Rain again today. Lucky, because we really need it to be wetter. Imagine if it dried out. Can't have that.
I moved the thin/pregnant heifer mob from the Middle Back, all struggling along the track through the knee-deep mud...
... into more mud, but with a little bit of newly-grown grass.
Molasses time in the Windmill paddock. There are fine strings of saliva in this picture, catching the sunshine. The cows start streaming as soon as they see me coming. They do the same in response to the provision of Puriri leaves.
The pecking order of a group of animals becomes really obvious when there is molasses. Boss cow gets the first bin and usually finishes first, then bashes the next cow out of the way and she bashes the next down the line. The youngest cows really have to lick as much as they can as quickly as possible to get much at all. Sometimes I'll fend the others off for a while, but it's a crazy paddock dance with determined cattle.
As they walked toward me, 606 on the left, senior cow, kept waving her head back at 723, indicating that she wasn't to try and get in first.
An 11-year-old girl dropped leaflets around the neighbourhood a few weeks ago, looking for cleaning work. I rang her up today and asked if she'd like to come and help me with our guest room, before Iphigenie arrived this afternoon. Being a control-freak perfectionist makes this sort of surrendering quite a feat. I told her my expectations were high and that I didn't mind if she took extra time to ensure she did a really good job. I don't think we'll be doing it again but it was entertaining on some levels and nothing got broken. Stephan dropped her back up the road when he went to check traps. She asked him if his wife always said "be careful"? I don't know if his wife might or not but I certainly do when anyone clatters fragile bits of china against each other!
In appalling weather (who knew it could get even worse?) with gale-force winds from the south-west, Iphigenie and I walked up the lane to see what Zella was up to behind the tree at the top of the House paddock. I'd been watching her since noting her first fast walk across the paddock just after eleven this morning and at 2.30 there was a membrane bag and fluid, before she moved behind the tree and we couldn't see her from the house any longer.
Iphigenie was thrilled to watch the birth, having not seen one before. I've been a bit nervous about the first one of the season, as I usually am, but it all went very smoothly, other than the calf being dropped so she was lying on her head because Zella had stood up before she was out properly. I stepped in and rearranged her so she could breathe easily and we watched as Zella licked her clean and the calf found her feet and then her first drink.
What a cold day to be born.
During the afternoon there was hail and the wind continued to strengthen. There had been weather warnings, so it was expected but still extremely unpleasant and cold.
Just before dark I watched young Gina 142 stalk off away from the evening's serving of molasses (something a cow just wouldn't do unless she had really pressing business elsewhere), heading for the trees at the bottom of Flat 2, to which I'd left access from Flat 1 for shelter during this storm.
An hour later I went back there to see how she was getting on and couldn't find her, until I walked up Flat 1 and found her standing almost normally with the other four. Fearing the possibility of trouble, I decided that since they were near the top gate, this would be an excellent opportunity to move them out of the paddock and in to the area around the yards, which would be much less exposed to the weather.
Two-way radios are great at this time of year: I called Stephan and he went out and set up the necessary gates and then called the cows as we came along the lanes past the house and together we took them over the bridge and up to the high ground around the yards. There was no significant rain expected with the wind but I didn't want to take any chances - and having new calves near unfenced rivers is foolhardy.
The moon was up and nearly full in a mostly clear sky, which made moving the cattle much easier than with torchlight (flashlights, if you're North American). I could do it in the dark which wasn't very dark at all and with all the movement in the trees from the strong winds, it was good to be able to see clearly what the animals were doing as they moved around.
Gina was a bit slow about her labour but really not much longer than Zella had been earlier in the day. Eventually she lay down and got on with pushing and two nicely small-looking feet appeared in a sac, followed by the start of a nose bulge and I watched as she easily gave birth to a little daughter. I had popped the calf's amniotic sack earlier on but she was still born in a pocket of membrane and it was tightly pulled over her head and nose, preventing her from taking her first breaths. Without significant movement, it wouldn't have come off on its own - and Gina lay in a relieved state for a couple of minutes after the birth, as heifers usually do, only stirred into action by the calf gasping and coughing once I'd removed the membrane.
It is those moments for which I attend as maternity nurse: had I not been there, it is quite likely the calf would never have breathed. Gina would have rested for several minutes before eventually getting up and turning to notice the calf, which would probably have expired in the mean time. The umbilical cord breaks as a calf is born, so there is no continued supply of oxygenated blood and the calf must breathe as soon after birth as possible. I don't like losing calves to something so simply fixed. When they do die in such circumstances, it's often impossible to tell later, because the cow will lick the membranes from the calf as she cleans it but far too late to make a difference.
Still horribly cold this morning in the wind and rain so the occasional burst of sunshine didn't make much difference. The calf was up and moving, Gina had reduced and shiny front teats, so the calf had obviously fed.
