The week beginning the 21st of October 2006.
Saturday the 21st
Misty hills
Irene and her heifer calf

This was a bit of a surprise, early this morning! This is Taurikura Irene 698 AB, whom I inseminated twice earlier in the year. The first time I wasn't entirely sure she was properly on heat, but did her anyway, just in case. When she came back on heat properly, 25 days later, I wasn't particularly surprised and did her again, with everything feeling entirely as I expected it to. However, if the second insemination was the one to which she conceived, this is a very early calf, at only 262 days gestation, compared with an average 280 days and a usual earliest birth being at around 273 days. I've had a couple of full-term single calves born at 268 days and a few others under 273, so it's not unheard of for them to be a little "premature".
For the last couple of weeks I've been thinking Irene's udder was getting rather full for an expected delivery date of 11 November, but my notes from last year suggested she does get a fairly fleshy udder quite early in the piece, so I'd stopped taking too much notice of it.

The calf was born sometime in the early hours of this morning and when I saw them in the paddock, I spent a bit of time hunting around in case there was a twin! We weighed the calf and she was a paltry 31kg, which seems very small for Irene, even though she does tend to have reasonably light calves - they've previously been 38kg and 35kg.

Her feet don't look quite right to me - a little soggier than I'm used to seeing, around their top margins. The bottoms of the feet look as they do because the soft coverings are eroded by the calf's first steps.

Irene's calf Irene's calf

I could of course be entirely wrong and she's just a very small calf born on day 287 of gestation, but I don't quite believe that. She's too small, too soggy, sounds like a very little calf, rather than a really strong full-term one.

This is the area at the bottom of the Flat 1 paddock, which Stephan and Chantelle fenced off last year. When we planted some trees here last November, we failed to put stakes in next to each one so we could find them again as the Kikuyu grew around them. We found the Pohutukawa today and the Kauri is looking very good - the one Puriri we planted was in a pretty bad state then anyway and has since died. I have a feeling there was something else as well, but we couldn't find any others.

fenced off triangle old Pukeko nest

What we did find, was a large number of Pukeko nests, all surprisingly close to each other. I don't know whether many of them would have been occupied concurrently, or whether lots of birds have used the area at slightly different times. Many of the nests were within a couple of feet of each other.

The Flat 1 paddock is off to the left, with the new two-wire electric fence running parallel to the very weedy drain, which runs down to the river, where all the big trees are growing on the opposite bank. When there's a big flood, this area goes under water, so it was never a very safe part of the paddock! We've only lost one lamb from here in recent years, but there were some dangerous moments for one of the calves a couple of years ago, after some very heavy rain.

lambs on the riverbank

These lambs are a bad lot! The electric fences spend a lot of time switched off when there are new calves around and the lambs just pop themselves through any fences they like - this riverbank area (just downstream from the one pictured above) is across the other side of the track from their paddock and they've discovered it has some nice grazing. It's probably not a bad thing, in that the grass there will be free of any sheep-specific parasites, having only been grazed by cattle in quite some time. The lambs aren't eating huge quantities of grass yet, but are obviously keen to experiment.

120's heifer calf

120 was the cow which made a great deal of racket when she calved last week and this is her curious child. If she's a good calf, I may keep her, since I will probably cull 120 from the herd this year in favour of younger, better-bred heifers.

She's nowhere near as big as this picture makes her look - I was sitting on the ground with the camera low down.

Stephan carrying Irene's calf

Throughout the day I kept an eye on Irene's calf and having watched her persistently trying and failing to get a feed from Irene's rather nastily large teats, I became concerned that she wasn't able to feed and we took the two of them in to the yards.

Stephan carried her some of the way, partly because Irene just didn't want to go in the right direction, but once the calf was being carried, she followed along behind. He makes it look pretty easy, but 31kg of calf is quite heavy to carry over rough ground for very long!

Stephan milking Irene

We learnt something about the appearance of colostrum this evening: that it can look almost clear when you squirt it out on your hand, and it is very sticky. I was surprised by how un-milky it was, in the bottle it looked rather like beaten egg with water.

Stephan milked Irene out a bit and we fed the calf with the bottle, to ensure she'd had at least some colostrum within the time it might still do her some good antibody-wise. One of the teats contained quite milky colostrum, which probably means she did actually manage to feed earlier in the day. Good.

