The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning 18th of April.
Saturday the 18th

Jude and the children all went home again this morning and a friend from Topmilk days arrived for a short and very welcome visit, which was a pleasurable early-afternoon interlude.

I over-sowed the first paddock for the year with Italian Rye seed, this time a cultivar I've not used before, by the name of Warrior. One of the other directors on the Board of Kaitaia Vets says he's used it and found it very satisfactory. His and our environments are somewhat different though, so it'll be interesting to see how it fares here.
While I was sowing the paddock, which took me about an hour, the cows and calves all stood around by the gateway into the paddock, waiting.

Sunday the 19th
cows, waiting

The cows and calves, having finished eating the grass in Mushroom 3, sat there and waited while I walked up and down Mushroom 1 paddock with my bucket of rye seed this morning.

cows moving to a new paddock

When I finished sowing, I opened the gates at either side of Mushroom 2 and they trotted across to the lovely lush grazing in Mushroom 1. The seed I had cast about, would mostly have slid down through the grass to the ground beneath and the movement of the cows walking and grazing would continue that process. Their walking around would press a lot of it into the ground and their eating the existing sward will allow the seed to germinate and come up into the light without too much shading - unless we have unseasonable warmth and the Kikuyu all kicks into action again.

There's still quite a bit of the rye from two years ago growing in these paddocks. It was Feast II which I sowed then, but I haven't been able to buy that cultivar this year.

These Italian rye grasses are supposed not to persist for very long, lasting only one or two seasons, so I am interested to see quite a bit of it still about. Our summers are perhaps not too hot or dry, and the way I farm the Kikuyu grass may offer them more protection than in some farming systems.

We had some visitors for afternoon tea, and we were therefore delayed in getting onto this afternoon's most important job: weaning most of the calves. The paddock they went into this morning was the last I could afford to feed the whole mob, or we will run out of grass.

Stephan and I walked the cows and calves down to the yards because I needed to do a three-way draft - weaning cows, weaning calves, and the rest. A mob of 87 animals takes a bit of sorting out, so by the time we finished, the light was fading quickly and we ended up moving the three mobs to their various paddocks in the almost-dark. Stephan doesn't like it, but I don't mind moving them around because I figure they can see better than I can and as long as there's enough background light to see a moving blob of black, I'm happy enough. But then again, I may just be trying to justify my disorganisation and lack of foresight.

Monday the 20th
weaning calves

The cows are in the Windmill Paddock and the calves are in our House Paddock (to the right in this picture). I always leave them on either side of some part of the fence, or a gate, which isn't electrified, so they can still touch each other when they want to. The new gate at the top of the House Lane (after we widened the gateway for the trucks carrying the track gravel earlier this year) is higher than the one into the House Paddock, so I let cows and calves have access into the lanes on either side. They make a big mess, but if they walk up and down the lanes, they make less mess of the paddocks.

weaning calves

By this afternoon the calves were getting somewhat unruly. A number of them had gone under the bottom wire of the two-wire fence along the drain, in their attempts to get closer to their mothers. I left them to it for a while, but by the early evening when I went out to check on them, the drain had become quite muddy and I worried that with all the traffic in and out, somebody might slip in on top of somebody else and we might have a problem. And then all hell broke loose! The calves were getting really frantic, some trying to get under the gate, lots dashing in and out of the drain, so I had decided it would be sensible to shut the cows out of the lane and back into their paddock for a while.

Then, with the cracking of splintering wood, one of the calves pushed his way under the wooden rails at the end of the drain, into the lane the cows had just left, and was quickly followed by another calf. It wasn't an easy squeeze, and it didn't look like they were going to be followed by any others, so I chased them along the lane and safely into another area behind a gate, because if they were that determined, I doubted the three electric wires between the lane and their mothers would stop them for very long.

I then went back and stood guard at the end of the drain while attempting to call Stephan on my cellphone - I finally reached him and I don't think he could hear very much at all because of the incredible level of noise from all around me, as the cows and calves bellowed their desire to be reunited. Stephan brought a spare gate, bits of wood, nails, hammer, rope, and we cobbled together some repairs to stop the calves from getting into places they ought not to be.

I decided it would be prudent to leave them in their separate paddocks for the night, since being able to have some contact through the lane gate did not appear to be settling them down at all!

