This morning we collected the semen bank, so we're all set to start mating as soon as I get the cattle organised.
Another set of Pukeko eggs on the island. Is this the fifth this season? They are prolific breeders. I think they may lay better than our hens; perhaps we should have been collecting these!
Our extraordinary picnic-table centre-piece, down by the pond this afternoon.
I'm taking it easy while I have the chance before mating begins. It's lovely relaxing in the shade with a book and a cold drink.
Early in the evening we brought the young mob in to the yards to weigh the heifers.
The heifers of interest at this time of year are the yearlings, to find out whether or not they've reached minimum mating weight so they can calve next spring as two-year-olds. I was particularly keen to see how well they'd done this year because last season we didn't wean them until much later than usual, which I'd hoped would give them a head-start into the winter.
They've done very well. The heaviest were Zoom at 430kg followed by Dushi 170 and Ellie 171, both at 410kg. Gina 168, Spot 169 and 856 were 364, 371 and 383kg respectively.
My mating minimum has crept up to 360kg in recent years but in comparison with their better-grown sisters, the three lighter heifers look small and less mature and so I will give them another year. I am more relaxed now about carrying some heifers through for the extra year, having seen how much better some do with their first calf at three years old than at two. Some of my second-calving three-year-olds have struggled a bit and I'm all for an easier, healthier time for them.
Getting the house-cow calves in each evening is an unpredictable job. On the easiest nights they run for the gate and out of the paddock. On other occasions, they frolic and play and occasionally go near the gate and then bounce out of the gateway and away across the paddock again.
The weather forecasts are clear again so it's time for the sheep to return to their usual place, leaving the House paddock free for cattle.
Before moving the sheep, we'd pushed Zella and friends out beyond the gateway onto the bridge, ready to go to the yards for the calves to be weighed and vaccinated.
As we prepared to go to the yards, I could hear the slightly distressed calling of one of the calves and was not entirely surprised to find he'd somehow ended up in the stream! Hopefully he'd been able to break his descent by sliding down the approaches to the bridge, rather than having been shoved directly off it. He seemed unharmed, just surprised to be so cold and unable to get back up to his mother.
Not wanting to wet his new work boots, Stephan went back to the house to change them for some old ones and then slipped down into the stream behind the calf, to urge him through the big culvert pipe under the bridge.
I had to get Grey 807 to come down to the crossing to Jane's place, to encourage her son along the stream to where he could get back out.
866's cold dip didn't appear to have done him any harm in the end but I did wait for a little while before we did our work with him, for him to have a comforting drink from his mother and drip dry a little.
Stephan, saving me some energy expenditure, went out the back to fetch the two big mobs of cows and calves, bringing them in for weighing, first, before we put the whole lot around through the race again after we removed the scales platform, for their vaccinations.
While we were working, I noticed heifer 811 in the Pig paddock watching alertly, obviously still on heat after having been standing for others in the morning. Now she was the only one in her mob standing up, everyone else sitting quietly, half asleep, chewing their cud.
Eva was in the bottom yard at this point, looking equally interestedly toward 811 and while she had a lot of mucous around her rear, I saw no other indication that she was properly on heat, although I suspect she probably was.
Stephan did the vaccinations, up the race behind the calves, wearing the cricket pads I bought several years ago for shin and knee protection.
We also did one last castration: Gina 142's son looked likely to be a good bull in all respects except temperament. We both did some last-minute experiments, seeing how close we could get to him in the yards before he'd try to get away and he repeatedly pushed through all the other calves to get to the far side of any group. That sort of nervousness can turn into unpredictable aggression in adolescence, worsening as a bull ages. There's no point letting it happen on the chance that he'll be a fine-looking animal, because his calves would likely be as nervous and I might not be able to see them from my wheelchair - or worse.
Then we drafted them into the mating mobs for the next few weeks.
Most of the cows and heifers came into the House paddock as my insemination mob, a total of 62 animals including the big steer. I hoped he might be a useful heat detector, since he'd be more reactive to changes in his companions than others of the group might be when they are not on, or coming on, heat.
Before sending the heifers out to join the large insemination mob, we got 811 in and I inseminated her, since by then the time was right. She had a Harry straw, since all his calves came so easily last year, with tiny, streamlined heads.
811 is Jet 777's first daughter, a calf I watched with pleasure as she grew well and into a nice-looking yearling. I was not overly surprised that she did not, as the first calf of a 2-year-old heifer, make mating weight that season but resolved to keep her if her temperament was good. She's a little nervous but I expect she'll settle down during my regular contact with the insemination mob over the next weeks.
