Jumping forward a few weeks from the last currently-available page, here we are in January and mating began a week ago. I started a couple of days later than usual for no other reason than inertia. I decided I might get away with it, that it might concentrate the calving in October.
Just before eleven last night Fancy 126 was sitting quietly and I noted the fertile mucous under her tail as I passed. A couple of minutes later I heard her get up and then I watched her walk very purposefully down the paddock to the steer, who mounted her. It's fascinating how cows sometimes come on heat as if a switch has been flicked: one moment apparently restful, the next feeling the full force of the reproductive drive.
This morning she was, as I'd expected, still very much in the standing heat phase and so there was no immediate rush to get her in for insemination.
Three hours later, after some brief showers had cleared, we took Fancy and a few companions to the yards and I inseminated her with a S Chisum 6175 straw, since her Chisum daughter of two years ago, 191, was the best of that bull's daughters here.
Because I can do whatever I please, it pleases me to use as many of my young bulls as I can, so I've distributed the cows according to their relational distance from the bulls - everyone is related to some degree, so it can be a bit tricky.
Here is lovely 200 standing over Zoom, who will presumably come on heat sometime soon. Bull 200 has three two-year-old heifers and three cows and their calves in his little mob.
Three weeks ago I found Henrietta 141 with a bloody nostril just like this one today. It looks like more than the blood of a small, piercing injury. Last time she'd just come pelting down the long track in the Big Back North but today she'd been sitting quietly when I arrived.
That first time I thought I might find her the next day, dead in a pool of blood but no: the following day there was no sign of blood and I didn't see her bleed again until now.
When I came back to check on her again nearly an hour later, she was no longer bleeding and looked fine.
The water system failed yesterday after a very welcome 43mm of rain fell. In the warm weather, that meant we had to switch the tanks on immediately and Stephan went up into the bush today to get it going again.
When I saw the Spring paddock mob all clustered around their trough, I thought I'd find it empty but it was just their usual morning visit to the trough for a drink.
There's a whole lot of social etiquette involved in the order of access to a trough. At least two or three animals could fit their heads in without touching but some of my cows have a wide personal space requirement and so everyone below them in the pecking order has to wait while they drink.
When the main water system is not working, this trough is fed from the small tank up in the Middle Back, which is straight through the trees beyond this picture.
This is Al's mother's skull. I had initially thought she might have been an old, sick sow when first I found her but looking at her teeth, with the last molar not yet completely erupted from her jaw, I see she must have been a young mother.
Her hooves, which remain (I suppose human fingernails would do the same), are barely bigger than Al's feet now.
We did another firewood-for-hay swap with Heidi and Dave, so they could clear out their last season's hay ready for this year's harvest. Bull 189's mob has been in the Windmill for a little long, as I had brought them here to get little Gina 202 down to the yards to have a look at her foot. I've not wanted to move her too far too fast but today decided they needed some extra feed and if I put it down here near the yards, I could get 202 to quietly move in the right direction.
Christina phoned and asked if she could bring all her grandchildren for a swim, along with a couple of extras, so there were seven children in the pond, a teen on the edge and a huge amount of noise.
I continued my office work for most of the time.
Stephan had gone mowing, the cattle from the Windmill paddock now having been moved.
We'd had a look at little 202's foot, to see if there was any reason there for her lameness, then moved them quietly to the House paddock, where they can graze until I get the vet out on Monday.
I thought 811 was coming on heat last night: lots of fertile mucous around her rear and she seemed more than usually alert. But this morning she was too calm to support that observation. Looking at 811's udder and reconsidering the udder characteristics of the daughters of the bull I'd intended to use for insemination, I decided to take her along to bull 189.
We drafted her out of the mob (166 came out too and it was easier to take the two of them and their calves than just 811 and hers) and took them along the lane to the yards area, then let bull 189 out of the House paddock to join them for a while.
I'm not sure that anything useful happened; perhaps she wasn't really on heat yet but the bull will now be with her whenever she is. I took Fancy 166 and her son back to the Insem mob a bit later in the day. 166 was an appropriate companion, since she was inseminated a few days ago, so I knew she wasn't coming on heat today.