Tuesday the 21st

There was all sorts of chaos this morning. The first thing was a report from Stephan that he'd found Isla standing in the lane, apparently having fallen through the fence from the weaned cow mob and into the shallow drain. She had mud all over her right side, including her face and right ear. I had a look at the area where the insulators had been broken off one of the fence posts and found bits of hair and the pressed mud of an animal lying down. She has obviously had another seizure.

One of the heifer calves got through two fences and back to her mother! It turned out that the bottom wires of the first fence were disconnected from the rest, so they weren't actually electrified. I'm surprised we didn't lose the whole lot of them and have to re-sort them all.

Little 604 had a nice long drink, then settled down for a snooze with her mother, at which point Stephan and I came along and disturbed her in an attempt to get her back out of the paddock. But that simply wasn't going to happen as far as any of the cattle were concerned because the cows had decided I was in the paddock to move the electric tape so they could have some more grass, and none of them would go back toward the gate where we might have drafted the heifer out of the mob again.

a lone heifer calf

I can tell when I'm beaten, so decided that a heifer getting back to her mother didn't matter as much as one of the steers doing so, the steers being the ones I need to have weaned and quietened down in time to go on a truck in a few days. So we shifted the tape, the cows all had a nice munch ... and then the naughty calf went under the tape and out into the fresh grass beyond!
She seemed very happy out there and when the cows had eaten most of their new grass I called them back to the gate and moved them out of the paddock and along the lane to another, and the calf didn't even look up. See, I'm still smarter than my cattle!

We took the tape down and let the other 32 calves into the paddock with the naughty heifer, and all was in order again. Marvellous.

Below is the mess they left behind. On the left is the drain and our various hole-patching attempts to stop them getting into and then out of the end of it. On the right is the top of the House Paddock where the calves spent last night calling through the fence, across to their mothers in the other paddock. The clean green grass in the right photo is the bit of the Camp paddock leading to the lane, and beyond that is the Windmill Paddock, where the cows were and the calves now are.

weaning mess weaning mess
weaner calves

This afternoon the calves are all full of grass and a lot quieter and more settled than they were 24 hours ago! Some of them have become quite hoarse, which cuts some of the noise.

weed seed source

Having discovered the probable identity of the plant the cow-carried seeds are from, I went hunting for it this evening.

This is the little patch of plants I found - and I would likely not have spotted them had I not been specifically hunting for them. They have, as I had read, died back and were therefore quite hard to spot amongst all the other weedy plants in the area.

The picture on the right, below, looks pixelated, but it is the slightly out-of-focus hooks on the seed prongs which make it appear so.

Beggar's Tick Beggar's Tick
yearling Kauri seedlings

A year ago, give or take a few days, these two little trees germinated from seeds Stephan found for me. I don't know why they're different colours, having grown next to each other in my greenhouse, in the same potting medium.

I phoned and spoke to one of the vets during this morning, because I need to find out what's wrong with Isla. Today's seizure is the third I've seen, the second in less than two weeks. Chris will come out tomorrow afternoon to have a look at her.

Wednesday the 22nd
cows grazing

I sowed another paddock this morning. In the picture the cows have just come into the newly sown paddock, to chew down the grass and trample the seed into the ground. The paddock on the right, from which they've come, I'll sow on the next time they go around. I'm trying to achieve clean-up of the Kikuyu without putting too much pressure on the cows - the first-time calvers are still in the mob and a couple of them are looking pretty light, so until I draft them out of this mob, I won't push them too hard.

What that means is that I'm moving the cows around quite quickly, without making them stay and eat every last bit of green in the paddock. A fast move with a large mob means they all get something fresh to eat regularly, but there are enough of them to do a reasonable job of tidying up a paddock. When they are a smaller mob I'll start using electric tape to divide paddocks and put a bit more pressure on. The pastures become untidy during the summer when the cows and calves are in full production mode and I don't want to hold them back by making them chew the grass right down. There's also a balance to be achieved in there being enough plant material left to maintain good growth and not exposing the soil and remaining plants to too much heat and evaporation when there are long periods without rain. Then in the autumn the Kikuyu goes into its stolon growth period and romps away.

