The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 10th of May 2008.
Saturday the 10th
Virago 37

We went to visit a couple of bulls today. This is Virago 37, son of Ida 18 and Quadrille 07 AB. He left the farm two years ago just after he was weaned.

Virago 37 Virago 37
Virago Alex 51

This is Alex 51, Isla's son, the calf named by Alex from Kaukapakapa who won the Isla Calving Date Competition in 2006.

The two bulls were in a paddock with five or six others, some Simmental and some Hereford, along the road toward Ahipara. It was lovely to see them again.


I've been checking Ivy daily, making sure she's not got into difficulty anywhere and taking her some molasses from time to time. Stephan let them into this paddock yesterday while I was out and sometime between then and now Ivy has obviously spent some time somewhere rather muddy! I am reassured that she has been strong enough to get out of wherever it was - I first thought one of the swampy areas, but it looks like she may have had a bit of trouble in a river crossing.

The white stripes are drench residue from the other day. The swelling under her jaw seems permanent now, and she's losing condition slowly but steadily; I know we'll have to make a final decision about her in the next few weeks.

Sunday the 11th

Some people came for a second look at the one R2 bull I may still sell this year. I wouldn't mind keeping him and they're not sure he's exactly what they want, so no decisions have been made.

We had some very nice visitors for lunch and a bit of a walk out around the cattle afterwards. One of the interesting things about having grown up in an area and then returning to live here as an adult, is that I now have some friendships with people who were friends of my parents when I was a child. Because my Father was 42 and my mother 29 when I was born and because Stephan and I have a similar gap in our ages, some of my mother's younger old friends aren't much older than Stephan! Our lunch guests were Gillian and Pat - Gillian used to teach me violin and Stephan used to work with Pat years ago, when he was a Brucellosis Testing Assistant.

Monday the 12th

I went to find the weaned calves, particularly to check 561 to see if she showed any signs of being on heat. She was the little heifer I saw served by the bull calves three weeks ago. I didn't see anything strikingly obvious, but I think there was a bit of scuffed dustiness on her sides which may indicate some riding by the other calves. I also noticed her doing a bit of sniffing of one of the others, which could mean she has been on heat. I'll make a note to check again in another three weeks.

Late in the day I decided to wean the bull calves. Because I weighed them and their mothers the other day, quite close to their 200-day age milestone, I didn't really need to take them in to the yards again. I walked them out of their paddock and the cows started grazing in the lane while the calves walked ahead, so I just kept them walking until they went into the top of the House Paddock lane and I shut the gate behind them and put their mothers into the Windmill paddock with access to that lane, with the one gate between them, as I usually do for weaning.

Tuesday the 13th

Some time between one and three this morning, something trotted past the house. I woke, thought about it, figured I must have dreamt it, since the bulls wouldn't have come down the lane away from their mothers and the cows were grazing out the front in the roundabout and Pig paddock and those gates are all shut. At about 3.30am I woke with a start and said some very bad swear words, got out of bed, found a torch and set off to the top of the House Paddock, to see, as I suspected would be the case, a red heifer standing in the lane. At that point she was still waiting on the right side of an electric spring gate, but even though I crept carefully around so as not to startle her, for some reason she chose then to push under the gate. Before I could stop him, one of the little bulls shot out through the open gate (open to allow them to have contact with their mothers through the gate at the top of the lane) and mounted her.

stray heifer in our yards

What a disaster. I am so sick of this situation with these wandering stock. This is the heifer which was here on the farm less than three weeks ago and she's here now because her owners left her in the same unfenced area she was in last time, about which they have done nothing in the mean time and from which she has chosen again to leave.

I hadn't shut the gate at the end of the lane because everything was shut out the front and I didn't really think about there being a need. If I had shut it, this animal would have come through the open house gate instead and across our deck and through the garden to get to her destination and could have caused all sorts of other damage.

I got my little bull away from her, leaving her alone in the lane, then went to set up the yards so we could put her somewhere from which she couldn't escape. Stephan got out of bed and we chased her down the lane and put her in our yards.

