We had a few friends around for a party on Saturday evening, after Stephan spent most of the day making soups and preparing other foods and I tried to create the illusion of our not living in chaos.
Farm-wise things are a bit slow at the moment, since the weather has been horrible, wet, windy, cold and going outside isn't really that pleasant. The cattle still need checking and moving, of course, and I tend to take the ragwort plonking stick with me, to kill small plants as I see them, taking different tracks across or through the paddocks.
There are some cattle maintenance jobs needing doing, but they'll just have to wait for a fine day! I want to take blood from the little bulls to check for EBL and BVD and also from the little heifers to check if they've already picked up Liver Fluke, as part of my analysis of our need for parasite drench. All the cattle need to have their annual Leptospirosis vaccination. I need to do another Faecal Egg Count (FEC) on the youngsters as well, again to check their need for drench and if the egg numbers are high enough, we'll do a reduction test (count before and a few days after drenching) to ensure that the drench we're using is still effective, since parasite resistance to the drench chemicals is becoming widespread in this country.
Ella, who is now four, and her mother Debbie, came to stay for a few days. She and "Daddy-Stephan" started off the day by making a batch of ice-cream, with grated chocolate in it!
Having chosen not to have children, it has been a curious experience having a child running around yelling "Daddy!" The first time it happened, which was the last time we visited Ella a year ago, it threw me for several days, but I'm a little more used to it now. I knew that being donor-people would throw up a few curly issues, but ones I was prepared to deal with as they arose. It makes for interesting extended-family structure for both them and us!
We went out for a walk this afternoon, since I had 'lost' four little heifers. I didn't think they'd have been abducted by aliens, more likely that as newly weaned calves, they would have wandered off on their own, away from the rest of their mob, and are not accustomed to coming to my call without their mothers' good example. They'll get better in time, but this is an annual problem with some of the calves, which leads to quite a lot of walking around looking for stray animals!
The weather, now our visitors are here, is beautiful!
Today's task was pruning the big Puriri tree which stands in our garden - or rather our garden has formed around it!
Many of the Puriri trees on the flats have lots of dead wood in their canopies, and apart from looking untidy, if we prune back to live bits, the trees will sprout away again, looking (and presumably being) a lot healthier. I'm not sure why the branches are dead, but I theorise that they may have been killed off by very heavy frosts at some time in the past. Opossum damage is also very likely, but I'd not expect quite so much die-back as there is in some of the trees. Damage to the bark around the trunk will also cause death in the upper branches, but again, it's mostly only the tips of some of the branches in this tree, so I don't think lower bark damage is the cause here.
Stephan spent his time either perched up ladders, or balancing high up on the tree's branches, using the chain-saw to prune out some of the dead wood. The branches are hugely heavy, so there was a bit of damage to lower leafy branches as they fell, but the cows will enjoy the results of that!
Debbie picked up the chunks of wood below the tree as Stephan chopped them into fire-place-sized pieces, and stacked them away in the shed.
Debbie and Ella are off home again today on the early-afternoon plane. Ella's other mother sent up a knitting project for me to help her with, by knitting the feathery part of a poncho she wants to knit for Ella. I don't usually knit artificial yarns, so the acrylic "feathers" felt very odd and it was the most awful stuff I've ever come across! After three false starts, I finally got the hang of it and knitted one edging, leaving the stitches on one of Michelle's needles once I'd changed over to the ordinary, unfeathery yarn. This morning I started on the second side, and then had to go to the airport with the others to have time to finish it off!
I completed it a few minutes before they were due to board the plane, so I hope Michelle will now be able to continue with the garment. And I expect to see photos of Ella wearing it when it's finished, after all that effort! Debbie thinks I'll see it again before then, with a request to knit the feathery top as well.
Time to go, and off they went!
So which is which? Pukeko spent half an hour in the company of this other this morning, without incident. I'm not sure she knows she's just like her companion, but she must be developing some self-awareness, even if she has no real idea how to behave in Pukeko company. (The picture has some fuzzy bits because I haven't washed the kitchen window in some time.)
I brought the cows with the bull calves in to the yards today, it being time the last four were weaned. To save some walking, I let the heifers follow up behind, with only me in between them - although nobody was moving terribly quickly anyway, it being a sunny, warm afternoon.
The bulls and the four cows are in the left photo, walking down the lane alongside the house paddock, and the heifers are coming along the top of the Flat 1 paddock, with me standing at the corner of the two parts of the lane.
I weighed all the animals, then Stephan came back from a wee fencing job he was doing up the road, and we got on with some blood collection. My vet suggests that it is unlikely that the young heifers have yet picked up Liver Fluke, but I'm not convinced, so we're doing a blood test to check. I could just drench them, but I'm keen to discover what our drench needs are for the various classes of stock, so we can reduce our chemical dependence as much as possible.
