The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 24th of October 2009.
Saturday the 24th
561 and calf

What a lovely warm first morning for a baby! Heifer 561 and her first calf, born last night.

561's calf

The calf had a very determined look as she passed the meconium (first bowel contents after birth). The next lot will be bright yellow, once her first feed has been through her system.

478 and calf

Calves hide. It took me ages to find this one, because he was behind the trees, well beyond the electric tape behind which his mother was grazing - or in fact watching intently, as I moved around where she knew her calf had gone!

calf sleeping in a drain

This one had been easier to spot, her mother having been standing looking intently in the direction she knew her calf had gone - across the track and down into the dry end of a drain, out of the wind.

Just after noon I saw 488 through the binoculars from the house, with a couple of little white spots indicating feet were on their way out. She very efficiently delivered her daughter, the second calf for bull #60, while I watched.

488 calving 488 calving

The calves' hips often come out in what looks like an awkward bulge at the end of the delivery, the rest of their bodies by then being firmly on the ground. The calf's legs were still inside her mother as 488 got up - that's why they're up in the air, my photo having caught the moment.

478, 561 and a calf

478, on the left, and 561 were both very anxious about this calf as it called from the trees. I thought, as did 478, that it was hers, but it turned out to be 561's little heifer. 478's calf, as pictured above, was still curled up under the trees.

five pregnant cows

These are the last five to calve from the imminent-calving mob - Abigail and Demelza are still off on their own, keeping the bull company. The uncalved cows are the easiest ones to draft from a mob, so they go on to a new paddock, leaving the calved cows with the last of the grass in the paddock they came from.

a bald bum

525's calf now has a bald patch where she was scouring, although she looks fairly dry and clean otherwise. Scours sometimes badly affects the hair and skin of calves. The hair will grow back again over the coming weeks.

a hatching turkey chick

We spotted a turkey and a couple of chicks this evening, down in the paddock in front of the house. They may be the last turkey chicks we have from the now-dead male, and they didn't look quite as lively as they needed to be to keep up for much longer with their mother, so I grabbed them.

Just before dark, Stephan said he thought he'd locked up a sitting turkey in the chicken enclosure, so I went to see if I could identify and release her and in the process discovered a very cold little chick on the grass and a nest of cold eggs - the sitting turkey appeared to have abandoned the nest much earlier in the day.

I picked up the cold chick and the one egg in which I could see a small hole and the slightest movement of the little beak inside and took them home and over the next few hours as they warmed up with a hot-water bottle and the company of the other two, this chick continued to hatch.

Sunday the 25th
milk trail on the grass Quanda's leaking udder

Walking up the hill in the Back Barn paddock I spotted this milk trail on the grass. Quanda 09 was nearby and it didn't take long to discover where the milk was coming from. The calves are not big enough yet to have established equilibrium between their appetites and their mothers' production, so sometimes the cows leak.

the grey herd

What black cows?

All six grey cattle in this mob happened to be lined up together this afternoon. That the three grey cows and the two white-faced cows have all produced calves which match their colouring, makes counting the calves far easier than it is in years when they're all black!

a Clematis seed head

I've been waiting to see one of the Clematis vines in flower and this evening noticed some fuzzy whiteness in the right location - fuzzy presumably partly because my eyesight is beginning to lose clarity. But the other reason, it would appear, is that the vine I've been watching is female, so has smaller flowers than a male vine would and here is a seed-head to prove it. The flowers are always at the top of a Kanuka tree, so I've never really looked very closely at them, merely remarking that the vine was in flower.

Flax flower buds

We've been watching the flower spikes emerging from lots of the flax bushes around the garden, and these ones are about to bloom.

Orchid buds

The orchid buds look ever closer to blooming ...

Monday the 26th
Turkey chicks

The turkeys are under a desk-lamp in a Topmilk bin in the spare room, so Finan can't eat them.

It poured with rain during the day, so Stephan spent some time in the shed building another hen cage so the hen and chicks can graduate to a larger space and the turkeys can have the littlest cage.

Around 6pm Imagen was obviously in labour and Stephan wandered up the paddock to watch her progress - she's his housecow, and is carrying his future housecow calf, the product of the sexed semen Jersey straw I bought last year. We've both been anticipating this moment with some excitement.

Stephan watching Imagen Imagen watching Stephan

I couldn't decide if this was Imagen being perturbed by Stephan's presence because he's not usually present at these moments, or that she'd recognised him as her pseudo-calf from last year, the other harvester of her milk.

Imagen and calf

Imagen delivered her calf at 6.30pm while standing at the top of a slight slope, so the poor thing ended up bent over a lumpy bit of ground. I stepped in carefully (you never know what a cow's temperament might be at calving!) and pulled the calf around a little so she was in a better position for finding her feet - and confirmed with great delight that the calf is a heifer! The sexed straw had something like a 90% likelihood of producing a heifer calf, so we were aware we might have simply had a jersey-cross freezer beast being born today, had the 10% chance been ours.