It has been our experience in two other repetitive stock-wandering situations that telling the responsible people that we're not happy about the situation and want it to stop, achieved very little and in both those cases we eventually had the cattle impounded. At that point we came in for a lot of verbal abuse, but we didn't see the cattle again, which was our desired outcome. This is the fourth occasion we've had the stock of these particular people on our place. We like to give people a chance to put things right, but if you tell somebody something three times and they still don't listen to you, it really does suggest they're not going to change their behaviour without some other sort of encouragement.

Having impounded the heifer in our yards, we had 24 hours in which to notify her owners that we were holding her pending their payment to us of costs and damages incurred. I spent the day composing that correspondence. At 4pm I found a son of the owners in the yards and told him very calmly and clearly that he was not permitted to remove the heifer and that I had legally impounded her, and went home to finish the email and send it.

The things I am most concerned about right now are the fact that this heifer has been getting off her property and around the neighbourhood for many weeks and I don't know what contact she's had with what other stock from any other properties; I don't know that she's not infected with some disease which now puts my whole operation at risk. She may have infected my best little bull with something which would potentially risk the breeding programme of any herd he goes to.

One of the reasons for weaning the bulls yesterday was that the grass has slowed considerably and I had planned to put the little bulls with the R2 bulls as soon as they'd settled down, and their mothers would join the other weaned cows. I would thereby gain an extra paddock. Because one of the R2 bulls is sold and awaiting a trip south, I can't afford to mix them with these little guys until I know there is no risk of their having been exposed, in particular, to BVD from which I have certified the R2 bull to be free, but against which he is not currently vaccinated.

I now, therefore, have to keep the three little bulls in quarantine in the House paddock until we know they're 'clean'. During the day I decided that the fastest way to determine the BVD exposure problem, was to test the heifer, since we have her in our possession. I asked Stephan to pick up some blood testing equipment from the vet, as well as an antibacterial, antiviral washdown solution for treating the yards when the heifer goes.

The situation is so problematic because of our "closed herd" policy - or our attempts to keep it that way. We don't bring new stock into our herd and do our best to keep contact on the boundaries with other stock to a minimum. There are a variety of reasons for this, one being the aforementioned BVD for which we could vaccinate all the cattle, but currently don't. If we succeed in managing the herd as we intend, the risk of that is quite low. Every year we test the bulls for sale for BVD (and EBL) to ensure that there has been no accidental introduction of it by some means of which we've been unaware. My other concern is that internal parasite drench-resistance is a growing problem in this country. We use drenches quite sparingly here and have tested to ensure that what we use is still effective. I don't want other animals on the property distributing their faecal egg load on our pastures and possibly introducing varieties of internal parasites we don't currently have to deal with.

Wednesday the 14th

This morning, having received a negative response to my email from the heifer's owner, I tentatively arranged for a truck to collect the heifer and take her to the local pound, to be confirmed after I had spoken to an Animal Control officer from the Council. The Animal Control man said the heifer's owners had told him they were going to sell the animal and could he please take her down the road to another property, pending collection by the prospective buyer, instead of to the pound, to which I agreed.

Two Animal Control guys turned up and walked the heifer out and down the road. They had apparently convinced the owner that continuing to keep their other heifer on her own would be problematic, so both heifers were taken away.

We mixed up the cleaning solution and Stephan and I shovelled all the solids out of the bottom of the pen in which we'd kept the heifer and disposed of them where our stock don't go and then he sprayed the whole area with the back-pack sprayer. Whether or not this is overkill is dependent on a whole lot of unknowns and I'd rather take a cautious approach than be sorry we didn't.

