The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 19th of April 2008.
Sunday the 20th

Today I took the mob of 105 cows, calves and yearlings to the yards and gave them all a shot of Copper. I even managed to get some into the mad calf we call Stupid - #58, Dot 30's son - when he barged into the race behind a cow, then tried to turn around and leave, giving me an excellent shot at a bit of nicely wrinkled neck skin.

While I was working I became aware that one of the heifer calves appeared to be on heat, and was being followed very closely by the three little bulls. I was then alarmed to note that at least one of them, upon mounting and attempting to mate her, had rather more pink, dribbling flesh under his belly than I was expecting to see! I haven't separated the three little bulls out this year because I had so many problems last year keeping them separate and have been living on hope that they're too young to impregnate any of the heifers should they reach puberty early. While hope is what keeps us going a lot of the time, it does not serve as a good contraceptive.

Having seen at least one of the bulls complete the act he was attempting, I left them to it while I worked. For a couple of reasons I didn't then do a draft at the end of the job, but watching the cattle out in the paddock, I decided it would be sensible to at least draft the hot heifer out of the mob so she didn't spend the rest of the day being harassed by three enthusiastic little bulls. Getting one heifer out of a mob of cattle which would like to go through a gate themselves, on my own, was impossible, so I ended up drafting 104 cattle through the gate and leaving her behind. Later in the afternoon, I drafted the three bulls and their mothers out of the large mob and into a paddock on their own.

Whilst it is possible that the bulls could be fertile already, chances are that it is still a little early. At this point I have decided to wait and see what happens in three weeks time. If there is no sign of the heifer being on heat again, I will have to look at having a veterinary visit to deal with any possible pregnancies in the heifer calves.

Monday the 21st

One of the yearlings (544 who was supposed to be pregnant but missed) is on heat today. The fact that the yearlings haven't been made pregnant by the little bulls gives me hope that the heifer calves won't have been in any danger of it either. There's that hope again!

475 and calf

I watched 475 feeding her lovely calf this afternoon and I think she might be quite ready to be weaned! Something wasn't comfortable for her and she kept kicking the calf when she first began feeding. Her daughter, 572, is over 240kg now, at just over six months, so she's well ready to commence her own independent life.

heifers and a salt block

I put a salt block in the paddock when I arrived and when the heifers spotted it there was a rush to have a lick! I haven't been leaving a lot of salt out for them - 20kg blocks are heavy to lift around from paddock to paddock and sometimes I get lazy, especially if the tracks are wet and slippery and I can't get the bike to the blocks to transport them around.

A couple of hours later I shifted the mob to the neighbouring paddock, where the Kikuyu is lush and green.

Kikuyu in the sunshine
Tuesday the 22nd

I brought the four Rising two-year (R2) bulls to the yards this morning to give them their copper shots. Then I put them back around through the pens again to the race and weighed each of them, then let him through the vet gate and into the head-bail area where each quietly stood while I took scrotal measurements.


I was delighted that they were all so very calm during the process, since I don't have any specialist measuring equipment for the purpose, instead simply reaching in between the back legs to encircle the scrotum with a piece of material tape, which I then measure against a tape-measure I keep handy for the purpose. The hardest part of the whole thing was getting #49 to walk up and stand on the scales. He just stood in the race and wouldn't move. In the end I opened the vet gate, let him walk over the scales into the head-bail area, then backed him up again and onto the scales to read his weight. What a performance!

cattle in the House lane

After lunch, I brought the mob of 99 cows, calves and yearlings to the yards, weighed them and drafted off 31 calves and 31 cows for weaning, leaving a reduced mob of 37.

With the cooler temperatures, grass growth has slowed considerably and if I don't wean, we'll run out. The weaned calves can continue to graze the sort of feed they were on with their mothers, but it will last longer and their mothers can now follow around after them as the autumn clean-up crew. But first we have a few noisy days and nights ahead of us as they adjust to being separated.

The steer calves averaged 250kg (194-285kg) at an average 188 days of age and were all weaned. I weaned only those heifers which had passed six months and they averaged 245kg (227-265kg) at an average 199 days. All of the heifers averaged 234kg at an average 188 days. The lightest heifer is 182kg (2-year-old Irene 35's calf) and the next one is 210kg, so overall they're a very satisfactory bunch.

The weaning percentages (calf weight as a percentage of cow weight) are reasonably good, ranging from 42% to 55% with only the two youngest heifers and the light heifer of Irene 35 falling outside (under) that range. Two cows weaned over 60% of their own weight.

Wednesday the 23rd

After their first night apart, the calves and cows were very loudly protesting against missing their usual breakfast rituals. I ensured they were all safely still where they were meant to be and went out for the day to a Homeopathy for Sheep and Beef event in Kerikeri. I was a little disappointed to discover that despite being advertised as a specifically sheep and beef day, and there being any number of Homeopathy for Dairy events, a number of dairy farmers were present and we spent quite a lot of time talking about problems specific to dairy farming.

Thursday the 24th
moving the weaned calves

The calves have run out of feed in the House paddock and the cows have eaten enough in the Windmill, so I moved both mobs further out across the flats this morning. The cows had access to this lane area while the calves were in the House Paddock and what a mess they've made.

I was talking to a Council Animal Control Officer this morning in regard to an ongoing issue we're trying to resolve and in the course of the conversation he mentioned that they had received a call from our newest neighbours about the noise our cattle have been making overnight. This has become a problem around the country: people who have moved from urban areas into the country are complaining about noise, smells and ordinary rural happenings which are the result of common practice in the neighbourhoods into which they have moved. In our case this is particularly ridiculous, our cattle yards being within ten or so metres of the boundary of the property concerned, so that it should hardly come as a surprise that there are cattle-related noises in the vicinity! The complainant is fortunate that the calves were outside my window and not left in the yards, as some people do during weaning, which would be much, much louder for her.

Friday the 25th
straying heifer

Last evening, one of the yearling heifers on the small property next door began screaming her desire to get together with a bull. Sometime between then and this morning, that heifer found her way off her own property, through Jane's place and onto ours, making her way as far out as the middle of the farm, where Stephan found her on his way out to get on with some fencing. She had broken a fence on her way in and broke through some rails on the way out, before escaping from an area in which we attempted to contain her and making her way out on to the road.

I walked her back around to where she ought to have been and one of the Animal Control officers spent some time with the neighbours discussing fencing solutions to prevent a recurrence. Animal Control don't usually get involved in the straying of stock on private property, but we've had a few dog and stock control 'issues' with these neighbours and things have become a little difficult.

a Pied Shag by the pond

This Shag has been showing up around our pond for the last couple of weeks. I've seen it a couple of times sitting on the fallen Puriri, drying its wings and preening.

Having grown up on the coast and spent a lot of my childhood out on the sea, I was surprised to find so many shags inland. I often see little black Shags in the streams out on the farm, and they occasionally fly out from under the bridge when we walk down there.

Koura in the stream

More wildlife - not a very clear picture through the water.  This is a fairly large Koura (fresh-water crayfish), about five inches in length, which we watched while Stephan took a break from some fencing this afternoon. It was making its way across the stream, then up the bank and backed itself into a hole from which it peered out at us.

They're common in the streams, but we don't very often see them, because they scuttle away when they detect our movement, before we see theirs.

Our friends Theresa and Mary-Ruth called in late in the afternoon for drinks and conversation, which was a very pleasant way to end the day.