Last night at 11.30pm I found two-year-old heifer 877 in labour at last - she'd reached day 287 of her gestation, the longest so far this season. That only worried me in that a longer gestation sometimes means a bigger calf, because it's had more time to grow before being born.
877 was too interested in 865's calf for my liking, so I spent some time trying to separate them, repeatedly thwarted by the playful calf running back and forth between two paddocks after I drafted 865 into the neighbouring paddock.
At 1.16 I heard a gush of fluid and then the second membrane bag appeared and also quickly burst, followed by the appearance of two feet, then the tongue was visible; all looking nice so far.
Five minutes more and the calf slipped out with the greatest of ease and I stepped in to clear some membrane from around her face and wondered why she seemed to have sucked her own top lip into her mouth ... then saw that she hadn't: part of it wasn't there.
The calf didn't begin breathing very quickly and seeing how deformed she was, I didn't help, thinking that if she quietly died it might be the best thing. I walked away, leaving 877 licking the now-breathing calf clean.
This morning by 8am the calf had got up on her hind legs but her intact front hoof coverings indicated she'd got no further than that yet.
The calf is missing the left part of her hard palate and the bottom part of her left nostril.
The top of the nostril is correctly formed but because all of this formation happens so early in the process, it looks like the bottom jaw has grown into the gap, so she can quite adequately close her mouth, for what that might be worth.
She does not have enough hard palate for her incisors to meet to eat normally as an adult but as she won't be one for some time, if at all, we'll not worry about that yet.
At around 9am I could see (from a distance) that the calf was up on all four feet.
In Flat 1 773 was in early labour. At 9.48 a bag broke and fluid gushed out, followed ten minutes later by the appearance of a foot. (I watched all this from the house through binoculars.)
At 10.20 the calf was pushed out while 773 was standing, our 21st calf, at day 285. This bull calf was sired by CA Future Direction, my last straw from that double genetic defect-carrying bull. If it had been a heifer, I'd have had to test her, hoping she'd missed both genes but as a bull, this one will be steered and make some delicious beef.
Little strange calf seems mobile enough, although later in the day I noticed she seemed to be panting as she walked - mind you, having only one nostril might do that.
I fed her some colostrum, since she didn't appear to be feeding yet. She readily sucked, albeit very inefficiently but no milk came back out of her nostril, which I believe happens in a calf with a cleft palate. Her palate appears intact on the good side and it would seem she can create the appropriately-shaped teat-sucking form to drink milk without accidentally aspirating it into her lungs.
But it looks like her obvious deformity is not all that is wrong with her.
I have been wondering today if I should perhaps have been more active in not letting her start breathing. Would that have been better then? Would it have been better had she not had the chance to become a consciously living individual?
Now she lives I will support that for as long as she isn't obviously suffering. Her mother loves her and is very attentive.
We kept the first of Zella's milk yesterday so this afternoon I made the first batch of fresh butter. Butter from frozen cream can have an unpleasant freezer taint so it's nice to be back to using fresh cream.
How many men does it take to fix a chainsaw?
Lots of nephews turned up today to join Stephan with chainsaws and strong arms wherever he wanted to do some work.
In the picture are, from left, Roy, Simon, Mathew and Karl. Liam, and Kerehoma were ducking out of the picture for fear of implication.
Stephan decided he'd take them all out to the Swamp East Right and finish clearing around the big Puriri tree there that still needs a protective fence.
Looking at this picture and thinking about clearing the trees that grow adjacent to it, I realise it seems a bit mad to cut them down but to put the fence in to protect the more vulnerable tree, we have to clear away the other trees that grow in the way.
It worries me slightly because I've begun to realise that trees become "lonely" if they're left without company: without other trees they do not thrive. I hope that in this case the big Tōtara next to the Puriri and the others just up the slope, will be close enough and sufficient company.
For us it's all a balance between the need to maintain areas of pasture and the protection of areas that need it. Farming with trees. If we were "real" farmers, we'd cut them all down.
The eight cows and heifers who will calve last were in Mushroom 2. Walking across the paddock I noticed something hanging on the fence: some well-dried afterbirth that can only have got here by being carried by a bird, probably one of the hawks I shooed away in the last few days before hiding dropped afterbirths. I carefully removed this, since the top wire is powered and I wasn't sure how conductive the membranes might be, touching the lower, non-powered wires.
Raewyn, Christina, Emma and Sean arrived to join the others.
Raewyn brought her camera and came out with me out to see and feed the calf.
