The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 3rd of October 2009.
Saturday the 3rd
479's calf

The first cute face of the season, 479's daughter.

signs of 367's loose pelvic ligaments

This is the back end of 367. The arrow points to a dip which forms as the pelvic ligaments loosen just before labour begins. When a cow looks like she's starting to fall apart in that area, you can be pretty sure she's about to deliver her calf.

epiphytic orchids

I have been climbing the hill over the road twice a day to give the heifers up there their homeopathic remedy, as they each reach the 2-4 weeks pre-calving period. It's a very good pre-calving fitness preparation for me!

On my way back along the road I happened to look up and saw a profusion of tiny orchids in one of the trees right next to the road. The light wasn't very good, so nor is the picture. I'll try and get another picture on a better day.

367 and 529

Around 11.30am 367 got on with the job. Her three-year-old daughter 529 came over to see what she was doing. I like having mothers and daughters all together in the herd. It's interesting seeing the family resemblances, and the sorts of relationship interactions which occur. None of the other cows came so close to check on 367.

two cows in labour

About twenty minutes after 367 began looking very purposeful, I noticed 525 walking around in the same manner.

367 and calf 525 and calf

367 delivered her dark grey bull at 12.25pm and 525 followed with her heifer at 2.20pm.

Below, our entire flock of sheep, just moved into the Pig Paddock.

the sheep
Sunday the 4th

At around 3am I woke and then heard a fairly quiet little mooing sound which didn't sound quite as it should, so I got dressed and went out into the dark. 525 was standing at the two-wire fence along the drain, calling to her calf which was standing up to her knees in water at the bottom. I deposited my torch on the bank, gave thanks for a full moon and, attempting to avoid contact with a dead gorse bush, clambered down and pushed the calf up the bank and out to her mother again. Only one of my boots got water in it.

Kingfisher - Kotare

This is not a very good picture, in the dim overcast morning light, but I took it so I'd remember seeing this Kingfisher (Kotare) on one of the electric fence standards. When I was break-feeding this paddock to the young heifers a few weeks ago, I noticed that on the grass at the base of every one of these standards, there was bird excrement. I watched this Kingfisher as it examined the ground from its perch and when it spotted some prey in the grass, it flew straight down, grabbed it and flew off. I have presumably been providing some great new hunting opportunities for a lot of Kingfishers!

Cabbage Tree flower spikes

A number of the Cabbage Trees around us are throwing up flower spikes.

475's new calf

475 spent the early part of the morning looking pensive. Her elder sister, 367, came over to offer occasional comfort. At 3.45pm we watched from the house as she delivered her calf in the rain. I ran over to the paddock, having seen the calf dropped from its standing mother, to ensure it wasn't lying on its own head. I've heard of calves dying when they've suffocated in similar positions, so I go in and pull them out flat. Their mothers will generally lick them vigorously enough to help them change position, but sometimes that doesn't happen very quickly.

475 and two daughters

The calf, a heifer, was soon up and looking for her first feed.

475's two-year-old daughter, 572, was particularly interested in the new calf and stayed quite close while the calf was finding her feet.

The picture is of 572 and 475 with the calf having a feed on the other side.

Stephan and William collecting watercress

At the other end of the paddock in the rain, Stephan had taken neighbour William for a walk to see if there was watercress growing again in the top end of the drain.

475's calf

After expelling and then eating all of her afterbirth, 475 sat down for a long rest. Her tiny calf looked a bit cold and bedraggled as she peered over her mother at me.

Monday the 5th

Cold and wet again today. I'm glad we had that lovely dry and warm early spring period, because this morning things felt pretty miserable.

Flat 1, in which I've been break-feeding the calving cows so I can easily watch them from the house, has become waterlogged in the middle and it's no longer a great place for newborn calves. There's also a nasty bit of cold weather forecast to come, along with some more rain; so I moved the cows and calves to Flat 2, which doesn't have quite as much grass, but does have lots of shelter under the big trees at the bottom end.

calves on the move

The calves and their overly attentive mothers moved reasonably well through the gateway, without too much upset. They're hard to move because the calves are so inquisitive and quickly startled by the unfamiliar, which includes a lot of things at this stage of their lives, and their mothers are not happy unless they have their noses almost attached to their calves at all times, so the calves bounce around all over the place and the cows keep turning back to see where their calves are, and push other calves out of the way and it can all be very frustrating for the person who just wants them to go through a gate!

baby rabbit in a burrow

A view down a rabbit hole. I can only see one baby in the picture, which seems a bit odd. By the next day the hole was filled in, and when I carefully excavated the loose soil, I found the cold (dead) baby at the bottom. I presume the bull had filled in the hole. The cattle are sometimes quite intolerant of strange things in their paddocks.

