The week beginning the 20th of January 2018.
Saturday the 20th

If you've read this site for more than a year or two, you'll know we have repeatedly had problems with house-cow Zella and mastitis infections.  We have tried not to be over-zealous in treating them with drugs unless her problem became clinically significant (i.e. she got sick).  I am hopeful that some of her problem has been coincidental with some unfortunate circumstances, namely that her early infection was due to something I only slowly figured out: that Stephan was inadvertently infecting her with the Staph. aureus he permanently carries.  From then on Stephan took to wearing milking gloves, as well as adding an antiseptic to the udder washing water he uses on Zella before milking.  A subsequent mastitis infection proved to be caused by Streptococcus uberis, a bacterium she probably picked up by lying in her own faeces, something she seems to make a habit of because she likes to sleep in exactly the same spot each night and has already defecated there the night before.  The laboratory culture done on that sample showed no Staph. aureus.

But I also suspect there's a measure of stress-response in her production of the somatic cells that I can detect when washing the muslin cloth through which we strain the milk each morning - as soon as I add soap or detergent, the cloth feels slimy when they're present.  For the last couple of weeks that hasn't happened.  I think she starts to settle down as soon as she's pregnant again and as the bull has shown no particular interest in her over the last few days, I suspect she now is.

cow in stream

788 spent ages standing in the stream today.  It must be beautifully cooling on this hot day - we had a high of 25°C, which might seem cool to some but with constantly high humidity, feels much warmer.

This is the last place on the farm where the cattle can access the water at will.  Any other crossings are only accessible to them when required to cross from one side to the other.

Eventually we will fix this issue, by installing a water pipeline to troughs we'll install on both sides of this stream, so the cattle only go through this crossing when changing grazing area.  This is the only drinking water they have access to in the paddock at present.

The fencing of streams like this implies significant expense above the fencing costs, i.e. to get water to the area on the other side of this stream will require the installation of about 130m of alkathene and two troughs: all up about $800.  Is a clean stream worth $800?  You bet.  It's a pity the upstream neighbours aren't going to the same effort, but more on that in a future page.


Lots of the others were lying around in the lovely area nearby.  The stream runs along from the right of the photo and around to the left, where 788 was standing in the crossing.  The close proximity of water always makes everything feel cooler and fresher than it otherwise would.

spider web

Across the middle of this photo there's a glinting filament of spider web, strung between two trees.  Spider webs can be extraordinarily strong and I've often seen them slung across surprisingly wide gaps.

calf and cow

I love my mum.

745 looks weirdly bumpy around the tops of her front legs and shoulders because she, like her mother, has a reaction to tick bites.

hen and chicks

A day earlier than I expected them, the chicks under our usual mother hen are hatching.


There was so much grass in the Bush Flat paddock that I erected an electric tape across it before letting the cows in yesterday evening, saving this nice new lot of grass for this evening's fresh treat.

I love letting them into fresh grass; the sound is fabulous, a continual scrunching noise as cows tear up great mouths full of grass, breathing and munching all the way.

Sunday the 21st

Ear scratchers, mother (746) and daughter (788).  They both look oddly thin in this picture but 746 is in very good condition, when I stand behind and look at her rear and 788 is doing alright for a first-calf heifer.

Later in the day I found 746's numbered ear tags at the base of one of these trees.

boundary fencing

Ella and I walked up the hill Over the Road, checking the ten young cattle.

As always I checked the electric tape along the boundary.  I was interested to see the number of ox-eye daisies up here, having not particularly noted them before.  They seem to be mostly on the neighbour's less fertile areas.

The three of us spent the rainy afternoon playing cards.  My last check on the insemination cows out in the Blackberry paddock was a very wet one.  I think we had a fire, to help dry everything out.  The humidity is so high that everything feels damp.

Monday the 22nd

Ella went home on the bus today, after a very pleasant stay.  It's always lovely to have her here with us for a while.

a Mayfly

A Mayfly on the window.  I didn't know what sort of interesting insect it was, so went off to the NatureWatch site again and someone told me.


I moved the cows this morning at 7am when I checked them and by 10.45, they'd eaten enough grass to have a nice mid-morning rest and here they all were as I came up around the corner to see them.


