One of the mobs spent the night in the lanes when I ran out of time yesterday. This morning I brought them in, drafted these four out to the cull mob, although 742 is with them to be mated by the bull, since she's an unrelated cow.
The bull followed them up the lane fenceline and when they'd gone in to the little Camp paddock, I opened the gate for him to come out of the House paddock and join them. He immediately got on with checking all the cows to determine their oestrus status.
The other mob was still out in the Spring paddock. Eva was all alone, which never seems to bother her, sitting in the lovely cool of one of the tracks. The others were all over the rise.
I followed them all home to the yards, drafted three out to the cull mob and put heat detectors on the other eight.
By the evening, the bull had already mated Meg 699, so if I change my mind and keep her, she will be one of the first to calve.
The three yearlings with Gem 698.
The grey heifers seem to have formed a firm friendship and are often together.
I noted some bloody mucous on 716's rear this evening, indicating she's been on heat in the last couple of days, so she won't come back on until the end of the first cycle, in about another 18 or 19 days.
Four days ago when I was reading the max/min thermometer on the big Puriri tree by our house, I heard a strange scuffling noise, coming from this hole just above my head. It had always looked like there was an old nest in here but nothing has used it in twenty years. On that morning, a Kotare (Kingfisher) was in there, scrabbling around adjusting the hole and nest to her suit her requirements.
Now there are two eggs. I'd wondered whether she'd carry on using the hole when I'd been so close but presumably she'd have been checking it out on other occasions and I come out here to the the thermometer every day, and to the washing line slung around the tree, quite often as well.
The insemination mob have access to the blackberry patch down in the hollow and the calves soon got stuck in to the berries.
My daily life now involves three-hourly checks on the insemination mob. I come out at 6.30ish when Stephan milks Zella, check everyone carefully to make sure nothing has been going on in the early hours (looking for activated indicators, fertile mucous, changes in behaviour), ticking them off on my 30-animal list.
The regular checks are to enable me to note, as accurately as I can, when any of them begin the phase called "standing heat", during which the on-heat animal will allow and encourage others to mount her. Then I'm also looking out for signs she's going out of that phase. Having a regular schedule of observation makes sure I don't miss too much.
I make screeds of notes, which I later collate in a large document on the computer for ongoing reference.
These three are together because grey 807 is on heat - her indicator has already changed to red because others have mounted her and caused the dye inside to be squeezed out into the cover material.
Some other young blackberry eaters. Sarah and Anna both came out with the children to pick berries. Both women carried their daughters, Anna with Evelyn, recently turned one and Sarah with Wanairangi, just ten weeks old. These two little girls are rather special in Elizabeth and William's family, the other grandchildren all being boys.
The pond is a favourite destination at this time of year, especially in this fantastically hot summer.
These are my new straws this year, the orange ones from Lawson's Harry H234, the two lots of grey are S Chisum 6175 and the other five are a few extras of Kesslers Frontman R001, which I have used on the heifers in recent years.
In another can are all the straws I've not yet used from earlier years' purchases. There are a couple of bull 87's sire, three from the carriers of the genetic defects, which I use occasionally, when I feel like throwing the genetic dice and trying for a non-carrier calf.
The liquid is Nitrogen, boiling in the warm air temperature. It must be evaporating very quickly this summer, so we keep the bank in a shady, cool place, wrapped for extra insulation in an old mattress protector.
The frozen straws can remain in the bank for years before use, as long as the Nitrogen is never allowed to get too low.
After the swimmers had all gone home, we got some of the cows in and worked together to get grey 807 to go up the race, using a steel gate in the crush pen again to reduce her options for escape. Fortunately we prevailed and she stood very quietly while I went off to get the semen and prepare for her insemination, which went beautifully for my first of the season.
Then it was Eva's turn, who had come on in the early afternoon. I was surprised that my most worryingly thin mature cow at calving time, is the first for insemination now. She's still pretty thin but is obviously quite healthy and fit. They don't "cycle" if they're not in good enough condition.
