The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 31st of October 2009.
Saturday the 31st
Imagen, Isla, two calves and Stephan

We walked Imagen, Isla and their two calves down toward the yards this morning so we could weigh the calves.
Isla got a bit difficult to move on by the time they reached the last corner, but gradually came on down to the wide area below the house. Stephan went into the house to get something and we started to move them down toward the bridge, but Isla seemed strangely distracted and appeared to be looking intently toward the cattle in the Pig Paddock across the river, but then I figured out that she wasn't really looking at anything at all, making low mooing sounds. As we both moved around her to get her going in the right direction, I noticed her jaw go slack and Stephan said her tongue lolled out the other side of her mouth.

We both got out of her way as she began to stagger, then her head twisted around and up to the right, as I've seen her do a couple of times before and then quite suddenly she went right over on her side. The wrinkles in the skin of her face below are all part of the seizure, during which she became entirely rigid.

Isla fitting Isla fitting

She was only flat on the ground for a few seconds before she struggled up to a sitting position, and then staggered to her feet.

Isla fitting Isla fitting

She remained standing much as in the last photo, for a few minutes. It took about the usual eight minutes for her to regain awareness or vision and begin to move around normally. While she was still unable to see properly she did start moving and we stayed in front of her so she didn't blunder into the electric fence. Fortunately she's still quite placid during and after the seizures, but I'm always on the lookout for changes in her behaviour in that regard.

We abandoned the calf-weighing plans for a couple of hours, so Isla could rest and she returned to her normal self.

That was the first time we've been with Isla throughout the whole process of a seizure. It's a disturbing thing to watch, and I was very glad I'd spotted the change in her before we got down to the bridge!

She's had other observed seizures since calving, on the 13th and the 20th. I'm still checking on her regularly and while she carries on appearing to be normal between fits, she goes on. She never seems distressed when she recovers, generally just returning to grazing or ruminating as normal. While that is the case and there's no obvious welfare concern, I'm not rushing to do anything more about her, other than keeping her in safe paddocks where there's a reduced chance of her hurting herself or getting stuck somewhere dangerous.

the long-awaited orchid in flower

The Sun Orchid is blooming! The morning being warm and sunny, the first flower has opened. During the day I took a lot of photos and sent close-ups of the column (the centre of the flower) to the Native Orchid specialists and awaited their response.


There are flowers everywhere around us. This is Rewarewa, from which I photographed a fallen flower a couple of weeks ago.

Ti Kouka

Four weeks ago these trees looked like this. Without the photos I'd not have thought it had been so long. On some trees the flowers are more advanced and making a great show, more like those at the bottom of the picture.

empty Puriri Moth hole

Kees and Lynn came out to visit and we walked out to check on and move the 19 heifers.

We walked through the bit of fenced reserve bush in the Bush Flat Paddock and I checked the Puriri Moth caterpillar hole I've been watching for a while and found it vacant, its inhabitant hatched and gone. The chrysalis case remains in the hole - if I'd managed to extract it without it breaking, it would look like this.

Finan resting on the turkeys' box

Lynn and Kees headed up the track to their mobile accommodation and I checked on the cows.

While nobody was watching, Finan had made himself comfortable on top of the box of turkey chicks near the fireplace. He pays a worrying amount of attention to these small birds. I suspect it's the result of his early life as a dumped kitten having to scavenge for food, or catch whatever he could to eat. The rest of our cats have caught the occasional bird, but are not obviously active hunters and we've always been able to leave them with small chicks and not have the birds harmed. I'd not dare take the same risks with Finan!

Sunday the 1st of November
Kees and Lynn enjoying morning coffee

Our temporary neighbours were up and about and having their morning coffee, by the time I went out to check the cows this morning.

cows in the evening sun

This lot all thought I was going to move them, as I was setting up some electric tapes in the next paddock. Tomorrow I will bring them in from one end, and the other small mob from the other end, ready to mix them together after they've done all their social posturing on either side of the tape.

Monday the 2nd
Imagen walking to Stephan for milking

Imagen is getting back into the required habits very quickly. Stephan calls her and she comes to be milked. At the moment the calf is with her all the time and Stephan takes a little over two litres from her morning and night. We need to set up a system to keep the calf safely separated at night when she gets a bit bigger, and we want to build a covered area for milking when it's raining. The plans are progressing. Slowly.

Last time Stephan went trapping he didn't catch anything at all, but came home very excited and said he'd had his best day's work yet: he saw a Kiwi! He was clambering up a track to a bait-station he needed to fill and as he passed a clump of pampas, a Kiwi dashed out and up the track ahead of him.

Today he was back there again. The left photo, he tells me, shows a track. Blowed if I can see it. The right photo is looking into the Kiwi's sleeping hole, vacant today.

bush track Kiwi burrow
Demelza and calf

Here's a surprise! I went out today to do some work knowing that none of the cows was imminently due to calve, didn't even look at Demelza because she's not due until at least the end of the week. This afternoon I was getting the bull out of the paddock, readying Demelza and Abigail to join the rest of the cows and wondered why Demelza was staying down where there was little to eat - and then heard the characteristic low call of a new mother to her baby.

The calf was flat out and motionless until her mother sniffed her, and she waved her back leg in the air, looking very much like she wasn't at all a healthy calf; but she must just have been sound asleep, because she got up and looked quite sprightly. I use a 275-290 days gestation period as normal, although 273 isn't uncommon. This calf has been cooking for 271 days.