Al now lives down near the hens, in a specially-built enclosure, with a little hut, lots of grass and things to snuffle around, and a mud wallow.
He's getting rather too fat but when he's hungry he gets fractious, so it's hard not to want to keep him well fed. He looks like a pointy bullet.
He still loves me, still enjoys a lovely scratch and stroke, so I make sure I go and spend some time with him in spare moments during the day.
Lots of Elizabeth's family came out for a birthday barbecue this afternoon and one of the activities was a visit to the blackberry patches.
There was of course lots of swimming.
Liam cooked the meats on the barbecue with Floss on his shoulder. He'd worn just the right shirt, so surely nobody could protest.
Just as we all finished eating, heavy rain fell and we had to retreat to the house to eat dessert before everyone went home.
I spent some time during the rain catching up with the mating records, collating the notes in my little book into a typed document on the computer and the actual mating events go into the Calving 2021 spreadsheet.
When the rain stopped I went out to check the cattle again. Bull 199 had been having a nice time with some of the dampened clay banks in the Spring paddock.
After I'd checked all the cattle, I went home and collected Stephan and the scrub bar and we went out to the Big Back North, where he spent the next hour or so cutting along the boundary fence. Somewhere there was a big electric short and I hoped his work might discover it - at any rate it was something that needed doing.
While he did that, I went around the paddock clearing the ragwort.
This large stick insect was hanging on to one of the first plants I found. Fortunately I saw it before grabbing the flowers. They're quite fragile creatures. I cut the flower stem and took it to a nearby tree to let the insect crawl off before I plunged the pesky flowers into my bag.
The temperature this evening was much cooler after the rain.
Couldn't get a vet today, have to wait until tomorrow.
In the mean time some more mowing. The Kikuyu is very thick in places but the primary purpose of mowing at present is to cut down the white Parsley Dropwort flowers.
The Insem mob are in Flat 4 and I came to check 792 repeatedly, since she'd come on heat sometime before my first check this morning. I knew she would when I noticed her alertness during my late check last night.
I inseminated her in the early afternoon.
This warty, mole thing on her right shoulder, is how I now identify 723 if I can't see her udder, since she, like several of the cows, has lost her ear tags. There's one cow I confuse her with but now I'm not out there, I can't think who it is. I tick one of them off my list then find the other and realise I mistook the identity of the first.
One day I might re-tag them. Or not. It depends if I need anyone else to know who they are. Before they go off the farm for the first and last time, they'll have to have replacement NAIT tags applied but they're for scanning, not reading.
I looked back to where I'd checked all of bull 199's mob and could only see the single calf sitting in the right half of the picture; everyone else was happily resting in the cool shade under the trees.
In the early evening I took Al for a walk with me to the Pines paddock, where we spent the next hour while I looked for Ragwort. (Stephan was doing the same thing over the other side of the hill, in the Big Back North.)
Here's an area I remember from last year when it was a great deal yellower than this. Looks like I did a good job of collecting all the plants then (Stephan probably followed up with some herbicide for the smaller plants) and so there are only three or four here in flower this year. It was the same further up the hill too.
Coming back across the stream after we'd finished.
Al wasn't the most helpful companion, especially when I found a plant seeding and wanted to very carefully cut the heads off and get them into my bag without the seeds being shaken off. He was very keen to get into the middle of whatever I was doing, making careful work difficult. He also seemed oddly keen to eat Ragwort leaves, which might not be good for him, but which I could not really prevent. But I think he had a very nice time being out and about with me.
A Monarch Butterfly caterpillar beginning the pupation process, exuding the sticky silk from which it will soon hang.
Dushi 170 was looking suspiciously alert last night and someone must have tried mounting her and caused her heat detector patch to go a little red at the front, but there was nothing else to support my suspicion that she may have been on heat. This morning she seemed quiet, although there was a bit of fertile mucous around her rear. I decided not to inseminate her based on these vague signs.
