The Farm in Diggers Valley

The beginning of 2009
Thursday the 1st of January
Delilah and friends

Delilah 36 was on heat late last night, so we brought her in early this morning. She and her companions in this picture (I always bring at least two other cattle in with a hot cow), were waiting while I collected some supplies, before we carried on out to the yards.

Last year when Delilah was on heat I decided to avoid having to inseminate her and shoved her in with one of the bulls instead. But this year I have to try and get her done, despite her obvious dislike of my close proximity. In the race she was very difficult. I managed to get one third of the semen deposited where it should be and then she dropped down in the race and I had to get out of the way in a hurry to avoid injury. The rest of the contents of that straw went on the ground and she has a black mark against her name ... I'll decide what that might mean later.

The cow I inseminated late the same evening, despite being another I can't touch in the paddock, was very quiet and still.

Stephan and Mary in the pond

Water Wings? Mary got a bit too close to Stephan's swimming progress! She likes him a lot, but she doesn't like me any more - just tries to bite me since I ran over her head.

We expected her to have left with all the other Paradise Ducks (Putangitangi) for the annual moult, which they go off to complete somewhere around large bodies of water, I believe. She should have gone just after Christmas. I was, frankly, looking forward to her absence, so I could stop stepping in her deposits all over our deck and so I wouldn't have to watch out for her aggressive attempts on the backs of my legs.

Friday the 2nd
cattle crossing the road

The cows, calves and young stock in the Road Flat paddock had eaten all their grass and I ought to have moved them yesterday, so they were very ready to leave their paddock and head up the hill across the road.

bulls in the shade

This summer is as I remember the summers of my childhood: hot and sunny! The four bulls have been in the Flat 5 paddock which has no other shade than the old truck canopy, under which they could stand or lie if they chose, but which probably isn't cool enough for real comfort. I moved them into the Camp paddock, which is out of the way of passing cows and has lots of cool places to lie around. They appear to spend most of their time now lying under the trees and I hardly see them, unless I go and look for them there.

Kikuyu flowering

The Kikuyu, Pennisetum clandestinum, is in flower.

Orbweb spider

This is an Orbweb spider, crawling over my secateurs after I found it in a head of Ragwort flowers I was about to cut. I was fascinated by its patterned body - and not brave enough to let it wander around on my hand.


470, cleaning her nostril. She wanted to look her best, of course, for her insemination "date" in a couple of hours' time.

In the early evening I noticed one cow coming on heat. While I was checking them at 10.30pm another couple came on too, so tomorrow will be a busy day.

Saturday the 3rd

Up early this morning to discover two cows still actively on heat, another one about to start and yesterday evening's hot cow quiet, so needing insemination immediately.

Simon, mid-air

Coming back into the paddock after the first insemination I observed these cows: the two standing together are both in standing heat and both very alert to the approach of any other animal.

At noon I inseminated one of these two, leaving the other until later, since she only started standing this morning.

We went to a wedding at 3.45pm, dashed home for an hour at 4.40pm, inseminated 488 and 475 before we went back to the reception for 6pm. At 8pm we excused ourselves again, came home and inseminated grey 367, then went back for dessert and the rest of the party! Fortunately the wedding and reception were only a short distance away, in Takahue.

On some farms it would be quite acceptable to do one or two insemination sessions per day, but I like to time them individually and generally get a good conception rate by that method. Some cows are only "on" for a very short time, others for much longer and some occasions when I've counted on doing a cow in the morning when she's been on heat at night (which is the generally accepted timing), I've not been successful, and every miss means a three-week wait until the next heat. This year I've decided to do the job intensively and for a reasonably short time, so I need to get each cow's insemination just right.

Sunday the 4th
draining a water trough

In the hot weather, some of the water troughs have been growing huge amounts of slimy algae. The cows do a lot better with clean water, so I clean them when I notice the green stuff growing again.

I use this piece of wash-down hose to siphon the water out and vacuum up the gunk on the bottom of the troughs. Because we have endless water, I can afford to drain a 300 litre trough onto the ground whenever necessary, so we don't put anything into the troughs to keep them clean, just empty and scrub them as necessary.

I do not have to suck furiously on the end of the hose to get the siphon working. I put the whole hose into the trough until it is full of water, place my palm firmly over one end to keep it full as I bring that end out of the water and onto the ground, at which point the end is again lower than the water level and the siphon works.

Monday the 5th
post-oestrus blood show

This is the back end of #475 showing evidence of post-oestrus bleeding. I have been a bit surprised this year at the amount of blood some of them are producing after being on heat; I don't recall seeing as much in other seasons, although that shown in this picture is quite common. The blood is commonly seen a couple of days after a cow has been on heat.

