
This is an example of the sort of issue that isn't currently covered in discussions about farm waterways. This is a sort of watercourse that, during the summer, is mostly dry. During the winter, water sits here and cattle walk through it and whatever the cattle put in it ends up in the ground water, with the nutrients ending up in the streams.
Any running water through this depression goes into the adjacent swamp, which has a filtration function, so it's not directly into a river but it's something we'd like to fix. It will be years and years though, before this sort of thing is ever legislated, let alone policed.
The fix here, I imagine, will be a culvert to provide a dry and preferred crossing, with a one- or two-wire electric fence around the wet bits, to keep the big animals out of the wet.
Every summer Stephan goes out and cuts fresh Kanuka tops to heap up on top of the gazebo by the pond, to provide shade on the hot days. But now the grape vine is really getting going and will provide live green shade over much of it this year. And grapes!
Meg 699 had a sore udder upon weaning last season and as she approached calving this year, her front left teat was noticeably larger than the others, causing me some concern, wondering if she was incubating a mastitis infection that might become troublesome. But the calf has been feeding from that quarter and it is beginning to return to the same size as the other teats.
Everyone needs an affectionate mother like this. 723 licked her calf for ages as I stood stroking one of the other cows.
Henrietta 141's calf spent his lying-in first day beside the trough, near where he was born last night. Better for me than those calves who retreat to the edges of drains or stream banks and end up falling in!
Zella and Zoom are still together all the time. In most years we separate the calf overnight by now to allow us to have a bit more milk but I've hesitated since the sting incident and steroid injection, not wanting to stress Zella. Her somatic cell count goes up in the milk when she's stressed and it's hard to know if it's related to infection or just stress when that happens. At present there's enough milk to drink and make some cheese, so that'll do. Not quite enough cream for lots of butter yet.
I had an argument with a rabbit. A gateway is a stupid place for a rabbit hole (easy for one of us to twist an ankle in it, for instance), so when I discovered a freshly-dug hole I filled it in with hard clumps of clay and stamped the soft soil in around the top.
This morning the hole was dug again, so I filled it in again and that's how it has stayed. I don't know where the rabbit has moved to but at least it's not right here.
150 has been standing around all day. I worried that I'd misread the signs of non-labour the other night, so spent time holding my hand against her side until I felt some movement - pretty easy late in pregnancy, to find a calf against the side of a cow's belly.
I could see her from the house a lot of the time but whenever she went behind the Totara tree at the end of the paddock, I could not, because of the foliage of some low branches. I suggested that the nice new pole chainsaw could be put to good use in such a case.
Now I can see the animals when they sit in the little area beyond this tree or anywhere behind it. Much better.
Our dairy-farming neighbour's farm is now on the market. I cannot say I am sorry. He has appeared unsuited to the care of animals. This afternoon he moved some cows, calves and bulls to a neighbouring property without telling us he was going to put the bulls next to our heifers, so we went and called the youngsters off the hill Over the Road. With double fences and hot wires along the boundaries my heifers would be unlikely to jump but a bull in an unfamiliar area if none of his own cows were on heat? I'd rather not risk it.
Just after five 150 was obviously in labour. Thank goodness for that!
At six she really started getting on with things and three quarters of an hour later there were two feet visible. Another 25 minutes and I could see a tongue and nose. I went back to the house to do something and continued watching her from there, presuming she'd take a while longer yet.
While on the phone with the vet, on behalf of a very upset Christina who'd just driven over her cat, I saw she'd half delivered the calf but then stopped. Hurriedly passing the phone to Stephan I rode up the lane, ran over and pulled the calf out the rest of the way. She had her nose planted in the ground and I wasn't sure that enough of her was out to enable easy breathing.
All was well and the calf was fine and so was 150, who then got up to clean her up.
I've been thinking about 150 and her not having a name and now she's successfully calved, she is quite likely to be around for a while so she should have one. Regular correspondent, Jachin, had cleverly suggested Diversion (Emergency being her mother), she having a bent tail, but it never quite worked for me. But having a bent can be a talent, genius... Genie! Her sister is Gina and I reckon Genie will do very well.
First thing this morning, Demelza and her daughter asleep on either side of the gateway.
Demelza's calves all get E names and we have decided that this one will be named Elephant. Spot the Elephant.