I glued heat indicators to the backs of those I intended mating (the cows had theirs as we put them through earlier, between groups of calf vaccinations), except for 811, since she won't need one for another three weeks and I didn't put one on 171, thinking I might not do her unless she settles down a bit. The non-mating yearlings can stay with the insemination mob, something I probably should have done last year, since it really calms them down as they become accustomed to my frequent presence.
This bull, 178, went out with the small mob of cull cows, including the twins this year. With Gem's weird teat development this season and the fact that again she has produced a flighty and difficult calf, I have decided the time has come to let them go. (Meg was unexpectedly not in calf after I decided against sending her to the works last year.)
Young white-faced 788 is also in the group, having proven to be a grumpy, bullying individual, always pushing others around in an uncomfortable and unhelpful way.
613 is the other of that group, who's been on and off the cull list for several years for various reasons. Earlier in her life she seemed particularly stressed by very hot weather and last weaning she had a nasty case of mastitis. She always produces lovely calves, which is why she continued in the herd for so long, the problems never quite surmounting that positive contribution.
Genie 150 is also on the cull list but because of her suspect cervical lesion, I don't want to put her with the bull, in case they do each other damage, so she can stay with the insem mob.
Bull 176, my favourite of the two, went in with Zella and 807. He can stay with them until I'm sure they're pregnant and then I'll use him in the larger mob to make sure they're definitely in calf after insemination.
And so began my month of late nights and early mornings: out at about 10pm tonight to go around and check the rear of every adult in the insemination mob, looking for any sort of mucous from vulvae, or pooled on the ground where they sit. I note everything and then collate it later in individual records: from tiny bits of cloudy thick mucous to the clear, stretchy, fertile mucous indicating the approach of oestrus. I often also see blood, meaning ovulation has occurred sometime in the last two days. Those animals will come back on heat in a little under three weeks' time if not already pregnant by then.
Zella kept swishing her tail in an annoyed fashion during milking, so I stood and held it while Stephan milked. A tail switch around the head is really unpleasant, especially if there's a bit of wet shit on it! She may have been experiencing some post-mating internal discomfort, since the bull was immediately interested in her again as soon as she came out of the milking area. Her next calf on the 10th of October?
Ticks are having a bumper season. This is Zoom's udder area, where immature ticks have attached themselves in greater numbers than I've seen before.
I spent some time picking engorged ticks the size of peas off several cows' tails and udders and popping them, ending up with blood all over my hands.
I'm unsure what we ought to do about them. Applying pour-on insecticide to the cattle would relieve them of the annoyance of the ticks but would need to be done every three weeks. The cattle, while obviously irritated by the ticks, appear to become tolerant of their presence - at least as far as their ongoing good health and relaxed state indicates to me.
We are one of the few countries in the world where ticks do not transmit several serious diseases.
The Kōtare (Kingfisher) chick (I think there is only one) has grown big enough to begin shooting its faeces out of the nest, so white splatters now adorn the Puriri roots and ground at the base of the tree. There has been barely any noise from the nest, unlike last year when four chicks constantly chirruped with each other between feeds.
Some calm bathers for a change.
Simon and Miriam came this afternoon to do some work, joining Stephan in the Tank paddock to start clearing along the boundary fence. Miriam also went around the entire paddock picking Ragwort flowers and removing the plants she found.
While they were still out working, Anna and her mother arrived with Evelyn and baby Alfred and we spent some relaxed time together in the shade by the water, until the others returned.
Evelyn and Simon.
Christina sent her boat here for a holiday, for safe keeping, while she's away from home for a few weeks' summer holiday.
We briefly attended a New Year's party, coming home again at 10pm, since I needed to do a cow check and as white-faced 746 was coming on heat before we left, knew I'd need to be up at six in the morning.
I went out to check the cows upon arriving home and at the first corner in the track, the bike died. Stephan got out of bed and came out to wheel it back home, out of the way, while I went back for the ute. I'll have to use that until we work out what's wrong with the bike or replace it. I don't have the physical reserves at present to walk to and fro for heat checking and insemination, nor the time, without leaving undone a lot of other things.
746 was still standing when I checked at six, so I knew we didn't need to hurry quite as much as I'd anticipated, this morning.
We drove up to Mushroom 1 and I drafted out 746 and Ellie 119, who had come on by late last night, their daughters and a couple of heifer companions and, while I drove back home, Stephan walked them in. I have found over time that a mob of five cattle moves a lot more easily than a smaller group and it's easier to bring heifers without calves than other mothers with or without their offspring.
Ellie 186, whose full sibling is now, hopefully, being conceived. Conception doesn't actually happen for several hours after insemination because ovulation itself occurs about 24 hours after the beginning of standing heat, which would be sometime late tonight, in Ellie 119's case.
