Any time I wake in the early hours during calving, I get up and go out for a check. This morning it was 4.50am. Then if I can, I'll sleep in for a while. Stephan scans the paddocks from the house and will alert me to anything I need to investigate more closely.
When deciding how to arrange the fencing around the yards we decided to move this fence, away from the stream bank a bit: it has proved far too close sometimes.
We'd taken a small pig with us for an outing. The old cat harness fits him well enough, although the straps are a bit long at present.
I check the pregnant cows regularly, all day long.
Three hours later Stephan had the fence standing up and was re-straining the wires.
Every time I drive up the Windmill lane I'm dive-bombed by Plovers so this time I held my camera ready, although only got a good picture of one flying past.
There must be chicks in that area, although I've not seen any. They're very cryptic and it's entirely usual not to see the babies, with their camouflage colours and habit of squatting close to the ground whenever they perceive a threat.
Four-year-old 813 just starting her labour, following 812's daughter around with a bit too much enthusiasm.
Every now and then she'd leave the calf and so I thought she'd soon get on with producing her own calf and forget about this one.
Wrong. Here she was just after 6pm, suddenly away from where I'd last seen her with two feet protruding from her rear, with only membranes hanging behind her. Where was her calf?
She'd given birth to her calf, then left him to follow 812's daughter to the other side of the paddock.
856 had gone over to look at the new baby in the upper left of the photo.
We spent the next hour sorting this out. First we sent 812 and her calf out of the paddock and along the lane to Flat 1 because as long as the calf could playfully run back in 813's direction, we weren't going to win this battle.
Then I strung a tape in a wide arc around the new calf, still sitting wetly, snuffling on the ground, probably wondering what kind of world was this? When 813 came back to have a sniff, which she fortunately repeatedly did, I closed the tape so she was confined to the small area with her calf and Stephan stayed to supervise while I went off to see to the other evening necessities, one of which was to see off a Black Backed gull that was causing commotion across in Flat 2. The new mothers are hugely anxious about those enormous birds who come hunting for afterbirth in the paddocks. I have taken to removing every last scrap I can find, so they have no reason to come here.
Stephan reported that 813 kept shoving her calf every time he moved, tossing him through the fence into the reserve, but eventually began to settle down and accept her maternal responsibilities. It really pays to nip that baby confusion in the bud as soon as it becomes apparent, but I'd not realised she was quite so serious about it. Often a calving cow will lick another calf but then quietly continue with her own labour and then when her own is born, she is no longer at all interested in anything else. But sometimes something goes awry in their heads and they stay focused on the wrong calf.
During the latter part of this year we've been attending a course of hui (gatherings) in town, learning about the iwi of Muriwhenua, the people of this northern part of Aotearoa. It has also had a reo teaching component which we've both enjoyed. Each evening the classes have been split in two, one half being conducted entirely in te reo Māori, the other in te reo Pākehā (English). I've been challenging myself and staying in the reo part, understanding a fair amount of what has been said. Stephan went with the other half of the class and we compared notes each evening on the way home.
The course was to conclude with a bus trip around the areas covered in the classes but unfortunately had to be repeatedly postponed until today, when I couldn't go because of calving. But Stephan went and had a wonderful trip, learning all sorts of things he hadn't known before.
He arrived home just after I'd started watching Zella in labour.
I, having been up at 3.15am to check on heifer 865 and then again at 6.45am, both times to see her doing nothing out of the ordinary, had gone to have a sleep for a while after lunch. 813 had fed her calf during the morning and was doing so again as I checked from the house, so all was calm and well with the world and it could manage on its own for a while.
When I woke up and went out for a look at 2.25pm, Zella sat down with her tail out and some mucous showing and then stood up and this gush of fluid occurred as I took her photograph.
Over the next hour she sat down, got up, walked back and forth between the House paddock, where they'd been grazing, and the driveway area I'd not shut behind them in the morning. It didn't matter where she decided to calve and it's better not to restrict a cow when she's already scoped out her options.
And then these feet appeared. These are hind feet, I could immediately see, because they're upside-down. The other extremely unlikely possibility is that they were fore-feet and the calf was completely upside-down but the feet would likely not have come out if that were so. I checked anyway, feeling in a little way for the hocks. Fortunately Zella didn't mind.
The smooth gelatinous protective layer on the hooves extends up the back of the feet.
I prepared myself to help the calf out by getting the calving chains ready, along with the handles to pull, and Stephan sat ready (I thought) to come and help whenever I needed him to, just a little way away on a folding chair.
