The week beginning 13th of September, 2003.


continues until Friday...
See the bottom of this page for the entry form.
Saturday the 13th
Minty and a lamb

Minty "popped" today!  I saw her looking uncomfortable and getting ready to expel her lambs just after lunch and continued to watch as she pushed one out, but the bag around it didn't break as it came out onto the grass and Minty stood up, so I ran to assist.  All was well and she cleaned up her new ram lamb (under the watchful eye of the goose, who'd been with her through the whole process).

Minty and two lambs

I figured Minty would have twins as usual, so left her to it for a while and returned a bit later to discover a very dark ewe lamb with her.

Minty and three lambs

Stephan and I went for a walk to check on the cows and on our return he asked "how many lambs did you say Minty had?" and there she was with three!
But as I've discovered already, triplet lambs are not necessary the fun things I'd previously thought.  This third (ram) lamb was all bent in his front legs and couldn't hold his head straight.  He seemed pretty lively though, so I grabbed a container and a bottle and milked a bit of colostrum from Minty and fed it to him, to help get him going, since he didn't seem to be able to get up on his own immediately.
An hour or so later, he was still lying down, not showing much movement, so I helped him up by holding his back legs.  He seemed able to walk on his front legs, albeit clumsily.

Stephan and the menagerie

This is quite a typical scene around here - Stephan sat holding Dotty (just because she's cute) while I helped get Minty and her lambs sorted out, the chickens came over to have a peck at the lovely red mess on the ground (the afterbirth Minty had recently delivered), Tabitha lamb jumped around looking for the next bottle.  We are never alone!

Later in the day we put Minty where we'd kept Lulu inside the shed previously, and left all three lambs with her for the night.

352 in labour

#352 (one of the three-year-old heifers) spent the morning standing around looking uncomfortable. The hollows around her tail were much more pronounced than the other day.
Eventually she lay down on her own and looked like she was serious about having her calf, but still nothing much happened.

Grant needed some assistance to bring his heifers back up the road from where they were grazing, so we went off for a while, and on our return an hour later, I went straight out to check on progress.

There sat #352, relaxedly chewing her cud while she lay in very much the same position I'd left her earlier.  Going closer to check what might be going on, I saw a black shape protruding from her rear.  The calf had been born, but her head was still covered by the membranes, preventing her from breathing.  I cleared the membranes from around her face and made sure her mouth was clear and she began to stir.  #352 jumped up and away at that point but returned to sniff the calf as soon as I stepped away.  I don't know how long the calf had been lying there, but I suspect that if I hadn't happened upon them at that moment, we may have been digging a hole later, rather than checking the calf was feeding properly!  Heifers are sometimes a bit confused about what's going on when they're calving.  I think this one had just relaxed after the pain of giving birth had stopped, instead of getting up, as a more experienced cow would have done.

#352 started bellowing and making a terrible noise as soon as she began licking the calf, at which all the others in the paddock came running over, bellowing horribly too, to find out what was going on.  What a noise!

The first calf of 2003

The birth of this calf is quite significant, in that we have a number of heifers from Virago Bertrand 01, and this is the first of them to calve, so I'm interested to see how well they'll feed their babies.  The sire of this calf is Virago Lendrich 05, who sired only four of last year's calves, so we're keen to observe his progeny this year.  (Bertrand and Lendrich can be seen on the Bull page in the Virago Stud section of the site.)

Sunday the 14th

I took Minty's third lamb and began feeding him.  The shape of his front leg and shoulder joints appear to prevent him raising his head very far at the moment, so he's unlikely to feed successfully from her.  He's also pretty shaky when he walks and the other two lambs are quite nimble already, so if I leave him with them all, he'll just get left behind somewhere and I'll have to rescue him anyway.

Monday the 15th

I had to ask a vet to call to see a sick steer.  Stephan was fixing a couple of gates on Saturday and heard some dreadfully laboured breathing behind him and turned to find #358 dribbling and looking dreadful, so brought him back with him when he returned.  We decided to provide shelter, feed, molasses and water for the night and see what happened.  On Sunday he was much the same, so we walked him into the yards and I felt around his tongue and the inside of his mouth to see if there was anything obvious going on and we felt his head, jaw and neck for any swellings or lumps, but found nothing.  He continued to dribble and foam at the mouth and his breathing was quite laboured.  We considered that it was possible that some of his problem may have been caused by an excessive internal parasite burden, so applied some pour-on worm drench.

We couldn't be completely sure he wasn't going to keel over and die, but he looked alert and was moving freely still, so we took him to a paddock we can easily watch from the house and kept an eye on him.  This morning he didn't seem to have improved, so I rang the vet.

