Breakfast in the blackberry patch in the hollow of the Windmill paddock.
I can't remember whose black back I was looking over.
The eyes of the Kotare chicks in the Puriri tree nest are beginning to open. They are growing so quickly! Their parents are busy all day, bringing food to their four hungry babies.
Stephan and Ella, out for a brisk morning walk. Stephan's ability and enthusiasm comes and goes with the fluctuating pain in his knee. It's not quite as much better as he had hoped the surgery would make it.
After all the lovely rain a week ago, I feel much more relaxed about feeding the cows. The Kikuyu grass grows very quickly in these warm conditions after rain, so I can move the cattle around the flats as quickly as they want.
After a few days' sunshine again, the ground is dry enough to work easily, so time to install a cable to liven up the new Frog paddock reserve fence. Ella has been going out to work with Stephan in a much more willing way than she has on previous visits.
Bull calf 181, son of Henrietta 141.
It's interesting having bull calves and watching them grow. They're different from the steers: they look harder - I'm not sure if it's their skin or the muscles beneath. There are three in the herd this year and they're all looking nice so far.
I keep looking at the Tradescantia on the stream bank, wondering if that slight yellowing is because there is a population of beetle larvae chomping away in the stems, or if it's because a lot of Pukeko keep trampling it.
Late last night, fat Ida 145, who did not calve this season, came on heat, so this morning we brought them in and I attempted, unsuccessfully, to inseminate her. I had too many clothes on (just a cotton shirt over a singlet t-shirt) to feel comfortable with one arm in a very hot cow in increasingly hot sunshine; the neighbours' dogs started barking, which always creates anxiety in both the cows and me when we know we can't get away; and I simply couldn't find my way through Ida's cervix.
Getting the inseminator through a cow's cervix is like a little puzzle, sometimes very easily solved, other times taking a bit of cleverness to work out how to do it. With the left hand one is holding the cervix through the rectal wall, which is quite thin, but subject to periodic strong undulations of muscular contractions during which I nearly always have to let go. The cervix feels sort of crunchy when the end of the inseminator is in the right vicinity because of a whole lot of bands of cartilage that run along the vagina and converge at the cervix, which is how you know you're in the right place. Then you have to find the os, the entrance through the cervix to the uterus and it is at that point that one can run into difficulties. If you're not holding the cervix well enough you can end up going up beside it, rather than into it and then working out what's gone wrong and how to fix it can be frustrating.
Here is a cervix. (This one belonged to Dexie 136, who we ate a couple of years ago. She had never given birth.)
At the right and bottom you can clearly see the bands of cartilage in the vaginal wall; the os is in the middle of the cervix, which protrudes into the top end of the vagina. The cervix is usually about three inches long - about the length of the width of a hand. Ideally one holds the cervix so that the vaginal walls are tight against the cervix, so that the only place for the inseminator to go is into the cervix. But as one is doing it all in the slippery dark, sometimes that doesn't quite work out and going up beside the cervix can feel very much like going into it, which is why one never pushes. The cervix is effectively worked over the inseminator, rather than that the inseminator is pushed through. (If you make a hole or a scrape, you can end up with a dead or infected cow, not a pregnant one.)
If a cow has been very actively mounting others while she's on heat, the whole lot can feel very out of place inside, the bowel can be full of air, the bladder might be full, there are numerous possibilities for frustrating complication. After many years of inseminating, I approach the task with a great deal more confidence than I used to and am rarely unsuccessful but like this morning, it can still happen.
Someone made some rude comments about the state of our house when visiting recently. The fact that a caterpillar pupated on the side of a less-than-pristine kitchen cupboard and emerged as a butterfly without either of us noticing it before it hatched, only confirms that neither of us really gives a flying banana about housework.
As far as I'm concerned, what goes on outside during the summer is vastly more important and interesting; and when I'm constantly involved in heat detection, insemination, hunting weeds and keeping my records up to date, as soon as visitors show up I sit by the pond with them and enjoy their company. There are usually enough spotlessly clean plates and cutlery and nobody ever gets sick from eating our delicious, real food.
I can't decide whether I'm simply affronted or astonished that anyone of my acquaintance could think there's potentially more meaning in having a clean house than in the fantastic life we live in this beautiful place.
Ella and Stephan went out with the pole chainsaw to check that there were no low-hanging branches in the Bush Flat, before I send the insemination mob out there to graze.
There were one or two, and some Ragwort.
Know thine enemy: Tarweed.
I had been meaning to get out and pull the last of the Tarweed and was a bit late for some of it. I brought it home and took it out of the bag for a closer inspection. It appears the seeds are released very easily, very soon after the flowers die, which means there'll be a lot of seeds out there still and I will have accidentally spread more when I pulled some of the older plants and put them upside-down into my bag.
I suspect it's extremely hot and smelly in the Kotare nest.
Some weird pellets that look like possum poo in size, appeared at the hole entrance. I couldn't work out how anything could have deposited them right there though and eventually concluded that they're rolled-up-and-out muck from the nest. The chicks will eventually start squirting their poo out the hole but until they're big enough to do that, it must be all in the nest with them.
