Milking time each morning is 7am. We used to be a bit slack about the timing but last year Zella seemed a lot happier about it always being at the same time. The only variation in when the actual milking starts, is down to Zella and how much she dawdles on the way in from the paddock. She seems to want to eat all the way, despite having had freedom to do so in every hour beforehand.
Demelza comes in by the end of milking, making her slow way out of the paddock, knowing there'll be a molasses treat waiting for her. At present they're going off to the Pig paddock for their day-time grazing.
In the picture Zella is doing as she does each morning after milking: pressing her nose against the gate latch, before exhaling violently and shooting gobs of snot out in all directions. It is something to be avoided!
The little chicks are all doing very well.
I went to check Emergency's calf, make sure she'd fed overnight. Emergency's front right teat looked a bit reduced but I wasn't entirely convinced so went to squeeze them all, make sure the milk was flowing. This side took a big squeeze to get started, so I don't think the calf has fed - the teats become sealed between seasons, sometimes making it easy to check if milk has been extracted by the calf.
Hoping they'd sort themselves out during the day, I checked occasionally but by the end of the afternoon, concluded the calf had "gone past it" and needed a prompt to begin feeding. I thawed and warmed a block of Zella's colostrum and took it up to the calf. She took a bit of convincing to begin sucking but at by the end of the bottle, was eagerly looking for more, so I led her to Emergency's side and walked quickly away. Emergency was still a bit too postnatally anxious to allow me to remain beside her to help the calf successfully find and stay on a teat.
While we were having our dinner, Gem must have been quickly and quietly calving. I found her standing with this just-born calf, head oddly tilted but it was just that he had only landed on the ground in the last couple of minutes.
I'd noticed her standing around throughout the day, so this was no great surprise, although a couple of days earlier than my best guess. This is the 17th calf and so far I've only guessed one date correctly.
It takes ages to gently thaw a block of colostrum without applying too much heat, so I didn't get back out to give Emergency's calf another feed until just after dark. There's a lovely big moon at the moment though, so I can see pretty well without the torch confusing everyone.
Again I left her following her mother for more milk after she'd had the bottle, hoping she'd find it in the warm darkness.
Emergency's udder was full again this morning, so this time I took some fresh, warm milk from Zella, up to the calf and fed her. She needed colostrum and its anti-body-full goodness in the first 24 hours but now she just needs to get on with learning to feed!
As soon as she finished the milk I had for her, she was hunting around for more. Emergency has settled down a bit, so I was able to stay beside her for a short time to help the calf latch on ... and then again when she bunted and lost the teat. Why are some calves this stupid?
I decided that the best thing to do was simply to support the calf until she comes right, which I presume she will, eventually.
At home the phone rang and I recognised the voice of the woman calling, who insisted on talking to Stephan but would not give me her name. It was the mother of the young man whose calves were here last week. She sounded very agitated but it is always our practice to engage with people, in the hope that communication and cooperation will be advanced. In this case it was rather like banging one's head against a wall and in retrospect we should have done as the young man's grandmother had suggested if this happened, and hang up on the mother if she called.
The purpose of her call was to "warn you that we will be installing surveillance cameras" to catch us interfering with their property and that we'd better not come back because we'd be seen. Stephan assured her that we'd only been there to return the wandering calves. She said she didn't believe him.
Why a 30-year-old man needs his mother, who does not live with him, to phone and fight his battles (of his own making and in which he was the offender), is hard to fathom, but this is not the first time - previously she'd phoned to tell us that her son's dogs weren't wandering either, as if she could possibly know.
Neighbour Sandi and daughter Jorja came over for a walk around, to look at the new babies. We went and stroked Eva's daughter, since she likes that. It seems I neglected to take any photos.
I had asked Jorja if she could please be prepared to come and have a look around the flats at the calves next Saturday, since I will need to be out all day and I'm not sure everyone currently due will have calved by then, so this was partly an orientation walk.
I walked with Jorja and Sandi out to the front gate and then carried on across the road, to check the 14 cattle on the hill.
This is Zoom, looking rather grown-up all of a sudden. She has slimmed down a lot since weaning.
Zella's new calf is quickly learning to go into the little pen to be by his mother's head during milking.
Stephan doesn't require much re-training.
I took another couple of litres of warm, fresh milk out to Emergency's daughter again, after which she fed from her mother as well. Emergency has blood in the milk on the side the calf was feeding from. I'd like to be able to milk her out but she's still not happy about me being close to her for long.
The calf appeared to have a good long feed.
Just before ten tonight I thought that both 710 and heifer 166 were looking a bit anxious and interesting, so resolved to come out at 2am for a check.
Two in the morning: nothing happening, back to bed.