Then in conversation with Stephan about her, I changed my mind, so gave her a Chisum straw, just in case she wasn't on heat. It seems that lovely-looking bull doesn't work awfully well in my herd, so a mistimed expensive straw wouldn't be as much of a loss as the bull I'd intended her to have, the last one of last year's calf's sire, Schurrtop Reality X723.
A quick vet'n'ry check for Henrietta 141, to see if there's anything obvious wrong with her that might cause her to repeatedly bleed from one nostril. Nathan couldn't find anything wrong and she's otherwise in good health.
Fortunately she came in from the Frog paddock with 775, not worrying about their calves, so they were easy to walk down the lane to the yards for this brief appointment.
Then he gave Gina 202 a close inspection, declaring that she appears not to have broken anything but has probably had a knock to her ulnar nerve, causing the paralysis that is causing her to drag her foot when she walks. He gave her an anti-inflammatory injection to help her for a few days.
I will continue moving the mob slowly from paddock to paddock, rather than requiring them to move great distances, and hope she recovers. I hope she will; she's one of my nicest calves.
I went out after lunch to check on the insem mob and found Dushi in standing heat. Unpredictable baggage.
Now I have to decide what to do: leave her and hope the early insemination will do the trick and then wait another three weeks for the answer? Or inseminate again this evening to reduce the chance of wasting the three weeks? I decided on the latter, so will now watch all day to see if I can detect when she stops standing for the others.
904, the previously unwell calf, is gradually looking a bit better (we had to get some antibiotic treatment for him in the end, since he proved more unwell than I'd initially thought). But his scrotum is still hanging on. Presumably being unwell stopped this wound healing properly so the scrotum would fall off.
This Monarch caterpillar looked a funny colour and then I realised it must just have moulted. Apparently this happens four times during their caterpillar lives.
Miryam returned to us this afternoon for another few days, after going to a weekend course in Whāngārei.
I think she was photographing the berries to send pictures to her lovely daughters.
The blackberries are prolific in some places and not others: along the Flat 1 fence-line, our usual best harvesting area, they're very thin this year.
Just before dark we walked Dushi and some friends to the yards, since I figured she'd been in standing heat for long enough that it would be sensible to inseminate her (again) now, rather than come back out later in the night to do it.
This time it was a much easier job than early this morning; she was much more relaxed.
This is steer 861's damaged foot and it doesn't look like it will ever heal. Fortunately it's never caused him pain since it recovered from the initial injury when he was a young calf.
There's a lot of force on a bovine foot, more than a cracked hoof can sustain without continuing to split, it would appear.
Last year I bought a microscope to look at things like poo samples for worm eggs but it's been sitting ignored in a corner most of the time, until this week.
I've been collecting samples from my cows, often bits of mucous stuck to their sides, sometimes dribbles from where I presume the bull has contributed some material, then brought it home for examination.
In some cases there's been nothing to see, sometimes a few lonely sperm cells, once a veritable pile of the things! On one occasion they were still very much alive and I watched in fascination as they twisted their way across my view - their heads are flattened, so their rotation was easy to see. I've not yet worked out the settings for better screen capture yet (it has a little digital screen rather than an eyepiece) but with practice, perhaps I will improve.
Breast bread: apparently a completely chance occurrence. Stephan had cut some of the very soft, newly baked loaf from the breadmaker and this piece had then changed shape as the loaf cooled.
I found a tiny Katydid (I think) on one of the Ragwort plants I pulled in the Spring paddock.
In some years we've gone out on specific and repeated Ragwort-hunting expeditions but this year, there being less of it about, I'm taking bread bags in my pockets wherever I go and making a point of cutting them wherever I see them, when I do.
There are some areas we do have to come to particularly, where there are still numerous plants but the odd one here or there is an important target when seen, because once the flowers fade, they're harder to see ... until next year, when there'll be a whole patch of them growing where the seeds fell.
Sitting peacefully on the hillside, Grey 607.
607 is our oldest cow, born in 2008.
Age is catching up with her, as this photo of her teeth shows. Only the last-erupted of her incisors is still in reasonable condition, the others all worn and chipped.