She couldn't find anything obviously wrong with him, but thought it quite possible he was suffering from pneumonia, so injected an antibiotic.  Later Stephan and I carefully gave him the oral Liver Fluke drench, then sent him back to the paddock again.

sick steer #358

He's looking very thin and empty, having not been eating properly for a few days.  I moved his mob on Thursday and noticed nothing out of the ordinary, so he must have become ill quite quickly.
We weighed him before giving him the drench and he's about 120kg less than his expected weight!  We naturally hope he will recover, quickly for his own sake and completely for ours - a dead steer of his size takes a large hole to bury and is worth nothing at all in monetary terms.  His intended destination is the meat works, when he's well and in prime condition.  The irony is not lost on us - we save him with the intention of killing him later.  Such is farming.

Tuesday the 16th

It is the time of year at which we administer one of the two Liver Fluke drench treatments to the cattle and the young stock haven't yet been done.  We started early and weighed the mob, then began, knowing that at some stage we'd run out of the oral drench we were using.  In the last couple of weeks we have heard that a long-awaited pour-on treatment for liver fluke has become available, so when we took a refreshment break from our work, I made a couple of phone-calls to arrange to get some out from town.

Stephan drenching a heifer
cattle waiting in the yards

Here's Stephan, giving the oral drench to one of the last animals to have it and, above, the ten who missed out on the oral treatment, waiting for the new and much less unpleasant pour-on drench to arrive.

Minty's third lamb

Little Bendy, Minty's third lamb, is getting about fairly easily on his funny legs.  He can now hold his head higher than he could the other day and we've watched him skipping around in the way that lambs usually do.  I'm applying gentle stretching to his joints, hoping that will help straighten his legs.  He seems to be getting better, but we'll just have to wait and see over time.  He's not in any distress - except when he thinks I've forgotten to feed him - so I'll just keep him going and see how he turns out.

Wednesday the 17th

#359 is one of my favourite heifers.  She's very quiet and lets me stroke her - Isla and Abigail are the only others who'll allow me that pleasure.  Her shape is very much that of the traditional Angus animal, short and very solid.  She was the result of an insemination using a straw from an old bull someone had in their semen collection, with a heifer who was of unknown parentage, but looked as if she had a fair amount of Angus blood.

#359 in labour

At 3pm I noticed her looking uncomfortable, at 4.45pm she began expelling amniotic fluid and an hour later a fluid-filled membrane bag appeared, then finally after another half hour or so, some feet, which I was very glad to see were front feet.  A bit more pushing and out slithered a calf.

#359 and her calf

There was more of the same sort of disturbing bellowing as the other day when the last calf was born, just before dark.  #352, mother of the previous calf, kept pushing #359 away from the new calf and things got a bit confused.  I went and woke the other calf, hoping that her presence would stop that particular behaviour and went off in the near-dark, to do a quick check on the cows and get home to have some dinner!

During my late-night check at around 11pm, I discovered #352 was still harassing #359, so spent some time trying to separate them, so that #359 and her calf could be with each other for some necessary bonding and the calf's first feed.

Thursday the 18th

The next morning, #359 and her heifer calf were tucked away near the end of the paddock, under some thick and sheltering trees.  The calf is very nervous, so I left them to it.

#359 and her calf
Friday the 19th

#351 heifer popped out a heifer calf at sometime around one o'clock this afternoon, so there are now three in that paddock.

This afternoon has been fine, sunny and warm, so we thought we'd go out and catch some more lambs.  Several haven't been docked since the weather turned wet and cold and so they can now run very fast and we had to give up on catching some of them.  We caught six of them for docking, castrating (where necessary) and tagging, then went to catch Lulu's boy, who was the only one undone in the next paddock.

Ruth applying tail-docking ring to Lulu's ram lamb

The long straight metal thing lying on the ground is the crook, as shepherds have always used, only these days made of aluminium.  A crook is a marvelous tool for catching fast lambs, comfortably catching them gently at the front of the neck as they run past.

After finishing that lamb we went and put rings on Tabitha, Dotty and Bendy, who I then tried to ignore for the next half an hour while the pain of what I'd just done to them subsided.  By their evening feed they were all back to their usual full-on bounciness.


We've done this, just for fun, over the last couple of years.  The usual gestation period for cattle is 275 - 290 days and Isla was inseminated with the semen of N Bar Emulation EXT on 22 December last year.  Her first calf, Abigail, was born a few days ealier than the expected earliest date, and her second, Amelia, towards the end of the expected period.  This year, your guess is as good as mine!

And, this year, a real prize: a small trinket box, something like the one pictured below, will be crafted by Stephan, for the person submitting the closest guess.  (If more than one person guesses the same closest or correct date, we will hold a draw for the prize.)  You may enter once, from anywhere in the world!

woodturned box

The calving date will be measured in New Zealand "clock time" - if Isla calves after the beginning of Daylight Saving time (5 October), then those who decide she'll calve on the changeover date, will have only 23 hours in which to be correct!  If you have a strong feeling about a particular moment in time, please take those things into consideration.

Competition closes midnight (NZ time) Friday, 19 September 2003.

Your email address will be used only to confirm your entry to the competition, and if you win the prize, to contact you for further details.  On 20 September, a list of the first names, locations and the dates entered by all entrants will be posted.