The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 30th of August 2008.
Saturday the 30th
grabbing Babette's lamb

Erika, from down the road, brought Lenita and Oliver to collect Babette's lamb and take her to her new home.

They gave her their first feed and away they all went. I hope they'll all be very happy. Babette isn't, but she'll have to get over it.

I found Yvette's ram lamb lying dead in the paddock this afternoon. I don't know why he died; perhaps Yvette lay on top of him, since she was looking a bit dozy today after lambing last night. Disappointing! I'll have to keep an eye on her.

Sunday the 31st
frolicking lambs

In the evenings the lambs frolic. The four of them run at full speed up and down the paddock, leaping over anything interesting in their way, up and around the bank at the end of the paddock. They are, as always, an absolute delight to watch. Yvette's remaining lamb will join them in a few days, I'm sure.

a hungry heifer?

I watched these heifers for several minutes, waiting for the crunch moment when 542 chomped on a live bit of the other heifer's tail; but it didn't happen.

Monday the 1st of September and onwards...

I got on a bus at 7.15 this morning and travelled to Kamo, where Jill collected me and took me home, before going on to North Haven Hospice, where Bruce was again a resident.

Last Thursday Bruce suffered a sudden downturn in his health and went into the Hospice on Friday. Rachel, Jude and I discussed a roster for Jill-support, working out which of us was available when. My time, now that the lambs are born and the calves are not due for over three weeks, is currently reasonably flexible and I ended up staying down there for two weeks, with a night at home on the middle Saturday.

Bruce fluctuated in comfort and awareness during the time I was there, with some delightful days of sparkling wit and interaction and others when we were sure he'd be gone by lunchtime. Bruce's children came and went several times, never sure if they ought to stay or could risk leaving for a while and still find him there on their return.

Jude came up from Auckland for a second "duty" on the morning of my birthday on the second Friday, with presents and cake and we shared our favourite wine with Bruce (through a straw) and Jill suggested that he share my celebration as his early 80th birthday, since he had been looking forward to achieving that landmark age, but would obviously not now be living so long.

On the Saturday morning Jude packed her car and I drove away with her children, on our way north. I really needed to go home and look after my cattle and the only way Jude could be with Jill in a useful way was if she didn't have three children to look after as well.

Jill, Jude and two of Bruce's children spent the next few days at his bedside, as he gradually stopped responding to their presence. He died quite peacefully when all the family had left him for a short while, at around 7pm on Saturday evening, the 20th.

Bruce's funeral was held on Wednesday 24 September, at Christ Church in Whangārei, the Reverend Michael Godfrey as celebrant (if that's the appropriate term in the case of a funeral) and with the Bishop in attendance. Bruce was an ordained member of the Anglican clergy, as is Jill.

Bruce Leo Armstrong

Bruce was so generous in his dying. He had accepted the process himself and was therefore able to allow all those around him to do as they needed to. He was unfailingly gracious, even in the unpleasant and painful moments.

The Hospice staff and volunteers were simply marvellous. What a fabulous organisation and how reassuring that there is such care available in some places. Many of the local Hospices have their own websites which can be found via the national organisation:

Some things which happened in the mean time:

Saturday the 6th of September
Kōwhai in flower

Stephan came down to Whangārei for a wood-turning lesson in the middle of my time there and he and I travelled home on the Saturday so I could spend some time checking the cattle.

The Kōwhai trees are all in flower through the Mangamuka Gorge, looking fabulous.

In the midst of all the family happenings during the week, I had forgotten about the blood tests we were expecting to hear about from the vet. On the Thursday when Stephan joined me in Whangārei I got hold of the vet and asked him to chase up the results, which were unexpected and disturbing: both 449 (the first cow to abort a few weeks ago) and Irene tested positive for Neospora. Neospora is a protozoan parasite which spends part of its life cycle in dogs and is spread by them defecating on areas where cattle are grazing. Cattle get infected, it kills their calves in utero and they abort. If the calf isn't killed, it may be born infected with Neospora itself, and apparently remains so for life, as does its mother. An infected heifer or cow is several times more likely to abort her pregnancy than an uninfected animal. Irene also tested positive for exposure to BVD, which could be explained in her life before she came here.

It was while thinking about Irene's history and looking back through my records that it occurred to me that while environmental Neospora infection is quite possible (large numbers of pig hunters and their dogs wander around the back of our property, for instance) it is also possible that both tested cows were infected long ago and it has only come to light this year. I bought Irene because she was not in calf and the story I was told was that she and the other empty cows had got into some pines or Macrocarpa and had, as a result of eating the foliage, aborted their calves. It occurred to me that it is possible that Neospora was the cause of that "abortion storm", but that it was not recognised at the time. 449's mother was 363, a double-abortion cow. Perhaps 449 has always been infected, by vertical transmission from her mother before she was born. We shall have to do a lot more blood testing to get a better idea of what has occurred.

Sunday the 7th
feeding the heifers

We're still feeding the young heifers and they still haven't worked out that there's one bin each and that they don't have to shove each other around and tip half of the meal out into the mud.

a cow-herding duck

Mary (the duck) was obviously pleased to have us home and followed us on our walk out to check the cows, which we then moved to new grazing.

We'd spent some time making sure we could find them all, because 418, the usual suspect for hiding in the bushes, hadn't been seen for over ten days! Stephan has spent hours looking for her while I've been away, to no avail. This afternoon she was quietly grazing out in the open, looking well enough, but suspiciously thin - and then I noted that she had a rather well-developed udder and a gunky tail, and the substance of that sticky mess had a very unpleasant smell. I deduced that she too has slipped her calf, but this is different from the other two - the calf must have been alive until close to its birth, for the udder to have begun to fill. Finding the body is unlikely, but we'll keep our noses to the breezes over the next little while.
We drafted 418 and her daughter, who was not in calf anyway, out of the mob and took them to join the other two aborted cows. There's no point feeding them as well as the others when things are tight.

Dotty, moulting

I spent a while with Dotty in the sunshine and discovered that a lot of her fleece has wool-break: for some reason, possibly lambing stress-related, it has a weak point where it very easily breaks away. She must be very itchy with so much wool and in need of shearing, so she was enjoying me scratching and pulling at her. I doubt that being used as a sleeping mat by her lambs will have helped anything!

On Sunday evening we headed back to Whangārei and Stephan returned home again on Monday morning.