Eventually Zella and the calf will get used to the morning timings and she will have performed her ablutions (here Stephan is waiting for her to finish her first urination of the day) before we come out to get her - and then the calf will start being kept away from her overnight anyway and she'll be much more cooperative about coming in to be milked.
Demelza was off down to the right somewhere, still grazing.
One of the Kotare was at the top of the Puriri by the house, where the sunshine was just beginning to catch the top of the tree.
I have wondered if the birds are preparing to nest again in the hole in the trunk of the tree. Both seemed to be flying out of the low branches over the last couple of days, any time I came out of the house.
Another supervised feed for Emergency and calf.
There's no obvious grass growth anywhere. The cows are in the small groups in which they calved, while we wait for the weather to warm and a bit of rain to kick off some growth. When there's some grass ahead of them, we'll tag the calves and start combining some of the groups.
Elizabeth, Miriam and Roy came out for a visit. Roy kept his non-waterproof shoes on so we walked the way of the narrowest stream crossing, across which he leapt with the greatest of ease.
Most of the Kahikatea trees have changed colour, some with pollen and others with seed cones. Every now and again across the paddocks we see smoke-like clouds of pollen, wafting out of the trees.
Here are two clumps of orchid plants, on the left a very pale cream flower and to the right, a much darker yellow. They were too high above me to get close enough for a better look at the actual flowers.
Demelza seems happy enough most of the time but every day she is stiffer in her hind legs.
Last month I decided I would have to end her life but then put it off as she was out on the flats and I didn't want to distress Zella before she calved.
Today I checked the calendar to see when she is next due on heat and that will fall sometime in the weekend. Beyond that time, it will not just be her heat during which we would have to separate her from Zella, but Zella's heats too, since both situations lead to cows mounting and being mounted, which now causes Demelza too much pain. Spending her life alone will not make her happy.
I will phone the vet tomorrow and organise for him to come this week.
It is a hard decision to make, that a beloved animal's life must be ended but I am very conscious that the longer Demelza now lives, the less quality of life she will have as her joints deteriorate and cause her more pain. The end will be the same, whenever I decide it should happen and I would prefer to act a week too soon than a day too late.
This gave me palpitations this morning, seeing Ellie 119 with what looked, from a distance, like a long bit of membrane, as if she was in labour, but before her udder or anything else looked like she was ready.
But it wasn't anything scary, just a very strong, thick string of mucous, coloured by having hung for a while in urine streams and other matter.
I phoned the vet first thing this morning: he can come this afternoon.
This is Demelza's last day. I spent some time with her with a grooming brush, talking quietly to her. She has been a lovely, lovely cow, always liking to approach me when I'm in the paddock. Her friendliness and attachment to me has never wavered. My intention is to have her die peacefully before she begins to suffer more debilitating pain. Most farmers would have her shot but I wish to make this a calm event - it will make little difference to Demelza, since shooting is instant oblivion, but for my sake, I will have it done medically, so it is a quiet end.
We decided she will be buried beside the sheep cemetery in the House Paddock, just across the lane from where Isla was buried and Ivy's bones lie.
Stephan was half-way through digging the hole while I was feeding the budgies in the aviary when the vet arrived unexpectedly early, driving up the lane to attract our attention.
The first job, while the vet was here, was to do something helpful to Zella's feet. From her Jersey sire she has inherited the most awful hind feet - and the front toes are pretty long too, but not quite as troublesome - causing her increasing leg strain as her feet pivot backwards to walk more on her heels.
I asked if we could mildly sedate her because she really hates being restrained and I don't want her to become fearful of the yards or us. She fought nonetheless. Eventually she got so dozy she collapsed in the crush in a most uncomfortable-looking manner but the vet said she was not endangering herself, so he continued until he was content he'd done enough.
The vet removed a lot of the excess length and then scraped away the deformed growth that was either the result of the resulting poor walking habit or the cause of it.
Zella grazed her front knees quite badly struggling to get up but went off quietly to join her calf as far away from us all as she could.
Then it was Demelza's time. We thought we'd need to get her into the race but the vet was happy to do her out in the open, first jabbing a big needle into her rump, before squeezing the contents of a syringe into her, a sedative to put her quietly down on the ground. I stood with her, gently guiding her away from the fences and hard corners of the infrastructure, until she collapsed to the ground and then slowly went off to sleep. When she was no longer moving, just quietly snoring, the vet inserted a needle into her jugular vein and injected the pentobarbital to end her life. It took less than he calculated by body weight since she was already heavily sedated.
We both went away for a while, leaving Zella grazing nearby so she could know that Demelza had stopped. Stephan went off to complete his grave-digging task and I went to check the other cows.
723 was in the middle of her labour, feet out and nose soon following.
I watched her deliver a nice little heifer.
