The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 10th of October 2009.
Saturday the 10th

A load of ridiculously noisy, backfiring cars came down the valley today. I can't remember which sports car club runs the event, but apparently it's supposed to benefit our community, presumably by some trickle-down theory of lots of people visiting our area and spending money. All we see are road closure notices, a lot of flung gravel and the noise comes at a time which makes me very nervous.

cattle behaviour during loud noises cattle behaviour during loud noises

The cows and calves were all quietly grazing at the bottom of Flat 3 when the noise started, like a rapid succession of gunshots, causing them all to stampede to the far corner of the paddock, where they stayed for the next three hours. The two white-faced cows, the mothers of the last-born calves in this paddock, seemed particularly anxious and it took me a while to work out what had happened. In the left picture above, there's a tiny white-headed black calf lying by the gate at the left of the picture, at the bottom of the paddock where the cows had been. The other white-faced calf was curled up in the long grass inside the tree-surround also pictured. The calves stayed where they were, fortunately, presumably the noise wasn't close enough to them to cause them to flee in panic, so they played dead. I doubt they were asleep!

I stood around with the cows for a while, talking calmly to them, which does appear to settle them a bit when they're frightened.

sheep near the road

The sheep out in the Pig Paddock near the road seemed far less concerned, although we were ready to move them if necessary.


The first Orchid buds continue to develop. We have a local Orchid-enthusiast on speed-dial, ready to call him as soon as the buds are ready to burst.

Sunday the 11th
a cute calf

This is 525's daughter, who has been dancing and leaping around since she discovered she could the other day. She's a delight to watch.

Queenly 23

Queenly 23, one of the mob of cows I'm not expecting to calve imminently, as I moved them from the Bush Flat to the Small Hill paddock this morning. There was nothing about her to indicate that all was not entirely normal.

470 and calf

470's calf is a cutie, with his pink nose - although that's not the best feature for a long life in a sunny climate!

walking Queenly to the yards

At 4pm while I was checking the cows in the Mushroom paddock, I heard a calving cow noise from entirely the wrong direction. Counting the cows in the Small Hill paddock nearby, I saw only seven: Queenly 23 was not amongst them and the low moos were coming from the other side of the river.
She was in an area it was really tricky to get her out of, requiring her either to cross a swampy area, or go up and along the side of the hill through the bush, neither of which she was keen to do. She's not due to calve until the end of the month, which meant something was not right.
I called Stephan, who fortunately happened to be in the house, and together we chased her up and along and down and around and up and down the hill until we could get her out of the paddock and then, with a couple of herd-mates, along the lanes to the yards.

I donned a long glove and attempted a feel, could find nothing, so let her out into the yard to see if she was perhaps only at the beginning of an early labour - I thought it possible she might be having twins, which often come early.

An hour or so later, we put her back in the race and I found a couple of feet and some legs which felt rather like they were flexing from back hock joints - I couldn't reach in far enough to actually feel the joint. Whatever was going on, that calf wasn't in the right position and I phoned for the vet.

Within half an hour Nathan arrived and we helped him as he put chains on the legs and then pulled out a backwards, dead, heifer calf. Nathan took a blood sample from Queenly, since she's one of the cows I didn't get around to testing for Neospora last year, which is quite likely the cause of this calf's death. Then because we'd interfered with her so much, Nathan gave her a prophylactic antibiotic shot and we let her out with the other two cows.

Stephan dragged the calf over to a convenient bit of concrete where there was a little more light (it was just after 7.30pm by that stage and the sun had long set), and Nathan, with sample bottles at the ready, cut her open to take bits of her organs, stomach fluid samples, fluid from the chest cavity and so on. The first cut revealed that the calf had not died during this day! She wasn't badly off, but she wasn't very fresh either, and standing closely over the steaming opened calf body was not particularly pleasant.

Nathan left, we put the calf's body in the wheelbarrow and locked it in the shed, phoned the owners of a dog which appeared to be wandering loose nearby and suggested that they tie it up, because it would be sure to find all sorts of bits we could no longer see in the dark. If the calf has died because of Neospora, any dog eating bits of calf or afterbirth would become infected, which could make it very ill or kill it, or cause it to leave infective faeces around the place for the next few weeks, wherever it might wander, spreading this cursed disease around the rest of the cattle in the neighbourhood.*

It occurred to me that Queenly ought to be more closely and solitarily confined until she had expelled her afterbirth, because if she does have Neospora, we don't want the other two cows having the opportunity to help her eat or lick up any infected material, as they helpfully sometimes will. (Transmission of Neospora from cow to cow is referred to as horizontal, as opposed to cow to calf which is referred to as vertical transmission.) So Queenly spent the night in the loading race area with grass and water, with the other two cows through the railings keeping her company.

