The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 17th of October 2009.
Saturday the 17th
Delilah and son

Delilah has succumbed to my psychological pressure - or the pressure from within - and produced her calf in the early hours of this morning on day 289 of his gestation. So she was in calf to the insemination bull after all. Her previous gestation average was 279 days, so I am surprised by the length of this pregnancy.

Quanda and another son

Will Quanda ever produce a daughter? Another bull calf from this easy-care cow.

This is the first GDAR Traveler 044 calf we've had born alive and without drama on this farm so far. The previous two were born backwards, the second the other day to Queenly, and the earlier one several years ago, to Lindertis 572 and the vet who delivered him was careless and allowed the calf's head to slap straight down on the concrete, which caused his death very soon after his birth.


This may not look terribly exciting to some people, but you can probably tell by now that I'm anticipating the flowering of this plant with great excitement. When it flowers, one of the orchid enthusiast visitors may finally be able to confirm its identity. My photographs last year weren't quite clear enough and by the time I enquired about the plant, it had ceased flowering.

Ruth on the bike

Stephan insisted he needed a photo of me after watching me ride along the lumpy track with this load of bins. I had just moved some of the yet-to-calve heifers and these are their molasses feeding containers.

Keeping the cows fed in convenient locations is my current aim. This afternoon I left the two most recently calved cows (Delilah above, and grey 529) where they were and led the others off to a new paddock closer to home. A little later I mixed another little group of five cows and their calves with those two I'd left behind.

It's far easier to keep an eye on the calving cows when they're all together as a mob, so I'm gradually combining the separate pre-calving mobs into one, and shedding off those which calve along the way.

418 calving

Across the paddock from where I'd stopped, I spotted 418 by the fence, but needed to take a picture and zoom it in to see what the light coloured spots were at her rear. They are the three very reassuring things I look for: two feet and a tongue.

418 and calf

The calf looked a bit startled about his sudden change in environment! 418 was the cow I discovered last year with an udder and no sign of what had happened to her calf, which had been born prematurely and presumably dead. She tested negative for Neospora.


Isla, looking like calving might be getting quite close.

Imagen and Isla get their Magnesium in molasses every evening and I've learnt that I need to water Imagen's down considerably so she can't slurp it up as quickly as she would if it were thick.

Isla eating molasses Imagen eating molasses

Isla, on the left, has a thick mix, allowing her to lick most of it up by the time Imagen has lapped up her liquid mix at a greater speed, but as there's more volume for her to deal with they finish at about the same time. It's important they have their own, because Isla's getting twice as much Magnesium, in the hope that it is helping to keep her seizures to a minimum. If Imagen finishes first, she shoves Isla out of the way and has hers too.

newly-hatched chicks newly-hatched chicks

These little chicks weren't expected to hatch until tomorrow, but here they are, six from six eggs!

Sunday the 18th
a chick under a hen

One of the new chicks, peeking out from beneath its mother hen. Its egg tooth is still attached to the end of its beak (it has a sharp, hard point, which is how the chick scrapes and breaks through the shell of the egg as it prepares to hatch). That will fall off in the next day or two.

Quanda 09 and calf

This is how little calves run: with their tails straight up in the air! At least that's how healthy, happy little calves run. If they don't put their tails up and tear around the paddock when they're two or three days old, there's something wrong with them. This is Quanda 09's calf, born yesterday.

I went for a walk this afternoon, hunting ragwort and then headed up to a patch of bush we've recently fenced off, because there are some epiphytic orchids at a height I knew I could photograph. But sadly the flowers are already finished. I'll have to wait until next year.

While there I pulled ragwort and looked around at the trees, attempting to identify a few more I may not have noticed before. I found some Rewarewa flowers, Knightia excelsa (left), on the ground - I took a photo a couple of weeks ago of an unopened flower in a tree. On the right are the berries of Supplejack, Ripogonum scandens, an epiphyte in a number of the trees in the area.

Rewarewa flower Supplejack berries

Crossing a swampy area where a trickle of water comes down from the back fence, I took this picture of Parataniwha, Elatostema rugosum. It is now a very pleasant desktop picture on my computer!

Cabbage Tree remnant

The Cabbage Tree remnant I photographed last December. It is now more difficult to see that it is the regrowth from the ground-level remains of an old tree.

Monday the 19th

When I shifted the electric tape this morning to offer Imagen and Isla some new grass, Isla remained standing where she was. I suspected that was a significant sign of impending calving.

We walked another mob of little calves in to the yards this afternoon to weigh them. After I'd put a few of the calves over the scales, I went down to fetch 545 and her focused attention on something down the driveway made me look for its cause. There was a possum at the base of the Puriri tree, being dive-bombed by Kingfishers. It's unusual to see healthy possums out in the daytime, but this one looked no more than a bit sleepy. Maybe it turned around in its sleep and got too close to wherever the Kingfishers are nesting and they made it fall out of bed?

calf stuck in a tight spot

A couple of the calves were so tired out by the walk along the tracks that I left them for the rest of the afternoon and overnight in the Pig paddock, where they promptly curled up and went to sleep.