Stephan expertly took blood from the seven weaner heifers, then we put the bull calves up the race and he did the same to them. There is a vein running down the underside of the tail, which can be accessed through the generally clean and bare skin near the base of the tail, into which is inserted a needle and a vacuum-tube is then pushed onto the other end of the double-ended needle, to draw the blood, much the same as in a human blood-test procedure.
Because of the price of diesel these days, we try to make every trip to town accomplish at least two tasks, so Stephan got the sheep in while I was drafting the cattle and loaded the ram onto the back of the ute, then took him back to Te Raro Stud, from whence he came, delivering the fourteen tubes of blood to the vet on the way.
Our thanks to Madge Hows, breeder of the ram, for lending him to us for our huge flock of four ewes!
While Stephan was gone, I pushed (literally in the case of Isla) the four now-weaned cows out to the flats, then went back to the yards and let the calves go out to the paddock next to their mothers, where they spent the night pacing up and down the fenceline, calling, just as the heifers and their mothers did four weeks ago. The heifers spent the night in the little paddock next to the yards.
At around about noon (I'm really not a morning person) I got the heifers in to the yards and tried left-handed vaccinating. During a rare culinary adventure the other night, cooking dinner for Stephan on his Birthday, I put a little too much effort into trying to get the lid off one of his very nice bottles of preserved tomatoes and something in my hand snapped! I spent several days having to use two hands to lift a cup of tea, couldn't turn taps or door-knobs - but I could still type! When I'd finished cleaning and checking the vaccinator gun yesterday, I discovered I can't operate it with my right hand. Bearing in mind how many cattle I need to vaccinate, and how often I need to administer the copper supplement, that discovery was a real blow!
However, my first attempt at left-handed vaccination went only as clumsily as my first foray into cattle vaccination all those years ago, with a bit of protesting head shaking by the occasional animal who had to have an extra jab or two to get it right, and the odd one for whom it was a slightly more violent experience than usual, but we all emerged from the experience relatively unscathed. My biggest worry had been that whilst I'm well-practised at moving with the very quick head-raise evasion techniques of my cattle with my right hand, I'd be slower to move with my left, and it is in those situations that the cattle end up with a more violent injection and I risk injury to wrist or elbow. Having given it a go, I realise I might be at less risk of joint injury with my left hand, once I get well practised, because of the mechanics of standing on the animals' right side.
The purpose of today's exercise was to administer a 7 in 1 vaccination: five clostridia vaccines and two for Leptospirosis, all in the one 2.5ml shot. When I had my meeting with the vet three weeks ago, I discussed our vaccination programme and that practice is quite happy to allow us to do our own Lepto vaccinations. In every other year we've had to coordinate the vaccinations with pregnancy testing because the other vets insisted on doing the vaccinations (or being present as I did them with their vaccine) and because the calves need a sensitizer and a booster shot, the vets came twice. Doing the vaccinations myself means that I can get the mobs of cattle in as it's convenient, rather than all together on one or two days, when the necessity of booking the vet in advance might mean that everything has to be done in the rain.
After the vaccinating, I let the heifers out into the larger grassy yard, and followed the seven youngest heifers around with little screw-lid sample bottles, willing them to move their bowels, so I could nab some, write each heifer's tag-number on the bottle of her sample and put them in my fridge, ready to take to town tomorrow. (You never know what you might find in a farmer's fridge!) It took about an hour and a half to get samples from all seven, some of that time standing in the rain, but I was determined not to leave my job, because one or all of them was bound to do what I wanted when I wasn't looking! I needed to get identified samples so that the parasite egg-counts can be identified to each animal. If there are enough intestinal worms present, then I'll drench them and collect samples again in a week or so, to ensure that the drench is still working well. I don't imagine that my practices would have led to drench resistance here, but I have meant to check for some time. The other thing I want to have done is an egg culture, so we can identify the species of parasites we have here in the cattle.
I took the heifers out towards the back paddock where they'll graze for a while, and checked on the little bulls on the way.
Those are the rear ends of #43 and #41, Isis's and Isla's sons respectively. Up on the hill beyond them is the cow mob of 25 animals, in the paddock over the road.
I left the heifers to wander the rest of the way out along the lane (which they didn't) while I had a quick refreshment break, and then had to go back and walk the whole mob out to their paddock! The thin cows, including Ivy and 15 others, were the next recipients of the vaccine, then I walked them out to the other side of the farm. It was getting quite dark by the time I came back and I wondered if I'd see any wild pigs, there being a tremendous amount of rooting damage done over the last couple of weeks.
I went out to wander around behind the bull calves with little sample bottles this morning. I was advised that ten samples are needed for the Faecal Egg Count test and as I have only seven Rising Yearling heifers, I needed to gather samples from three of the bulls to make up the numbers. The three I selected all obliged within about half an hour.
A whole day spent updating the website, in particular the stud pages, so that there are now more pictures of the little bulls for sale. Or if you'd like to purchase a Rising-three-year-old registered pedigree bull, Arran 20 will have to be on his way quite soon, so he too is for sale!