The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning 2nd of May.
Saturday the 2nd

Having such a keen interest in cattle, I am very fortunate in my friendship with a cattle-breeding vet! Mary-Ruth and I have had a couple of conversations over the last two days about Isla and her ailment, and in the mean time Mary-Ruth spoke with a veterinary pathologist friend. Their combined conclusions confirm that a tumour is likely, but there might be a couple of other causes, although neither are actually treatable nor would they lead to a different outcome. There is apparently some chance of adult-onset epilepsy, which might get worse so Isla would have to be euthanased, or it might not, but she'll still periodically fall over. The other possibility is a brain abscess, caused either by a head injury (unlikely) or an infection elsewhere in her body which has caused such a formation in her head. (I may not have worded that well, my understanding of the process being very vague.) Brain abscesses in cattle don't generally respond well to antibiotic therapy.

I am grateful for the opportunity to explore these issues further than my own vets were prepared or able to, because Isla is a very important individual, representing rather more than the simple life of a cow.

Whenever I've posted descriptions of Isla's fits on the internet, the responses from other farmers have been that it looks like she's suffering from "staggers" which is a feature of a metabolic imbalance related to a lack of Magnesium. I have thought that unlikely because her seizures are sudden and when she recovers, she appears entirely normal again. A Magnesium problem would usually lead to ongoing short-term degeneration without spontaneous recovery, often resulting in death.

However, I have been thinking about Ivy, Isla's mother, who advanced quite slowly into a state of Magnesium-related collapse a few years ago in late pregnancy. One of the odd symptoms she displayed was a standing shuffle on her back feet, which I thought at the time indicated some injury, although that was ruled out by veterinary inspection. I have been watching Isla out the kitchen window and she's doing much the same thing.

I'm going to try giving Isla a daily dose of Magnesium Oxide, mixed in Molasses, and we'll see if it makes any difference to her condition.

a cast hogget

Even young sheep, without very much wool on their backs, can get cast with their legs in the air, unable to right themselves. This is one of the hoggets and she must have rolled into a slight hollow, from which she couldn't roll back to either side. Fortunately for her we regularly count sheep and happened to be walking near her this morning.

All the stomping around by the cows during weaning, must have pushed mud and rocks down into the ends of the culvert pipe which runs under the track. With all the rain, there was a lake forming across the road, which Stephan came to rectify this evening. It took him a while to find the blocked end, but when he did, the water drained away with satisfying slurping sounds and a delightful plug-hole eddy.

unblocking a culvert under the track unblocking a culvert under the track
Sunday the 3rd
clearing scrub around the swamp reserve

Stephan has returned to clearing scrub in preparation for the installation of the fence around the swamp reserve area. It's exciting to find land under what was a shady canopy far above.

The by-product of the land clearing is great piles of firewood. Kanuka takes a couple of years to dry really well, but when it is dry, it's the best wood to burn! It is very dense and heavy and burns exceptionally well, throwing out tremendous heat. It doesn't spit sparks and in our fireplace is reduced to a minimal amount of very fine ash which only infrequently requires clearing.

rye grass seedling

My rye grass seeds are growing well in the Mushroom 1 paddock, although they're still very small and not yet firmly rooted in the ground.

Monday the 4th

Stephan killed the larger of the two Porkys (that's a deliberate y there, if you recall we called them Porky and Porky and I'm sure such names oughtn't to be pluralised with ies). After doing all the necessary things to prepare the pig, he took him off to the butcher to be cut up tidily.

The remaining Porky is much calmer at feeding time now and seems quite content on his own.

I sowed another paddock with rye seed this evening, and let the cows in to do the hoof-and-tooth part of the job (grazing the existing grass to allow light to the seeds and pressing the seeds into the ground).

Tuesday the 5th

We had a call this morning to say a Dexter cow I had agreed to inseminate was ready today for my attentions. This is not something I generally do for other people because it can turn into a frustrating consumer of a great deal of time and expense. However, I'd agreed to do these two cows and so I have. This particular arrangement hasn't been too onerous, the cows being already yarded on each occasion, and quiet animals to work with. Hopefully they're both now safely pregnant.