While in the paddock I gently investigated the Swallow nest in the canopy cover, discovering a couple of tiny eggs.
Everyone else came out after the smallest children had woken from their morning naps and as usual we all congregated around the pond for the afternoon.
The water is not yet very warm for swimming but that never stops the children.
After dinner it was milking time and there were many small people keen to watch. I didn't think Zella would be very happy about quite so many small people dashing around as we were trying to get her out of the Pig paddock, so we asked them to hide behind the tree while we got her in.
Then half a dozen of them crowded into the calf pen to watch the milking - I suggested they gather there, so that if Zella became upset and backed out, they'd all be safely out of the way of her large form.
There are little calves strewn around all over the place now, some growing faster than even I can believe.
After some milk from the bottle today, I managed to get 877's calf to suckle a little from her udder; but she wasn't very good at it and kept stopping. She's not very good with the bottle either.
877's cooperation is surprising and extremely pleasing. She has only quite recently accepted me scratching her tail, so allowing this messing around at her udder with her baby is astonishing.
During my rounds I went out to see what had been achieved on Sunday in the Swamp East Right.
Stephan will now be able to put a protective electric fence around the Puriri and the cows can come back into this area for grazing regularly.
I brought Ellie 119 and 775 out of the last-to-calve mob and in to this lovely grass in the top of Flat 3.
During the morning piglet Al got more and more snuffly sounding and, having already been concerned about him since putting the nose ring in on Thursday, I became alarmed by his increasing difficulty in breathing. Thinking it was a bad reaction to the ring, we removed it. He's not been at all happy since it went in - not surprising, but I'd have thought his discomfort would have settled more quickly.
But as the day went on, his breathing became even more strained. I gave him an anti-inflammatory injection at 5pm, which seemed to settle him a little for a while. Eventually I phoned the after-hours vet (it being a public holiday and evening as well) and spoke with a lovely woman who knows pigs and was vaguely reassuring about the likelihood that Al would survive the night, but was so far away that having her come back to town to dispense some medicine was both horribly inconvenient for her and prohibitively expensive. Besides which I thought I might have a plan B: Ronnie would very likely have some pig-relevant medicine in stock, so I asked, by email since I couldn't get hold of her by phone.
Ronnie emailed me back a bit after 9.30 to say she had some penicillin if I wanted it, so we arranged to go and pick it up. In the dark. In the nice ute.
So there was Ronnie, waiting at her gateway on a dark rural road, and the two of us, stopping to take possession of some drugs ...
At home with earmuffs on, we gave Al the appropriate dose by injection and settled him to sleep in his inside cage again.
Al still sounds terrible but he looks a great deal brighter and had to be restrained to stop him running around too much, since breathing is so difficult.
The top of his nose has become encrusted with remnants of the pig nuts I'd soaked for his feed.
I phoned the vet to check that we'd done the right things last evening and he suggested a wider-spectrum antibiotic. Gary was in town and kindly brought it home for me and I collected it from him over the fence out the front. Al was not happy about all these needles but mostly he objects to being held.
Stephan took the cage out to the workshop and installed an opening door in the end, so I don't have to lift him in and out (he's getting heavy!) and so he can return to his cage to sleep whenever he wants to while he's unwell.
If you have to be a sick pig, this isn't the worst situation to find yourself in.
Little calves populate the tree reserve areas when they're small, before we turn the bottom fence wires back on again.
Stephan took the digger across to the Tank paddock (driving under the perilously leaning Puriri) and excavated some soil from the bank for places he required such fill, bringing it back with the tractor bucket.
There are two little calves in this picture, asleep on the driveway side of the fence. Zella and Glia are in the Pig paddock and the calves wander around as they wish, often out onto the driveway. We often keep the front gate locked, so nobody unexpected can drive in and accidentally run them over.
I stood and watched Ellie 119 this evening as darkness fell and she delivered her calf, a daughter, sired by bull 178. I'd inseminated her but she came back on heat when with the bull. Bull 178 has extended the usual gestation period for most of the mothers of his calves, except for this calf (119 has always calved on days 274-276) on day 274 and white-faced 749, who also calved on the day I expected.
877's strange daughter took three feeds of almost two litres today, better than she'd managed before. She's very slow, but with only half a mouth, that's probably to be expected.
Little strange calf was so deeply asleep when I took her bottle out this morning, that I couldn't wake her up! I could have had a good look in her mouth if I'd not been so distracted by her lack of consciousness. I picked her head up, moved her limbs around and she remained asleep, her lip twitching in response to some dream she must have been having. When she eventually opened her eyes she looked at me in complete surprise and I thought she might bolt away; except I don't think she can move that fast.
