Out early this morning so I'd get enough things done before going back to Te Wānanga for the day.
Looking down the length of Flat 2, the breath of the cows in the first of the sunlight was steaming around them.
716's calf was now full of beans*, her activity level as it should be in a little calf who's had some milk to energise her.
I didn't see her feeding, so I asked Stephan to come and make sure she did after he'd finished his own early tasks.
* To make myself entirely clear, I do not think you can make milk out of beans (or nuts or any other thing that isn't a lactating mammal), but as you can see from this picture, you can make metaphorical beans out of milk!
It is unusual for me to feel free to go out for a day in October but the calving pattern is such that I'm not expecting anything to happen today.
It had also become rare for me to want to go anywhere at all in the last many months, the old ute having been showing its advancing age. I have also been troubled by worsening distance vision, so that driving required constant, tiring squinting to see clearly. Now we have a new ute and I have new glasses, driving is an absolute delight. It's been a long time since I felt like that about being out on the road.
According to Stephan, Zella expects a head-scratch before going in for milking.
Heifer 865's daughter.
Silly cows, all getting frantic as their calves go running around with each other.
These are Henrietta, Imogen and Fancy, in Flat 5d.
Two large gulls flew overhead. I told them to keep going. They did.
Since I've been clearing away any afterbirth left in the paddocks, they've not had any reason to visit, nor have they tended to fly low looking for any they might have missed from a height.
The cows don't like them, so neither do I.
Some big birds we do like, Pūtangitangi or Paradise Ducks.
The peach tree looks lovely. You can see we've not taken very good care of it, not remembered to prune it for some time. I think it's supposed to be done in the summer when it has leaves.
At 7.30am Gina 142 began her labour, evidenced by her general demeanour and behaviour, unsettled, walking up and down the paddock, standing around for long periods looking distracted.
I was supposed to be back in town at Te Wānanga but I don't like to leave when I know someone is calving.
At one stage she sat down for about twenty minutes without much obviously happening. But just before 11am the interesting (from the outside) part began, a foot being visible and at about 11.45 Gina stood up with the calf hanging behind her...
... before inelegantly dropping her on the ground.
This is the first calf we've had sired by L T 598 Bando 9074 since 2010. I think his temperament wasn't very good with my cattle then but the nature of my herd has changed over the years, so I thought I'd try him again.
I got in to town just as the others were eating lunch. Good timing!
813 had been bellowing for a couple of hours since I'd been home, before I went out to check where her calf had gone to make himself inaccessible to her. He was sitting in Flat 5d, across the track and through a couple of fences from where she was. Stephan and I herded him back to the top corner of the paddock where he could easily go under one fence to the lane and the other into the Windmill paddock to his mother.
That's a very good sign from 716's little daughter: lots of yellow poo, signalling that she's now drinking lots of her mother's lovely milk.
On my way back from checking everyone I found white-faced 749 eating Gina's afterbirth! I don't often see that happen and it's not something that should be allowed when it is seen: some of the reproductively important diseases can be transmitted that way, for example Neospora. When we discovered Neospora in the herd several years ago, I was always very careful to ensure afterbirths were removed from the paddocks as soon as possible so nobody would eat anyone else's. We no longer have that disease here but it's still not good practice to allow anyone but the mother to eat her own.
During the week Stephan built a wooden gate for the gap that nice new steel gate now fills, but it was far too heavy. (It lies there partly dismantled.) The steel gate will be absolutely fine.
The intention for that area is that the gate will be closed except when we're working with calves. We will let their mothers out of the yards as their calves come around to the race, so that they may continue along the outside of the race alongside the calves, then through the gate so their calves can immediately rejoin them when they're released.
Al the piglet, having a nice snuffle around in the garden.
Now Zella expects you to scratch her baby too?
Sometimes the calves won't get up, so you have to spend a little time coaxing them into action. If we were "real" farmers, we'd just kick them. Quite seriously, I've seen young men on dairy farms do exactly that to little calves when they don't move quite as fast as required.
I have always been stunned by people who fail to understand that they're dealing with babies when they have calves. They are not simply small cows and violence is a stupid way to teach any animal.
I noticed that 749's behaviour was a little different last night but oddly thought nothing more of it. Her udder wasn't particularly tight so I'd thought she was still a couple of days away from calving. I didn't come out for a late check but I suspect the calf was born early this morning, on exactly the date I'd predicted.
The calf is a heifer, sired by bull 178.