Eva's insemination was rather a different story from 807's. She was full of quite liquid faeces, all of which proceeded to come out as soon as I inserted my gloved arm. I managed to direct most of it to the ground but then it just kept on coming, fast and squirty and all down my front, some into my boot. What a mess! I'm fairly sure Stephan was laughing but it was a bit too dark to see his face.
What an unfortunate way to start a new year.
The grass looks nice and green but it's awfully dry really.
Our annual rainfall for 2017 was 2188 mm, the highest total in my records dating back to 2000. But the rain fell at funny times, in unusual amounts. For instance, February's total was twice the average, March 2.5 times the average, April nearly twice, then slightly drier than normal in June and July before slightly more than usual fell during August, September and October, which kept everything horribly wet and muddy. November was drier than normal, with only a couple of decent falls early in the month, then December's total was a third of the average, with only one decent fall (just under 25mm) on the 1st.
It is the small amounts that fell during 16-26 December that have kept paddocks like this green and growing just a little. The fast-growing Kikuyu doesn't mind a bit of dry, loves the warmth and will grow as soon as there's a tiny bit of moisture, but not for long when it gets dry again.
We will run out of grass if there isn't some rain sometime soon. However we're still far better off than farmers in some other regions, where the grass is crisp and brown and there's no green left at all. It has been an extraordinary season.
Under one of the trees in the Windmill paddock, I found Eva's lost ear tags. I have concluded from the experience of two decades, that Allflex make really crappy tags. They break and fall out, more often than they stay in. Eva broke these in June last year, presumably while rubbing her ear against this tree.
I can't say you don't bring me flowers.
When I find interesting insects, I post them on www.naturewatch.org.nz and clever people tell me what they are.
This beetle is a member of the Odontria genus, on the trough on Route 356.
Sitting thinking about being pregnant? I hope so.
She's probably also tired. As 807 went off heat yesterday, Ellie 119 was coming on and I found Ellie following 807 around the paddock early this morning, constantly trying to mount her. They may not have had much sleep.
I know what these are but I have no idea why they're here: common pigeons. They flew off when I got nearer, so are presumably they're wild, or long-term escapees from someone's home flock.
Muehlenbeckia in flower. I've not noticed it flowering before.
I took the cull mob out to the Middle Back.
This little calf, 743's daughter who was the last born, hasn't been anywhere before today, having spent her early weeks on the flats. She managed to get confused everywhere she possibly could, going under fences and twice needing letting out in this way: I tie the usually-electric tape gate up so the cows won't come in but the stray calf can wander out under the tape and back to her mother.
775, eating Blackberry leaves. I watched her yesterday as well, wondering if she'd been one of the blackberry-eating calves who'd maintained the habit but she was only eating the new leaves.
I've just read a book by Rosamund Young, The Secret Life of Cows. I heard her interviewed on the radio last year and ordered the book from the library, with anticipation. She wrote about her cows being able to self-medicate by eating a wide range of plants from fields they were able to select to graze at will, which made me wonder what it is about Blackberry that attracts 775 on this sunny morning? They may just taste nice.
But Rosamund Young soon lost my belief and enthusiasm. While many of her observations were interesting and inspired me to closer watching of a couple of aspects of my own cows' behaviour, I could not go along with her insistence on some aspects of cow communication. For instance she wrote that one cow was walking with another, hoping to comfort her (or something like that, I've had to return the book already). Seriously? We can't even know what another human whose language we know is hoping or really fathom their deepest motivations unless they're spectacularly open and articulate; that Ms Young could ascribe exact "conversations" to her cows was ridiculous.
I like it that someone thought to write about cows but I think she did not moderate her own anthropomorphic tendencies. It is entirely probable that animals have a much wider world of communication and understanding than we currently fathom but to describe it according to our own world experience is unsound.
She sensibly maintained that one should only breed from the very healthiest and best animals, but then described nursing some favourites through months of illness, with long waits afterwards for them to breed successfully, without commenting on the reasons for those particular exceptions.
