In recent years I've been putting myself under some pressure to begin the cows' mating season at Christmas time, which means I have a lot to do in preparation just when there are visitors around, and other things to be done. After getting all ready last year, I didn't do the first insemination until the 28th and the first successful one was a day or two later. This year I decided I'll wait until about the 29th to start.
We looked out the window this morning to see some obvious heat behaviour across the flats, then realised it wasn't a cow mounting hot Abigail, but the bull! There was a decidedly bent gate over which he had bounced, and he was having a great time. We soon put a stop to that nonsense, sending him back to his paddock and then putting a couple of strands of electric tape in the way of his getting back to the corner where the gate is again. He respects the electric fences very well, and I'm not giving him another chance to prove to himself that gates don't stop him.
So mating, despite my plans, has begun. I did not plan to have Abigail in calf to the bull again, having a nice straw from a far-away bull with her name on it, but they've beaten me to it!
We're expecting a whole lot of the extended family to turn up with their tents, so Stephan dug a hole for a long-drop toilet and then built a little building to go over it - privacy, comfort, you get it all around here. There's also a lovely view out of the doorway. Maybe not quite as much privacy as some might like.
Louie got a builder's tool set for Christmas and so he was out there helping. He's a lovely child, just turned four.
This was a purchase we made on Christmas Eve: a Swing-ball set. I wasn't really sure if it was worthwhile or not, but proved to be one of the most entertaining things around. Rachel and Jude spent ages having some sort of duel, working out their sisterly frustrations, until Jude had to give up because her arm hurt - although that didn't seem to prevent her taking part in a rematch later! All of us had a go, generally accompanied by much laughter. I'm glad we bought it.
Stephan had built the usual shade over the deck and we'd put an old couch outside under it, which was well used.
Lots of nieces and nephews arrived and of course were soon in the pond. The uncles and dads are lovely with the little kids, swimming them around so they can safely join in the fun.
On the left is Kerehoma, being propelled by Uncle Simon; on the right is Sean, being pushed along by his Dad, Mathew.
This was the hit of the holiday: a little old P-class yacht from Erika's place down the road, with a holey bottom quickly patched by Stephan over the last couple of days. There were children in it the whole time!
The Boxing Day Cricket game, played by anyone who wanted to join in, whatever age and size they were.
Afterwards much food was cooked on the barbecue, with an abundance of Tuatua (local bivalve shellfish) for those who like them. We suspect that one small person liked them rather too much and they didn't like him quite as much later on in the evening!
There was more swimming by some people, and tents were erected ready for the night and a good time was had by all.
Then things went a bit awry in one of the tents as dinner returned in an unpleasant fashion, and smelly wet bedding and lots of children were bundled into their vehicles and went home.
We took the remainder of the party out to separate Imagen and Zella and to feed Isla's calf - who had a very nice time accepting lots of attention from the visitors! Simon obviously had just the right touch.
(Aunt) Miriam and (nephew) Dylan, deep in conversation, looking very picturesque on the pond.
When it was dark we took the remaining young people for a walk up the road to see the glow-worms, which are looking quite fabulous along the banks near the river.
The moon was full, so Miriam, Simon and Dylan climbed to the high point over the road, long known to their family as Thistle Hill.
While people were eating breakfast this morning Simon appeared with a bag full of ragwort flowers: he'd been out for an early walk and had been doing some very useful work. What a marvellous chap!
Miriam fed the calf for me this morning. There are suggestions we could call him Tyler (T'Isla?), which is a very good sort of idea, except I fear a named calf will be harder to let go when the time comes. I think he'd better just remain Isla's calf, or 92.
When everyone had gone home or on to their next holiday destination, Stephan and I made hay while the sun shone. A couple of days ago, when mowing the cricket crease, he had cut the long grass on the back lawn, which included rather a lot of lovely red clover. Thinking it might make nice hay if we extracted the carrot weed flowers, I turned it a couple of times to ensure it was nicely dry, then we bagged it for storage.
This might explain why the calf doesn't always take his bottle with quite the enthusiasm I expect. I'm only giving him two feeds of two litres, and sometimes not even that much if he starts messing around and playing with the bottle instead of feeding.
Imagen won't let him feed freely, but it looks rather like Irene will.
Nephew Simon came out and went with Stephan for the day's walk to clear and replenish the traps in Honeymoon Valley for the Kiwi Foundation.
I think this is an immature cicada. I discovered it amongst the roots of a ragwort plant I pulled from the ground. I suspect it wasn't quite ready to commence the above-ground part of its life and I think it was damaged as I pulled the plant up. It slowly crawled and flopped around on my palm.
We suggested the children leave the beach balls here until they come back for another holiday as they were so prone to blowing away in the wind, and they'd be bound to lose them at the beach. We fetched them from the pond and I had left them on the deck to dry off - and then had to go hunting for them after the wind got up a bit. This one took a bit of finding! It had gone down the drive and into the river by the bridge, then floated back upstream into the sheltered corner, where it stayed for a couple of days until it was retrieved.
I brought all the cows in this afternoon from the back of the farm, planning to stick heat indicators on their backs, but more time passed than I anticipated, so I drafted out the cull cows and sent them out the back and put the rest of the mob in a close paddock for the night.
Housecow Imagen was on heat, so she became the first insemination candidate for the year. She got a proper bull this year, no more of that Jersey semen for her!
