Three-year-old 792 came on heat yesterday evening. She was the young heifer we had to help last season, with a larger-than-expected calf, which she then raised very well. This season's calf was born 72 days ago and while 792 is still quite light in condition, she's obviously doing well enough to return to oestrus in very good time.
At the top of this picture you may see Mathew's ute, he and two small boys having come out to help Stephan for a few hours. They were doing some long-due maintenance on the fence along the southern side of 5b and c, a fence we put in about twenty years ago to protect the Bush Hill Reserve.
As I wandered quietly around the cows, a Pukeko ran out of the grass somewhere, her behaviour indicating she'd been sitting on a nest.
It didn't take long to find the Pukeko nest in an uneaten clump of long grass.
A couple of other Pukeko were stalking around with tails flicking, sentries for their sitting family member.
I let the little budgies out each day for a fly around the house and they like exploring the bits-and-pieces shelf above my office. In budgie versus wolf, budgie won.
I ran out some electric tapes to protect the cattle crush and other new-yards gear to allow the insemination mob to graze the shady point of the former Camp paddock. It's so hot that shade near the streams is a really nice place to be.
‘The boys’ went out to find some Totara trees they could use for poles in the construction of a cover over the little deck at the front of the greenhouse.
This tree trunk was apparently much heavier than it looked (at least there were a lot of complaints), as well as a bit slippery since they'd stripped the bark off it before bringing it home.
The little boys brought this large insect from the ute, saying they're all over their garden in Kaitaia. I presumed it to be a locust, forgetting that it is Katydids who have the large, long head like this.
This one is an Olive-green Coastal Katydid, Austrosalomona falcata. It is not a native. I'm not sure what happened to it after this picture; I hope it went home again.
The cows and calves obviously enjoyed their time in the shady corner during the day. Shade under big trees, near water, is much cooler than in some other places.
This is a queue: 607 is older, dominant, so 716 waited until she'd finished her drink and had left, before approaching the trough. 607 would not have let her drink if she'd tried.
Social dominance rankings amongst herds is strong. If you ever see advice to dairy farmers about the provision of sufficient water troughs for their cows, this behaviour is why it's important: cows at the bottom of the social order can miss out on what they need, in a really big herd.
Back by the pond Stephan was supervising some hard work, as Mathew thumped soil in around the hole for one of the new poles.
How to make sure your roof line is going to look ok.
The greenhouse roof is sloped, the house behind is at an angle, goodness knows how this will turn out.
When all the noisy, fast-moving people had left and I was still sitting quietly reading, the Pukeko family returned, this one making her way past me, then into the pond where she swam across to the island and her nest.
Stephan came out with me to help move the insemination mob out of the Windmill Paddock. As we walked quietly back down the lane, there was an enormous boom - it wasn't extremely loud, but you could tell it would have been very loud somewhere! We both felt it was somewhere out to the East but there was a cacophony of cock pheasant and Pukeko alarm calls all around the hills behind us. We waited to hear the fire brigade siren from town, assuming someone had blown something up somewhere.
Back at home and listening to the Saturday Nights request show on RNZ National, there was a flurry of texts to the host about a boom and bright lights in the sky. It seems likely we may have heard the re-entry boom of some space junk, although we didn't see anything of it.
I watched 723's daughter 863 chasing a couple of Pukeko early this morning. When one flew off, I heard her snort, as if she were outraged by its escape. Funny calf.
Cattle tolerate heat differently depending on their age and body mass. I often find calves and yearlings sitting out in the full, hot sunshine, while nearly all the cows are in the shade of the trees.
This is yearling 856, one of several youngsters lying around in the heat.
I marked the Pukeko nest in the Windmill paddock with a fencing standard (you could just see it in the shade of the tractor if you knew what you were looking for) because while we doubtless run over some nests we don't know are there, I think it's unreasonable to run over one we do.
Stephan walking a group of cows back to the main mob this morning after I'd inseminated Fancy 126.