But there's one in every crowd, isn't there? If there's a wrong way to go around a gate, some calf will discover it. I should know by now that I need to hook or prop such gates so they're tight against the fence when the calves are coming through.

At 6.45pm Isla started the characteristic circling of a cow in labour. With my heightened anxiety about her seizures, she seemed to take a very long time, but I think her labour progressed quite normally. I asked Stephan to have a rifle loaded and ready, should the labour set off a seizure from which she didn't recover, but fortunately that was not needed.

Isla and her bull calf

I helped her a little at the end, by pulling the calf once his shoulders were through, mostly to get the process over and done with as quickly as possible.

At 8.12pm her bull calf was born.

Half an hour later, after posting an initial announcement here, I went back out to check all was well and she'd pushed him through the fence. She's one of those cows. Some mothers are surprisingly rough with their calves, although it does seem to get them up and steadily on their feet pretty quickly.

Tuesday the 20th
Putangitangi chicks

I haven't seen these chicks for a while and am surprised by the change in them! They're nearly all grown up. And there are still five of them, so their parents have done a very good job again this year.

moving cows and calves

The cows and calves are moving very well this year - I think it's the increasing effect of the cows being quieter (tamer) and therefore less concerned about our proximity, so they get less frantic about their calves as we move them all, which makes it all go much more smoothly than when they're all turning around in circles trying to make sure their calves are beside them. It is still pretty slow around the corners though.

I moved the cows and calves from the Pig paddock and back out to new grass where they'd previously been, then put the mob of older calves and cows with them and hoped the grass would distract them all and there'd be no big upset. It all looked good for a while, but as we were leaving the paddock, there were a couple of skirmishes. Some of them haven't met each other since weaning.

Isla's calf

Here he is, the calf for which many have waited: Isla's son.

I am vastly relieved he's safely born.

Isla having a seizure

At 5.45pm, while I was serving molasses to the calving mob, I looked up and noticed Isla doing extraordinary things. She had twisted her head around and up to the sky and then staggered around - I took this photo just after she'd lowered her head, but was still moving around wildly. I feared she'd trample or fall on the calf, but thankfully she stayed away from where he was lying.

By the time I walked over to her, she was standing still, although every muscle in her body appeared to be trembling. How she remains standing through most of these fits I don't know. As usual she appeared blind and disoriented, banging her muzzle into the calf which was then standing in front of her, with every swing of her head. She recovered about eight minutes after I had first noticed her.

That Isla has had a seizure so close to her calving doesn't surprise me. Her reaction to the stress of a copper injection a while ago suggested to me that any sort of stress may be influential. Hopefully as her body settles down again, so will her brain. I'm currently calling her my epileptic cow because her fits are not obviously worsening, nor do they appear to be more frequent (under usual circumstances), as I was led to expect would be the case if their cause were a tumour or some degenerative brain disease.

Starling chicks

The starling chicks hatched yesterday and they're now open for service! Hopefully nobody delivers any mail to this mailbox while the birds are so vulnerably soft and small.

Wednesday the 21st
572's calf

There are so many cute little faces around at this time of the year. This is young 472's daughter.

529's calf

And 529's son.

525's calf

This looks like the sign of the first Coccidiosis case of the year. 525's daughter is 18 days old, which is the earliest one could expect to see Coccidia scours. I haven't tested her, so I cannot know for sure, but her symptoms and behaviour and the timing of the appearance of the problem all point toward Coccidia as the cause.

I was carrying the homeopathic Coccidia Nosode remedy spray bottle with me when I found her (Abigail and Demelza having begun their four-day course this morning), so I snuck up to her where she was lying in the grass and stroked her for a little while, then surprised her horribly by spraying her nose.
I repeated the process another three times, as per the instructions for acute treatment by homeopathic remedy. This calf is the daughter of a cow I didn't treat while she was pregnant, because she's not tame enough to get near.

I claim no connection between the observation of this calf and the fact that I didn't treat her mother. I use homeopathic remedies because the part of me which has faith in things we can't know but which seem to work sits somehow quite comfortably next to the part which waits to see the double-blind trial results demonstrating efficacy.

cows and calves

Later in the day I roused all the cows and calves and gradually coaxed them out of the paddock's gate, and into the lane, heading out the back to the Back Barn paddock.

We spent some time at the first river crossing while everybody worked out where their calves were and lots of circles were turned. Eventually 443 struck out on her own and was soon followed by her calf and the rest of the mob.

The leaders must have moved quite quickly from then on, because by the time I reached the next corner with the slowest pairs, there were a couple of spare calves, which were looking pretty lost and wanting to go back the way they'd come to find their mothers.

lost calves

After ensuring the two lost calves kept up with the last of the cows and calves, we all reached the paddock and those two calves still wanted to go back the way they'd come. In such situations I do my best calf-in-distress call impression and to my great surprise, the two mothers of the two lost calves were the two which came running back from the other side of the river. Sometimes that noise gets them all going! Apologies for the sun-strike stripe in the photo - it was a case of catching the moment despite the limitations of my position.

water cress

Water cress, sans water. This plant is growing in the middle of the track, as are a number of others I've noticed. They seem to survive when the tracks dry out, but they're by no means productive in this environment - although from the perspective of the plant, since it's carrying out the reproductive function of flowering, perhaps it has achieved meaning in its life.