We left them in the grassy yard together overnight so that the calf didn't have to walk any further - the yearling heifers are still in the pig paddock just through the fence, so they had close company.

I'm not terribly happy about Irene's teats, but they've not proved to be a problem before and I'm not really sure they were this time. Small teats are ideal because they're easy for newborn calves to get into their mouths for easy feeding; this calf was nibbling up and down the sides of Irene's huge teats, apparently unable to easily flick one into her mouth. Maybe the calf was getting onto them when I wasn't looking - she certainly seemed lively enough. I just hadn't wanted to leave her too long when I wasn't completely sure.

Sunday the 22nd
cows and calves in the lane

I brought the mob of fourteen cows and their calves in to the yards this morning and quietly worked each pair up to the crush pen, where possible sent the cow back out of the way, then put the calf up the race and onto the scales. It's a time-consuming method, but is far easier than trying to draft the tiny calves off their mothers and then work them as a group together. Little calves don't tend to move together as a mob in the same way they will when older and t aking them away from the cows just makes for two stressed lots of very noisy animals!

They all moved really well up and down the lanes, where I often have all sorts of problems. The trick is in not pushing them along very quickly, so that cow and calf pairs can keep track of each other as they walk. The calves often straggle along behind, curiously checking things out along the way, or looking back to see what I'm up to, then dashing off in the wrong direction. If they're still very young, their mothers then get all upset and start turning around and sniffing every calf in the hunt for theirs and they cause blockages in the lanes and calves get shoved through the fences into the adjacent paddocks and it can all turn to custard!

Today they just quietly ambled along and I made sure that the last calves didn't straggle behind so much that they got confused about where to go. Out in the paddock (which has little pockets of green, narrow tracks along the river, crossings and the lane fences to confuse things) it was a slightly different story. I vaguely remember thinking last year, I must remember not to do it this way next year! I had opted to put them all in the first bit of green in the paddock, but the cows wanted to go further and then there were calves in all the wrong places, separated from the cows. Eventually they were all gathered at one river crossing, but some of the cows had gone across and away without their calves and others were enjoying a reunion and feed. In the end, the water-baby calf ended up swimming again, after I tried to get her to cross the river and she leapt off the bank in the wrong direction into a deep pool. After regaining the bank on my side, she went off alone, back to the first gate we came through. Perhaps I'd better find her some inflatable water-wings!

I must remember to do it differently next year! Really!

another fire on the hill

Meanwhile Stephan was out in the PWHS again, tidying up more of his recently cut scrub, gathering it up and burning it.

This picture is taken from down on the flats. As you will see, there are still a lot of trees on the hillside, but there's far more grass area between and under them now. The trees will continue to provide a bit of shelter and shade for the cattle, as well as stabilizing the hillside.

Irene's calf, feeding

Irene and her calf are happily sorted out now, although it took until 3 o'clock this afternoon for me to see this reassuring sight.

cows and calves in the Swamp/Frog lane

I went back out to where I'd sent the cows and calves, to see if I could get the lone calf and her mother reunited. The best method of getting a cow to come and find her lost calf, is to make a noise like a calf! I could hear young 486, the calf's mother, calling, but she was some distance away, with bush, river, and bits of hill in the way. I went out where I could get a direct line of call to her and did my thing, and then half the cows came running, despite the fact that their own calves were with them. They're really very responsive! I couldn't see 486, but figured the cows would hang around for a while, and the lost calf would go back with them and all would be well.

449 and her new heifer calf

At around 2.30pm this afternoon, 449 was in obvious labour and I just kept an eye on her as I went about my business. By 5pm she'd not produced anything more than a bit of fluid and in my slightly paranoid state, I began to be a bit concerned, so decided I'd walk her in for a check.

The calf was in the right position for things to be happening normally, so I let her out of the race to get on with it on her own. She was particularly restless and ended up jumping up a loading bank by the road (not quite as high as the fences, but almost) and set about grazing the long grass on the side of the road! Cows are capable of amazing feats when in labour! Stephan came back out and helped me get her back inside the gates - something she wasn't keen to cooperate with - and then back to an area where she seemed more settled.

She finally produced this heifer calf just before 7pm. She is a three-year-old second-calver and raised a fairly nice steer calf last year.