We walked them back out to their paddock a bit later.
Stephan, instructing Zella's daughter before we brought them in for the first milking. (He tried taking a bit of milk from Zella her last night, for her comfort, but she kept moving away out in the open.)
Zella was calm, even though her daughter was a bit upset at being contained by the wooden rails in the calf pen. I stood and stroked her, tried to stop her knocking herself about on the walls and kept turning her back to be close to her mother. She'll settle down.
Things are never as clear in photos as they are in person: on 725's hip, there's a patch of lost hair, another scar from the thunderstorm chaos, I suspect.
725 is one of three cows whose feet are obviously very tender when they cross the streams and have to tread on stones. I think they'll come right again as the ground dries. They've been constantly wet for months, so no wonder they're soft.
Zella's daughter, sleeping her first day away, as they usually do. I was cleaning the trough next to her, trying not to make her nervous enough to wake up and move.
Gina's daughter had walked straight through the fence at the bottom of Flat 1 as soon as they went back there and I'd wrestled her to the ground so she'd go to sleep in the grass (she's a black shape in the centre of the picture) and not carry on looking for a hiding place further down the river bank. The Waikawa stream is deep and fast-flowing at present after all the rain and I'm not sure how easily she'd find anywhere shallow enough to stand if she fell in. I came back hourly, to check that she hadn't moved into a more dangerous place.
The orchids I pictured in bud at the beginning of the month are now blooming.
I think Gina's daughter's name should probably be Gale, having been born in one.
Having spent the whole day tucked away here beyond the fence, I thought it might be time to get her out, in the early evening. Time for a feed and to remind her mother of her responsibilities. Gina had spent much of the day grazing up the other end of the paddock. Once a calf is safely stashed, the mothers often go quite some distance away from them, seeming to forget about their existence altogether. If there's any sort of movement or noise from the calf though, they come running.
But some calves are trouble seekers! Later in the evening I came out and found a very wet and muddy Gale on the other side of the drain between Flat 1 and the little triangle which is now really part of Flat 2. I had to open that area so Gina could go down and bring her daughter back out. She's a drain calf.
My 10pm check also found Demelza with bloody mucous wrapped around her tail, obviously having begun her labour. I came back out at 11.50 to find her slurping fluid from the ground and then at 12.40 there were two little feet and a nose emerging from her as she stood and pushed with each contraction. I was too tired to stay up any longer and Demelza has done this successfully many times before, so I left her to it.
Looking out the back door at dawn, I got a bit of a fright, thinking Demelza was without a calf; but then realised there were more than four legs underneath her.
Calf at foot, eating the expelled afterbirth: the only thing better than those two things is a calf already fed, which I couldn't check from here.
This calf's sire is the same as Gina's daughter's. I can't even begin to think what relationships that means they have, Demelza being Gina's great Grandmother.
On the bike in the cold morning air and out to check on 723, who was standing around looking suspicious last night too. She'd calved, in the same place as last year and was sitting quietly with what turned out to be another heifer.
A heifer from 723 was my wish, since she's had three beautifully calm sons and I'd really like a daughter in the herd. This one's sire is Bon View New Design 878.
Drain calf, Gale, found a better, less dangerous spot for today's lying in. She managed not to fall in the drain and would have been cosy and warm in the middle of all that long Kikuyu.
She spent all the next day there too. Some calves 'lie in' in secret spots for up to three days; others will stay near their mothers and move around much more.
Demelza's daughter has a white spot on her left eyebrow. 2011 daughter, Surprise, had single white hairs scattered all over her face.
Lots of the little yellow orchids, in the Bush Flat reserve. Some are not out yet so this will be an even more impressive display in another week or so. Well, as impressive as tiny yellow and cream flowers can be. I always think they're lovely.
At 1.45 I saw something drop from 606 and went to have a closer look: bloody mucous, she'd begun her labour.
Two and a half hours later she was slurping fluid off the ground but there was still no other sign of things going to plan. But she did the same thing last year, while Jacob and I waited for hours to see her calve and eventually gave up and went away. I figure it's just what she does.
At 6.30 she was still standing around looking wildly distracted and not doing anything reassuring. I began to think I'd have to take her in to the yards to feel what was going on inside but was still, for me, quite relaxed about waiting a bit longer. A little while later, as she mooed and pushed, the calf's membrane bag appeared, so I carried on waiting.
Her mooing was partly in response to a lot of noise further up the paddock, where 723's calf was out in the lane (she's a drain-crawler like Gale), having come out of the long grass where she'd been sleeping. The bulls had all come over to the fence and were yelling and growling in her direction, at this tiny unknown member of the herd.