710 was also in labour, while other calves raced each other around the neighbouring paddock.
She too had a heifer calf, the twelfth this season of 19 calves born.
They seem to have really straight noses, all these Harry-sired calves.
Meanwhile Stephan was being an undertaker. I had been with him as we began to put Demelza onto the transport tray but it looked like it would take a bit more time than I felt comfortable taking in the middle of calves being born, so I'd gone away and left him arranging straps and methods of pulling her on to the tray.
I had already decided that the important part of Demelza's end was the quiet death; that how we moved her afterwards was less important and if it could not be very dignified, that did not matter quite so much. In the event she rolled very tidily onto the tray and with a strap holding her head up so it didn't drag on the ground, Stephan brought her into the House paddock and over to the hole.
I had contemplated doing an examination of Demelza's arthritic joints but in the end decided that would be a bit too tough today: it is the experience of joint disease that matters and I will just need to keep an eye on her daughters for signs of similar problems over time.
These teeth are in worse condition than when I last watched Demelza's mouth in action: three incisors have broken off and the big gap in the middle would have made eating far less efficient than it should be. But Demelza was in very good condition still, probably because she had an easy winter on the flats and was not pregnant.
My last task was to pull a couple of handsful of tail hairs for storage in my file in case we ever need to do any sort of genetic testing on Demelza's family.
Then we rolled her off the tray and into the big hole - definitely undignified but it's impossible to prettily arrange over 600kg of large, dead animal. I picked a spray of Puriri leaves, her favourite food, and placed them by her nose and Stephan filled in the hole.
Good bye my beautiful cow.
Demelza, at 15, was reasonably mature for a beef breeding cow. I always remember her birth, during a big flood in 2003, when I could do so little to help during her mother's protracted labour. I have always wondered if Demelza's very slow nature was due in part to oxygen deprivation at some point during that birth. Maybe she was just very, very calm. She was the only cow I had from her sire, Glanworth Waigroup 619.
Demelza produced bull calves in her first two years, then nine heifers over the next ten seasons, the first being Eva and the last, Spot the Elephant; Ellie 119 is her other daughter still in the herd.
I will miss her but I am glad we were able to do what was necessary for her to have a peaceful end. I hope it was soon enough that she had not suffered too much pain. I had felt for the last few weeks that she was ready for it to stop.
While Zella and her calf made their way back to the House paddock, I brought grey 807 and her calf down the lane, so the two of them could join her. The choice of companion was for a number of reasons: firstly I'd prefer Zella's male calf to have the company of another calf destined to become a steer, so that when they are weaned and sold, they will go together. Secondly I'm pretty sure 807 is hooked on molasses and also on being groomed, so it is likely she'll be quite easy to get in at milking times, making it easier to move Zella as well, who is inclined to dally.
We tried herding the two cows and calves in for milking this morning but it didn't work. With a blue bin containing molasses, I then led 807 out of the paddock. Looks like that's the way to do it.
Turmeric roots. The plants Stephan grew in a big pot last season died down a while ago and today he upended the pot, planted out a couple of Swan plants that had grown there and retrieved all this Turmeric. We'll have to look up how to process it.
In the sunshine down by the pond, bees were busy in the apple blossom.
A Monarch Butterfly was caught in a spider web above my head. I carefully extracted it and removed the bits of web from its legs and off it flitted, for the rest of its short life. It looked pretty old and battered, so that probably won't be long.
Emergency's daughter had produced this reassuring quantity of faeces when I went to check her but it's not the right colour and the flies were immediately drawn to it: I'd guess it is full of blood from Emergency's udder, since the calf has been feeding mostly from the affected side.
Emergency let me check the other side, where there is nice white milk and I stripped out as much as I could of the bloody side. Emergency is still behaving threateningly toward me after a while.
The calf's belly felt full this morning when I checked but I thought she didn't look very happy this afternoon. I took her a litre of Zella's milk, so she would have some proper milk in her belly for the night.
Later Emergency's front teat on the good side looked shiny and the quarter was reduced in size. The calf was still there with Emergency.
Calves often look like they're flat-out dead. I've learnt not to panic. This one's mother came over after a minute and licked him until he woke up.
Calves can sleep for long periods on their sides like this because their rumens are not yet working. When they're adults they can only lie flat for very short periods because the build-up of rumen gases requires frequent belching, which can only occur when they're more upright.
This heifer calf was born to Fancy 126 at 2.34 this morning: I know because I was there. I came out for a check at 2.20am, finding 126 with two feet visible and then watched while she gave birth to her daughter.
Daughter 166 was watching with interest as the calf began to move, as their mother cleaned the newborn.
This was how things looked just before seven this morning. She finished expelling the afterbirth and ate it at about 10.30.
