I moved the 38 cows today from the Camp paddock to the back of the farm and as usual I made notes if I saw any foot-sore cows as they crossed the rivers. Because we've had some wet weather already, the cows which are prone to delicate feet really start to show it now so I was quite delighted to make some more positive notes about a couple of cows which ran down a length of the track on which Stephan had spread some of the Rotten Rock, without even slowing! They must have particularly comfortable feet.
A prospective bull buyer arranged to come and have a look at the bull calves today, so we brought them in ready. We walked around discussing them as he looked them over, then eventually, when he'd picked out the two he liked best, we discussed price. Now this has been an issue I've always found a little tricky, never wanting to over or under charge - a fair deal both ways is what I'd most like to achieve. On that basis I researched my local area, looked at the sale results of other breeders around the region and country and I sell my bulls for $1,400. I know that other (unregistered) Angus breeders in the area sell their bulls for $1000 and I figure that if one is able to buy a bull with the backup of known pedigree, EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values) for birth and growth rates, as well as a money-back guarantee on fertility because I'm a member of the national breed Association, that has to be worth a little more. My bulls may even be a very cheap deal, bearing in mind my use of some exceptionally good semen.
Anyway, today's buyer considered my bulls over-priced for his budget, commenting that if he, as a registered breeder of another breed, could sell some of his two-year-old bulls for $2000, then my young bulls couldn't possibly be worth only $600 less. It wasn't until I thought more about that later that it occurred to me that if he can make $600/year for grazing and growing a bull, then he's onto a good thing anyway and yet he thinks he should earn more! To get a bull to the age mine are now begins two years earlier, at around this time, when I begin to look at the semen catalogues and find out what I can get hold of for the upcoming breeding season. The active part of the process begins at mating at the end of the year, as I keep watch on the cows many times a day, every day, to get them in calf by Artificial Insemination. The riskiest time for a breeder is calving, because if anything goes wrong, it can result in a dead calf and that's not worth anything at all! After that the risk of anything dreadful happen gradually decreases as the calf ages until when they're weaned and over nine months old, it's pretty well plain sailing, short of nasty physical accidents.
In the end, if I price my bulls too high, I just won't sell them and there's no point in that either. I suggested the guy have a think about his best price offer and get back to me if he wanted to.
As soon as those people left, we shot out to bring the little heifers in to the yards, so the heifer-buying people could come and see the ones I want to sell. We drafted them out and the people came and saw and were quite happy. The heifers are a bit of a mixed bunch, so selling them privately is preferable to trying to sell them through the yards: there's the very tall 527 who just doesn't fit with the physical characteristics I'm trying to achieve in my herd (her mother is tall and so is #26, her sire, so my own fault for putting the two together); 537 whose mother is the half-Friesian 112 and while she's quite a nice heifer, there are others which are better options for replacements; three little heifers which don't quite make the cut as breeding replacements; and the white-face heifer which will probably turn out alright, in that she's perfectly healthy, just extremely slow growing.
On Friday I'd weighed and drenched the cows and bull calves, so today decided to simply draft them for weaning, with no need to re-weigh them. Then we walked the cows to the House Paddock and the calves up to the Windmill Paddock, so they could have nose-to-nose contact through a safe gate during weaning.
Attentive readers will notice that these calves are not the right colour. Our new neighbours, now living in the house Stephan built years ago and in which his parents resided, have bought some very expensive Jersey/Red Devon cross calves and it has taken them less than 24 hours to work out how to get through the fence and make their way to my front door!
The old boundary fence is in a poor state of repair, with loose wires and some of the battens loose or missing. By our cattle yards the fence is hardly there at all in parts, so has needed replacement for some time.
We had been having problems with the previous owners' sheep coming through the fence onto our place, but the people were not often there and so getting anything done was problematic. However, two little cattle beasts making their way into our place demands urgent action! I spoke with our neighbour who agreed that the fence needed to be done and that they would pay their share of it and so Stephan, with a little help from the young boys from next door, began stripping it this afternoon.
Chaos reigned this morning in the House paddock. Ranu was on heat and one of the R2 bulls had lifted the gate which separated the cows and their just-weaned calves from its hinges and there were suddenly eleven bulls in with the six cows, most chasing Ranu. Three of the bull calves found their mothers and immediately latched on for a serious feed!
There were some interesting moments as firstly I, then both of us drafted the cows from the bulls again. The big bulls and a couple of the little ones were determined to stay with Ranu and my main concern was to separate them before anyone got hurt!
Stephan finished stripping the front boundary fence wire and then he and I worked with the tractor to pull out the old posts (and push a couple over until they snapped, when they wouldn't come up) and then he began to thump the new posts in. Peter from next door came and gave him a hand for a while.
More bull chaos! This time it was the only non-pregnant R2 heifer which I'd heard and seen on heat yesterday afternoon over the road and now here she was this morning, in the lane with #26 and Alex 51, both of whom had obviously jumped the gate out of their paddock, bending the top of it but fortunately not hurting themselves in the process.