We brought the bull and his heifer companion in to the yards this morning, followed by the eighteen heifers. I drafted three heifers out to go to the bull, put some tail-paint on them (having not quite enough heat indicators for everyone), and let them out with the bull. Mr Bull immediately sorted out his heifer of interest and followed her closely around - and then around and around and around the tree!
We put them back in the Camp paddock, out of the way, then brought the cow and calf mob in for the cows to have their heat indicators applied. I'm using Kamar indicators again this year, glued to the cows' tail head area, containing a tube of dye which, when compressed during mounting, turns the indicator red.
Back out on the flats, sometime not long after I moved them into this paddock, 486 came on heat, so I had to bring her into the yards for insemination. It was quite a day for cattle movement.
In the background is the lovely big Rata tree, which I thought might flower this year, but hasn't.
While working with the cows in the yards, 475 started standing, indicating she was on heat - so she didn't need an indicator. By the end of the day, two more cows had come on as well. They must know my intentions.
Determining the best time to inseminate is the tricky bit - some cows will be in standing heat for hours and hours and so I happily inseminate them any time between ten and eighteen hours from when they first come on. But if a cow is in standing heat for only a short time, I want to do her within six hours of the end of the standing phase. I watched for some time after 11pm and decided that 470 was no longer standing and I'd need to do her before I went to bed. Stephan having already retired, I put her up the race, hung my torch on a post (needing to see to insert the inseminator, and then I wished somebody was there to turn it off) and gave her a dose of the same bull she had last year, the sire of her lovely white-faced bull calf. I recorded her insemination time as 12.20am.
Cows which come on early in the morning are the easiest to manage because they can be done in the early evening; those which come on during the afternoon are more of a problem, because the best time to do them is often the middle of the night. In the dairy world, most cows are inseminated in the morning only if done by an outside technician, although the general rule is that if a cow is seen on heat in the morning she should be done that evening and if seen in the evening she should be done the following morning. However beef heats are often much shorter than those in dairy cows, so a willingness to inseminate at any time achieves better conception rates than might otherwise be the case. Last year mine was 82.5% of my 40 cows and heifers, with an overall pregnancy rate of 92.5%. I inseminated every animal once and then they kept company with the bull, who got the rest. Those which didn't get pregnant were two animals which didn't cycle early enough to get their second chance with the bull and a cow which was probably pregnant, but the pregnancy failed before pregnancy testing time.
545 was standing late last night, so I inseminated her at 6.20am (I get quite tired at this time of the year!) and then 486 a little later in the morning.
There are several cows with extremely dirty backs - they swish the very loose material coming out their back ends up and around with their tails. I've been wondering if their upset digestion is connected with their ring-worm infection.
Looking back through my notebook, the ringworm appeared after a long period when the cattle were nowhere near boundaries where other cattle live, so perhaps it is, as occurred to me as a possibility earlier, just a spontaneous outbreak of something which exists here but generally doesn't show up.
Some creatures around here could do with some exercise! Zella has energy to spare, so regularly runs some of it off around the paddock. She's fun to watch. Not so much fun when we're trying to get her out of the paddock in the evening and she darts off in the wrong direction.
The heifers and the cow mob have been grazing neighbouring paddocks for the last couple of days, so they can get used to each other. This morning I moved both mobs to a new paddock with lots of grass and they appeared to very quietly accept each other's presence. Distracting them with food works very well.
While I spent time observing cattle, Stephan was preparing to erect a fence in the Camp Paddock. This river bank area has been falling away of late, and there is now a hole in the ground above the area which worries me. Looking back to a picture I took some years ago, the subsidence is not alarming, but if we don't stop the cattle walking near the edge, it will get worse.
It has worried me for some time that an animal could be pushed while walking along the bank, and fall into or through the tree roots, which could potentially break a leg and trap the animal in a dangerous position. I am glad we are now doing something about it.
Athena (Isla's last daughter) and Eva. Eva seems absolutely fine and is becoming rather fond of the stroke or brush I give her every time I see her. I'm so grateful she's alive!
The Northland Age printed a story about her on Christmas Eve, including the picture I took of the rescue. My own report of the event is somewhat more accurate in its detail.
You may have heard the weather has been particularly dry in Northland - some parts have had no rain in about three months and things are crispy and cracking - but as is often the case here, we have had nice little bits of rain to keep things growing quite well.
I'm still trying to get rid of the white flowers - the haze of white in the background is Flat 4 where my grazing timing wasn't quite right and the pasture is more unpalatable flower stalks than good grass.
Queenly 23, the cow whose calf died before it was born, came on heat this morning, and I inseminated her this afternoon.
To inseminate a cow my gloved left hand, with lube applied, is inserted gently into her rectum, and the inseminator pipette, with thawed semen straw inside a disposable plastic sheath is inserted cleanly into the vagina. Through the thin rectal wall the cervix may be grasped, so that it can be gently manipulated over the inseminator until the end just enters the uterus, where the semen is slowly deposited (never squirted quickly) and the sperm begins its journey up the two horns of the uterus. If the semen is deposited too far in, or squirted in, it might travel only up one uterine horn and if that side isn't the one with the ovulating ovary, there won't be much chance of a pregnancy.
Generally the cows are reasonably unperturbed by the process, although sometimes they're obviously uncomfortable. My cows are mostly so used to my close proximity that my presence behind them doesn't bother them much. When watching the bull/s enthusiastically doing the job their way, I think the inseminated cows get off lightly!
So ended 2009.