Feet appeared in 606's emerging sac and Iphigenie asked if she could come and watch with me.
Having pushed the calf out to this extent, 606 got to her feet, bounced around in a small circle, causing the calf to fall further out of her body as she moved, but still not where 606 could see her, although she knew she was there somewhere. Turning faster, she flung the calf out behind her onto the ground. She's done this every time I've watched her and it's always highly entertaining - although must be a bit of a shock for the baby! I guess it probably isn't too bad for a calf, whose awareness is only just awakened and whose muscles are still in a state of almost complete relaxation.
Iphigenie returned to Auckland this morning.
We had clean clothes on for the photo (that really isn't a common thing during calving and in all the ongoing mud) because we had to shoot in to town for an hour, while nobody was in labour.
On our arrival home again I discovered 773 in early labour and settled down nearby to watch her through her calving.
Hers was the first insemination at the end of last year, the one during which she stepped back, I dropped the inseminator, lots of things went wrong!
But here she is, successfully delivered of her first little son, sired by Kessler's Frontman, a bull I've used before for heifers. This calf's feet were much bigger than those of the tiny Focus calves.
The small splash of white I noticed in the trees two weeks ago must have been only the beginning of this marvellous Clematis vine's flowering in our Bush Hill reserve.
606's calf is a heifer! I'm thrilled, since that was the plan, over which I really had little control. I told 606 she had to be pregnant to the insemination to retain her place in the herd and she's done even better than that. I kept her 2011 daughter, 718, but she had a difficult temperament and her calves weren't spectacular and she went off to the works in June.
I used the Focus bull in 606 because of all the semen I had, his EBVs included a positive figure for "docility". Since 606's calves can be somewhat nervy, hopefully that sire's influence might help this heifer become a calm and useful animal - as long as she grows well too.
So many hopes ...
What we really need at present is grass, so we went out to cut some from the areas Stephan has recently fenced off.
After gathering this lot together in the wool fadge, he dragged it across to the five cows in Mushroom 2 ...
... who looked very happy to get their tongues around something more substantial than the tiny amount of growth they've been eating recently.
Demelza and Zella got a bagful too.
In the early afternoon, having watched 723 frequently standing and calling toward the drain along the other side of the Windmill lane, I went to check that her calf was actually alright. I'd seen her alert and curled up in the drain, rather than the grass, but presumed she was just sleeping there. But I think she was sort of stuck and probably couldn't climb up and out on her own - although the threat of my proximity made her much more able and I only had to help a little. Interestingly, 723 then looked quite agitated when the calf tried to feed, repeatedly kicking her off her teats. I don't think it was soreness but more residual distress because of the separation. They settled down again eventually.
It's past time for the sheep to leave the House paddock to the cattle again and go back to where they usually live. I will continue to be nervous every time it rains, because they'll need bringing out again if there's more flooding, which could happen at any time.
Madam Goose is nesting again. I go and steal an egg every couple of days, so far only two. Otherwise she'll just sit on them until they go rotten beneath her.
We awoke to a beautiful day, still, sunny and warm, with tiny calves running around their mothers.
There are now eight cows left in the "fat cow" mob, currently grazing the Spring paddock out the back. I check them daily, to ensure nothing surprising is going on.
I'd been looking for 723's calf in the Windmill and as I came up out of the dip in which I'd found her, looked across and noticed Eva looking like this: not only in labour, but more than half-way through!
She was standing looking pensive earlier on but I hadn't thought her ready to calve because her udder was still quite soft.
I walked very quickly in her direction, taking pictures as this happened...
... leading immediately to this.
No dignity at all.
And so the Eva Calving Date Competition is complete for another year.
Congratulations to Jachin, who won with his correct calving date guess. Jachin says he won't be able to come for a visit and doesn't need a gift but would really like to name the calf. Seems reasonable to me. He did after all name Deva, rather cleverly, I thought.
I had in mind that today was my guess and told Stephan I'd won my own competition, but since a weekend on the farm was mine anyway, could he please bake me a cake? It was only as he was preparing to ice it that I looked at the entries and realised my unfortunate (and what great timing, too late to undo the baking) mistake.
An hour and a half after she was born, the calf was running circles around her mother. Some of the calves are tremendously lively this year. I'm delighted, bearing in mind the feeding issues of late.
As she was rising from a rest a bit later, I photographed her front feet. This is what happens to all that lovely white soft material that protects the mother's insides from the sharpness of the calf's hooves. As it dries out it will wear back to the hard hoof line and they'll look like normal feet.
Bringing the thin/pregnant heifer mob past the new calves was a slow job. They're all terribly curious about new herd members - or just curious about tiny calves; I'm not sure which. I told them they'll have their own soon enough.