When I came home from town at around 10pm last night, I could hear the calls of an animal which didn't quite sound in the right place and now I realise it was this heifer, enticing her bull-friends over the fence! At first I thought she must have jumped four fences and the river, but later I realised she'd simply walked through a very flimsy gate from over the road and just trotted out along the lane.
It suddenly occurred to me as we were beginning to look at putting the new posts in for the fence, that we would need to ascertain where the electricity cable was! I phoned the electricity contractors and asked that they come and find it, but they couldn't do it until today.
A tone generator is first attached to where the cable leaves the pole, and then that tone is detected and the ground marked above where the cable runs. I had a fair idea where it was, but really didn't want to have Stephan bang a post through the cable and then have to pay to have it fixed again!
Now that all the cows are weaned, it's time to draft them into a couple of mobs for the winter. I've usually had a thin mob and a fat mob and over time the thin mob has contained less older cows, as I've changed the makeup of the herd and eliminated the cows which are hard-keeping in terms of their ability to thrive in this environment. Since I've been routinely calving two-year-old heifers, the thin mob has automatically included those as they approach their second calving. The mob this year also has Ida 18, who remains in light condition, 449 who's a R4 cow about to have her third calf, has produced some very good calves, but to her own slight detriment, and 426, another R4 on her third pregnancy, who will have to go sometime because she's never going to be a really good doer, but stays because her calves are pretty nice. I meant to keep both of the R4 second-calvers, Demelza and 456, in this mob too; 456 is here, but Demelza was so determined to stay with the cows she'd been with and is now such a big cow, that I'm not worried about her for the winter. She was too small to calve as a two-year-old, but in that next year really packed on some size!
In individual cases I make explanations for why some cows do better than others and over time I'll either be proven right or I will discover that my explanations were only excuses to keep animals which ought to have been eliminated from the herd.
The "fat" mob includes a couple of cows which just always look a bit light, but that's the way they are. They remain healthy, produce good calves and get back in calf on time, so I'm happy with them. Onix, who belongs to my nephew Issa, continues in the herd, although I believe he's no longer interested in her and would like to sell her. I suspect I'm his investment scheme and he'll wait until he can get the most money out of me that he can. Onix has been an easy-care cow, although her calves are never the fastest growing animals. 456 is her daughter and she produced a very nice calf this year, but not until she was a three-year-old.
The twins are now separated, since Ingrid had her dead calf and joined the weaned cows a while ago and Ida is now in the thin mob after recently being weaned. If Ingrid doesn't do something spectacular this year, the separation will be made permanent.
This is Ingrid, pretending to be a whale. There's a deepish hole where she's standing, which is only about eight feet from the ankle-deep water of the crossing. She went in to get to the grass growing on the opposite bank.
The newly-mixed young/thin mob in the Road Flat paddock over the river. The mob of older/fatter cows, which includes those on the cull list, have all gone out to the Big Back paddock.
I drafted the bulls as well, four of the big bulls went to Jane's paddocks and the little ones and #44, who's sold, stayed on the flats. Alex 51 and #44 will go off on the same truck, to two different farms, in the next few days.
Back at the front of the farm, great progress! All the posts in, wires run and about to be stapled onto the posts.
While there was no fence in place, the neighbour's new calves could have gone wandering wherever they wanted to: out onto the road, out onto our farm, into the river; so I very kindly offered the possibility of keeping them in our yards' crush pen (the one from which the cattle race feeds) over the first night and into the next day. I say kindly, since having a couple of unknown calves with goodness-knows-what sort of passengers in what comes out their rear ends, means I was foreseeing the need for some cleaning up afterwards. It wasn't until sometime during the following day that it occurred to both Stephan and I that a pen made out of four gates would enable them to be kept on their own property on grass, which is what we did next.
If you detect a little annoyance in some of my writing, you'd not be far off the mark. It's all very well for people to have animals and that's entirely their business; but when the keeping of those animals materially impacts upon my usual activities in a way that takes more than a short time to rectify, I get a bit uneasy. Advice had apparently been sought from another neighbour on whether or not the fencing on this property was up to keeping calves in place, but asking someone who'd not actually taken a good look at the fence, didn't adequately assess the potential for problems.
Ivy seems as sensitive to the grass changes as the little bulls and some of the heifers, with dags all over her rump. I haven't weaned her yet. Fortunately the tracks aren't too sloppy yet to stop me riding out with her feed-nuts and Magnesium, although it's getting pretty tricky!
This "double chin" is a feature I try to manage in Ivy in the winters and I'm not entirely sure what causes it, but my gut-feeling, based on what I've gleaned from reading and talking to people who ought to know, is that it's an indication of fluid retention, probably because of having a little too much protein in her feed, so I need to manage the mix of nuts and high-protein grass versus the amount of fibrous bulk feed to which she has access. When it first happened last year, she ended up with fluid down in her brisket and at its worst, it was pooled around her navel as well! I cut right back on the amount of feed-nuts she was getting and the problem resolved again in a couple of days.