The week beginning the 30th of September 2006

What a week! For all my good intentions to keep up with news on a more regular basis, as things happen during this most exciting time of year, I've been too caught up in much of it to sit and write.

Saturday the 30th
Dotty and her lambs

Dotty's lambs are looking fine this morning, none the worse for wear after being dragged into the world.

Sunday the 1st of October

416, one of the white-faced cows and sister of 371, who calved the other day, went into labour this evening and produced a calf by 10pm. She was not keen on my being near her, so I left her to it. Last year 416 had a breech calf and I suspect her anti-me reaction this year may be connected to our necessary interference during last year's birth.

Stephan arrived home from his trip, having driven through awful traffic and worse weather!

Monday the 2nd
416 and her calf

416 and her heifer calf, with pregnant Fleur 28 in the background.


Arriving in the maternity paddock this morning, I found 390 pacing up and down the paddock, bellowing, with some evidence of having begun her labour. I watched and waited, and after a while, with no obvious progress or sign of a calf, began to suspect things were not altogether right, so took her in to the yards for an internal examination.

Inside her I felt only the head of her calf, which is pretty unusual. Reaching in as far as I could, I felt down to the shoulder on one side and attempted to draw up the left front leg, but couldn't move it. I had better success with the right leg, which came up with a bit of effort, and then I had to carefully unbend the last joint, to get the hoof facing forward, without dragging it too forcefully along the cow's pelvis as it came through. The hooves have that lovely soft covering to protect the cow, but they're still hard enough to cause damage if one isn't careful. Once that leg was up, the other had come part-way up, so the knee was within easier reach and I just had to bring that hoof forward.


Having a bad cold and having to exert myself to this extent, I knew it would be beyond me to continue to attempt to pull the calf out by hand, so let the cow out into a grassy bit of the yard to continue her labour normally - including lying down as she would normally choose. Even then the hooves didn't appear, so after a few sets of contractions, I quietly approached her where she lay and inserted a hand to find the legs.

Pulling the calf out took ages - possibly because by then the cow may have been quite tired. Things didn't look too hopeful, with a flaccid, pale pink tongue and no detectable movement from the calf.

When the eyes were visible, I was able to confirm that the calf was long dead. A just-dead eye is much the same as a live one, but is clouded; this eye was quite flaccid, as though dehydrated. I was only glad that it was obvious that the calf was dead before labour began and that any delay I may have added, had not contributed to the sad outcome.

Eventually the calf was out and the cow got up and licked her clean, calling to her all the time and nudging her to get her to move. I left her there, along with the two cows I'd brought with her for company, for the next couple of hours, then opened the gates for the other two to leave the yards when they chose. 390 stayed with her calf until around 11pm, when she wandered out to graze for a while with the other cows.

turkeys fighting

These turkeys generally live together quite peaceably, but occasionally have a set-to and look like they'll kill each other! One is obviously dominant, from the bedraggled state of the other's feathers, so most of the time they just glide around together huffing and booming at everyone else.

cows and calves on their first move

The cows in the maternity paddock had nearly finished the grass there, so at a convenient moment for Stephan, I grabbed him to give me a hand to quietly move them out of the paddock and back along the lane to a new one. Moving cows with very young calves is tricky, since gateways often cause problems. Where we were closely in control of the situation, I made sure the cow and calf pairs moved through together, but going into the new paddock, a couple of the cows lost track of their calves, so doubled back and caused all sorts of minor chaos. Once they were through, they sorted themselves out quite nicely - and then broke through the carefully erected electric tape, gaining access to the whole paddock and thwarting my attempt to ration the grass.

It would have been extremely difficult to move them all back to the first break, so we just taped off as much of the paddock as we could with the available electric tape and standards and left them to it.

We headed out to the back of the farm and drafted a couple of the thin mob out and brought them back to spend the night next to the maternity mob, ready to be combined with them tomorrow.

I left the gates open between the maternity paddock and the yards after 390 headed back to the paddock, so that if she wanted to she could walk back down to her dead calf.

Tuesday the 3rd
426 and her heifer calf

426 produced this ridiculously tiny-looking heifer this afternoon while I wasn't looking. The calf's sire is #26, so I shall look forward to the possibility of her growing into a fine animal!

I looked at the fat cow mob this afternoon and felt quite concerned about the thin state of many of them, so have moved them onto the flats. The grass is growing rather faster than it was, so I should be able to move them around more quickly and put a bit of condition back onto their no-longer-fat frames. They're not in a dreadful state, but they're not as well-covered as I would like to see them. Calving in too-thin condition means they'll take much longer to return to oestrus afterwards and that won't help me tighten up the calving period next season!

Stephan with the dead calf in the wheelbarrow

390 hasn't been down to the calf today, so it's time to bury her. The calf's condition convinces me that she was dead for a while before birth: in some places where her mother had licked her, her hair had come out and when I was examining her feet, one of the hooves came away in my hand. I'm very glad that didn't happen when I was pulling her out, before I knew she was dead! I had thought they'd looked a bit more spongy than usual around the edges where the hoof meets the hair of the leg.

She is now buried in the native tree area in front of our house, under a Puriri tree.

Wednesday the 4th
390 gradually expelling her afterbirth

390 has been wandering around all day with a train of increasing length, as she expels the afterbirth. I am pleased it is coming away on its own, since there was a greater chance of its not doing so after the birth of a dead calf.

Thursday the 5th
Anna and Stephan building stone steps

Anna has been visiting us from Wellington since Tuesday, and today spent several hours with Stephan, selecting and placing rocks to build some steps from one part of the garden to another. Stephan has plans for a pizza oven in this little area, as well as a waterfall, a bridge ...

I moved the fat cow mob from one paddock to another today and noticed that #92, who isn't due to calve, according to my list, for some time yet, has developed a significantly large udder and was showing all the signs of being in early labour! By late this afternoon, she was obviously about to give birth, so I called Anna to come and watch with me. 92 produced a bull calf just after 6pm, so now I have two maternity mobs!

Friday the 6th

White-faced 307 produced a little brown heifer during the night, another sired by #26. Later on, Anna and I very cleverly coaxed the cows with calves away from the rest of the cows and heifers in that paddock and into the neighbouring one. I'm trying to make the grass in the easily-watched paddocks last as long as possible! With that in mind, I drafted five cows out of the fat cow mob and sent them out to one of the further-out paddocks, since they're not due for a little while - Isla is one of them.

Francis and Anne feeding the lamb

This evening we had a delightful gathering of family and friends, partly prompted by Anna's presence here, since she's known Stephan's sister's family for some years.

Lamb-feeding was a popular activity - this is Francis taking his turn. Poor lamb had a shocking experience as she was inadvertently backed into the electric fence by Francis' fore-runner.

Have you entered the annual Isla's Calving Date Competition yet? Go on, have a go!

2006 calving tally: 7 born, 45 cows to calve.