She still manages to maintain herself in good condition but this year's calf, that last heifer I was so pleased to see her bear, is strangely small, something I've observed before in a geriatric mother. 607's time has unfortunately come and she will leave the farm this autumn after weaning.
There being some significant patches of Ragwort in the Spring paddock, we had both come back for a hunt this evening and I joined Stephan after checking the cows.
On my way along the back boundary I came across one of the old Puriri back boundary posts, still encircled by some ancient No.8 wire.
I've been contemplating the Puriri trees, the marks of their history with the European and Pākehā men who worked this land before us. So many were felled for use as fence posts and strainers and most of the others were burnt, with the intention that they die. That many of them did not, it seems, was only our good fortune, not some earlier conservationist's design, as I had formerly thought.
In some places it is still possible to see how and where the trees fell. This trunk is so old and there are so many other trees growing around it that I haven't yet worked out where it may have stood. I can't see any sign of it on the 1950 aerial photograph I found either, so perhaps it is much older than the farm's settlement and clearing.
More pieces of Puriri a little further down the slope, where Stephan found some just-seeding Ragwort to carefully bag.
The fence between the Spring and the Middle Back is just beyond him.
During my research into the Takahue area, I came across many references to the clearing of the land, initially by extracting the largest timber trees for milling (here they'd have been primarily Tōtara, Rimu and Kahikatea, I think, not so many Kauri down in this area, from what I've been reading); then the remaining forest was felled and then burnt. I suspect that the largest and straightest Puriri were felled for fence posts but the rest were left for the fires, their timber being so hard and therefore requiring significant effort to fell them.
There are numerous Puriri here with dead centres like this one, up and around which the tenacious trees have regrown over the decades since that first assault. In many cases, charred areas can be found at their bases. Some of the burnt trees fell over and did not regrow. If they weren't cut for posts, their trunks remain intact. Huge dead trees, lying where they fell.
I went a little further along to cut an area of sparser growth while Stephan took care of this lot, signifying that as he observed, there was not as much of it as last year. It's always encouraging to see that we've made progress in reducing the amount of Ragwort growing in a problem area.
There are many such places around the farm where we've knocked it right back, places we remember being thickly yellow and where we spent hours at a time, year after year and where now we can walk through and see no Ragwort plants at all.
Close observation is an excellent teacher. This is the first year I've watched the entire process of pupation from beginning to end.
I've rescued many caterpillars from the danger of predation by wasps out on the garden Swan plants and had them on a windowsill inside, so they're where I see them every time I pass. If something interesting is in progress, I stop and watch.
Today, after it hung upside-down for the last day or so, I saw a caterpillar body begin to writhe, then watched as the skin split and the long, green chrysalis appeared. Over the next half hour or more it continued writhing and gradually contracted to its final, glossy, hard-skinned form. Here it was about half-way through that process.
Gina 202 appears to have benefited from some pain relief but I'm not entirely convinced it will be for her long-term good. Should she be running if her leg is still healing?
She'd been sitting over the other side of the fence between Flat 5c and d and suddenly got up, ran down that fenceline and across 5d to join the others in the shade. I think she suddenly got too hot.
I've thought about the practicalities of restraining her movements and they present all sorts of difficulties. She'd need shade, continually provided food - for her and her mother and probably a couple of companions to ensure they weren't socially distressed. It's not something we can readily do at present. Something to go on the further planning list. A big shed, some pens ...
I could have kept them in the area around the yards and brought them food but there are always other demands on our time. Excuses? Maybe. Four animals would have eaten a lot of cut grass; we'd not have had much time to do anything else. And for how long? These are questions to ponder, because of the welfare implications for an injured animal. Is it reasonable to say many of us live with unmoderated pain? That's life? Not according to the Animal Welfare codes. We should all think about these things in relation to animals, farmed and wild. Meat and milk don't originate in the supermarket! And "going vegan" doesn't answer the questions except for the individual: it's very similar to just not looking.
The mown paddocks are looking reassuringly green. After the relief of tipping that 43mm of rain out of the gauge last Friday morning, we've had just over 14mm in small falls since, which creates very good growing conditions for Kikuyu, especially when it's just been mowed.