When that was all done, we walked the three little bulls in to the yards, took their blood samples and headed off to town to submit them to the vet. If the heifer is negative for the things for which we test the bulls, then their results will be reliable. If she's positive and they're negative, then I'll have to test them again later. The BVD risk to the bulls with the extent of contact they had is apparently reasonably low, but as I am in the business of assuring my buyers absolutely that the bulls are not infected, low risk is still more than I can afford to let pass.
In a couple of weeks we'll have to have the vet out to take a swab of the sheath of the bull which mated the heifer, to check for a couple of sexually-transmitted diseases with which she could potentially have infected him.

truck in the roundabout

This enormous rig stopped outside our gate late this morning and its driver, Len, came in for a cup of coffee and a chat. Len and Lesley were our guests a couple or three years ago for one of our last big sheep-on-the-spit parties and I saw them last year at the National Fieldays. It was lovely to see him. Ours is the last place for some distance up the road in which there would be room to turn around, so we opened both gates and he drove around the roundabout and off on his way back to Auckland with the machine he'd come north to collect.

Rainbow over the flats

From up near the Pines in the PW this afternoon, this lovely rainbow. I was looking for Ivy, who I found just down in a hollow a few minutes later, contentedly grazing.

Late this afternoon we went up the road to move the 37 cows, calves and yearlings from the hill on the other side to the Road Flat paddock. There seemed to be rather a lot of disturbance in the gateway, looking like some animals had recently passed through it and they certainly should not have done. I had seen some tracks and manure on the road from a couple of days ago and figured one of the farmers with land up the road had probably taken a mob past and I wondered if something had happened at our gateway, so phoned the guy up to ask. (I knew all the cattle were still in the paddock, having checked them all each day.) Oh yes, said the guy on the phone, your cattle broke out of the gateway and ran up the road with my mob!

My closed herd policy has now obviously gone completely out the window.

My 36 lovely black animals and one grey, comprising eight cows and calves and 21 heifers, had been run up the road for a mile and a half, drafted out of the other mob in the yards belonging to the farmer, then I suspect they were run at a fast rate back down the road again with his dogs. Now while it is entirely my responsibility for making sure my cattle don't get out in such circumstances, it's a bit hard to know it has happened and fix the holes in the system if nobody tells you when it happens if you haven't seen it! I had spoken with the guy twice since the incident and he hadn't mentioned it. If he'd not brought all 37 animals back with him on the return trip (since he didn't actually know how many there were), I could have spent days searching for missing cattle, with no idea that they had been out of the paddock.

I am very glad that the cattle have had their copper shots and liver-fluke drench recently, so they're in the best health they could be, for a three mile run isn't part of their usual daily programme. They've certainly been a bit jumpy for the last couple of days. Isla is the oldest cow in the mob, at nearly ten, and I'm not particularly happy to think of her being subjected to such excited activity.

The gateway through which they broke is problematic, being in a corner at the bottom of a steep bit of hill. We have planned some realignment of the fences to prevent the cattle from arriving in that corner in a huge hurry and obviously sometimes being unable to stop. As far as I know, this situation has not occurred before.

Thursday the 15th
broken fence

This is the demolished fence the stray heifer broke down the other week. Since then we'd strung it up with some electric tape (not electrified) to keep our cattle from attempting to go through it and that had worked very successfully until the heifer crashed through it again.

It wasn't a great bit of fence, having been there for a long time, but it had continued its job of keeping our cattle where they were supposed to be on either side of it, for several years.

new rails

Because there is nowhere to put a new post at the river end of the gap because of the large Totara tree, Stephan chose instead to install some rails, which can be left sticking out from the last post to block the last section.

felling some dying trees

When he had nailed the last rail on and was about to begin replacing the other piece of old fence along the rest of that piece of our boundary with Jane's place, I pointed out that it would probably be sensible to fell the remaining Tasmanian Blackwood trees which were standing on the river bank. Most of them have died and at some time they'll fall down, so better to fell them deliberately before the new fence is there to be squashed.

Stephan did a splendid job dropping them exactly where he intended. There's now a huge resource of "Pooh sticks" lying around for visiting children to drop off the bridge.