Imagen and calf

The calf was up and looking for a drink within ten minutes. Imagen fortunately doesn't care that her baby is not a real Angus.

Tuesday the 27th

I went for my daily wander around the Back Barn paddock to check the cows and calves out there and coming down the hill, nearly trod on a rat! I have no idea what it was doing out in the open on a hillside, but it ran off to the nearest little stand of trees and disappeared.

cows and calves

Maybe the rat was simply sunbathing, like most of the cows and calves appeared to be doing.

367's calf

367's calf was lying fast asleep, in the middle of a dream. His eyes and tongue were actively moving while he was sleeping.

A Tomtit was flitting around in the trees beside the track as I walked home, but as usual it was too fast a bird for me to achieve a photograph. It's good to see them around though.

Imagen and her Jersey-cross calf

Imagen's calf is noticeably slighter in build than many of the others - although as she's not in the same mob, it's hard to gauge if she's actually much littler than some of those other calves whose spindliness I've noted.

Starling chicks

I wasn't quite sure how to get past this obstruction without causing fright, so stopped the bike and walked up to the calf. I try very hard not to frighten them early in their lives, because they obviously remember it so well if I do.

The calf's mother was in the Windmill paddock to the right, to which he soon returned, through the turned-off bottom wires of the fence.

At 11.20pm I found Curly 562 in labour, so she being one of my two-year-old heifers, I stayed to watch.

Wednesday the 28th

As I remained outstanding in my field, it became tomorrow, and away up the valley somewhere I heard a Kiwi! I thought they'd all been killed by dogs like the last one we found at the back of the farm. That same bird called again at 12.29. In the mean time there were a number of calls from another location a little closer to us, at 12.09, 12.12, 12.18, 12.25, 12.36, and then after a long period of silence, finally at 2.06am.

Curly's calf's tongue was visible by 1.30am, but she was making very slow progress. My torch battery went flat and at 2.15 I went home for a hot cup of tea and went back out again three quarters of an hour later to find her licking clean a safely-delivered calf. Later this morning when the sun was up, I had a better look and discovered it's a bull.

562's calf

When processing the photos I named this one Curlycalf, which made me stop and think for a moment. Curly Calf Syndrome (CCS) is the name some people are still using for Arthrogryposis Multiplex (AM), the defect for which I've had to test several of my cattle in the last year. This Curly was named by Stella as her favourite when she was a calf two years ago (Curly, not Stella) and so this is the Curly Calf. To confuse things even more, Curly does have a genetic defect (as far as I can tell) called Hypotrichosis, which gives her the odd coat - the charcoal colour when she was small and its curl and sparseness in places, as well as the lack of a proper tail switch. The condition has an interesting pattern of inheritance, of which I've forgotten the details, but half her calves will be like her and her mother and the other half will be normal like her son.

orchid buds

It can't be long now...

Jill arrived this afternoon for a short visit, so I took her with me on my walk to check the cows and calves, which are now in the Swamp paddock. The scours have begun - 545's calf is very wet around the rear. As usual I'll watch them and if they remain bright and alert and active, I'll leave them to fight their way through the course of the infection. Presumably this is again caused by the protozoa Coccidia.

Thursday the 29th
Stephan milking Imagen

It's milking time again! Imagen's pretty tight in her udder, so Stephan relieved it this morning - we don't want her to reduce her milk supply because it's not getting drunk, so even though we won't drink the product of these early milkings, it's still worth doing. The milk from the back half of her udder is a bit bloody, as well as still being mostly colostrum. It will clear over a few days.

Whatever amount we take off, that little calf won't go short!

Friday the 30th

Because I'm still trying to catch up on my sleep, I didn't get up until a little after 8am, about five minutes after some guy in Auckland drove a forklift carrying a container under the main overhead electricity feed wire for the area north of Auckland, and cut power to us all. Breakfast was not eaten until after 11.15am when the supply was restored! In the mean time Jill packed up and went home.

Later in the day we brought seven cows and calves to the yards, and were reminded why we really should get rid of the Muscovy ducks: one flew out of the river just as the cows came down the driveway and there was a frighteningly noisy stampede, as several of them attempted to run down and kill the duck, trampling over anything in the way, including their calves, one of which got hurt in the uproar. We sprayed a bit of iodine at her leg where it had been scraped and by the time we'd done the weighing she'd stopped limping.

Cows get really sensitive about the movement of other creatures they're not used to seeing all the time, when their calves are small. It's frustrating to have a deliberately quiet movement of animals upset by something as simple as the movement of a turkey or a duck.

The Muscovy ducks have been around for some years now and we kept the females (there are three remaining) just because they look nice and weren't generally causing much bother. But they'll have to go sometime as they get too old to remain healthy and active and because they're causing problems, I think the time may have come.