I understand the blood occurs as a result of the sudden change in oestrogen levels and it gives no indication of the success of mating or not, but if you see it and the cow hasn't been seen in standing heat and you were waiting to inseminate her, you're too late and need to wait another 19 days or so (in a normal 21-day cycle).

Tuesday the 6th
449 416

449 and 416 went to the works today. 449 was the first of the cows to abort her pregnancy last year and later tested positive for Neospora infection. 416 was the cow with the bit of stray membrane, which ended with the vet-delivery of dead twins a few weeks later, back in September.

I had high hopes for 449, because she was such a good first-calf heifer, but since her mother slipped two pregnancies, I'm not keen on keeping 449 to see if she does the same thing. Apparently some cows will develop enough immunity to their Neospora infection to carry all subsequent calves to term after an abortion, but with an indication that her family may not, I chose to cull her. (Her daughter, 549, is in the cull mob until she weans her first calf, then will also go.)

416 has been a lovely cow, quite quiet and strokable, which I always enjoy. But this calving problem is her second - her first was a breech presentation of her first calf. Her full sister, 371, had an odd delivery in the calving before this last one, so I have become a bit suspicious of their internal features. I will let a cow get away with something odd once, but a second time generally causes me to think it would be better to send her on her way.

heifer 81 eating blackberries

Demelza's daughter, delicately picking blackberries. They don't seem to care if they're ripe or not; perhaps there's enough sugar in them for bovine taste-buds by the time they redden. Ivy used to chomp down lemons with great enthusiasm, which might indicate a lack of sensitivity to sour taste.

sick calf

This is 591, son of grey 443. Yesterday I noticed him looking down in the dumps and have been checking him regularly since then. His left ear in particular is drooping and he appears to have a little liquid discharge from it, which is most unusual. I suspect he may have suffered a head injury, perhaps from a kick, or he might even have been trodden on by a hot cow - they have very little care when they're in the middle of their hormonal uproar and trying to ride any other animal nearby. There is no obvious external sign of injury, there is no other observable sign of illness, he appears to be in good health in other respects but seems inclined to rest. In this heat I am going to let him do just that, since a vet visit would require a hot walk and waiting around in the yards, along with the stress of close handling.

Wednesday the 7th
a beautiful, clear day

I love the quality of the light at this time of the year. Everything seems so crisp and clear, and you can see for miles. After that hellish winter, these long hot days are bliss.

This evening I drafted the first twelve animals inseminated out of the main mob and sent them to the back of the farm with one of the bulls. I selected #60 because he's Irene's son and I like her a lot (I mean the sort of cow she is in body, temperament and so on) and because I'd like to try the young bulls out, rather than to reuse one of the older bulls - they all have an equal chance of being clear of the genetic problem we're waiting to test for. Delilah is one of the cows I'm not prepared to inseminate again, so if she needs another go, the bull can have her and I thought #60 would be a better choice than her half-brother #63.

I had a fairly unpleasant time inseminating grey 443, who has taken exception to me being near her ever since we had to take her to the yards several times to attempt to fix her daughter with the udder tumour a couple of years ago. She violently whipped her tail around while I was doing the insemination, catching me around the head and face! In any other year, this sort of cow would have gone directly to the bull.

Late night checks (usually around 11pm) on the cows can be very worthwhile in regard to heat detection. On a number of occasions I have walked into a dark paddock of recumbent animals and as I've wandered around checking under their tails for signs of approaching fertility (mucous changes are indicative), a cow or heifer will quite suddenly prick up her ears, get up with an appearance of great urgency, and begin walking briskly around the paddock sniffing other animals and looking about, presumably for a bull. Any others who are nearly at the same stage in their cycles will notice her demeanour and get up to investigate her, at which point standing heat is often observed to begin. A check early the next morning will either find her quiet again, generally with a very red indicator on her back, and ready for immediate insemination, or still actively on heat.

The other nice thing about the late-night checks is that sometimes I hear Kiwi calling out in the hills.

Thursday the 8th
591 feeding

591, still with drooping and dripping left ear, feeding well. He has spent a lot of time sitting around, but watching him bunting his mother during this feed, I think he's not in too much discomfort.

I check the cows three-hourly from around 7am until around 11pm, so I have been making sure I have a look at this calf each time as well, so that I'd notice any negative change in his behaviour.

Friday the 9th
sick calf, feeling a little better

Still that ear noticeably droops, but the calf is not losing condition, which I would expect if he was feeling really unwell. He seems a bit brighter today, although he still looks quite odd - his left eye moves in a strange manner, but I can't quite work out what's not working properly.

In the early evening he seemed much better, even quite comfortably licking his back, which he probably wouldn't do if he had a lot of pain in his head.