*On the back of the form required by the Far North District Council to be completed by every person who registers their dog (and on forms supplied by most of the country's District Councils), is the following excerpt from the Dog Control Act:
Obligations of dog owner on owner's property
Section 52A, Dog Control Act 1996

The owner of a dog must ensure, when the dog is on land or premises occupied by the owner, -

Monday the 12th
456 and her bull calf

First thing this morning I found three new calves. This is Onix's daughter 456 and her bull calf, just standing when I arrived in the paddock and looking for his first feed. He was causing his mother some consternation by running around in wide circles and occasionally following the other cow in the picture.

heifer 572 and her new calf

Tucked away amongst the trees was little two-year-old 572 with a cleaned and fed calf, which I had to wait until later to discover was a heifer.

It's always a relief when the young heifers manage quietly and successfully on their own - not that they shouldn't, but heifers, being younger and smaller, are the animals with which one must take particular care, firstly in selection of easy-calving sires for their calves, then in ensuring they are evenly fed throughout their pregnancies, so they are in the best possible condition for calving when the time comes.

In the mob of heifers which came down off the hill, 545 had produced a heifer calf. Her dates indicated she was due, but she hadn't looked particularly ready to my passing eye.

turkey and two chicks

Birth is all around us, it seems. One of the turkeys appeared with a couple of chicks this morning, so we caught the chicks and led their mother up to an enclosure where she can be fed and won't lose her babies in the grass. We later found a couple of dead ones, which were presumably lost as she made her way to the garden.

a shared goose-turkey nest

I don't know if it is the same turkey which annually shares a nest with old Madam Goose, but these two seem quite happy together.

Because the male turkey is dead, I'm not sure if we'll see any more chicks. We don't know how many of the turkeys are sitting on nests, nor whether the eggs were fertilized before the demise of their potential sire.

Stephan walking Irene 35 and her calf to the yards

Stephan and I walked out to the Mushroom 2 paddock where the newest calves are, to fetch Irene 35 and her bull calf and walk them quietly in to the yards.

Both Irene cows, mother and daughter, have Neospora. In consultation with one of our vets, we are embarking on an experimental treatment of the calves with a drug which is usually used to treat another protozoan parasite, Coccidia. This is an "off label" treatment, and there is no guarantee it will work, but there have been some studies done into the efficacy of such treatments which look positive enough to give it a go.

The calves will require a dose of their medicine for three consecutive days, so they and their mothers will have to live near the yards until that treatment period is finished.

Tuesday the 13th
443's calf

443 and her little grey daughter, born yesterday afternoon, just before we took Irene and her calf out of the paddock. The miniature animal at her left ear is 529, her niece.

The last heifer born to this cow was 516, who ended up being called the Heiferlump, due to the enormous udder tumour she developed. We killed and ate her at 18 months and it appears to have done us no harm. I hope this heifer will prove a better prospect for herd membership.

I was watching Imagen out the window this morning and the way she looked back over her shoulder at something made me go out and check, to find Isla recovering from another seizure. I now recognise the gentle swinging of her head from side to side as part of her post-seizure recovery. She was also dribbling saliva and then when she heard our voices, she walked forward and blundered into the electric wire around the garden wall. She's either blind after a seizure or so disoriented she has no idea what she's doing.
She had obviously not fallen right down - she was in a boggy bit of the paddock but she was not at all wet - so who knows how often she does this?

539 calving

539 had her calf this afternoon. She was standing around for hours looking uncomfortable before anything interesting happened.

I got my timing just right for this photo, catching the moment of the last push to expel the calf, and its fall to the ground. I much prefer it when they lie down for the delivery, so the calf gently slides out onto the ground, instead of all this disorderly violence!

539's calf

I don't remember seeing this little problem before: the tongue was sticking out the left side of the calf's mouth all through the delivery, but when he was out on the ground and breathing, his tongue kept falling out the right side. I presume he must have crimped a nerve so he was unable to control it. Fortunately it appeared to come right fairly quickly and he was up and feeding with all the appearance of success within the next little while.

Wednesday the 14th
cows and calves

Stephan helped me get the cows and earliest calves out of their paddock and in to the yards this morning and I weighed the seven of them. They're all around 40 - 50kg at present (100-ish lbs). I like to get a reasonably early weight so I can calculate daily growth rates from now until weaning. Because they're not tagged and I have all the time in the world, I put the lot of them in the large grassy yard, then peel off pairs as they become obvious, walk them up to the crush pen and then the calf onto the scales. It generally gives the calves a gentle and quiet first experience of the yards.

Later on the Irenes' calves had their third treatment and I put them in the other end of the cows' paddock, meaning to mix them with the rest of the mob tomorrow. They mix very quietly when they've had a few hours in the same paddock on either side of an electric tape.

Thursday the 15th

Queenly's blood result came back negative for Neospora, which surprised me. That's very good on one hand, supporting my theory on where Irene contracted it - i.e. not in her herd of origin at Taurikura, but at Takou Bay where she lived for a few years before coming here. (Irene, full name Taurikura Irene 698, and Queenly's mother Queenly 486 of Taurikura, were both sold at the Taurikura dispersal in 1999. If my Queenly 23 had been positive, I would have begun to wonder if the farm at Taurikura were the source of the problem instead of a later infection as I have assumed with Irene.)

