It's hard not to wonder how much animals perceive of their own situations. Isla and her calf were, like all the cows and calves, very affectionately bonded. Maybe little 92 knew his mother was unwell, maybe he was just licking her as usual.
It was tough watching him have what I knew would be his last feed from Isla today.
Once Isla was dead, Greg and Stephan went away to fetch some extra equipment. I stayed with her, looking at that so well-known face, with its eye now blank, something I've never really thought about for Isla. How could that face ever not be beautifully alive?
For some months I've been thinking about how I would arrange for Isla's death, knowing it was inevitable, and hoping it could be peaceful, which it was. I have also given a lot of thought to having her brain examined to see if we could discover the cause of her seizures and deterioration. It was that task I asked Greg to come prepared to carry out.
Stephan erected a tape to exclude the other cattle - Imagen and Isla's daughter Abigail in the picture - and Greg explained and began to do what he needed to extract Isla's brain.
I'm writing this on Christmas Eve and I still need to leave it for a while, although I wish to document it properly in time.
When Greg had left, Stephan got the tractor and dug a very large hole.
The cows were very upset. It would partly have been the smell of blood, but they'd also been visibly upset by the sight of Isla as she lay. If we'd not had to cut into her, I'd have left her lying where she was for the night, so the others could be near her and I believe they would have settled more quickly.
Abigail, in particular, kept calling to where Isla had been.
Fortunately, while taming Zella, I had also got quite close to Isla's calf, to the point that he would let me scratch him nearly anywhere. That meant he was happy to let me be near him today, and I hoped we could quietly get him to discover that milk now comes out of a red rubber teat, but he wasn't quite hungry enough - he very nearly grabbed it, as I dripped milk onto his nose! I know it would have been a real fluke if he'd discovered how to drink from a bottle with that little effort on my part, but there was a slight chance.
A bit later we came back with some re-heated milk and put him up the race with Zella and while Stephan held them in place from behind, I taught him to drink from the bottle. We had to do that once more in the evening, but by the end of that feed he was finding the teat again any time he had let it go.
The calf is nine weeks old, so this could have been quite a difficult feeding change to achieve, but so far so good.
Isla's calf took the bottle from me out in the lane this morning, which is fantastic. Two feeds to train him and he's away! He's obviously having a little trouble adjusting to the new feel of the rigid teat, and the way the milk flows from it, but I expect he will sort that out in time.
After spending a sad sort of morning doing unimportant things, I decided in the early afternoon to go and get the cows and calves in to give them their copper injection, which I ought to have done about a week ago.
The cows and calves are in the Mushroom paddocks and the heifers still in the adjacent Small Hill paddock and it occurred to me that it would be easiest to get the heifers in first. Nine of them came out into the lane and I waited to count the other nine as they walked along still inside the paddock, heading for the next gateway. There kept being only eight. Eventually I did a roll check and discovered Eva 81 was missing.
I walked along to the far end of the paddock, back again to check if she'd turned up to join the others at the other end, then went across the river and along the hillside through the scrub. I called and heard nothing, checked a couple of danger spots, and was heading back down the slope to go back to the start again when I thought I heard a quiet moo behind me. I was near the bottom of a gully, so headed back up the hill, feeling quite stressed!
I felt utterly desolate when I spotted Eva's head, the only part of her visible when I came through the trees and looked down on her. Here was my beautiful heifer, the best yearling of the lot, probably going to die.
And then I put my brave hat back on and checked her over: clean, so she might not have been there for very long; not smelly, which would be obvious if she'd been there for more than a few hours; and burping, so safely able to release her rumen gases.
I talked to her a little, stroked her head, walked back down through the scrub, taking particular note of where I came out, so I could find my way back to her quickly.
I sent a text to Stephan as soon as I had cellphone coverage, then went home for a spade and a pruning saw (in case I needed to cut roots as I dug) and returned to start carefully digging. These holes, called Tomo, are all over the place, caused by the water which wells out of the ground travelling down hill and scoring out its own paths, often causing holes and tunnels under the ground. I suspect that Eva or one of the other heifers was on heat and that they were trying to mount each other and somehow Eva fell back feet first into this hole and she went straight down!
