The week beginning the 11th of October 2008
Saturday the 11th
Imagen 33 and calf

Imagen 33 was in labour at 7am this morning, following other calves around, pacing around with her tail out. I watched for a little while with Ella and Stella, until we all got a bit cold and decided we'd walk home. Stella and Ella went back to the house for their breakfast while I went to see why 470 was bellowing at the river. Her calf had fallen down about ten feet of bank and was standing in the shallow water. He must have been quite cold and frightened because he tried to attack me! A small calf in full aggression is quite amusing, as long as you don't let it get to your kneecaps. I managed to direct him up the bank until I could shove him over the edge and back to his mother.

I went back to check on Imagen's progress and noting there were two feet visible, felt for the nose inside her. There was a slightly unusual amount of placental material presenting before the calf and then I noticed that the calf was moving its legs a great deal more than is usual. There wasn't much I could do to hurry the process along and anything I could have done would likely have delayed progress, so I left her to get on with getting the calf out as quickly as she could. Half an hour later from the house roof, I saw that the calf was on the ground, alive and I left them to it.

Our two young guests left us early this afternoon, on the plane to Auckland. We took them to the airport and signed them over with all the requisite forms for UMs - Unaccompanied Minors - and waved them off.

Quanda 09 and Delilah 36 both calved during the afternoon. It was Delilah last year who had an extremely long labour and then required some help from us at the end. This year she must have just popped her calf out and I saw nothing between some slight change in her behaviour early in her labour and the presence of her new calf not long afterwards.

pregnant heifers

Early in the evening (lovely long evenings since the start of daylight saving two weeks ago) we went across the road because I wanted to bring a few more of the heifers off the hill. There are only nine there now, so in the end I thought I'd bring them all. Ranu 34 took a bit of finding because she was cleaning up her just-delivered daughter under some trees half-way around the hillside! Stephan appeared, staggering through the trees with the calf in his arms, with an agitated Ranu snorting around him. She's usually pretty quiet, but she didn't like him going off with her new baby!

Out on my late-night check tonight I came across the Paradise Duck family on the flats, with their five plump, now fully-feathered, ducklings. The ducklings' heads are still all black, with no indication yet of the gender split which will become obvious over the next few weeks as the females' white feathers start to grow around their bills and eyes.

Sunday the 12th
bird nest

I went out early this morning to check the heifers at the back of the farm. As I walked along a hillside through some trees, a thrush or blackbird flew out of a bush with a great amount of noise, so I investigated and found her nest. That panicked bird behaviour always puzzles me: if they just sat quietly still, I'd never know they were there.

cows and young calves walking down the lane

We put the heifers, which were still out near the yards, up the race today. We weighed the new calf and took bloods from a couple of the heifers, in particular the two daughters of Irene 698, one of the cows which tested positive for Neospora after aborting her mummified calf. Then we brought a number of the other cattle in to blood test them too. We'll take the blood vials to the vet tomorrow, for submission to the laboratory.

Some of the weights of the calves would confirm my suspicion that most of them are quite small this year, around 30kg when born.

Demelza rushing to investigate 488 in labour

Going out to collect the last mob for testing and calf weighing, I saw that Demelza was feeding her brand new calf and that 488 was about to deliver hers. I stepped into the middle of this potential mix-up and sent Demelza off out of the way of 488, so there'd be no calf confusion with both cows cleaning up just-born calves.

(488 is on the ground, with her calf half-way out, still covered in mucous and membranes.)

The other mob we had gone to get was short of a cow and a calf. We discovered Imagen standing by the fence at the river end of the paddock without her calf, so we started a search of the river banks and the river bed. Stephan eventually spotted him huddled against the bank in the river, still alive, but very cold. I hadn't specifically checked on Imagen and her calf this morning, but there'd been no indication at that stage that anything was not right. Usually cows with newborn calves which have stumbled out of their reach will make a lot of noise until the calf is restored to their side. I don't know how long he'd been down there, nor why he was there at all, because there was some distance between the paddock and the river itself.

The calf was pretty weak and didn't seem very keen to feed, so we left Imagen and him in the paddock together, hoping he'd dry out and feel a bit better while we took the rest of the cattle away to finish our work with them.

taking blood from a heifer

Stephan is an expert at taking blood from cattle, which is a very useful skill in our business. The yellow plastic open-ended container holds a double-ended needle. The needle is pushed up between the vertebrae from the underside of the tail into a vein, and the vacuum test vial is pushed up onto the other end of the needle within the plastic container, which pulls the blood from the vein. Most of the cattle hardly flinch while it's happening.

After we'd put the cows and calves away I went back to see what was happening with Imagen. The calf didn't appear to have fed and Imagen wouldn't stand still for long enough while I attempted to get him to feed from her, even with the temptation of some molasses in a bin. I managed to get him to have a bit of milk from her and hoped that would get him excited enough that he'd help himself to more if I left them alone again.

Stephan and I went out to check again later and that did not appear to have happened, so we walked Imagen in to the yards, milked her of a couple of litres and took her and the milk in a bottle back out to the calf. He drank it all quite happily, although his gait and behaviour was quite odd. I felt that with some milk inside and a relatively warm night, we had given him the best chance we could of full recovery.