When I trained to inseminate cows in about 1999, one of the things you did before gently pushing the plunger on the inseminator, was check that the tip of it was in the right place, by reaching forward with the index finger of the hand holding the cervix (the cervix is only about the length of the human palm or fist, in most cows) and very gently feeling for the tip of the device at the end of the cervix, through the thin skin of the uterine body. But in recent years I've found that I often lose hold of the cervix and everything moves and I didn't find checking very helpful, when I usually already knew I was in the right place. As the inseminator is gently worked through the cervix, I can feel the resistance of the three rings of gristle it passes through, the third being at the entrance to the uterus. Once the inseminator tip enters the uterus, there's no more resistance, so it is possible to know when one has reached that point, without messing around checking. I made a conscious decision this year to trust my instincts and not double-check myself and so far I've felt happier with the process. I know I put that little drop of semen in the right place.
There is a very good set of pictures on this page, showing a diagram of the reproductive tract and a radiograph of the same area. The "magic zone" for semen deposit is pretty small!
The only situations in which I need to check are when the cervix provides no resistance and I think I may have gone too far through, into one of the horns of the uterus. That can work just fine but only if it's the horn with the ovulating ovary at the other end. Semen does not swim backwards, the trainers always said, so a too-far-in deposit of semen would only have a 50% chance of success.
Stephan, picking ticks out of Eva's ears late this afternoon, when we went out for a walk as I checked them all.
742, sitting nearby, was also (surprisingly) happy to be approached for the same treatment; she's not usually a cow who likes her head touched.
The big head on the left belongs to the steer.
Little bull keeps hanging around and checking 807. She must be coming on soon.
The island Pukeko on her nest.
I spent a lot of time outside today, looking at the trees and sky, whistling hopefully to the two little yellow budgies who flew out of the house this morning, instead of just flying around inside as they've been doing for days. The weather is so hot, that I began leaving the windows open and the birds didn't seem inclined to venture out ... until this morning when I realised there was only one bird in the room and the other was nowhere to be seen. When the second went off to find her brother before I could do anything to stop her, I watched where she flew, went down to the pond and whistled up into the Pohutukawa tree and she flew back to the big Puriri by the house, before flying a few beautiful, bright fluttering circuits around the house and disappearing into the trees along the river.
Late in the day I thought I saw her high above me, flying over to the House paddock reserve's big trees.
When I looked out the window in the early light this morning, there was a small bright body in the sky to the east which, while gradually losing its twinkling light, remained visible as a white spot in the sky. I could still see it when I went out to see the cows at 6.30. Presumably it was Venus. I've seen it like that before.
Mid-morning I walked out onto the deck and there was a little yellow bird, who climbed happily onto my finger. She spent the next few hours constantly eating. There's no sign of the other one. I feel rather foolish about thinking they'd stay around if they got out, although this one obviously did.
Moving the small cull cow mob and their bull this afternoon, I watched them raising clouds of dust as they ran down the Spring paddock's hillside. Things are getting quite dry.
One very enthusiastic young bull, coming across the House paddock toward the lane, as I took Endberly to the yards to inseminate her.
Bulls respond to the smell of on-heat cows but also to the sight, at any distance, of mounting activity, which he'd seen amongst the small group in the lane as we moved along.
He wasn't a frustrated fellow all day though: 710 had been on heat during the day and I'd planned to take her to the yards before it got too dark but left it a little late and then they refused to cross the bridge. As she was still just interested enough, we let the bull out into the lane with her for a few minutes and about three mounts, before turning him away and back to his usual companions. He's turned out to be a very well-mannered bull, much easier to handle than I had thought with all his bluster and growling earlier in the season.
I may not have noticed the black feral cat slinking through the grass this morning, had 813 not been looking so intently at it.
It is most likely a stray, rather than a feral, probably dumped on the road by someone at some time and living as well as it can on whatever it can find. While the feral cats we see and occasionally trap out the back of the farm are often in excellent condition, stray cats, even if they've lived this way for most of their lives, are usually in a far poorer state. Domesticated animals need people and cannot be "set free" to live "natural" lives without great hardship.
I saw the cat again in the lane, late in the evening. We will set another trap.
We went for a stroll along the edge of the Bush Hill (this was the day we got around to our previously-mentioned Ragwort-eliminating trespass) and of course I was looking for orchids.