I dug some of the clay soil away in front of her for a while, and could see that she was in a deep hole which then carried on underground down the hill, in the direction she was facing. I thought perhaps I could dig down so that what was effectively a bridge over that hollow area could fall in and then she'd be able to crawl out. But after about half an hour's digging, I realised it was more than I was going to able to do on my own and that if I didn't get help soon, it would be too late in the day to get the job done before dark.
I sent texts to anybody I could think of from the side of the hill, including Stephan twice more, since he appeared not to have received my first (he was out at Doubtless Bay again on the new trapping job). I thought of the Fire Brigade and the stories I've heard of crews in other parts of the country helping people get large animals out of sticky situations, so sent a message to Raewyn, who happens to be a volunteer Fire Fighter, to ask if the Kaitaia Brigade did such things?
Back at the house I phoned everyone I know who might have been able and available, but everyone is already off on holiday! So I phoned the local Fire Station, then the chief Fire Officer and asked if there was any chance he could find me some strong people with shovels?
Within the hour I heard a siren coming around the corner!
I led the way on the bike, all the way out to the big Puriri by the river crossing into the Bush Flat Paddock, where we stopped. The little red car following belongs to the editor of the Northland Age, who followed the Fire Brigade out. I can't say I was especially pleased to see him arrive, because this wasn't just an ordinary disaster today, it was a disaster on top of losing Isla, and I was just about at the end of my emotional tether!
Editor Peter Jackson wasn't wearing very sensible shoes for crossing the river, and clambering through the bush, so I told him I'd take some photos and send them to him later.
The rescue crew were fantastic. The officer in charge took my directions and everyone else did as he said, quietly, carefully and with exceptionally good humour.
Raewyn had come as part of the team and played "victim support" (for me, not Eva), which was a very nice touch. Stephan arrived home and came out to help, soon after they'd all started digging.
The guys dug as I'd begun to do earlier, and eventually went through the bridge of clay to the hole beneath. As Eva was released forward, they dug carefully down beside her to give her more width as well. There was then room to get a strap under her chest, and Stephan got down in the hole to slip a large fire hose under her back end still right down in the hole, and everyone pulled and lifted together and ... fell over as the hose slipped off.
With straps, hose and people back in place, they tried again, and Eva rose up, scrambled to her feet, and stood, looking rather wobbly. I was concerned to ensure she walked out in a safe direction, not straight down the gully and into the swamp at the bottom, but with all the people around, she was pretty pleased to clamber up the bank to her right and head along the hill and down to the gate.
We all walked back down and out of the paddock, Stephan slowly following Eva to get her out into the lane, and then I asked everyone to line up for a picture.
I am so very grateful to these guys who came and helped us, and to the organisation to which they all belong. They were so efficient, so willing and appeared to have enjoyed the unusual challenge. Raewyn told me later that the job made a nice change from their regular task of getting injured or dead people out of crashed cars.
This is one of the worms we found during the dig: if I spread it out on my desk, it would be longer than my keyboard is wide! You could throw these things on a barbecue and feed several people.
This was as close as Raewyn was prepared to get to it.
Last night I noticed Eva's right stifle area (just above where her back leg meets her body) looked very swollen and I was quite worried about possible muscle damage, but this morning she looks quite normal again. Just on dark last night, as I moved her into the top of the Flat 1 paddock to eat the best grass on the farm, I gave her the four-spray Arnica treatment for bruising and trauma. She'll get it morning and evening for the next few days. She could perhaps do with an anti-inflammatory injection, but I have Arnica here and that seems to work very well in such cases.
I have thought a lot about steer 356, who we rescued from a gully in 2004, and then took months to heal from the resulting muscle damage. I took a lot of pictures of the process - but don't look at them if you're squeamish or eating!
Hopefully Eva has not done that sort of damage, but I won't know for a few days, at least.