Eva was also eating her afterbirth, which may have been a distraction. There was nothing left afterwards, so she must have eaten it all. A good thing too, since she can't afford to lose any of her own weight.
773's son taking her for a run this evening.
When the calves are a few days old, their mothers aren't quite so concerned about them running out of their immediate surrounding space. For the first few days, they follow them around frantically. All those hormones must be terribly unsettling.
A goose egg and a hen egg, about to be made into scrambled eggs on toast for dinner. Our dinner times go a bit awry at this time of year, with the Daylight Saving change in clock times and the quickly lengthening days, so quick food is sometimes easiest.
A full moon rising as I finished dishing out molasses this evening.
Late checks are lovely with bright moonlight. I ride out on the bike without the lights on and can see where the dark bodies of the cows are in the paddocks, which means I don't accidentally surprise someone near the track, nor have to walk so far to find them in the dark.
Ellie 119 has long, think strings of mucous like this on most days at present. I keep expecting it to mean something but nothing else has happened yet.
On an on-line discussion forum I read, North Americans write about a "mucous plug" being seen before calving but for all the time I spend watching my cows, I've never seen anything I could describe that way - at least not anything useful in terms of signalling the approach of labour. The pelvic loosening is a much better indicator and this pelvis pictured does not yet have the characteristic dips on either side of the tail head yet.
Now the housecow calves are active and will move relatively easily with their mothers, we took them across the bridge to graze the Pig paddock for the day.
Watching a tiny, still a bit wobbly, calf like Demelza's on the right, as she wavers down toward the edge of the stream beside the bridge, always gives me the heebies. There are some odd slopes and angles just there and I always imagine a calf could mis-step and fall down into the stream.
Dexie 121 went into labour just after ten this morning and I watched two little feet appear in a bag (another tiny Focus calf). I thought she'd be really quick in delivery, it being such a small calf but she still took her time.
The calf is another heifer. It would seem possible that my insemination timing might favour heifers!
When I passed a bit later, the afterbirth was out and Dexie was having a serious chew. She didn't eat all of it. There are now quite a few around and some of them are pretty smelly. I ought to go and move those in inconvenient locations - there's still Gina's in the yards, where it's attracting flies. They're better under reserve-area trees.
We took the borrowed Magpie trap back to the Regional Council the other day, having failed to catch any Magpies. This morning I heard the "quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle" of three birds landing in the House paddock. They were out of sight behind the aviary as I opened the window enough to see through with the rifle, and as they hopped across the paddock into view I shot one; another hopped over to investigate so I shot it too. The third flew away, probably watching me from the trees as I went out to retrieve the bodies.
The Magpie population has been expanding again of late, since we've been unsuccessful in other control attempts, so it was good to take a couple out of the count. They should not be here.
A rock in the stream in the Spring paddock. The water has seeped up through the cracks, leaving the pattern on the surface. I picked it up and it was still quite solid, although I didn't test that by knocking it on another rock.
We thought we'd cut some orchard grass for the heifers in the Road Flat paddock, before moving them back across the stream again. Floss came too, for some "environmental enrichment" and sat preening herself on this stake whose tree had died. Stephan cut and I raked and bundled grass over the fence to the very pleased cattle, who hoovered it up as quickly as we could deliver it.
Stephan went up to the airport to collect Ella, while I carried on doing cattle work.
I had drafted Queenly 107 out of the thin mob of five earlier in the day and had to go out to bring her all the way in to Mushroom 1, where there's a nice lot of grass. She's not due for about a week but she's thin, her pelvis seems pretty loose and her udder is already noticeably filling so better to bring her in early to where I can keep an eye on her and feed her some MgO and molasses until whenever she calves.
Then rather rashly, since it was getting quite late in the day, I brought the 14 cattle across the stream from the Road Flat to Flat 4. On one's own it's a bit trickier than with two of us, because they like going after bits of trees in places I don't want them to be, rather than going straight from one area to the next. But there wasn't really enough feed for them to stay where they were overnight and I wasn't sure when the forecast rain would come, which might raise the river levels too high to then shift them early tomorrow morning.
723 was frantically looking for her calf, running up and down the fence beside the Windmill paddock stream. Some calves are trouble.
In the gloom beneath the big trees I searched for her, eventually finding her pretty much where 723 had first indicated she was. Always believe your cow. It was so dark by then I couldn't quite see to point the camera in the right direction, so she's ended up in the left corner of this picture.
I decided that rather than risk spooking her into running anywhere, I'd leave her safely there. She'll come out when she wants a feed. The stream was away off to the left of the picture, far enough away that a three-day-old calf would be unlikely to accidentally topple in.
And again, let us have a twins guessing competition too. This year they are in calf to different bulls: Gem 698 was inseminated on 11 January and Meg 699 was with the bull on 12 January.