788's daughter's face is actually cleaner than it was, since last night's rain.  What a grubby calf!

Black is a much more practical colour for someone who has to nuzzle around under her mother for every feed.


Snoozing friends.

hen and chicks

The four chicks are now out and about, investigating the small world of their protective cage.

We started with nine eggs.  One broke early in the piece - presumably had an undetected crack in the shell before I set them.  Two were infertile and two, while containing fully-formed chicks, failed to hatch.  One didn't even break the shell and the other did but died before completing the hatching process.  I didn't intervene in time to save it.

two calves

Zoom is getting quite fat.  Stephan says he milks Zella right out every morning, leaving very little for Zoom, although she always spends some time suckling, getting whatever may be left.  She then feeds during the day, as Zella continues to make more milk.  There's obviously more than she needs!

Spot, at left, is doing quite nicely too, although she's a smaller animal.  She's getting quite enough milk but her growth pattern is different from Zoom's.

small pond

While last Wednesday night's rain didn't cause much flooding, our water supply stopped again.  Debris washed down from the slopes keeps blocking our filter in its new position.

This little pond must have a small leak and there are half a dozen tiny Koaro (one of the native fish species) in here, having come down the water pipe recently.  When the water is flowing in from the gravity system, this pond is not unlike part of the stream but while the water is off, the level is dropping, there's no water movement to keep it well oxygenated and I fear the fish will die.  This hose comes from the tank and I hope it will keep them happy until normal service is restored.

Tuesday the 23rd

This is not a naturally white-faced calf; that's milk!  The calf was going from teat to teat, bunting and sucking.

Presumably that white thick coating indicates a high fat content?  Lucky calf!

heifer and bull

This is about as much sign as 812 has shown of coming on heat so far.  I don't know what's going on.  She wandered off again after looking at the bull for a few minutes and although I watched her carefully during the rest of the day, there was no other sign of oestrus.

guinea pigs

Two guinea pigs came to spend some of the afternoon by the pond, while their boy swam.

I quite like guinea pigs.  My sister, Rachel, had one or two when we were children.  I've long imagined they'd be fun to keep on an enclosed lawn, rather than caged.


Synchronised pond entry!


Then these huge colourful things arrived.

I can't help but think, all that plastic, where will it end up?

Wednesday the 24th

We often have mist around the hills but this really looked much more like fog, hiding all the nearby hills.

It didn't last very long though, before the sun burnt through for another very hot day.


Having the mower to tidy up the paddocks has been absolutely fabulous.  Otherwise, instead of being this beautifully even green Kikuyu, there would be clumpy bits around the stalky remains of the Parsley Dropwort flowers and rank long growth where there are shit patches.  The grass will continue to grow unevenly over manure patches but at least it starts afresh from all the same length after it is mown.  It both looks nice and makes better, more even pasture.


This is Ellie 119 with a different sort of heat detector patch, this one a "scratch and sniff" - well, that's what I call them, since I can't ever think what they really ought to be called.  Do greetings card makers (oh, hang on, not many people even send real cards any more) still make those weirdly smelly little scratch and sniff patches?

But back to the matter at hand: Ellie has had sufficient mucous in the last few days to make me suspect she would come back on heat.  As I had a good idea when that would happen, I decided one of these patches would do the job to tell me if she'd been standing for other cows overnight.  I stuck it on her last night where she was lying, during my late check.

She came on heat mid-morning and the silver layer was gradually rubbed off, exposing the green underneath, as others mounted her.

At eleven, Sarah came out with her three children and I drove them all out to the Back Barn, whence Stephan and Kerehoma walked on up into the bush to fix the water intake.  Sarah, Maihi and Wanairangi stayed and explored the stream while I went into town for a spot of physiotherapy.  When I came home, I drove straight out the back again and found them all just starting to walk down the track.  It was very hot, so we all retired to the shade by the pond for lunch.

Mid-afternoon, huge dark clouds loomed up from the south and just after I'd come back to the house from a cattle check, torrential rain fell.  We had nearly 15mm in about 20 minutes.  Lucky that's all there was or there would have been a flood!


This tiny spider appeared on the table, possibly having come in on one of the bush walkers, or on any of us from the grape vine by the pond.  It must be one of the square-ended crab spiders and it is on a sheet of paper, whose fibres you can see, so it was pretty small.