We put a harness on Al and took him to town this morning, along with several pairs of earmuffs, for us, the vet, the vet nurse, because he was to be castrated. There was a lot of squealing and quite a bit of blood but he survived. Unfortunately they didn't have any nose rings or we'd have had one or two of those inserted while he was under the influence of pain relief. Socially he was a great hit.
The grass is growing so well I was able to let the cattle Over the Road go back into the larger part of the paddock again. I have to remind myself to go and look at them regularly!
These are Fancy 166, Dushi 170, Ellie 171 and 811, from the heifer mob, on their way to the flats to be ready for calving.
According to my calving calculations they're due from the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 25th but those dates are all 275 days from conception and often my cows are a couple of days earlier than that. 811's date is the latest because her first calving last year went to 286 days and I've used that figure again; but with a different bull this year, she may not go so long.
I popped the four of them into the area around the yards where there's a bit of grass and I can think about where to next for them.
A bit later they had their first Magnesium and molasses for the season.
Stephan was getting on with fencing the new shallow drain along the edge of the Windmill paddock.
It's only having two wires, needing only to keep the cattle out of the drain and stop them disturbing the hedge-line of Tōtara seedlings we intend planting to provide some wind shelter for the yards.
We'd earlier put a trough up the far end where it now needed not to be, so time to move it along the fenceline a little, out of the way of the top end of the drain.
This looked hopeful but the calf didn't end up on a teat.
She appeared to have found and then concentrated on the little, barely productive teats at the back of Gina's udder and she was hungry!
Gina was too fractious for me to get near enough to help, so I thawed some colostrum to get the calf started and left her to try again; in the evening I returned with another feed and a bit more at my late check, hoping the calf would then get onto the udder herself, having experienced a decent milk flow through the bottle's teat.
Up to 282 days gestation for Jet's daughter 877. Her udder development is still not advanced, so I've been wondering how long she might hold on.
I double-checked my mating records to see if I'd actually mated her again later than I thought. I remember inseminating 877 early in the season, then watching her carefully through the next couple of three-week returns as she occasionally seemed a little interested in the others but showed no firm signs of heat. She is obviously pregnant.
A little piece of the soft protection from a newborn calf hoof. It's not something I have often found. Perhaps their mothers usually eat it up as it falls off the calves' feet, to prevent being tracked by lions.
The swallows in Flat 5a have been busy, this nest having been built over a day or two since I last looked.
The Windmill drain fence is completed; all it needs now is the hedge seedlings.
Gina 142's calf still wasn't feeding, so we got them in. She was a little less upset about our presence this morning than she had been. I'm always trying to weigh up the disruption of dealing with a cow who's not in her right mind and the urgency of dealing with whatever ails her and I'm probably a bit too conservative, leave things just a little longer than someone else would.
We sent Gina around through the pens and she very readily came up the race because I held her daughter in front of the crush where she could see her. Gina walked right into the headbail and, realising we'd set the gap a bit wide so she could nearly pull her head back, Stephan pushed her forward a little while I adjusted the gap.
Then she stood there, reasonably relaxed for a cow who didn't really want to be touched at the moment, while Stephan milked out what was more blood than milk.
Strawberry milkshake anyone?
The calf wasn't going to do well on that so we didn't even attempt to get her on the udder and I fed her another bottle of Zella's milk instead.
We've knowingly had this problem from time to time with big-uddered cows, where the pressure inside the udder is such that blood vessels rupture and fill the milk with blood. Relieving the pressure should give the udder a chance to recover, so it will produce the milk the calf needs. In the mean time I'll keep the calf going with supplementary feeds.
There will be other udders in the herd now in which there may be blood but when the calf is successfully feeding on (usually) the front teats, it doesn't matter too much what's happening in the rear quarters. The calves gradually bring them back into milk as their demand grows beyond being fulfilled by the front teats they're already using and a little bloody milk doesn't hurt them, as long as they're getting a good amount of healthy milk already.
Why some calves don't manage to feed successfully isn't something I've figured out. Some just seem really stupid and continually nudge around in the wrong area, never happening upon a milky teat. Often udder or teat shape contributes difficulty but sometimes even a great-uddered cow can end up with a hungry baby.
I try and control udder size genetically, by paying attention to the milking ability a bull is known to contribute to his daughters genetically but genetics are never assured and any cow may end up with far more, or far less milk than is required.
In the evening I gave the calf another litre from the bottle and afterwards she spent some time suckling Gina, this time on a properly productive teat, although she was still probably drinking as much blood as milk.
I don't think calf digestion is set up for blood, so it might make her feel a bit uncomfortable. But the more suckling the calf does, the better things will be in the long term.
Al has a favourite belly-scratching place out by the garden gate and often goes there for a lovely rub.