After her feed I tried again to get her to take milk from her mother but it's a frustrating process. I hope by keeping her going and enhancing her strength she might eventually sort feeding out for herself. Her mother appears to have amply-flowing milk in her small udder.
I think one ought to be deeply suspicious of a man who builds coffins, in whose garden mounds of fresh soil suddenly appear!
Al, enjoying a scratch in the garden.
He still sounds terrible but his liveliness is increasing.
I watched three-year-old Ellie 171 calving this morning, through binoculars from the garden as she did her private business under the tree at the far end of the House paddock. I could see all was going as it should, so stayed out of her way. Later I established the calf is a bull, a bull 178 son. This calf was six days later than 171's first, last year.
I set up Jude's 35x zoom camera on the tripod, to take some pictures of Fancy 166 during her labour and birth - she had begun her labour as 171 was calving. It wasn't the easiest thing to do, through gaps in the things behind which she kept disappearing.
Here she was the last time she lay down to push, about to easily expel the calf's head and then his body, before she stood and turned to lick him dry.
As soon as the calf was born, yet-to-calve 811 came dashing over to investigate and, a few minutes later, when the calf was standing and moving about, I watched 811 chasing 166 away from her new calf. Out came the electric tape again and exclusion for 811, so Fancy could settle down with her calf.
Fancy's son was sired by bull 178 and she's about three days later than I predicted.
Glia and Zella spent the day in the lane and in the adjacent riverbank area. Their calves spent most of the day lazing around in the House paddock, to Glia's consternation; Zella didn't really care.
I watched 811 sidling up to Glia in a threatening manner the first time she noticed her by the fence. You'd think they'd never met before.
Stephan came out with me when I took the calf her afternoon feed.
She looks very odd but when you figure out what's missing, you can see why other bits have gone a bit askew. Her nose goes off to the right, presumably because it had no left side to keep it growing straight. Her lower jaw goes up her non-nostril because there was nothing to stop it!
I tried to get her to suckle her mother again but it's getting harder. The calf runs circles around me and 877 won't stand as still as she initially did.
A couple of days ago I posted about the calf on the discussion board where I originally learnt about the Angus genetic defects I then had to wrestle with for several years, asking if anyone had seen anything like it. Sometime today it was suggested in reply that Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD), the one infection I expend tremendous effort in excluding from our farm and cattle for this very reason, could be involved. Oddly it hadn't occurred to me before that moment, that it could be a cause of such deformity.
Now I'm extremely worried, looking with grief at all my lovely calves, wondering whether this is going to be that season I've never wanted to experience, when calves have to be euthanised because they've been infected before birth and their ongoing lives endangers everyone else, including their next, yet-to-be-conceived siblings.
We'll collect some blood-test tubes from town tomorrow, collect blood over the weekend and send them off to the lab for testing.
As we went along the track to feed the strange calf, we could see 166's calf down in the drain. He'd been sleeping on the flattened area just inside the fence earlier in the day but had obviously slid over the edge and dropped down into the bottom of the drain, where no doubt he was very comfortable, out of the wind on the cushion of dry grass.
His mother knew where he was, so I decided to leave him alone and see if he emerged later.
I've been slowly combining the small groups of calved cows so now this is a mob of eleven and their calves. We moved them from Flat 2 to Flat 1 this evening, together so we could make sure all the calves went with their mothers.
They'll be easier to get out of Flat 1 to go to the yards for weighing and tagging than they would be out of Flat 2, with other calves across the lane.
Fancy 166's calf still hadn't emerged by 7pm when others were feeding, so I went and investigated. It seemed the side of the drain may have been a bit steep and high for him to get out, so I gently helped him get his front feet up and then supported his bum as he scrambled up and out under the fence to his mother.
It always interests me that some calves do this secretive lying in and others, like Ellie 171's calf, born only a few hours earlier, has spent most of his first few days sleeping near his mother.
There were more calves out of Flat 1 this morning than in it: eight out in the lane and only three still there with their mothers. I keep having to shut the steel gates along the lanes to stop them wandering away even further.
I was on my way to feed the strange calf, who was quite hungry since I'd not brought her a late feed last night. I was hoping hunger would prompt her to get things organised with her mother but she doesn't seem to be able to latch on to a teat and stay there.
I put Fancy 166 into the area around the yards yesterday evening when she and Ellie 171 got upset with each other's calves and the calf disappeared away down the end of the triangle for the night. This morning I looked for him there but had to wait until Fancy indicated where he was, before I was able to find him, on the stream bank alongside the track to the Tank paddock crossing. He'll stop hiding in the next couple of days.