Get it? Or have I been talking to myself too much in my own head?
788 looking beyond ready to go in to labour.
A road block.
This is Henrietta 141's son, sitting quite happily as I approached but I didn't want to disturb him, so turned around and went away again. I could see what I'd come to see, through binoculars, 725 grazing quietly in Flat 4 at the end of the lane.
We went out to move the mob of 11 cows and calves from the Bush Flat. Usually we both follow along behind but this year they're moving better if I'm in front, so I led them along the lanes and up the little alleyway to the Swamp East paddock.
Being in front does stop fast cows going off ahead without their calves, which can cause all sorts of problems.
I lay on a (now dry) slope in the Spring gully and took numerous pictures of orchids. I think they're exquisite flowers.
And they just grow here on their own, even though nobody cares. (I do, very much, but it doesn't matter to them!)
If a flower blooms in the forest and nobody sees, is it beautiful?
Oh for goodness sake! Bloody heifers.
788 was now in labour and had fixated on poor 150's calf and pursued them around the paddock. 150 is not a happy creature at the moment, but I'm not sure why not. This behaviour was stressing her out even more, so that she had her tongue hanging out and was obviously very distressed by this attempted abduction.
I managed to erect a tape between the two heifers, trapping 788 on one side and shooing the calf away with 150 on the other.
I then stayed there, patrolling the boundary, making sure 788 didn't make a break for the other side.
Throughout her labour, as her own calf was appearing, she kept calling to 150's calf. Eventually she began licking her own calf's fluids as they leaked out. Without separation she'd likely have abandoned her own calf when it was born.
I watched a little light-coloured chin emerge and knew we were about to have another white-faced calf and here she is, her mother's double. Once her head was out, the calf just slipped out into the world, with the greatest of ease.
788 didn't really know what was going on for a few minutes, not quite sure about the snuffling noise she could hear from her other end.
Eventually she got up, started licking the calf and carried on doing all the right things.
150's calf slept through the whole process, looking like she just wasn't going to try and fight that pesky gravity business any longer.
And I, now that there are no heifers due, will also be able to sleep through the night!
Zoom is looking gorgeous. We think she'd be hard to pick from any of the full Angus calves in the herd, other than for that light strip above her nose, which is a Jersey trait. She's a very solid little calf.
So much like her mother but prettier.
If you follow that link and scroll up a couple of pictures, you'll also see that 788 was covered in green fluids when born, which this calf was not.
I'm rather pleased about this calf, since I inseminated her mother based on very little heat indication. A bit jolly clever!
The ear stripes are gorgeous.
This is terrible colouration for a calf who will live her life in a high-UV light climate. Pink eye-lidded animals are prone to cancer-eye. But whether I keep her or not will actually depend more on her temperament and growth, since they don't always develop those problems and if one is alert to them, the animal can be treated or culled in good time.
Henrietta 141 and her son. It was about time I went and had a close look at him.
This calf is our only potential bull this year, since 126's calf looks likely to be too scatty and will probably be castrated.
Counting calves in big, rough paddocks can be challenging. There were five calves in these rushes, another four up the hill under some trees and the last two were sitting quietly near Eva, on the other side of the open slope.
I'd forgotten we had any barbed wire left on fences, so this is a reminder photo!
This fence, between the Swamp East and the top of the Tank paddock, will go and the replacement will be a little further back, at the top of the tree-covered steep slope, bringing the grassy area at the top of the Tank paddock into this one.
While I was looking in other directions, this happened.
This is 775, three years old, who I inseminated last summer but was then disappointed to see back on heat again three weeks later - she and her aunty and mother, all around the same time. I didn't expect her for another six days, based on last year's gestation; but bull 151 has been siring calves with slightly shorter gestation than I expected from their mothers.
This calf was clean and dry and sleeping, having already fed.
This was why I hadn't noticed 775: Jet 777 had been in labour for an hour and I was awaiting some sign that all was going as it should. (775 and her calf are at right in the photo, against the Bush reserve fence.)
Jet lay down and got up a couple of times, expelled some fluid, stamped her rear legs repeatedly and I decided she might be a while, so went off out the back to check on the two cow/calf mobs.