I think the biggest bother of it was that this year I'd already spent six weeks as a full-time heat-detector and inseminator in my own herd, and just after I breathed a grateful sigh of relief at the end of that, these two needed doing, five miles away and on someone else's timing. But as I was working in the cow this morning, I was aware of how much I enjoy my skill and the ability to do this creative thing. It's a bit like writing really: the process is sometimes a real pain and inconvenience, but I very much enjoy doing it, and having done it.

looking down on the flats

This afternoon I was up on the hill with Jill, who's here visiting again, checking the young cattle. Down on the flats the cows are grazing in Flat 5a, where I sowed rye seed yesterday afternoon.

young cattle in Kikuyu

We brought the 13 young cattle off the hill, because the grass was getting a bit too short to keep them growing nicely, and I sent them out to the Big Back paddock, where there's rather more to eat. I'm still waiting for a call to say the four heifers are to go to the works.

Wednesday the 6th

I drafted the pregnant two-year-olds from the rest of the cows today, because in their second pregnancy, as R3 (Rising three year old) cattle, they're still growing, and need better feed than the maintenance rations the cows will manage on. The nine heifers went over the road - the grass wasn't good enough to keep my works cattle fat, but is ample to allow these heifers to begin to recover some weight.
It may be appropriate to explain my nomenclature: I call these animals heifers still, even though they've produced their first calf. For me they remain heifers because they're still being treated differently from the cows and will winter with the yearling/R2 pregnant heifers, on the same feed levels, as they all need to be growing themselves and their calves within. When they next calve, they'll be considered cows and next winter they'll be part of the cow mob.

At around 4pm I had the phone call I've been waiting for, to tell me a truck will pick up the works heifers in the morning - just after I've put them into the huge back paddock! So I went out there, walked up to the very top of the hill, where I found them all happily cruising around grazing and playing amongst the trees. They were reasonably willing to go for a gallop down the other side of the paddock, where they had obviously not yet been, so it was a frequent-stop tour down to the gate as they stopped for snacks along the way. I trickily drafted the four heifers away from the others and walked them in to the yards for the night.

heifers heifers for the works
Thursday the 7th

The truck took the four heifers away at 7.30 this morning, for their trip to Auckland. By plane it would take an hour; by car four hours and then another half or one hour to get to the works site, depending on the motorway timing; by truck I imagine it's more like a six or seven hour journey, depending on how many other pick-ups there are to do to collect cattle from around the district.

Three of the four were pedigree heifers: Virago Imagen 53 AB, daughter of Imagen 33 and an animal of questionable temperament - not wild, but she showed little sign of becoming easy to work. She was also a daughter of CA Future Direction, which made her a candidate for testing for both AM and NH, the two genetic defects we're currently having to sort out. I decided she wasn't worth messing around with and she was ready to become prime beef.
Virago Ida 56 was a daughter of Ida and nice bull #26, but she was scatty, tall and thin and didn't look like she'd ever turn into the sort of easy-keeping cow I want to be breeding.
Virago Ivy 57 AB was Ivy's penultimate daughter, by NBar Emulation EXT. She wasn't as nice an animal as her full sister Imagen, and she was jumpy as well.
557 was one of the two straight-haired daughters of Fuzzy, the dark brown curly haired cow which I suspect had a genetic defect called Hypotrichosis. I kept her because I wanted a daughter of Fuzzy's without the fuzziness, but she was a tall and gangly animal and was never going to make an acceptable breeding cow.

Piwakawaka - fantail

There are a couple of Fantails, Piwakawaka, living around the house at the moment. They must have worked out how to avoid the cats, since at least two of our furry residents are quite keen on catching such prey. When the front window-doors are open, the birds sometimes flit into the living room. They are flying insect eaters.


The butcher did a home delivery! Sniff (not his real name, which I still don't know) lives not very far away, so Stephan asked him if he'd drop the meat off, rather than our needing to make a 40km round trip to pick it up. I wish I'd realised this was a possibility when dealing with a hospitalised Stephan and a chopped-up ram!

So this is one pig made pork. He wasn't very fat, but he was of reasonable size, so there's quite a bit of meat to go in the freezer.

Friday the 8th
foam eddy

The culvert is still draining the excess water from the Windmill Paddock and this is an eddy of foam on top of the water, gently circling.

I used to think foam in the rivers and sea meant there were nasty additions to the water, but foam occurs in the cleanest of waters, probably the result of all the living populations within - which, if you think about it very hard, do not make them seem very clean at all! Probably nutritious though.