I headed out to move the weaned cows, wandered around in the paddocks enjoying watching them and just after 5.30pm went around to check on Ivy. I heard her before I saw her and knew that things were not right. She was lying on her right side and her head was caught around behind her, so she couldn't breathe freely. In the dusk, I couldn't quite see how she'd got into that position and thought she may just have rolled over the wrong way from lying, or perhaps fallen down. I tried to push her up so she could get her head back around to the front, but wasn't strong enough on my own, so I ran home to get Stephan - I was carrying a cellphone, but coverage isn't very good and he was still outside on the tractor anyway.

We went back to Ivy and pushed her up onto her brisket and she sat there looking a bit dazed, but seemed quite comfortable. She didn't try to get up though, so I decided it would be best to leave her to rest for a while as she was. We went home and had our dinner and then headed back out to see her. This time we took some hay and molasses for her, and the rifle, just in case.

Again as we came around the bottom of the hill, I could hear her grunting breath reverberating through the ground - I don't know if the hill is partly hollow or it was just the nature of the noise she was making. She hadn't stood up as I'd hoped, but had somehow worked her way down the slight slope from where we'd left her sitting and was flat out again, with her head at the lowest point. When cows lie like that I understand that the rumen presses on the diaphragm making breathing more and more difficult, until the cow suffocates. The decision was quick and simple and Stephan shot her while I walked away a little. We stayed with her for a while and then walked home again - I wanted to get some standards and electric tape to fence her off from the calves which were still somewhere in the paddock. We had cut her throat as one is supposed to after shooting her, to ensure there was no possibility of a return to consciousness and I didn't want the calves to be able to get really close to all that blood.

The moon was out and so walking back out to Ivy was easy to do and gave me the quiet time I needed to think about her and what had happened. I sat with her again for some time, stroking her while she was still warm and not long gone.

Walking back in the dark under the moon through the House Paddock, between the lovely weaner bulls, two of which are Ivy's direct descendants, I was acutely aware of their warm living bulk, and I felt glad of Ivy. Ivy and Lindertis were the beginning of my pedigree breeding and Ivy has been an ongoing part of that enterprise ever since. It also occurred to me that three years ago when I rescued her from a magnesium deficiency, I recognised that she was on borrowed time and that at any stage she might go down for the last time. I had thought that would most likely happen when she was pregnant because that would be the time of greatest strain on her system. But she didn't; she has raised one last calf to an age and size where she's able to survive independently. I suspect it was touch and go about three weeks before this last calf was born, because that was when Ivy really started to decline and since then she's not been particularly well, but has continued to look alert and comfortable enough so that I didn't feel any decisive action was yet necessary.

I feel a mix of sadness and relief; relief because I knew we'd have to do something about her very soon, or that something would happen to her. Now the something has happened, I no longer have to anticipate it.

Ivy would have turned 19 on 4 July.

Friday the 16th
a sad trail

This morning I went back out to the PW to see if I could see what had happened to Ivy and it appears that her end was not as calm as I had hoped. I discovered this track down the hill where she had apparently slid.

There are two possibilities I can imagine, one being that she suffered some sort of cardiac event which caused her to collapse and thus fall down and the other that she may have frolicked a little too much with the calves as they all came down the gentle slope further up to the left of the picture, and then not been able to stop before reaching the steep part of the hill.

I feel pretty bad about having left her grazing in an area which proved so dangerous to her. But I also feel that she was probably quite content up there with a wide range of feed, her calf with her still, and great views.

If I'd gone out earlier yesterday, I might have been able to determine what had happened and thus made an earlier decision to end her suffering, but too early and I think her fall would not yet have happened and she'd have waited overnight and through however much of today passed until I came out to check her again. All the "what ifs" we go through which don't achieve anything at all.

This morning a dozen of the calves had made their way to the next paddock I'd left open for them, including Ivy's daughter, who was grazing quietly in the sunshine. I haven't heard her call for her mother since her fall. I wonder if she was there at the time and knew Ivy wouldn't be getting up again. Ivy had a little milk in her teats still, but I think perhaps the calf is already weaned.

I went and found the rest of the calves just up the hill from where Ivy is still lying and brought them down and out of the paddock to join the others.

This has not been an easy week.