The book was a jumbled collection of anecdotes, which wasn't completely inappropriate but awfully frustrating at times. The author implied some sort of moral superiority in farming the way she did, with great mind for the animals' preferences but didn't cover some aspects of management which she must still have had to carry out, like castration and other painful procedures. She cannot have kept a farm full of wandering, entire bulls!
Perhaps I'll have to write a book.
When the cows have eaten the green tops from the pasture, this is what is left: a dry base with stunted Parsley Dropwort flowers. It will green up again as soon as there's any moisture but significant growth won't happen now until we get a decent amount of rain.
Ryan came again this morning and spread lime on the whole of Flat 5 (at right in this picture) and Mushroom 1. I usually ride around with Ryan to ensure he knows where any hazards are and he chats away, telling me all the gossip he's collected recently. When I don't talk to Ryan, I have no idea what's going on in the local community.
In the early afternoon I moved the 56-head insemination mob along to Flat 4.
The trough in Flat 4 is shared with the bottom of Flat 5b and really should have some alkathene or other plastic hose over the electric fence wire above this cow's head. I watched her being very aware of where her ears were in relation to the wire, as she drank.
(Endberly has a lump on her neck, probably due to the most recent copper injection. Those injection sites sometimes form abscesses.)
I surprised a hawk as I rode up the track and stopped to see what it had been eating: a tiny rabbit, head already devoured and now the bird was plucking its fur before eating the rest. A dead rabbit makes very good bait for traps, so I picked it up and gave it to Stephan.
Emergency and her unfortunately scatty daughter. While I thought I was breeding nice quiet cattle in this family, it seems I introduced some characteristics I had not anticipated - or chose to ignore some signs I saw because I was using favourite animals.
Emergency's sire was Joe 90, my favourite bull. He was lovely, with a relatively good temperament but it was in the first year of his use that I noted how prone to fighting the calves were. I wondered at the time if that indicated some temperament issues.
It doesn't come out in them all but there's a tendency to alarm in some of his daughters and some of the grand-calves have been quite mad - which of course will not be entirely his fault, but I suspect he added some problematic genes to the mix.
Emergency is a very quiet cow most of the time but if a stranger arrives for a walk with me, she's likely to have her head up and be ready to flee, just like any other wild and difficult cow.
Bull 87 has always been reassuringly placid and his daughters are generally similarly disposed, although some of their calves have not been. I wonder whether the sire of those bulls (87, 89 & 90) had a difficult nature?
Eva with Dushi, who's looking pretty spectacular.
I really am surprised by Eva, bearing in mind how awful she looked approaching calving. She obviously gave birth to a very healthy baby and is feeding her very well.
The calves in the insemination mob get progressively calmer, as I come and go so many times every day. A few days ago these two would have jumped up and moved away as I approached the gate; this morning they sat as I opened the gate a little and snuck through the gap.
After I'd checked all the adults, I opened the gate for the mob to move down to the yards: time to do the calf vaccinations. But there were showers and I didn't want to vaccinate wet calves, so we left them grazing out the front and waited.
The Kotare is now sitting on her eggs.
There were breaks in the weather so we put all the calves in the yards and then the rain started in earnest, so we let them all out again, gave up for the day and put the whole mob in the Pig paddock, since a couple of cows were on heat and would need insemination later.
Sarah and Karl brought these three (their two sons and a cousin) for a swim.
The rain was quite steady for a while, to Floss's delight, since she enjoys a good shower.
613 had been on heat since mid-afternoon and Jet 777 was looking like she'd join her very soon. She had that look in her eye... More that she was showing such particular interest in 613.
When checking the cows and bull out the back, I spotted two small patches of Tarweed. It must surely get here by cow, when they inadvertently eat the seeding plants. They're very hard to see when dry, so probably hard to avoid when eating near them too.
With a heavy rain warning in place for overnight and tomorrow, I thought it prudent to move the sheep. The rain may not come but I hate waking all night worrying that it is heavy enough to cause a flood I should do something about. The sheep are particularly hard to move in the dark.