Calves sitting around together in the early evening.
Gem came on heat about three hours before I took this picture and had been mounted many times by various other cows, making her indicator very red and very dirty.
When a cow is on heat, it is as much her demeanour as her behaviour that changes. This intense alertness (ears forward, a mad eye) while marching around "looking for action" is easy to spot.
The other obvious thing is the big strip of clear mucous along her side, flicked there by her tail.
When we took Gem 698 in to inseminate her early this morning, 723 was showing considerable interest in her; obviously coming on.
She took longer to come on than I expected but by 3.30 this afternoon she was in standing heat and being repeatedly mounted by Emergency, who's presumably coming on too. Calf 853 wanted a feed and had to keep diving in whenever she could.
I cannot abide discarding one-use plastics when the material survives the single use and could be cleaned and used again. It takes time to do the cleaning but the planet could do with the help.
Cleaning shitty insemination gloves is not as bad as it might seem: I rinse most of the shit off the glove while it's still on my arm when I am finished an insemination, then bring the pile of them back to the house for a soapy wash and rinse before drying them. Then they go back into a clean bag and back to the shed. I'll keep the rest of the box of new gloves for any obstetric examinations or assistance in spring, but these can go another round (or more) for insemination.
There are some good-looking pumpkins in Stephan's garden.
Stephan and Ella spent some time together in the kitchen, baking Sarah's lovely chocolate cake, then went out to the Tank paddock for some shooting lessons and practise. I'm not sure what Ella might want to shoot, nor when she might have occasion to do so, but it doesn't hurt to know how.
Christina brought Emma and friend Charlotte, older daughter Rebecca and her five children, and friends Katrina and Jonny with their son Corbin (Charlotte's brother), for a late-afternoon swim. Counting children becomes a constant activity when there are so many, making sure the right number of heads is visible above water and that nobody is having any sort of difficulty. The smallest children generally wear life-jackets but those who can swim will often be frolicking about with any of the provided floatation devices or things they've brought with them.
Some very small children look rather like they're on the point of drowning as they make their way from the slide to the jetty to get out and go around again but are either swimming in a flailing manner or having a lot of fun being nearly submerged as they swim. Scary little people.
Floss got so excited by it all that she launched herself into the air and flew out across the pond! We all watched in horror, wondering how far she was going to go and, if she didn't go far enough, could she stay afloat long enough for rescue?
She changed direction half-way across and landed on the partly-submerged weed raft and then looked as if she was going to walk into the pond to swim back.
Jonny swam over to rescue her and bring her back to land.
Sometimes when her feathers have grown a bit, Floss starts experimenting with little jumps to find out how much lift she has on her wings, which prompts me to clip them again; but I hadn't noticed her doing that of late. I'd love her to be able to fly freely but she'd get lost or eaten or both and we'd both be miserable.
At nine this evening, just a little before dark, I brought the cows in from the Frog paddock to 5a, so I could get them in to the yards at dawn tomorrow.
Up at 5.30 this morning to go and wake up the cows and bring 723 and Emergency in for insemination. Neither was still in active, standing heat, so I hope I was early enough. Fortunately both cows, their calves and another convenient pair all walked straight out the gate into the lane, without any bother at all, and on down to the yards where I had both inseminated by just after 6.30, in time for Stephan to get back to milk Zella without too much delay.
I spent the entire day watching cows, working out who was coming on, who was in standing heat, who was going off, when would be the best time to inseminate...
In the late afternoon Stephan mowed the House paddock, so it looks all lovely and tidy again.
On this blustery and overcast day, I could put the insemination mob into 5c, where there isn't enough shade on the hotter days.
The bulls are in Mushroom 1, so the hot cows and a lot of curious calves ended up near the fence between the two paddocks, talking to the big bull.
Three cows were on heat by the end of the day and at dusk I walked some of them in to inseminate 716. The other two, having come on late in the day, can be done in the morning.
When I went out to get 792 and Henrietta in for insemination early this morning, I found two other cows on heat - and nearly brought them in by mistake, assuming the two I wanted would be the ones trying to mount each other (it was still a bit dark at the time).
Insemination wasn't altogether trouble free this morning: Henrietta 141 decided to leave part-way through the process, by launching herself up and over the rails of the race. Fortunately failing in that attempt, she unhooked her front feet from over the top rail and stood quietly enough for me to reinsert my rectal arm and the inseminator and get the job done. The air temperatures are so warm that the semen would not have suffered any extreme temperature shock as I urgently withdrew it from the cow. (And since I'm writing this more than a month later, I can tell you the insemination appears to have worked and she got in calf.)
Heifer 792 behaved impeccably.
I sent the few animals I'd walked in to the yards back to Flat 2 to join the others. At 7.30, under heavy cloud, it was a very dull morning, windy and humid.
The Pukeko nest the cattle had been so disturbed by a few weeks ago has been left now. The egg shells all appeared to be from hatched chicks, rather than there being any evidence of them being eaten by some predator.