Ryan brought another load of lime out this morning and did some areas of the Frog paddock which didn't get any last year because we were a bit late and the rains had already begun, making the river crossings too wet.
Stephan and that trailer. If you put a water trough on a patch of grass, it will soon have a moat around it, particularly after the wet of winter as cattle come to drink and turn the ground to mud. Some of the troughs have nice gravel pads on which they sit, but only if there was gravel available at the time. Lots of them get it afterwards, like this one. The trough in the next paddock across (Flat 1) has a nice new lot of gravel which is now scattered all over the paddock, in the trough itself, or mounded up oddly because Imagen is a weirdly growly and aggressive creature whenever any other cattle pass her paddock, and has taken to pawing the metal with her front feet in a show of menace!
This is the Cabbage Tree we planted in May 2004. I took the picture particularly to note that the crown of the taller trunk now has multiple centres of growth, no longer just a single stem.
I brought the heifers in to the yards this afternoon to give them the copper injection they were meant to have yesterday, then drafted a couple of them off to go and join Eva in the safe paddock, to keep her company until I know she's alright.
Then we brought the cows and calves in to give the cows the copper shot, and to castrate the remaining commercial bull calves, now that I'm sure their numbers and identities are correct.
When they reached the part of the lane which is adjacent to where Isla died, they all stopped and there was significant commotion! They bellowed and growled and nearly all of them loosened their bowels, making a terrible mess. They get really excited about the smell of blood - I'm not entirely convinced it's a fearful reaction, because they don't flee; in fact it was darned hard to move them away!
So that they didn't all get too overwrought twice in one evening, and for the sake of the newly-uncomfortable bull calves, I put them in the Pig Paddock for the night, next to the yards.
Sometime not long after 6am I let the cows out and sent them on their way to the Back Barn Paddock, to get them out of the way before Ryan came with another load of lime. After spreading most of the load, he drove up a newly renovated track Stephan has been working on which has opened access to an area which hasn't had fertilizer or lime in all of my time here. A very satisfying job to see done!
Stephan's been mowing a strip of grass in the House Paddock in preparation for the Boxing Day Cricket match. It's going to be an interesting game, in light of the surface inconsistencies!
My sister Rachel arrived during the day and came with me when I went to make sure the cows and calves were all happily settled out the back. As I walked around checking the cows' numbers, I looked back to see her sitting in the grass, looking up to the beautiful bush clad hills.
When I lived in the city it was these moments I dreamed of for myself. Now I live here, I like seeing other people able to share the enjoyment of this wonderful environment.
Come and visit!
I managed to distract Imagen this morning after Stephan had milked her and I'd given the calf his bottle, so that he could get a bit more milk direct from the source.
Rachel, Stephan and I went to town. Going to town on Christmas Eve is not something we planned to need to do, but with the other things which have happened in the last few days, we didn't manage to get there before. We managed a surprisingly quick visit, town not being quite as madly busy as it often is on this particular day. Perhaps our timing was very lucky, or maybe it was the result of many people not having as much money to spend this year.
In the evening Jude, Roger, three children and Jill arrived. We took the children for a quick walk, fed them, then Jill read them a story before they were all packed off to bed. They left a Christmas mince (fruit) pie, a drink, and a carrot in the living room, apparently expecting a visitor.
There were little bits of carrot on the living room floor this morning - apparently left by reindeer.
The first thing you have to do on Christmas morning is milk the cow and feed the calf! Some small people came for a walk, since they needed distracting from a ridiculously large pile of brightly wrapped parcels under a very small pine tree in a pot.
I wasn't sure last week when I saw raised spots on 528, but now the hair has fallen out, those spots were definitely the early stages of ringworm.
Rachel preferred a sunny pool in the river to the pond at the bottom of the garden, so took everyone with her for a swim during the afternoon.
The three children had received an obscenely large collection of expensive toys for Christmas.
We had found them each an inflatable ring and a beachball. The beachballs were tremendous fun.
In the early evening we ate glazed ham and four different sorts of salad and had brandy-flamed Christmas pudding for dessert.