The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning Saturday the 4th of October 2008
Saturday the 4th
a spider in the gorse

Looking back at last year's page, I see this is the week to find large spiders! This one caught my eye as I was wandering around looking for Isla out the back, because it was such a large brown lump in the middle of the dead gorse plant. Its legs outstretched would, had I been willing to let them, have covered most of the palm of my hand.


Isla, on her own, quite some distance from the rest of the mob. Lone cows cause some concern at this time of the year - Isla's fine - because before you find them, you don't know if there's a particular reason for their absence, like a late-pregnancy metabolic disorder or premature calving. Cows which are larger and heavier than usual and feeling a bit off, sometimes get stuck in places they wouldn't ordinarily.

muddy track

Part of the track in the Swamp/Frog Paddock. In places the mud has hardened on top and walking is a little easier, but this is the state of much of it still.

I sometimes get stuck in this stuff!

At 3pm Stephan headed off down to Whangarei to meet up with Jill, who was travelling by bus from Auckland with a couple of young companions: Stella and Ella. (Stella is my niece and Ella is our donor-daughter, Stephan's offspring.) Both girls had said they wanted to come to the farm during these school holidays and while they've both known of each other, they had never previously met. Approaching their seventh birthdays in the summer, Stella is seven weeks older than Ella and by family relationship they are of course cousins.

Stephan said it was quite a noisy trip, the two girls having fortunately decided they would be the best of friends from the moment they met, earlier in the day.

Sunday the 5th
546's calf

546, daughter of 418 which was one of the Neospora-negative aborted cows, delivered this odd-coloured son early this morning. She is the fourth of the two-year-old heifers to calve and they're getting on very nicely - I haven't even been getting up in the middle of the night to check them. The calf is the first from bull #45, so I'm a little disturbed by his colour, which is a definite light brown. He ought to be BLACK! However, his mother is from a family with some odd colour variations from brown to grey, so perhaps those genes are the ones in play.

Stella and Ella, with binoculars, watched from the gateway while I had a close look at the heifer and calf.

rock collectors at work

As the track has dried and I've been riding the bike up and down more frequently, numerous loose stones have surfaced. I thought it might be a fun job for a couple of girls and a bloke with a wheelbarrow, to wander up the track picking them up, so they could take them and throw them into the muddy puddle which surrounds a trough in the Windmill Paddock, at the end of the lane.

It kept them entertained for a little while, but some people didn't like the life-forms they found under some of the stones.

Stella and Ella in the wheelbarrow

Most of the stones went into the intended spot, although I later noticed a few in the trough as well!

Stella and Ella heading out along the lane

475 was in labour as we were starting lunch. I went out to check all was going well and the girls followed when they'd finished their meal.

The calf, once born, was up and feeding within ten minutes, which is pretty fast!

475 is the last daughter of Grey 16 and she's turned out to be a really good little cow - her daughter from last year is a lovely animal.

I went out several times this evening to check on heifer 532 because she was obviously in labour. At 10.23pm there were a couple of feet visible, so after watching for a couple of minutes I decided to wander off to another paddock to check the cows as well, intending to come back and check on 532's progress in a few minutes, and expecting her to be another half hour or so in labour. Nine minutes later there was the characteristic bellowing from back in her paddock, indicating the process was already completed! She had a heifer calf, obviously very quickly, second calf for bull #45 - and this one's black.

The late-night walks are sometimes lovely, in the moonlight and still air. I've been hearing Kiwi calling from a couple of points out in the bush. I'm glad there are still some there, not all eaten by dogs, yet.

Monday the 6th
Ella and Stella out walking

I suggested to a couple of noisy youngsters that they could go and do a small job for me, namely to close an electric fence switch I'd left open. I gave them what I thought were clear instructions, while showing them the relevant landmarks from the window, and off they went.

Then they kept going!
I watched them for a while, wondering how far they'd go and when it looked like they might disappear from view altogether, I set out to follow them. There aren't too many extreme dangers on the farm, but small girls who haven't been raised in this environment aren't quite as safe as those who might have been long schooled in the things to watch out for.

Black Backed Gull on the flats

The Black Backed Gulls, Larus dominicanus, are back. We rarely see them here, and even when there are storms coming in from the coast, any gulls are usually high in the sky, on their way to somewhere else.

They like afterbirth and this is the second year they've come here to dine on our selection.

Tuesday the 7th
Ella, Stella and Stephan

We headed out to weigh a calf this morning - Ida 18 had a tiny heifer around 9pm last night. Ida's a pretty quiet cow and we really agitated her by interfering with her calf. I'm beginning to think this weighing-at-birth business is more bother than it's worth, in many cases. Just at the one time in the year when the cows are likely to be upset by anything, we do something really upsetting!

This season has been far too horrible to deal with too much more difficulty. There is news emerging about a genetic defect in Angus cattle which is carried by a bull which appears in the pedigree of most of the sires of my calves this year. Bearing in mind that I'm not sure how calving is going to go with the Neospora issue and that some of the calves born may have dodgy genes as well, I just don't think I'm going to add any more stress, so the rest of the calves can remain unweighed in their first days.

Because we were out at the top of the flats, we decided we'd all carry on for a walk to the back of the farm, so I could open some gates and check on the young stock. Stephan and the girls went up through the Big Back Paddock and I headed around the other way and met them at the gateway into the Middle Back paddock, as they came around the corner.