Paradise Ducks

The little ducks over by the river sneak out onto the pasture when they know I'm not around. As soon as they see or hear me, they all dash back to the water.

Thursday the 22nd

Am I being a grumpy old fart being really irritated by this sort of thing? Our upwind neighbours often burn what smells like household rubbish including plastics and other foul artificial materials. Early this morning as I was getting ready to go out to check the cows, I saw the smoke begin drifting across the flats and knew that by the time I got out to the paddock, I'd be encased in this disgusting cloud. Because there's so little air movement, it hangs in the air for ages. This sort of thing is actually not permitted under Regional Council rules; I get tired of people doing whatever they think they can get away with so that the rest of us have to go and ask them to stop, or complain about them to some authority. Why are people so damned inconsiderate?

I actually left the farm for a couple of hours today! I went to a meeting. While I was out, nothing happened.

Paradise Ducklings

It looks very much to me as if the ducklings are all growing light coloured feathers around their bills. That would make all five female. Time, as usual, will tell.

Presently they all look like their Dad, but within the next ten days or so, at least two of them (or all five if I'm right) will have white heads, as their sex-related plumage changes.

Irene's son

I sat down on the grass to watch Dexie as she paced about during the beginning of her calving and Irene's calf came over to investigate me. He's been quite tame since we had to handle him so much in his first few days.

Dexie's daughter

Dexie's daughter a few minutes after her birth. Dexie is a tested carrier of AM, so this heifer will need to be tested at some stage. Her sire is GDAR Traveler 044.

Dexie's daughter

She's a tiny, spindly little thing!

478, whose calf died as I watched and couldn't pull him out last year when she was having a bit of a struggle, gave birth to a bull calf, this time successfully and without me watching.

Stephan pruning his blackberry bushes

I don't imagine this is something you'd see very often: someone pruning their blackberry bushes! Usually we're trying to kill and eliminate them, but this is Stephan's favourite jelly-making patch, being just across from the house, easy to get to, easy to pick and quite high-yielding plants. I think that all this year's jars of jelly came from the blackberries from this one fenceline.

Each year Stephan has said he'd prune out the dead wood, but this is the first time he's done so. He may be a little late in doing the job, the flowers already being out, but getting the dead prickly branches out of the way will make picking the berries this year easier than usual and perhaps he'll follow up with some proper pruning when the fruit is all gone.

Friday the 23rd

Stephan went tapping this morning and when he came home he said he'd caught nothing at all, but had his best day's trapping yet: he saw a Kiwi! He was clambering up a track to a bait-station he needed to fill and as he passed a clump of pampas, the Kiwi dashed out and up the track ahead of him.

This afternoon I found the mailbox starling chicks all dead. It looked like they'd been pecked to death, presumably by Mynah birds. Mynahs are very much the same size, nest in the same sorts of places, but they're quite fierce birds. They've never nested in this same place, so I don't know why they'd kill the starlings. I have wondered if Mynahs have been responsible for the occasional disappearance of chicks from the nest, but I've not seen this sort of carnage before.

Four of the cows in the Windmill paddock spent the day looking pensive and swishing their tails about. This sort of thing can be observed for some hours before calving, sometimes for a day or so. Ranu 31 had her calf at 4.55pm and was soon followed by 528.

528 and calf

I watched (and took video) as 528 calved. The calf arrived covered in and full of this hideous greeny gunk - as her chest was compressed on her way out, a couple of cupsful (imagine that!) of it came out of her mouth, before she began to breathe. Presumably it had been in her lungs. It seems that nasty coloured birth fluids are a family trait: I remembered and found my reference to the birth of 470, 528's eldest sister, who was born in a similar mess. Her next sister was also born green.

I've gone through the pictures and comments on the sisters' calvings and they appear to have ordinary coloured fluids, but 528 has obviously inherited the green gunk gene.

528's calf's foot

This is the calf's foot after she had attempted to get up onto her hind legs a couple of times. The protective soft cover over the ends of the hooves is very quickly broken down by contact with the ground.

561 and calf

I spent a nervous hour watching two-year-old heifer 561 tonight, when she was obviously in labour at 9.30pm. I have worried about her very narrow appearance from the rear, coupled with the fact that she's carrying the first of #60's calves and while he has a good set of easy-calving EBVs, the E is for Estimated and funny things can sometimes happen with genetics.

But by 10.06pm when I saw the nose, I worked out that the bulkiest part of the calf had progressed through the most restrictive part of its mother, so all would be well, and the calf was soon born without difficulty.
I was amused to see Irene, grandmother to both the heifer and her newborn daughter (561 is a daughter of Irene's son #26, and the calf's sire, #60, is also Irene's son) come over to help with the clean-up.

The ninth annual Isla's Calving Date Competition is finished, and the winner is ...

Isla Isla