A negative result only tells us what it wasn't, so Nathan and I discussed our next possible step and will now have the calf's samples tested to see if anything can be found that way. We may very well come up with nothing, but if there is something to be found, it would be better to know than not.

Demelza - 23 August Demelza - 15 October

The difference between these two cows? Seven and a half weeks. The picture on the left was one I took of Demelza on the 23rd of August, because I was surprised at the narrowness of her whole body, as well as her lack of condition. Two things changed soon afterwards: when Irene hurt herself, she and Demelza came out onto the flats where there was less competition for feed, and as August progressed, there was more and more grass growing, in that lovely warm month. Demelza is now keeping the bull company, since she'll be one of the last cows to calve this year.

Riding out to check the cows tonight, I disturbed the Paradise Duck family who were gathered somewhere on or near the track, and went dashing off across the track and then the field as I rode toward them. I haven't seen them for a while, having not had need to go near their usual area. The ducklings are about half the size of their parents now.

the back end of 529

I am not very happy about this. You perhaps aren't very happy I made you look at it. 529 might not be happy if she were likely to care about her nether regions being splashed around for everyone to see!
I'm not happy about it because it looks decidedly odd, dangerously like things are going to fall out when they should be very securely remaining in. I expect the calf at any minute, but I really hope it won't be accompanied by the uterus and whatever else is bulging there!

I was looking at 529 a couple of evenings ago and she had a long string of very fluid mucous of the type I only see when a cow is on the brink of calving, and she was acting very much as if in early labour. Then nothing happened. I have no idea if all is still well, but there wasn't enough sign of anything amiss to cause me to take her in and check.

Friday the 16th
moving the young cows

Every morning at this time of the year I get up at seven-ish and head straight out to check on the cows and heifers, and move their electric tapes so they have a bit more to eat. During the day I have a look at them every three or four hours, depending on whether or not there are signs of any imminent births - or if one of the two-year-old heifers is due, my checks are strictly three-hourly or less. My last check is around 11pm - and again, if there's any sign of action at that stage, particularly in a heifer, I'll probably check during the night as well.

I contemplate my intensive sort of cattle watching sometimes, comparing it with other people's reports of their own practice. I hear stories of people who lose cows during or as a result of calving problems (lose, as in they die) and am thankful I've not been in that position. But if I weren't as careful with them I might, for instance, not have known that Queenly was in labour in the not-yet-calving paddock the other day. Eventually she would probably have given up trying to expel her dead calf and any sign of her labour would have gone from her back end. The first sign of trouble would likely be my finding her standing off alone somewhere with her ears down, looking and feeling dreadful, with a rotting calf inside her, making her increasingly ill. While some dead calves are successfully removed, it is often the case that by the time they're found, they're so badly decomposed that the cow's health is beyond recovery. I can see how easy it would be to miss the signs of trouble in a pregnant cow, but I'm determined to keep the chance of that to a minimum.

I've been writing this page during its own week, rather than rushing to catch up afterwards, bearing in mind there are some people who may be keen to read some up to date news, especially in regard to one particular cow. At lunchtime I had a look at my Calving Date Calculator (below), a spreadsheet I run from year to year, with the cows' calving period start and end dates, along with the date upon which I calculate they will most likely calve. That date depends on their average gestation in other years, their own gestation when they were born if they've never calved before, and the gestation data of the sire in question. 367 and 525 calved on the 3rd of October to a bull whose gestation data suggests his calves would arrive two days earlier than the breed average gestation. Because I had expected both those cows to calve on the 5th, I then went through and took two days off all the other cows which are expecting calves to that same bull, ARR39. As you will see, my strike rate is pretty bad. So far I've guessed one date correctly.

Calving Date Calculator

Any questions? Please feel free to ask. As you will see, I expect Isla to calve tomorrow. But I expected a lot of cows to calve on a lot of days they didn't.

529 and V36 (Delilah) are suspiciously tucked into the early part of the list and I'm beginning to wonder if Delilah is actually in calf to a bull (as opposed to the insemination sire I have listed). Nathan and I looked at the ultrasound scans of all these calves and agreed on their size at that time, but Delilah is theoretically now at day 288 and showing no particular sign of getting on with producing her calf.

529 in labour

529 started looking a bit suspicious the next time I went out for a look and a little later had produced a foot. Just one.

I tried to have a feel inside to see if there was another one there, because one foot on its own isn't a very hopeful sign, and couldn't feel anything. So I went away, set up all the gates ready to walk 529 to the yards if necessary, popped in at home for a quick bit of lunch and then Stephan and I walked back out so we could bring her in.

529 and calf

Happily, by the time we arrived, she had produced a second foot, which looked reassuringly like a front one.

The calf was born without too much bother, without being followed by any of the innards of his mother, and was up and looking for a feed in fifteen minutes.

529 and calf

A little later, all cleaned and dry, his colour is more obvious.

The ninth annual Isla's Calving Date Competition is now closed. Click on the link to see the entries received.

Isla Isla

And now, at 10.50pm, I will upload this page and go out into my fields to check my cows.