In the evening, in light rain, I inseminated the two cows who'd been on heat at dawn, Fancy 126 and 710, both of whom had previously been on heat just before I began the mating period at the end of December, so my first observations of them were that they had blood in their mucous, telling me I had nearly three weeks to wait until they'd be ready again.
My late check was in heavier rain. We got 80mm from that lot, without any flooding and it left few puddles, so must all have soaked in very nicely.
Zella is approaching her date for any "return" - she will come back on heat if she isn't already pregnant from her time with the bull three weeks ago. She has sometimes been a difficult cow to heat-detect and we need her to be in calf, so I brought our medium-sized bull, 151, in to keep her company for a couple of days, just in case.
Stephan and Ella moved this trough a couple of days ago. When the big flood in March nearly took the trough down by the stream bank away, we talked about making this trough up on higher ground, at the bottom end of Flat 2, serve both areas. Now it is so.
Imogen 155 and her daughter. The calf doesn't seem to be growing fantastically fast but she was born quite late in the season and so I'm comparing her size with older herdmates, I must remember. She's being fed quite adequately by her young mother, not looking underfed at all.
This is the biggest calf in the mob, 749's son. From a slightly shaky start, he quickly grew into this large, robust animal.
I've been interested to watch cows and calves this season, observing particularly how easily (or not) they recognise each other. This is Dushi, looking for Eva, sitting directly ahead of her in the photo, yet she didn't immediately recognise her and Eva didn't respond to Dushi's call. Dushi went off to the right and sniffed another cow, before eventually walking over to Eva, who then stood so Dushi could have a feed.
But I've seen other pairs recognise each other from quite some distance, the calf running to its mother as soon as it identified her amongst the other cows. Some mothers are responsive to their calf's calls and others appear to ignore them - I've watched Queenly 149 completely ignoring her calf on many occasions this season. Calves can be equally difficult, not responding to their mothers' urgent calls to establish their whereabouts and safety.
Some cattle have hair whorls, some have hair lines. I think 710's previous calves have also had lines. I take photos of most calves' faces in some years but don't always get around to it, unfortunately. It might make an interesting study.
It's not just me then? Ella walked in to the paddock with me and 807 headed straight to her for a head press, neck rub, whatever it is that she wants when she does this. She'll obviously try it with anyone!
Another pond afternoon, family arriving with new extra friends. We don't really need to leave home to meet people, they all come here.
Feeding time for the baby, Levi, who was passed to his mother while she was floating around in the water.
I wonder if knee crawling is something that runs in families or is just a habit a cow develops on her own? Several behaviours like this do tend to run in families, like the cows who routinely push through fences with their heads.
I remember a discussion with a dairy farmer when I was an AI Technician, who was very interested in his cows and had noticed that since using a particular insemination bull, his cows (the daughters and grand-daughters of that bull) now had a habit of pushing through fences and electric tapes, something that had never been a problem before. Here the fence pushing was in one or two families and since the cattle all live together, you'd think if it was a learned behaviour, more of them would have done it.
746 is as related to everyone else as any of them are, so it must be a habit of her own.
I watched her "walking" along on her knees, reaching as far as she could without contacting the bottom electric wire. Funny cow.
A lot of swearing and shouting went on after I took this photo. We could really use gates at both corners of the tops of the flats paddocks, out into the lane!
This is a situation I try to avoid, by ensuring that all the cattle approach the gate back along the fenceline to the left, together, so the calves don't decide they should instead do as this lot did and walk with their mothers, but on the wrong side of the fence.
It was a very hot afternoon and I was trying to get them all out of Flat 3 and down to the yards to inseminate heifer Fancy 166, who'd been on heat since early this morning.
I was also a bit frustrated in not knowing what to do about Imogen 155, who I inseminated eight days ago but who now appeared to be on heat again - except there wasn't any mucous and this is quite abnormal timing and so I just had to accept having to wait and see what happens. She is either pregnant and having a bit of a hormone glitch, or she's had or is having one and isn't pregnant, possibly because her ovaries are doing something unhelpful, which might threaten her overall fertility. I really hope not. She's one of our favourites.
The four Kotare chicks are bigger, noisier and messier by the day. There is now bird shit all over the exposed root beneath this hole, because now when the chicks want to defecate, they back up to the hole entrance and squirt to the outside. With four of them in there still, that's probably a very good thing. You can often spot a live Kotare nest hole because there'll be white squirts beneath it.
I set up the trail camera on a tripod by the tree, to watch what happens when I'm not there. There were a lot of pictures like this, of either parent, every couple of minutes throughout most of the day, coming in with some tasty morsel for the chicks.
When the insemination cows are in the Bush Flat paddock, I have occasion to cross a stream to see them and tonight I remembered to take my camera.
This is a Torrentfish, a fish that only occurs in Aotearoa. The link provides some very good information about them. There is an audio recording from RNZ's Critter of the Week, which suggests they're not common, but I see them regularly in our streams at night.
I saw numerous small Koaro, some large, whose flick away from the shallows caused audible splashing, a few bullies, many tiny shrimps, whose eyes reflect back in the torchlight and one or two Koura, the small fresh-water crayfish. Occasionally on these walks I see eels, making their slow way up-stream.