Things hadn't changed at all by 6.50pm so after coming home to do a couple of things, I went back out to walk Jet in to the yards. She behaved like a dream, walking directly to the gate and then along the lanes on her own - I'd wondered about finding someone to come with her (her paddock mate at present is 141, who I didn't want to bring with her young calf) but with Zella and Demelza in the Pig paddock for the night, I hoped she'd sense them close enough to be comfortable on her own at the yards.
We put her up the race and I had a feel, thankfully finding two feet, although they were coming up sideways, which explained her lack of progress. They were also oddly twisted across each other, which wasn't helping. After pulling on one leg for a while, I realised I wasn't making much progress, so with one arm still inside this very warm cow body, I asked Stephan to fetch me another glove and with a spurt of lube got that arm in too - it's not very comfortable for the cow to start with but is still less mass that she'll have to accommodate as the body of the calf is born.
With two hands I could grab both legs and straightening them out and pulling them up together, pulled the calf around to the right position. Thinking this might have put things right for Jet to get on and have the calf, we decided to let her out to see if she would and went home for some soup and toast, it now being dark and high time for something to eat.
Back again half an hour later and Jet hadn't done anything with her time on her own, so back up to the race. It's really hard not to conclude that some animals are incredibly intelligent: she looked for all the world as though she knew exactly what needed to be done and so she followed me up through the yard as I walked to open the gates we'd closed behind her earlier and straight up into the race.
Two gloves again, arms in, pulled the legs up again and worked to get the feet out so I could burst the membrane bag and get chains on the legs. Stephan tried pulling with just the handles but had to go and find the pulleys before trying again. This was another big calf.
With Stephan pulling and me pushing down on the chains to apply more pressure in the required direction, the calf gradually came out. Something went alarmingly crack or pop as the calf came freely through at last but nobody appeared damaged later, so I'm not sure what that was - an elbow clunking past the pelvic bone, perhaps?
After the last heavy calf went slap on the concrete, Christina suggested we take the mat Zella now stands on for milking across to the race for the next calf to land on. Great idea! It worked a treat and then the calf was on something that could be dragged out of the race so she didn't lose hair on the concrete.
Jet was marvellous, again making me wonder if this is one of the most intelligent cows in the herd: upon release from the race, she immediately turned back to sniff behind her, so was right there as the calf was dragged out and around on to the grass for her to start licking clean.
The calf looked to be a monster!
Jet's first calf was born at 277 days. This one has taken an extra 11 days. That's a very long time to be adding weight and size to a creature that has to fit through a tight space on its way in to the world. The sire of this calf is the same as the white-face cutie, who on day 276 slid out very easily from her little mother. The bull has good figures for calf weight so I blame the gestation period for the size of this one. I didn't end up weighing her, both of us being sore in places that make anything not absolutely necessary an unattractive proposition. I'll regret it, of course.
745 got in calf the day after 775 who calved yesterday and here she is this morning with her bull calf.
That's number 35; four to go.
I got Jet's calf up to move them mid-morning, since we were going out later on and I didn't want to leave them out near the road.
She was pretty wobbly still, so I let them make their way without any pressure from behind, walking out to Flat 1.
Her legs went all weird as we came to a stop. I've seen this before in some calves. They get a bit tired or something and can take a couple of days to return to normal. I should perhaps have left them where they were - except most of them don't do this, so I didn't realise this one would. Maybe it's a big heavy calf problem.
She trembled and wobbled around for a while before finally finding somewhere to lie down, where she then stayed for the rest of the day.
We went off to see the nice GP, who'd asked to see Stephan on a non-urgent matter - but even that makes one nervous! We knew the MRI result was through and presumed he wanted to explain and discuss it... hoped that was all. It was. Just some old spine damage, probably from shearing, nothing to explain the weird pains of last year, which is probably a good thing.
But while there (doctors hate this, we know, but really, who ever goes to the doctor for one thing?) we asked him about something else which would require an x-ray and even though it was 3.30 on a Friday afternoon, went up to the hospital on the off-chance it could be done - or at least to make an appointment for next week. I dropped Stephan at the door and went to park - all of five metres away - before following him in, to find him sitting alone in the radiology waiting room, thumbs up, about to be taken in to have it done! Where else can you get service like that? One hears about the "post code lottery" for some types of health care in this country but really, we have it pretty good here.