166 was standing some distance away with a bag hanging under her tail, yelling every now and then.
I stayed and watched for a while, waiting for the appearance of some feet, which eventually became visible. She was quite disturbed by the whole process, rushing out and chasing off a calf and cow when they inadvertently got a bit close. I decided to stay out of the way. When the membrane bag broke, I decided I could afford to go and do something else for a little while - a broken bag at that stage means the calf will most likely be born without any membranes over its face which could obstruct breathing.
I checked on Emergency's daughter, found her looking a bit off-colour (too much bloody milk still passing through her system?), decided she looked a bit dehydrated, so went home to see if we still had a sachet of electrolyte powder somewhere. I fed her a litre of that then left her feeding from her mother's good side.
Looking down Flat 3 to where 166 was in labour, I could see the heifer with her nose to the ground by the fence, no feet sticking out the back. I rode quickly down to investigate and found the newborn calf shoved under the fence by her upset mother. I stayed there for a while, pushing the calf back to her mother each time 166 pushed her too far again. A bit later I returned and they were both out in the paddock a little way from the fence, so had settled down a bit. From back at the house I watched 166 chasing Myna birds away from the calf, so she was obviously still very anxious.
792 who'd had to be assisted last year was in early labour while all that was going on and delivered her bull calf a bit after 10.30. She was not happy about my being nearby while she was calving, probably remembering too well her first time.
Once he was out and up, he was soon feeding and I stayed out of the way while she settled down.
This calf's gestation was 281 days, only a day shorter than last year's. 792 must have inherited her gestation length genetics from her sire, Mr 87.
Stephan has been itching to get on with the new yards for about the last two years and I have been slow to get my head into gear to think about them, so nothing has happened in a hurry.
But after mulling lots of ideas over for a long time, I eventually worked out a plan I preferred, drew it up and that's the shape we've set out on the ground and Stephan has sprayed.
Now that he knows where the lead-in lane will be, he did some digging today to bury the water pipes where they will need to go.
Then with the tractor, he began some ground-work. We may yet need a digger but this is a start, as he figures things out.
That looks better! Emergency's calf was showing some real energy early this afternoon. I gave her the other litre of electrolyte to maintain her recovery and left her feeding enthusiastically again.
Fancy 166's calf was sleeping behind her mother, having obviously fed well from the left side of the udder.
Oddly this Clematis vine is not flowering this season. I noticed it for the first time in 2015, then in 2016 and 2017. Perhaps female vines take a break occasionally. It looks healthy enough otherwise.
This is 716's son (that's 710 behind the gate) and he's a lot shorter and chunkier than the others from the same (Harry) sire.
He looked like he'd be lovely and soft and cuddly, lying here in the sun, but he would not have let me try.
Another 119 fright: I'd been sitting writing all morning with only binocular inspections across the flats, watching Ellie 119, the last cow on the flats yet to calve. All I'd seen throughout the morning was her standing around.
I came out here for a close look at 11.30 and there was blood at her vulva. I don't like to see blood when there's no other obvious labour activity. Perhaps she was just resting for a while between contractions I'd not noticed. She got on with it again in a few minutes.
By 12.45 I watched from afar and saw the white of feet and twenty minutes later her calf was born. Another heifer.
Heifer 166 remains very upset about any other creature coming anywhere near her calf (here it was through the fence and she'd been sitting and then standing with it). The other calf belongs to 723 and she was just having a nice run around, until she was chased away by a snorting 166.
We had an engagement beginning this evening and I'd spent the week nervously waiting for everyone to calve before I had to be away - I would have had to come back for regular checks had there been anyone left to calve, but they could be left for longer stretches once all safely born.
At 6pm we gathered with about 40 other people, all students of our Te Wānanga o Aotearoa te reo course, ready to be welcomed onto the marae at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro.
The noho marae (Marae stay) is a required part of the course, its purpose to involve us in marae culture and custom, familiar to many on the course but for some, not something they've been engaged with, either because they have been estranged from their own culture or because as Pākehā, even in this predominantly Māori community, they've not had much cross-cultural involvement.
It was a great treat to be greeted with a wero, a challenge by one of the tangata whenua (the resident people), often seen on television during large, public pōwhiri for visiting dignitaries, but not so often during other events.
Three of our party responded to the karanga (the call on to the marae) and we made our way in to the wharenui (the large central meeting house). Several of our party spoke in response to the welcome and there was much singing of waiata, the words of which we have been learning during the year.
After everyone had greeted each other in person at the conclusion of the formal exchanges, we ate together before returning for an evening session in explanation of all that had happened.
Unfortunately not everyone stayed overnight. There is something very special about staying together, all on mattresses on the floor of the big space. Of course there's lots of snoring going on and nobody sleeps very well but it's a cool thing to do.