At every move between paddocks, half the calves seem to lag behind everyone else. Here I had gone up to prompt the one cow left in the paddock, who'd been feeding her calf, to walk down to the gate and then urged all the calves to "go with the mummy" around the end of the fence and through the gates to 5d. Calves will readily go where an adult does but are often much sillier without one, so it pays to get them moving with a cow to keep them sensible.
That must be good milk!
865 is 745's daughter.
The Kōtare chick with its eyes now open. These chicks grow at a phenomenal rate. I don't see this one very often, since there's lots of room for it, on its own in the nest, to disappear around the corner out of sight.
I feel great satisfaction in having grown the tree casting this lovely bit of shade.
Stephan mowed the Pig paddock in the heat this afternoon. There is discussion about buying a shade for the tractor and my part in that conversation is usually "just buy one!" It's no good sitting out in the sun like that for hours.
While Stephan was mowing, I was cleaning a couple of troughs. They get murky very quickly in hot weather, the black plastic warming the water each day. While swishing water around I felt something sharp on my wrist and flicked my arm to dislodge whatever it was and saw the green flash of this beetle as it fell to the ground.
It then spent many minutes blundering around in the grass, trying to fly away but was presumably too wet to do so, until it had spread its wings and tried several times, enough to dry them out.
Its name is Tanguru, Stethaspis suturalis, a chafer beetle.
While I was outstanding in my own field this evening, checking the cows, I watched Stephan, away down in Flat 1, getting the house-cow calves in for the night.
812 looked like she was coming on heat, but wasn't quite ready to stand for the steer when he tried mounting her.
During my 10.30pm check, I came across Endberly, standing with her head pressed into the side of her sister, 742, as 742 lay chewing her cud. This is a long habit of Endberly's, from which I presume she derives comfort. I think I've only seen her do it with her maternal relatives, not other animals in the herd.
Those patches of yellow in the distance are huge Ragwort plants in full flower. They're within about two metres of our boundary, on the neighbours' place. From past experience, asking them to control the Ragwort would likely be fruitless, so we went for a walk through our bush block and nipped over the fence and nabbed the offending plants. In the bush we cut and bagged all the flowers to take them away for burning and left the plants hanging to dry in the trees.
Ragwort control is required within 50m of any boundary, waterway or flood plain. These plants, if left where they were, would seed all across our flats with the prevailing breeze and we'd be dealing with their progeny for years. We think this qualifies as justified trespass.
Properly on heat this morning, grey 812 was also attuned to anyone else in a similar state.
As I was checking the mob mid-afternoon, I saw Emergency being pursued by 812 and the steer, who kept chasing her, trying to mount her, wouldn't leave her alone! Emergency looked quite harried. When they all moved quickly toward the gate into still-open 5b, I took the opportunity to separate them, leaving Emergency in peace for a while.
From the other side of the fence 812 was behaving like a steer, or a heifer with quite the wrong mix of hormones. I wonder if that might partly explain her not having come on heat as expected last summer? She's a big, tall animal, with quite steer-like proportions. Time will tell whether or not it was a good idea to keep her. She's alright inside, according to the vet's examination last year.
All day long I kept checking Imogen 155, because this morning she had a red indicator and appeared to be taking some of the usual sort of interest in others that would ordinarily indicate oestrus. But she wasn't very keen and gradually she stopped doing anything obvious and I recalled her similar behaviour last year, when I actually inseminated her on the basis of this behaviour and then had to do her again the next day, and then she looked like she was on again ten days after that, and I didn't manage to get her pregnant until the following cycle. She's not going to fool me twice!
Seven o'clock, taking 812 and three heifer friends down to the yards. She was easy to inseminate, even though she's rather tall. It will be interesting to see what sort of cow she becomes when she stops growing.
Emergency was on heat by the time of my late check and it looked like 773 might have been coming on too but I wasn't convinced.
Yearling Ellie 171 was sleeping next to her mother, 119, and little sister 186.
Heifer 813 is proving a really useful animal, often leading the others out of the paddock or across the bridge to the yards when they're a little reticent. These are Emergency and her daughter (at the rear), with five of the heifers who came out of the paddock with her. I used the same bull on Emergency as last year.
Just watching ... In the middle of the picture, the steer is walking toward the back of Imogen, about to sniff her and see if there's anything interesting going on. There wasn't, so she isn't doing quite what she did last year.
773 might have been on heat yesterday but wasn't quite obvious enough about it for me to pick up on it - and I only know this as I write, because she came on properly three weeks later.