Monday the 13th
Imagen's dead son

I was wrong. Imagen's calf this morning, flat out, dead, his mother in the distance. His body was still reasonably warm, so he must have died within the last few hours. Looking at where he died - through a fence and some distance across the paddock - and the fact that he'd also blundered through the fence in the other paddock into the river yesterday, I am wondering if he wasn't quite right in the head and wish I had taken the time to check him more carefully during the day before he went into the river. I wonder if the unusual amount of movement he was making during his birth might indicate that he was in some distress during the process, perhaps caused by a lack of oxygen. I didn't actually see him walking, so don't know if his unusual gait last night was because he was cold or because he was brain-damaged from birth.

milking Imagen

Imagen didn't seem particularly distressed by the demise of her calf. I've observed such a lack of interest before in animals with offspring which are faulty for some reason.

We decided we'd see if we could turn her into a house cow. If she can't raise a calf this year, she might as well contribute to household maintenance and save us buying milk and cream from town. She's a fairly quiet cow, so we'll see how we get on.

It was a sad day for me today, having to attend the funeral of my lovely godmother, Marj Matthews. Marj and Hack, both my godparents, were one of the factors in my decision to come home to Northland and I have been glad to have seen far more of them over the last few years than would have been possible had I not made the move. They were my 'second parents' during frequent visits to stay with them on their farm near Awanui, from when I was a very small child, and have been important members of my family throughout my life. Marj would have been 48 when I was born, and I remember her always as a strong and capable woman, who had a strong influence on my fortunate belief that women can do anything we choose.

Tuesday the 14th

A lot of bellowing at 3.48am indicated the birth of 525's calf. I haven't been going out to do middle-of-the-night checks on the heifers this year and so far nothing has happened to make me sorry for that decision and I'm less tired than I might have been.

Isla in the pouring rain

Sitting here doing exam planning this afternoon, I checked on the cows with the binoculars and noticed Isla standing with a membrane bag already hanging behind her, so I hopped on the bike and sped out to have a closer look. At 2.10pm I briefly saw one foot and then she got up and walked about again. I was about to go and check something else for a few minutes when a light shower started to spit and then I could hear the roar of heavy rain coming toward me from the north west and I ran for the old truck canopy which still stands in that paddock to provide shade.
I stood in a little spot between the drips falling through the holes in the shelter and the rain being blown in from the side, and watched Isla, pacing around, occasionally lying, not appearing to be making much progress, for the next hour and a quarter, while the rain pelted down.

Isla and her new son

When the rain almost stopped, I had a feel inside Isla to find out what the hold-up was and I think one of the calf's legs was just slightly hooked in her pelvic bone on her opposite side. He was born pretty quickly after I thought I'd felt it released as I felt inside her.

So Isla had her calf, right on 4pm.

He's a funny-looking thing. But what can you really expect when you're your own great grandfather? (His sire is Isla's great grandson, son of Demelza.)

Finan selecting the winner of the Isla Competition

Having received a number of entries to the Isla's Calving Date Competition, which guessed today as Isla's calf's birth date, we had to hold a draw. Finan is our most inquisitive feline resident and so we screwed up several bits of paper with the names of the entrants of today's date on them and put them before him. He selected one of the little balls of paper and chased it around the room and under the couch, and when we eventually retrieved it, found that Megan from Upper Hutt had won the prize, a year's subscription to that fine magazine, Growing Today, for which I thank its editor, Nadene Hall, very much. And so that is the end of the Competition for another year.

Wednesday the 15th
549 and calf

549 and her calf, born yesterday an hour after Isla calved. 549 looked pretty stressed early in the process, so I gave her a hand to get the calf out. These heifers are amazingly quiet during calving and 549 is not one of those which usually allows me very close. 549's mother is Neospora positive and was the first cow to abort her calf this year, so 549 was one of the heifers we took blood from the other day.

She looks a bit skinny now the calf's out and they're all so dirty and muddy. She was the smallest of the yearlings put to the bull last season.

I brought some cows and calves in to weigh them this afternoon and noticed that 470's calf, the one whose foot I'd unbent before his birth in the paddock the other day and then rescued from the river the next morning, was looking a bit lethargic and down in the ears. He also looked to be walking somewhat tenderly, so I decided it would be sensible to treat him with a course of antibiotics in case of navel ill - not unlikely bearing in mind the time he spent in the water in his first 24 hours.

Later I watched, and then helped, 446 give birth to a huge bull calf. This her fourth calf and her first and third were small enough, but her second was also a monster.

I've been hearing Kiwi out in the bush again during my late-night checks.

Thursday the 16th

Imagen didn't like being milked in the headbail, so Stephan let her out and gave her some molasses and milked her in the open this morning.

Friday the 17th
Stephan milking Imagen

Moving further away from the race, Imagen seems quite happy to stand to be milked wherever she can lick up her molasses. We might just have a house cow!

I had to go to town to do a few things, so we went to the local Court House and picked up the decision from the Disputes Tribunal Hearing, which was available today. The Referee had found in our favour on all points, except the one tiny part which I had only put in because I understood I ought to: the Impounding Act said that a minimum of $20 impounding fee should be charged and so I had included that in the invoice we'd sent to the owners of the trespassing heifer. The Disputes Referee said it was not within his jurisdiction to rule on that matter, so other than that $20, the Respondents are obliged to pay us in full within seven days of today. On previous form, we doubt they will.

calf looking for milk, before even standing after birth

My lovely 528, with her just-born calf this evening. He was looking for his first drink before he could even stand!