I spent a lot of time in the evening watching and trying to work out which of the cows were on heat. I inseminated 613 just after midnight but left the others until the proper morning. They stayed in the Pig paddock between the stream and the yards and I knew I might have to get up and move them if the rain really got heavy but the rain radar pictures looked alright at that stage, so I took the chance. I slept with the window open at my head, so that if there were torrential rain, it would wetly wake me.
In steadily increasing rain, I inseminated three cows before breakfast. Stephan, my attractive assistant, is always also there, getting just as wet, although usually less messy.
We went home, showered, went back to sleep for a couple of hours as the rain came down and the stormy winds blew.
Little Lucy has been staying with us since a week before Christmas. She belongs to Christina and Emma, who've gone away to Queenstown for a couple of weeks. On the afternoon of 30 October, Christina drove over Lucy, who hadn't moved out from under the car when the engine was started and she's spent the weeks since with one leg in a cast and on strict cage rest. Her cast is now off but she really couldn't be left at home on her own with only someone coming to feed her.
She's due to go home any day now. Floss will be pleased; she hasn't much liked the presence of a cat and has demonstrated a startling alarm call when Lucy has been out for a bit of exercise and goes too near Floss's cage.
There was 22 mm in the rain gauge this morning. Lovely. Twelve of those millimetres were from yesterday, softening the ground nicely for what was to come. The next ten fell mostly on us during cow insemination this morning.
During the day we've had the occasional heavy burst but most of it has soaked into the ground, rather than running off into the streams. This is exactly what we needed.
Going out to do my late check on the cows, I decided to walk, it being far too windy to risk going on the bike!
The Kotare chicks (four) are hatched!
It has been a very short time since I noticed the bird, then the eggs, and now the chicks have hatched. New Zealand Birds Online tells me their incubation period is 20-21 days. When I first saw the bird in the nest on the 27th of December, I presumed she was readying the nest, with all the scrabbling noise and movement she was making. She wasn't there a lot of the time over most of the following days until it seemed she'd started sitting since I saw two eggs in the nest on the 31st. She must have been there for a lot longer than I realised, because you can't super-heat eggs for quick hatching; they take as long as they take.
Walking along Route 356 to check the cattle in the Middle Back, most of the wind damage appeared to be to the tops of Kanuka trees, with bits of branches and foliage down all over the place. This whole tree had been uprooted and was now leaning on its neighbour, preventing it from toppling right over. Another on the other side of the track had cracked and tangled in the fence. There must have been an especially strong gust through here.
I didn't find any damage anywhere else.
Poor Mr 87 bull is lame on his right rear leg or foot. I opened the gate from the Middle Back to the PW and left them to make their own way toward the front of the farm.
During this stormy day, a visitor had been driving in our direction to stay for a week. Blue (as he is known by his current colleagues, real name Parkpoom) is a PhD student whose supervisor is our friend Fran, at Massey University. Blue is a qualified small animal veterinarian in his native Thailand but wanted to gain some NZ farm experience, so Fran asked if we'd have him to stay for a few days.
We went out together to inspect the cows and shifted them after I'd checked them all.
About an hour later from the house, I could see all the cows running across the paddock and then returning to one spot in the middle of their grazing area. I couldn't see what was disturbing them, so walked quickly out to see what was going on.
Both grey heifers were curious enough to put their noses into this clump of grass but disliked what they sniffed so much, that they started back, frightening everyone else around them.
It wasn't scary, just a Pukeko nest. I have seen the same reaction to a nest before, leading me to rescue a clutch of eggs when I first lived here, and then had to rear the hatched chicks. It was a delightful experience I'm glad I had but not one I wish to repeat when I'm so busy.
I decided that the best course of action was to move the cattle on through the electric tape so they could graze the other half of the paddock, away from the nest, so they'd stop dashing about and the birds could return to their nest in peace.
We had a total of 99 mm of rain from the storm. Excellent.