Monday the 23rd
Labour Day

Labour Day in Aotearoa, a commemoration of the achievement of the eight hour working day! It's a public holiday for most, but the milk must still get through, so Stephan went off and worked his usual eight hours. I watched cows, wrote web pages, carried on as usual and it rained.

This afternoon, just as I was thinking I'd move Irene and calf, 449 and her new calf and 446 back to a paddock from the area near the house, 446 went into labour, so I left them there where it was easy to keep an eye on her. Like several of the other cows, she took hours to produce her calf and for much of the time it was raining - jolly unpleasant weather for going out in the dark and checking progress!

At around 10.30pm the calf's head was out, but perhaps the cow was getting tired, because things weren't happening very fast, so I gave her a bit of a hand and pulled her rather large calf the rest of the way out - he looked like he might have been beginning to feel a bit stressed, being stuck at that point!

Something is odd about this season. The cows are usually far quicker at getting the calves out, generally within an hour of the first membrane showing, there's a calf on the ground, but this year it's often taking them up to five hours.

Tuesday the 24th
Onix, in labour

323 had produced a bull calf during the early hours and when I went to look at him this morning, Onix was looking pretty restless, in very early labour. By 9am she was beginning to pace the paddock, but didn't produce the calf until 2.45pm - another long one.

Onix didn't look much like she wanted me around, so I didn't wait to find out what sort of calf it is, but it's reasonably little, as is usual for her.

Wednesday the 25th
478 in labour

478, one of the two-year-old heifers, went into labour this morning, so I went out to make sure all went well. White-faced 470 was being very inquisitive, so remembering the sorts of difficulties which arose with such behaviour last year (attempted calf-napping and trampling of newborn babies), I decided to take some positive action to try and provide some calm space for the heifer to have her calf. I ran an electric tape around the area she had settled on for delivery, then quietly moved 470 out of the area and closed it off so she couldn't get back in.
Wanting to convince myself of my lack of anxiety, and having seen both front feet and a nose on their way out, I wandered away to have a look at Onix's calf.

Onix and calf

Onix's calf is a heifer. Looking at her udder now (which you actually can't see very easily in this picture, but it's sizeable), it's hard to believe she began her calving career with so little milk that her first calf was constantly hungry!

After taking some pictures and seeing all was well there, I wandered back down the lane to the other paddock, to see how the heifer was getting on.

478 and her just-born calf

As I came back to the gate at the top of the other paddock, I could see that the heifer had already delivered her calf! And, like many of the young heifers, she was just sitting there resting, now that the calf was out. I ran down the paddock and as I approached she got to her feet and turned to see what was behind her: one very still calf, with a fluid-filled bag all around it's head and front feet. I dashed in and whipped the bag off the front of the calf, leaving it spluttering for its first breath, and 478 began licking him dry.

Thursday the 26th
418 and three brown calves

There are rather a lot of brown calves around this year! They are all the calves of #26 bull, which is interesting. We shall see what colour they end up being in the end - they may darken as they age, but I suspect these three will actually remain quite light; they are 418's daughter, brother and niece, I think.


Here's Isla, looking pretty nicely covered, with an increasing udder, getting ready for ... some time soon!

Friday the 27th
360 and calf

360, one of Bertrand's gangly daughters, had her calf sometime before 10pm last night, so I didn't get a very good look at the calf then. She's a heifer, which is rather nice, since 360's first daughter was one of the best two-year-old heifers last year (and had a large bull calf on Monday). I sold the full sister of that very good heifer, thinking I didn't need two of them, then I discovered how good the first one was. At least that other heifer was bought by someone intending to use her as a breeding cow, not just steak!

bulls in the lane

There's a looming deadline for data entry at the New Zealand Angus Association office, so I had to get the bulls in for some weighing and measuring. They're not the best back ends in the world, but they're healthy, shiny and not too bad for thinly grass-fed bulls. I think they'd look pretty respectably wide with some decent feed, all pumped up for a show!

Even #44, at the back, who has looked really puny and awful for ages, has filled out and evened up, so he looks pretty good now. #26, the two-year-old weighs 666kg and the yearlings are 392, 366, 349 and 308kg.

Two of them are still for sale - I might have to do some local advertising.

The Isla's Calving Date Competition entries may be seen here.

2006 calving tally: 35 born (33 running around), 17 cows to calve.