Ella and Stella

Then we went back down the other side of the Big Back Paddock, to see if we could find the rest of the mob, of which Stephan had seen a few animals in the distance.

Stella and Ella decided to pick up sticks. I suggested that they select only one each to help them walk in the mud and that anyone who carried an armload of sticks down the hill would be expected to walk all the way home without complaining about being tired at the end! We continued to advise against the needless carrying of sticks, and Stella ignored us.

Stella with her sticks

Stella, near the end of our walk, grimly determined, still carrying every stick she'd collected from the back of the farm. I have some idea there's a definite inherited basis for this bloody-mindedness.

The sticks were set down on the deck and became part of the rest of the day's play. We were surprised that Stella could still move her arms normally.

Later I went back out to check what had happened to Grey 443, since I could no longer see her from the house in the Windmill Paddock. She was feeding a black bull calf.

The wind was incredibly strong this afternoon and the girls and I were frequently blown off-course as we walked around. Most of the Topmilk bins in which I've been feeding molasses and Magnesium to the pregnant cows, blew away across the paddocks - and they're not tiny light containers, but made of quite substantially thick and heavy plastic.

Wednesday the 8th
517's heifer calf

White-faced R3 heifer 517 delivered this cutie yesterday afternoon. Her facial pattern is similar to that of her aunt 470 (see below).

Ella and Stella in the pond

Two girls who insisted it was quite warm enough for a swim in the pond. I stood on the side, hoping very much that no rescues would be required.

Stella and Ella in the bath

We ran a hose from the wetback hot water cylinder down to the bath in the garden and the girls spent some more time being wet, but warmer than in the pond. I'm not sure what particular type of torture was being conducted by Ella upon Stella's feet.

Jill arrived this afternoon for a visit - she comes and goes, as she feels the need for company or distraction.

I keep bringing heifers down off the hill over the road, to join the others on the flats as I predict they're closer to calving. So far I have anticipated the events reliably.

Thursday the 9th

I watched Queenly 23 head off into a sunny corner of Flat 4 this morning and then a little later there were two cows licking the new calf on the ground between them. I could see that the second cow was also in labour, so went over to ensure things were as they ought to be. 479 was the other cow and the calf was happily following her motherly noises, to Queenly's obvious distress. I pushed the calf back in under his mother, so he could get on with feeding from the right udder, then spent some time fending off 479, who really needed to go away and get on with her own birth process, without fixating on a calf which had nothing to do with her. This is that risky time when I've seen cows steal another calf (and then abandon their own after birth), while in the distress of labour and before their own is born. It doesn't happen very often, but some cows get quite confused and it's more likely when there are a couple of cows in labour at the same time.

479 in labour

Four-year-old 479 in labour, after I'd sent her away from Queenly and her calf, just before she successfully gave birth to her own daughter.

479 in labour

The extraordinary expression was accompanied by an enormous amount of noise! I noted she made quite a fuss last year too.

The process is presumably not pain-free for some animals.

479 is the only living daughter of Red 94, one of the old cows whose line I wanted to continue, because she'd been such a good producer of excellent calves.

The paddocks are now waterlogged again after 30mm of rain. When will this end?

Friday the 10th
Stella, Ella, Jill and Isla

I spent some time this morning being very worried about 323's lack of progress in labour. Stephan and I set out to bring her in to the yards so I could check on what was happening internally and between my last look out the window when there was nothing much happening, and our arrival in the paddock at the end of the lane, a calf was produced.

Jill, Ella, Stella and I went over to see Isla, who will be anybody's friend, especially if they're carrying Puriri leaves!

the girls with Queenly's new calf

Ella and Stella with Queenly's tiny bull calf.

From Isla's paddock we went across to the Windmill Paddock to see what 470 was up to. I'd seen her in labour on our way out and thought she'd be about to do something interesting which we could all watch.

The four of us sat on a warm sunny slope and 470 very helpfully lay down in positions which made it easy for us to see what was happening. Eventually she produced a bag of fluid, then a little later the second bag, which had calf feet and head in it - although we couldn't see very clearly what was inside. I went over for a closer look and broke the bag, so the spectators could see more of what was there. I could also see there was only one foot beside the emerging head.

470 and new-born calf

This is 470's third calving and she has become a fairly quiet member of the herd, prepared to let me scratch her rump when I pass, but she's not tame. However, she allowed me to insert my hand and find out if there was another foot on its way out. I discovered it, still back within 470's pelvis, bent back at the first joint and with the contractions, unable to unfold and come out as required. I thought of trying to pull the calf with one foot and the head only, but realised that there wouldn't be room, so tried to push the head back to make room to bring the foot forward, but against the cow's contractions, that wasn't going to work. Fortunately at that moment she stood up and remained still enough for me to continue working within her. The head now fell back in to her body, so there was room to unbend the leg and then to pull the foot forward so that the "elbow" wasn't catching against the pelvic bone. 470 lay down again and with the next few contractions the calf was born.

Thank goodness for quiet cows! If she hadn't let me help her where she was, we'd have had to go to the yards, which isn't a big problem, but it's nice to be able to leave them where they've chosen to calve.

a shorn ewe and docked lambs

In the late afternoon, because it actually hasn't rained for a while, we took the sheep in to the yards and Stephan shore the ewes. I docked the lambs - five tail rings and one on a set of testicles, while the girls looked on. Then they all came back to the House Paddock, where the lambs threw themselves on the ground and bleated for a while, but were soon back up and grazing again.