Just before eight, I inseminated Ellie 119, her second go, so I hope it sticks this time!

Out in the dark tonight I heard, I'm fairly sure, a funny-sounding Kiwi: a bit more shrill than usual, with a bit of a break in its call; a young bird, perhaps?  It's always so good to hear them still.

Thursday the 25th
wet pasture

There is a ridiculous amount of water around, after that heavy fall yesterday.

This is a wet corner of Flat 5a, down by the gate, but to be this wet in late January is crazy.

cow and calf

Pretty things.  Not sure if I'll keep this calf or not.  Her temperament has never been very calm but she is the half-sister of 607 who is surprisingly tame, so maybe she'll settle more yet.


As I finished my check at 7.30 this morning, I had opened the gates so the cows and calves could make their way to Flat 3, so they'd have some shade on what promised to be a very hot day.  By midday, here they all were.


Thunderstorms have been forecast around Northland most afternoons this week.  We didn't have a repeat of yesterday's weather but this cloud was pretty striking when I was out doing the rounds at 3pm.

I've been thinking ...  I have been wondering if, with the extra heat of this summer, I've been missing some signs of heat in the cows and heifers.  When it's very hot, they're less inclined to strenuous activity, so a hot cow may not attract as many others as she might in cooler conditions.  But pregnant cows also tend not to be as reactive to others who are on heat either, so it occurred to me that it might be helpful to bring the cull mob back to join this lot, since some of them are definitely not pregnant.


Of course there was a bit of pushing around between cows who haven't been together for a little while.  I made sure to watch the twins, to see what they'd do.  Gem 698 was standing in the gateway between the two paddocks they were grazing, feeding her calf, as Meg 699 walked toward her.

These were the only two cows who didn't react to each other at all, as if they'd never been apart.  It is my contention that they smell exactly the same and they recognise each other as the other part of themselves.

Presumably the other cows don't need to challenge either of them, since each smells and looks like the other.  I wonder if the other cows know there are two of them?  They probably do.

This main mob now numbers 78 animals.

Friday the 26th

In the foreground Gem has her nose near her own calf, 848, and behind her is a confused nephew, Meg's calf, 849.  849 had just received a nasty kick from Gem when he tried to suckle her.

To the twins' calves, the two cows smell, look and sound identical, as they are.  The calves are, especially this year with different sires, completely distinguishable to their mothers, so there is never a mix-up from their perspective.

The calves must work out that there is more than one cow who smells and looks like mother, so they must learn to depend on the other cues their mother gives them that she's the right one but they forget these things when the two cows are in different groups for a while.

I have found having the twins in the herd absolutely fascinating.  They have demonstrated all sorts of things I'd not really thought about in terms of relationships between adult animals, and the cows and their offspring.  I have pretty much decided to cull Meg from the herd this year, since her behaviour in the yards is troublesome.  But I still feel torn about this decision so it is possible I will keep her another year.  Keeping them in different groups has been a test of how they respond to separation and neither appears particularly perturbed.  But maybe they know the other is still on the farm, so that makes it ok.

It would be easier to be an ordinary commercial farmer.


Having finished the grass in Flats 5 and 3, I opened Flat 4 and as usual, lots of calves tried to go there in a straight line, so got stuck in a bunch in this corner of 5b.


They are much better about going through gates, but still learning.  If they're some of the few who remain on this farm, they need to know the shapes and arrangements of all the paddocks; if they go elsewhere, they'll be clever and unfazed by whatever they find.


I took some pasture photos after they'd been in Flat 4 for about three hours - not much feed here now, but the ground cover is certainly better than it is in most summers.  That is of course partly because there's been rain but there's also better grass here since I've attended to some of the soil's nutrient deficiencies over the last few years.


This side of Flat 4 has always been very poor and this year I think it really is starting to look a lot better.

This is primarily a photo for me to refer back to at some stage.  I made some comments back in 2011 about the state of this paddock, regarding how palatable its grasses may be to the cows.  Mowing makes a difference to the cumulative residual they leave, which makes a difference to its appearance, but I'll be interested to watch it through the coming year, after having applied more lime again earlier this season.

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