This is one of the species I found in the small area adjacent to the Bush Flat paddock. Most had dried ovaries already bereft of seed but this one was still in flower.
Some had obvious spots on their leaves, others not, but I think they're the same species as that other group, from the appearance of this flower.
Another couple of inseminations this morning, for 716 and 729, and when I took them back to the others, 607 was coming on heat as well.
I noted in my booklet that Gina 168, Dushi 170 and Gertrude 162 are now all tame enough to touch. Walking quietly around amongst the cattle so many times every day, provides many opportunities to get close to them. While they're still nervous of my proximity, I'll repeatedly walk within touching distance without reaching out. Eventually I'll firmly scratch the area where the tail goes vertical, somewhere they often have ticks and which obviously feels really good if they let me scratch them. A nervous animal will still move quickly out of my way but sometimes she'll hesitate just long enough to register the good feeling and I'll be able to do it to her again on another occasion. And so it was with these three, a gradual taming until now I can walk up behind them and lay my hand on their backs without them jumping and moving away. Nice.
Ellie 171 and 856 won't let me anywhere near them.
I had a phone call from Sandi next door, who said she'd seen a social media post from the local SPCA announcing the receipt of a found budgie. It turned out that the exhausted little yellow bird had been found 2.5km away from here in Te Rore road, by a couple of women on their morning walk. One of them picked him up, took him home and kept him overnight (I think she'd also gone to town for some feed, or had some brought home), before taking him to the SPCA today. Funny how the male bird flew away and his sister flew around in circles and returned.
We took the female bird in a small travelling cage, in to town as a proof of identity (they're almost identical in colouring) and picked up our errant bird. I feel much better.
When I went to the cool shed in which I keep the semen bank at around 10.30 tonight, I was startled by the flight of two swallows, who must have been perched at their nest in the roof until I came in with my bright torch. I don't know where they went nor whether they came back later. Probably not, in the dark.
Grey 607 wasn't easy to inseminate. When they've been actively mounting other animals during the day (Imogen 155 was properly on heat as well), they can suck a lot of air into their various internal cavities, making palpation and finding what I need to find, really tricky. I prevailed, eventually.
I inseminated Imogen 155 first thing (before milking, even), then the cows all went out to the Frog paddock for the day. Some of them will have to come back later on, Jet having begun standing at 6.30 and there being some other prospects showing interest.
The trap Stephan set for the black cat had a possum in it this morning. He brought it back to shoot it, since the trap would be better set somewhere else anyway.
Since the tapes were all set up around the yards gear and there was this area ungrazed by the big mob, I let the House cows have it today.
The calves nearly disappeared when they sat down to rest.
This is what can happen when you fence cattle out of stream areas: you can't see there's a stream any more!
This is how it ought to be, with shaded waterways keeping the water cool and providing lots of places for water creatures to live and breed.
This is between the Frog and Swamp East paddocks, fenced off in March 2015.
I carry a plastic bread bag in my pocket everywhere at this time of year, ready to receive Ragwort flowers and/or seeds.
Stephan got around most of the paddocks earlier in the season with the tractor and spray unit, targeting Ragwort and gorse, so this is a mop-up of the plants that inevitably appear later.
This one is in the wet area reserve in the Frog paddock.
These biting flies are a horrible problem this year. They seem to bother the cattle in particular areas of particular paddocks, including the bottom yard but, fortunately, not so much up in the race.
I brought Jet 777 in to the yards and inseminated her, before going back out to bring the rest of the mob from the Frog to Mushroom 1, drafting the other hot cows out into the lane. I intended to bring 749, who'd come on heat soon after Jet this morning, in for insemination but it was later than I thought and suddenly dark enough to potentially cause bridge-crossing problems again. Instead we pushed 749 and a couple of others down along the lane, shut her in a short section, went and got the bull out of the House paddock and let them have a few exciting minutes together. Then it was back to the House paddock for the bull and 749 went out to join the majority of the mob in Mushroom 1. The others who had come on heat later in the day, or, like Zoom, looked about to, stayed in the lane for the night. It's like choreographing a dance!
During my late check I heard a Kiwi calling away up the valley. There are still a couple left.