Vet Chris came this afternoon and gave Isla a once-over, pronouncing her in great shape, without any obvious indication of the cause of her disorder. He listened to her internal rumblings, donned a long glove and examined her internally via that handy entrance beneath her tail, we put her in the head bail so he could have a good look in her mouth and then he took a blood sample. That will tell us whether she's suffering any sort of liver problem, which could contribute to the neurological signs I've been seeing.

I had also brought two other cows in for examination. One was young 548 who has had a sore foot for the last few days. Chris thinks she has a new type of footrot they've been seeing around the place lately, which looks very much like the scald we see in the sheep in wet and warm weather. She's to have a daily injection of Penicillin to help her fight that off - and Chris says she ought to be isolated from the rest of the herd until it clears.

The other case for treatment was that of 418, who seems to specialise in disorders of the mouth! (She had a lower-jaw swelling caused by the Woody Tongue bacteria a few years ago - pictures here and here.) This time she has a marked swelling in her muzzle, which I noticed a few weeks ago because of the odd deviation of her top lip.

treating 418

We put her in the head bail, which generally requires a bit of pushing from behind by Stephan, while I hold the lever which opens the head bail, until the cow puts her head through the gap and I raise the lever, bringing the wood on either side of the animal's neck in so that she is caught and held. The vet's nose pliers have a smooth metal ball at each point, so the animal may be held by that sensitive, but strong area, which keeps the head reasonably still. Chris had also given her a sedative injection so that by this time she was making soft snoring noises and looking pretty sleepy, although still quite steady on her feet.

In the picture Chris had plunged a needle into the swollen area and pulled the plunger to see what might come out of the swelling. The appearance of pus confirmed there is infection and that draining the abscess would be the appropriate treatment.

From then on things got rather more unpleasant to watch. Chris made a deep cut in the bottom of the top lip into the swollen area, where we could see what may have been the entry point of whatever has caused the infection, and then attempted to wash out the muck from inside. It didn't drain particularly well - probably because of the thick rubberiness of the skin in that region. Eventually he cut a small hole at the top, where it was apparent the abscess was likely to break out, had it not been treated, with the intention of inserting a drain to keep the holes open for a couple of days. The drain was simply a piece of cloth pulled through and knotted on the outside of her lip.

418 was a bit distressed at some points, but when we let her out she quietly stood and dripped. Chris advised we keep her in the yards for an hour or two - I certainly didn't want to try and take her back across the bridge while she was wobbly! In the end we put her and 548 in the neighbouring Pig Paddock, since they'll both require further treatment over the next few days - 548 for a daily shot of Penicillin, and 418 to have the drain removed on Saturday. Isla went back to the House Paddock with Imagen and Bella.

Thursday the 23rd

Not a particularly good picture in dim light, but it shows the drain in 418's nose. The cloth was startlingly red yesterday, but after a rainy night's grazing in the wet grass, it has been washed clean again. The swelling is, unsurprisingly, a bit larger today than before we cut and messed around inside her lip. 418 seems unconcerned and is not particularly disturbed by my being close to her head today, so can't have been too traumatised by the whole procedure.

I was interested to observe yesterday, that 418's teeth have realigned properly after the infection of 2006 - except for the last incisor to erupt, on her left side, which has always been at a right angle to its correct position. I wonder if its placement was affected by the timing of that earlier infection, when her teeth were still growing into place?

I sowed Flat 4 today, a paddock which hasn't been very productive over the last few years. I had Ryan give it an extra-heavy application of Lime in the hope I can get it to come right. There's something about the soil and environment there which is not optimal for grass growth.

At some point I mean to take some soil samples from these poor areas and have them analysed, which might shed light on what in particular is not well. Earlier soil tests of the whole farm tell me there's unlikely to be anything major revealed, other than that the soil is probably still quite acidic in some places. The further application of Lime may be all that is required.

Friday the 24th
weaner calves in the lane

I had to move the weaner calves today because the cows needed to go into the Camp paddock. If I didn't move the calves first, I could foresee all sorts of trouble with them trying to get through the fence to the riverbank and then across to their mothers.
Weaners can be quite difficult to get moving, having been used to following their mothers around, rather than moving as a group of animals their own size. Lanes, as I often say, are wonderful!

Isla's calf is now only miming bellowing for his mother: he goes through all the motions, but there's only the noise of his breath as he tries to call to her. Much better for my ears and he'll recover again in a couple of days.