Late tonight I disturbed the Paradise Duck family on the track as I rode along on my bike. The parents and one of the chicks flew over a nearby gate and the other four chicks waddled their way to join them. I suspect it was the first time that duckling has flown and no doubt it was very surprised!

Tuesday the 3rd
cows and calves

After leaving them for 24 hours on either side of a tape in one paddock, I mixed the two groups of cows and calves this morning and let them into a third area of new grass for distraction.

Later in the day I moved the five cows which form the imminent calving group from their paddock to the top of the one in which Abigail and Demelza are grazing, ready to mix them together. Three-year-old 546 was looking uncomfortable and I suspected she was in early labour, and she calved late in the afternoon in the new paddock. The last four calves have been bulls.

The smallest turkey chick did not survive. I had forgotten that they need quite intensive feeding assistance - they're not nearly as precocious as chickens in their ability to spot food and eat it. I suspect that if I'd been a bit more attentive to that chick it may have been able to overcome the other challenges of its birth. It ate well on its last evening, but was depressed and clicking as it breathed the next morning, so I applied the fast neck chopping remedy to prevent further suffering.

The other three are doing well. The hen and chickens are now in the newer, larger cage and also doing very well.

turkey chicks hen and chicks
Flax flower

The first of the season's flax flowers is now out. I saw some lovely flax flowers when we were in town the other day, so their timing must depend on their location. This is quite a small, young plant, with only one flower spike.

calf and cow, running

I moved the big mob of cows and calves on to their next paddock late this afternoon. All the cows and most of the calves went through the gate, but four little calves were left behind. They ran around and around the paddock, having a whale of a time and then some of the mothers came back, followed by some more calves which then also ran as fast as they could around the big space.

After about fifteen minutes of silliness they all went into the correct paddock and I shut the gate. I think I laugh more at this time of year than any other. The little animals are so delightful to watch.


Isla's still alright. I am starting to wonder if she's gradually deteriorating in her general appearance - particularly in the way she walks. It's a little hard to tell at the moment because her udder is so engorged that she may be suffering some discomfort there which could be causing her gait to change.

I've been thinking about when her mob burst out the bottom gate over the road nearly eighteen months ago, and were taken away with some cattle which were being herded past. The drover is likely to have run my animals faster than I ever would back down the road afterwards. If Isla suffered a knock on the way through the gate and was then run for three miles, there is the possibility of an injury which might later cause the seizures she's having.

The difference knowing would make is that if the seizures came about as a result of an injury, rather than something genetic, I wouldn't have to put a ring on that bull calf, nor worry too much about the rest of Isla's descendants.

Wednesday the 4th
heifer and bull

Virago Ranu 62 (heifer) and Virago Connection 60 (bull, albeit rather scrawny Neospora-affected specimen) are now together. Ranu 62 is not a bad animal, but her temperament is not quite as quiet as I would like and I decided some time ago she'd go to the works when she's ready. Of course the meat schedule has dropped significantly, just before that time arrives. I pulled her out of the heifer mob the other evening and put her with the bull to keep him company until mating time - if she's already pregnant when she goes, I won't have to worry about her being on heat, with the potential bruising which results at that time.

Demelza's calf Demelza's calf

Demelza's minute calf. She looks like she'd blow over in a high wind. Short gestation bulls can be handy in two ways: short gestation means a late calf will be born earlier than one might otherwise expect - in this case by a week; and short gestation calves are usually a little bit smaller/lighter than those which continue growing in their mothers for another week or two.

The orchid flowers were open again today, for the second time. The orchid people tell me it's probably a hybrid between Thelymitra cyanea and T. longifolia although I've not had anyone here in person to take a close look at it.

orchid orchid

This Puriri tree split and fell in early 1999, shortly after the huge storm which flooded Panguru and caused a spectacular electrical storm over our place. We didn't have much rain, but I remember it well because the local Pony Club had arrived and were setting up camp for the weekend and the tree fell during one of the nights they were camping. Many Puriri don't die when they fall over, the strips of bark connecting their branches to the root system continuing to sustain life while they rearrange their growth habit.
At right are the new upright branches which have grown from part of the fallen trunk.

Curly feeding her calf

Here's Curly, feeding her calf. I'm finding it quite strange to see Curly as a mother already, having been a noticeable youngster for the last couple of years - which of course means enough time has passed for her to graduate to this next phase of her life. Time flies.

I watched 542 give birth to a little heifer calf just on dark - later on as she was expelling her afterbirth, she managed to tread on the calf! Shining the torch to see what was happening as the afterbirth was coming out probably didn't help the situation. Sometimes I ought to go away and mind my own business.

That was the 32nd calf and now there's only Abigail to go.

Friday the 6th
Irene 35's determined calf

The sit-down dinner - or at least the dinner is sitting. Calves, once they know where their milk-bar is, will access it at any angle.

We had a lovely day today; Mary-Ruth and Theresa popped in for a visit, and raved about the cows, the orchid, the whole place. They always leave us feeling like we live in the best place in the world and are the most fabulous people they know. Everyone should have such friends!

In the afternoon when we both went up the lane so Stephan could milk Imagen and I give Isla her Magnesium, I slowly followed the Paradise Duck family along the track until, at the corner, they all took to the air. The young ones look really surprised when they get off the ground and appear to falter in their flight, but then they were off and did a couple of circles around the flats before all landing together again. Beautiful.