Tuesday the 6th

525's little heifer appeared to have discovered some new muscles today and was galloping around the area her mother was grazing. I was pleased to see her so active - she's been doing the usual "lying in" since she was born, generally curled up asleep somewhere, but because I'd not seen her up and about at any other time, I'd wondered if all was well. It seems it is.

I was sitting in my office writing in the middle of the day and an odd movement caught my attention: outside my window a Mallard duck had walked directly up to the house trailing half a dozen ducklings. As soon as she noticed my movement, she very quickly headed off around the house, off the edge of the garden and down to the river. She was much faster than my ability to grab the camera and get a clear picture!

Rewarewa flower

Going to find the heifers on the hill this afternoon I spotted some Rewarewa flowers in a position I could photograph - they're usually high up in the trees and quite hard to see easily. These trees are growing on the bank beside the road and the land rises quickly to our paddock, so I was looking into the middle of the tree from where I stood.

I'll go back in a few days and see how they change.

Wednesday the 7th

Irene, with her improbably large udder, which keeps getting bigger by the day. She's been standing around looking uncomfortable today, so she can't be far off calving. I am anxious about her.

Cows having molasses

I drafted another four cows from the main mob this morning, and this afternoon they had their first Magnesium supplement in molasses. They obviously remember the molasses!

Just before dark this evening, Irene showed definite signs of being in labour. I had to leave her alone, because she was obviously uncomfortable when I was near, and when I looked out with a very bright torch at 10.20pm, she was just turning around for her first look at her calf, which I was very glad to see alive and alert.

Thursday the 8th
Irene and her bull calf

Irene's calf is a bull and I can't see any sign that he has managed to feed yet. Irene's teats are ridiculously huge. Some of her calves have managed to find their first feeds on their own, but some haven't. There's a possibility that the calf is not quite as bright as he could be, since Neospora infection may have some neurological effects.

At around noon we took them to the yards, milked Irene of a couple of litres which I fed to the calf in the bottle, and tried to get him to suckle her as well.

517 and calf

517 produced a white-faced heifer late this afternoon.

In the yards Irene had lost the smelly train of afterbirth which had been hanging around all day - she must have eaten it, there being no sign of it anywhere. We fed the calf again, milked Irene off a bit more, mostly for her comfort, and took them back to their paddock.

470 and calf

470 has been responding very actively to rump scratching and massage for the last couple of days and several times I thought she had begun her labour. This evening she took herself off alone to the end of the paddock under the trees, and a little later I found her in the midst of the others again, giving birth to another white-faced calf. I took a lot of photos and then couldn't resist giving her a bit of help by pulling the calf as his shoulders and hips came out. She was doing fine on her own, but she was also quite happy having me near.

The calf is a bull.

At 10.30pm there was the most horrible noise out in the paddock, so I threw on my warm clothes and headed out across the flats. 538 had just delivered her calf and was bellowing and growling at it as she licked it and it began to move around and attempt to stand. Cows can make some really awful noises! She wasn't being particularly rough with the calf, but seemed tremendously upset. She was still shouting at the poor little thing when it was up on all four feet.

Friday the 9th
getting Irene's calf to feed

Irene wouldn't stand still for her calf this morning, so back to the yards we went.

This evening we were going to put her in the race again, but she stopped and we were able to help the calf to feed in the open bottom yard. He's making progress, but is still really stupid about finding and latching onto the teats. I managed to get him to suck my finger, then I could lead his mouth to Irene's teat and he'd be away, until he bunted her and lost his hold again.
The more he feeds, the better he'll be and the more comfortable Irene will be, so the more willingly she'll let him feed. When either stops, everything deteriorates.

You'll note my spring haircut: ready for calf slobber, blood, wet sloppy tail splatters and anything else which comes my way! It all wipes straight off... feels a bit cold though, until I get used to it again.

I did some mob reorganisation again this afternoon, taking the three still-pregnant animals from each of the calving mobs and putting them together out in the Mushroom Paddock. Then I combined the cows and calves in Flat 3, where 517 was now on her own with her calf. Tomorrow there is a car rally down the valley and I wanted to get the cows which might be calving while it's on, as far away from the noise as possible. I can't easily move the calves, so they'll just have to stay here and I'll hope they'll not be too upset.

When I went to check the six cows late tonight, I discovered Irene 35 with a bull calf, looking like he'd already managed his first feed. He is paternal half-brother to his uncle in the picture above - same sire for both Irenes' calves.

The ninth annual Isla's Calving Date Competition is now OPEN. Click on the link to enter.

Isla Isla

The competition closes at midnight on Saturday, 10 October. There is such a thing as a free lunch!