Al is behaving and sounding a great deal better. Here he was standing up on his hind feet to greet me as I opened the top of his cage to fetch his feed dish. It's hard to know whether he more wants food or a scratch; probably food, although he seems very keen to be scratched and stroked too.
We went to town to pick up the blood-test tubes and I had a disturbing conversation with Rachel, the lovely vet technician, about her concern about BVD in our herd and not having wanted to mention the possibility to me, bearing in mind our known care. When I told her about last year's dead daughter of Fancy 126, just thinking about any other recent signs of trouble, she looked even more alarmed. I hope she's wrong.
We have been very careful, even doing things like fencing off the pasture where our trespassing dairy neighbour walked last season when he ridiculously concluded we'd stolen one of his calves and decided he'd come for a look around. We keep the cattle away from the front yards for weeks after the trucks have been to collect stock. (BVD virus will apparently live for only about 14 days in the environment.) We have internal fences along all the pastoral boundary fences to keep our cattle from direct contact with any of the cattle people graze on some of our neighbours' blocks.
We took particular care after our boundaries were breached by a neighbour's cattle, with calves coming into Jane's paddocks and into our Tank paddock, after which we quarantined those areas for weeks to reduce the chances of any disease transmission to our animals.
You can't tell if animals are a BVD risk from looking at them but it's a wide-spread disease in this country and that's why we're so careful in taking our own precautions, since we can do nothing about anyone else's lack of concern or, often, knowledge about the disease.
On a more pleasant note I went to visit my adopted Godmother, Aunty (she likes to be addressed so) Margaret Porter. She's officially Godmother to both Rachel and Jude but my own, Claire Simms and Marj Matthews having long-since died, Margaret some years ago announced she'd gladly consider me her Goddaughter too.
The position of Godparent has never for me had religious importance beyond the knowledge that they were present at my christening and made particular pledges to support my correct moral upbringing (probably didn't quite work out the way the Church intended), but they've always been people I knew had my best interests at heart, who loved and would support me in the way my Father would and my mother often wouldn't and so I relied, emotionally, on them as part of my circle of loving people. I've always maintained my relationships with them, visited whenever I was up from my life in Auckland and, in recent years, continued much closer and more regular contact.
Now Margaret is in her 90s and has moved during this year to the Switzer home in Kaitāia, so I can pop in to see her on my way into or out of town and I have resolved to do that. She lives in the lovely sunny room formerly occupied by William's mother, Phyllis, who died a couple of days after my mother, Jill, in June.
Margaret was always a woman of short stature and now she seems even smaller but remains as intellectually sharp as ever and we have delightful conversations about anything and everything.
The strange calf was sound asleep again this afternoon...
... so soundly asleep that I could hold her head and look in her mouth, although she wasn't completely relaxed, so I couldn't open her jaw very wide to see what's in there - I don't know, for example, whether her molars line up with each other, nor if they're all there.
I wonder why the two bits that look like her palate don't line up with each other? I presume that dark hole above the incomplete palate is a nasal cavity. Fortunately everything seems intact on her right side, so that she can feed well enough to sustain life and, presumably, growth.
Here's one of those udders in which there is could be some off-colour milk, mixed with a bit of blood. I watched the calf suckling on the front teat then trying a few sucks from the rear, going back to the front, repeating the process. There must be a lot to be had from the hind quarter but it probably tastes quite different from the well-worked front quarter.
Ellie 119's daughter, born three evenings ago. It would seem I get a bit slack about taking photos of calves when they're the 22nd of the season! She's pretty, very fine featured. All the calves so far have been born with tiny little heads. That's a good sort of shape for an easy birth.
I went into Stephan's workshop while he wasn't looking, to see what he'd been up to: a new chair is in progress for down by the pond. This is Tōtara from the boundary fence-line clearing.
Just before dark I saw 811 with her tail out, along the fenceline under the trees in the House paddock. At 10.10pm she had a membrane bag out and so I waited, sitting on the grass and leaning back against a fence post, shining my torch on her from time to time, sometimes using the binoculars as well to see how much of the calf was presenting at any time. At 10.45pm her calf was born. This one was sired by the Bando bull, which is of absolutely no consequence since he's a bull and will be steered.
When I came past again three quarters of an hour later with the milk bottle for the strange calf, the new calf was in feeding position, hopefully doing the right things.
I now count every new calf's nostrils.