The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning 25th of April.
Saturday the 25th

Rain. Lots of rain. When there was a bit of a break, we went over to the yards, gave 548 her last shot of Penicillin and removed 418's nose piercing drain material. I left them to graze around the yards area, just in case the river comes up really high, which might flood the Pig Paddock where they've been grazing.

Sunday the 26th
cows walking through a flooded stream

Our water went off this morning, as it often does when this stream is in flood. The picture shows it in a far less flooded state than it would have been overnight and this morning, but it was still too high for me to cross without getting very wet gumboots. I decided to wait until the cows came to me instead. I wanted to give the two Irenes their homeopathic Viburnum spray, but only Irene senior came across.

Irene most-junior is still out with her calf in the other mob, but the river crossings in that direction are easier, because they go through the two separate tributaries to this part of the stream before they join.

Monday the 27th
fluffy kitten

For the last few days we've had a visitor. She's a very timid little thing, yet another kitten from someone's irresponsibly unspeyed cat, dumped on the side of the road somewhere nearby. We didn't see her anywhere until Stephan discovered her in the passageway from the side door, where she flashed into a corner and hid. I've been feeding her tiny meals of cat biscuits, presuming she hasn't eaten properly for a while and yesterday I managed to get hold of her and settle her down for a bit of comforting human interaction.

She's infested with lice, probably carrying fleas, one of which has bitten me on my middle and it's very itchy. She's exceptionally thin, but the more she eats the tamer she is becoming. She's very lovely, but we have three cats and we have said very firmly to ourselves for some time that we will have no more.

I feel enormous compassion for babies which have had a rough time from people and I feel very much like my death quota has been exceeded for the time being, so I phoned the vet and asked if they would have a look at her, thinking that I would have her quietly put down if necessary, or keep her perhaps, but that I could defer that decision for a day or two.

The vet receptionist said she would talk to the SPCA, but it turned out they weren't very keen to take her.

In the end it rained all day and we decided we didn't want to go out and into town in such horrible conditions anyway, so we kept her another night and I continued having kitten cuddles.

Tuesday the 28th

It didn't rain for four hours this morning, almost exactly the time it took us to go to town and home again. We took the kitten in and left her with the vet because they said someone had been in asking if they knew where they could find a fluffy kitten. I thought our little visitor might fit the bill. (I found out later that she's gone to live with someone we know, so maybe I'll ask if I can visit her sometime.)

Spice with a rabbit

This might explain why Spice is so disgustingly fat. She disappears for a couple of days and nights at a time, quite regularly, and I am fairly sure she finds a rabbit hole and camps there waiting for dinner. Sometimes she brings dinner home. Fortunately the big ones are usually dead by the time she gets here.

She's a fierce cat when she has a kill, growling her way around the house. Stephan got very brave and grabbed the rabbit - Spice leapt into the air with claws extended, in an attempt to catch it as it went - bagged it and put it in the freezer. Never miss a chance for a bit of trap bait!

Wednesday the 29th

Early this morning there was a whole lot of bellowing and odd noise out on the farm, but there was also a very thick mist, so I couldn't see what was going on when I looked out the window. I dressed and went out to see, but other than the calves all standing bellowing at their mothers again (after a few days of relative quiet), I could see nothing wrong.

Heading back towards the house, I realised the wrong thing was right in front of me: Isla in the lane again, slobbering and trembling. She was in recovery from another seizure and as I started to move her along the lane - I wanted to get her back into the paddock and away from any danger of falling into the drain on the other side of the lane - I realised she was still quite badly affected and not really in control of all her movements. She was walking very oddly, high stepping her front feet and wavering about, quite nervous. I got her safely along to the gate and into the paddock and she stood there for the next half hour or so before returning to grazing again.

evidence of a fall through a fence

Walking along the fenceline, I searched for evidence of her having gone through the wires and found it as pictured. There's a little bit of black hair on one of the wires and in the grass directly under the fence, a hoof print. Marks like that are reasonably easy to detect under fences, since nothing usually walks there and the ground, even if there's grass growing, remains undisturbed. There was saliva on the grass too, where Isla had gone down on her side - her face and ear are muddy again.

It is only eight days since Isla's last seizure. They're getting worryingly frequent.

weaner calves

The 17 steer calves are being picked up this morning, so we got them out of the top of Flat 1, and quickly herded them along the lane, carefully ensuring none of them made any attempt to sneak under the three-wire electric fence and back in with their mothers again.

Aubin, who picks them up each year for our usual buyer, arrived on time, took half of them away and then returned within half an hour for the rest. They all loaded up very nicely and arrived at the other end to find a great deal of grass awaiting their enjoyment.

weaner heifers

Sixteen heifer calves are now my reduced weaned mob, and they went back to the paddock they came from because it was raining far too much for me to think about doing anything more complicated until later.

two rabbits

I can't quite remember what I was doing out in the Bush Flat paddock - probably setting up gates for the cows to come here - when I saw these two.

Whatever they were up to, they weren't taking a great deal of notice of me, so I was able to get closer than I normally would.

Very observant viewers may notice I've done something to the photo - but only to move the right hand rabbit across so they would both fit in a nicely-sized photograph.

Thursday the 30th

I went over the road for the first time in a few days to check the young mob. The works heifers are looking pretty good. I still haven't heard when they're to go.

Friday the 1st of May

Isla, sporting a deliberately-applied facial mud-pack from rubbing her head on a bare slope at the end of the House Paddock. Mud from a seizure-induced collapse would not be as thick and would also be on her ears and body.

Isla's blood results came back indicating that there is nothing out of order with her liver, other than some mild damage probably caused by the ingestion of Ragwort, or the effects of Liver Fluke, neither of which we're able to eliminate entirely. Chris's advice is that the most likely cause of her seizure is some sort of degenerative brain disease or a brain tumour and that generally such a tumour would be growing and either cause would make her seizures worse and more frequent. He says he will obtain the forms for the submission of Isla's brain to the BSE Surveillance Team - there has been no BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) in this country, but we are internationally obliged to monitor for it and any farmer with a cow which shows neurological signs is encouraged to submit her brain for analysis. It later turned out that Isla will not be eligible because the upper age limit for the scheme is eight or nine years.

Because Isla is my favourite cow in the world, I decided it would be prudent to seek a second veterinary opinion, or further thoughts on possible causes of her disorder. It is not that I lack faith in the first opinion received, but that I don't want to make any final decisions on Isla's fate without exploring the possibility of there being less deadly afflictions. Having experienced receiving three or four versions of advice on our Neospora problem last year, which led me to make a couple of decisions I might have altered with later-discovered information, I felt it was quite reasonable to widen the net and cast about for the thoughts and experience of another vet. My second opinion provider said he had nothing to add to Chris's findings.

I uploaded a bit of video I captured of Isla's first seizure back in December last year, which you can see here, if you wish.