After a couple of pushing sessions during which her cervix would have been stretching around the haunches of the calf, Zella sat down inconveniently close to the fence but it looked like time to help.
I gently pulled the calf with some side-to-side movements to help the wide bits through and then the calf's body came more easily and I pulled her out so her face was in the open air. I'd called to Stephan for help or photos but he appeared to have dozed off, so there are no action shots.
It was so easy I didn't need the chains, nor even the hand-towel I'd carried in case I needed better grip on the slippery calf.
Zella immediately got up and turned to meet her daughter.
I was delighted it all went so easily and well.
The specks in the air in this picture are Mayflies. They were flying above the crossing from the Mushroom lane to the Bush Flat, where I noticed them similarly last year.
Since I identified Mayflies, I've been finding them in all the troughs but this is the only place I've seen them flying together at any time.
At 11.15pm I found 710 in labour (gestation day 285). The air was cold and damp so I went home for half an hour, then came back out half an hour later, to find her still mostly standing around.
Heifer 865 was eating voraciously, which I thought interesting, wondering if it was significant. It wasn't.
At 12.12am 710 pushed a membrane bag out which burst, then ten minutes later I could see two feet. I always tell myself I'm just waiting to make sure the correct feet are coming and then I'll go away to bed; I felt terribly tired, dizzy and vague. But once I've seen feet I find it difficult to go away. I adore watching calves being born.
While the hard part of the labour was progressing, 710 kept sitting back on her rear and I worried that she'd hurt the calf's legs, now protruding behind her.
At 12.47am the calf was out and I went back to the house.
I decided I could sleep until dawn, rather than getting up again to check 865, since she appeared quiet. Nothing untoward happened while I wasn't looking and the morning was uneventful.
While I had a nap in the afternoon, Stephan made me the traditional chocolate cake for calving time.
Little Al piglet has started skipping around with his tail out; he must be feeling better.
The lovely Amarylis in the greenhouse is blooming.
I remembered to sprinkle some slug-bait around the plants earlier in the spring so the flowers had a chance to develop. The slugs still beat me to some of the plants.
The peach tree is in blossom. I wonder if we'll get any peaches this year? The Far North, with high humidity, is not the best place to grow peaches but they're lovely when they occasionally don't succumb to fungi and rot.
The garden gate to the pond is adorned with lichen, some of it fruiting.
The Bird of Paradise plant has at last started growing well. I think it came from Jane's garden.
Time to begin milking Zella, now her calf has had the first of her colostrum. Her udder is enormous.
Zella is always a bit anxious when it comes time for the first milking but all the cows are like this after calving. We quietly moved her and the calf to the shed and put the calf in the little pen at Zella's head. The colostrum went into the freezer for emergency calf feeding.
I wish I'd taken my camera with me for this evening's 9pm check. In Flat 5a I startled a small adult duck with a single large duckling, and in 5c a juvenile Plover walked right up to me in the torch beam. Then it squatted down in the grass and I found it again on my way back across the paddock.
865 is still hanging on.
In the rain this morning (and oh do we need some rain!) 865 had found the best place in the paddock, in the shelter of the old truck canopy, where she remained until the rain stopped just after noon.
There was enough rain to bring the stream up over the bridge, but only at the lower end.
865's udder is ridiculously tight. She's reached day 277. She was born on day 274 so I'd thought she might be a bit earlier than this; heifers often have quite short gestations.
While it was raining and I couldn't easily see out across the flats, 742 was calving.
Here she is with her daughter, the first daughter of bull 178.
And here is 178's first calf of the season, 710's son from last night, with a beautifully curly coat.
We've only had one previous calf from 178, 613's son last year, who went through a fence and knocked his front teeth out!
At last, something in Stephan's shed for the living.
Tōtara legs, Tasmanian Blackwood top; work still in progress.
After another afternoon snooze I checked the cows and found 792 with a just-born bull calf, another Harry son.
After the evening milking we sent Glia, Zella and her calf to the House paddock for the night, the calf's first time beyond the small area in which she was born.
At 9.30 heifer 865 was stalking around with her tail out, so I went home for a while, presuming she'd be some time.
At 10.30pm here she was with an already-licked calf. It's always such a relief when the first of the two-year-old heifers is safely delivered. She has a daughter, the sire a bull named Kessler's Frontman, one I've used before on the heifers because of his reliably small calf birthweights. 865 is the first of my Harry daughters to calve.