The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 7th of November 2009.
Saturday the 7th

In the late afternoon or early evening sun we were out while Stephan milked Imagen and I took some molasses to Abigail, who's the last pregnant cow. Abigail was standing looking pensive, away from the others with their calves, but a blue bin at this time of the year will bring cows from everywhere and they all came trotting over to have a lick. I had to stand, almost astride Abigail's head, to keep the other insistent noses out of her bin. Eventually realising I wasn't giving in, they all trotted off up the paddock. The smell of molasses makes them salivate and as they ran away from me and into the sunshine, streams of it flew from their muzzles. I've seen this often with Demelza in particular, who gives her head a huge shake as her mouth fills, and strings of the stuff fly out in all directions. In the wind there were filaments of loose saliva drifting through the air like spider webs, catching the light at all angles. I'd not have liked to be in the way of it all, but it was a surprisingly beautiful thing to see.

At my 11pm check this evening, I found Abigail with a calf, cleaned and sitting on the ground in front of her. I didn't want to disturb them in the dark, so couldn't tell any more than that it was healthy enough to be alive and breathing.

We started calving 36 days ago and this is the 33rd live calf (of 34) and 30 of those 33 were by AI, on natural heats, as opposed to using drugs to synchronise their oestrus cycles. The mating/AI period was 40 days. I'm delighted. I knew we were going to have a tight calving span, but Demelza's and Abigail's short gestations have brought the end of calving in earlier than I'd dared to hope!

The advantages of a tight calving are that all the calves are reasonably close in age, so that by weaning time, they'll all be much the same size; and the cows are all finished with a good six weeks to recover from the birth and begin cycling again ready for the next mating, providing a very good opportunity for an equally tight calving in the following season.

My records for the last few years are as follows:

Year calving period number of calves
2001 40 days 25
2002 64 days 25
2003 46 days 39
2004 54 days 46
2005 68 days 46
2006 76 days 51
2007 64 days 43
2008 60 days 42
2009 36 days 33
Sunday the 8th
Abigail's daughter

2009's final calf, daughter of Abigail, born at 273 days' gestation and a tiny wee thing like her niece born a few days ago.

418's calf

Allsorts. There are brown calves, black calves, black and white calves and grey ones this year. Over the next couple of months the brown ones will darken, I expect, but in the mean time they stand out prettily.

This is the son of 418, who often has brown-tinged calves. She has some things in her background which are not Angus, and many of her relatives are my grey cattle.

Writing these pages causes me to think about all sorts of things I wouldn't otherwise, for instance I've noticed lately that 418 is quite stiff in one back leg. I don't think it's a foot injury, the soreness appearing to be from higher up. As I write each entry here, I'm always casting my mind back to the histories of the animals and events, thinking of the links I could insert to previous pages and of course 418 was my backward baby of 2002 and I wrote that she was very stiff after her necessarily violent birth and I wonder if there's a connection with her apparent stiffness now? Injuries to joints often show up a few years later as arthritis - the works kill sheets used to report such findings, but I'm not sure if they do now.

lots of calves

Lots of lovely shiny calves in the sunshine of the Mushroom Paddock this morning.

Monday the 9th

I had to spend most of the day in town, with early and 1pm appointments to speak to assemblies of students about their upcoming exams. I'm not a shy public speaker, but when I haven't done it for a while, I still get horribly and surprisingly nervous.

While I was out Stephan moved the cows and calves and did some work on the almost non-existent fence at the top of the Camp Paddock, into which he'd put the mob.

Tuesday the 10th
orchid enthusiast in action

After I stumbled upon the Sun Orchid last year, I wrote to the Native Orchid Society to ask them what it was, since it appeared similar to many of the flowers they have pictured on their website and bearing in mind its location and sudden appearance, it seemed likely it was one they'd know. Because I didn't actually write that page until some weeks later, the flowers had by then gone and I only had the photos I'd taken at the time, none of which were really clear enough to see the fine detail of the centre of the flower, for a reliable identification.

One of the people who was very interested in the plant was Kevin Matthews, who has a keen interest in native flora and fauna and asked if I'd please let him know when the plant was in bloom again this year. The weather hasn't been particularly cooperative, with a lot of cold wind and days of showers, but today was warm and sunny (albeit still breezy) and the plant was at its best yet for Kevin's visit.

Apparently we have been particularly fortunate in having this individual plant, in that it has an unusual abundance of flowers, is not at all shy about opening them and is extraordinarily lovely as well.
I've been told several times that if I get "bitten by the orchid bug" I'll be lost and unable to resist searching them out everywhere; but I may have been spoilt by this spectacular first contact.

Putangitangi young

The Paradise ducklings are not all female as I'd suspected, but four of the five are. They were more spread out than this in the paddock, so I dragged them in together when processing the photo. The female ducks now have an obvious white band at the top of their bills and a couple of them are already starting to whiten around their eyes. The young male's call can be heard as they fly - at a slightly higher register than his father's. The females aren't yet very vocal.
In the picture, the one male chick is the second from right.

Stephan watched by calf

Stephan headed up the hill in the Camp paddock again this afternoon to finish the work he'd begun earlier in the day...

renovated fence

... and later showed me this picture of the renovated fence, which is a vast improvement on its earlier appearance!

calf licking her mother

This is the oldest calf, returning a grooming favour to her mother, licking her neck. The cow is resting her nose on the ground in a blissfully relaxed state.

Athena on heat

All day there's been a horrible noise from over the road: Athena 72, Isla's last daughter, was coming on heat and getting louder by the minute! She was walking the fenceline along the road side of the hill paddock, calling constantly. Ivy was noisy and so is Isla; Abigail and her daughters missed inheriting that particular trait, but it seems Athena has it!

Cabbage Tree flowers

This Cabbage Tree always puts on a marvellous show during flowering season. It grows on the bank beside the road, on the fenceline of our hill paddock.

I weighed the last of the calves this afternoon, so now we have a first weight for them all. The next time I'll weigh them will probably be after the school exam season is finished, when we'll do some castrating, vaccinating and tagging as well.

Wednesday the 11th

Stephan and I walked the big mob of cows and calves out to the back again this evening, leaving Irene and her calf with the small mob I weighed yesterday. Irene's back feet are in a dreadful state. I think they're still recovering from the injury she had two years ago, after which her foot became infected and we had Nathan here to investigate and treat it. Since then, her feet have grown out badly and I'd like to have her attended to again in an attempt to get her right. Another job for next month.

I had intended to add the mob of seven cows and their calves to the big mob, but yesterday's weighing job showed that the youngest calf is not quite up to a long walk and the rough and tumble of larger playmates.

Thursday the 12th

I barely stepped outside today, except to feed the turkey chicks, spending the whole day organising exam seating lists.

Friday the 13th

Today eighteen people gathered in the Library at the College and I instructed them on the duties of a supervisor in the national exams. Training is not something in which I'm trained, and I'm still not happy about how I do it. Nobody asked me if I could, they just expect me to do it! I will attempt to improve my presentation again for next year.

Jill came to stay for the night, having come up to Kaitaia for the funeral of a life-long (from my perspective) family friend. A couple of the people at my training left early to attend it as well, but I had decided I'd have to leave Jill to represent our family on this occasion.

cows and calves

Ah, cows. I spent an hour quietly wandering around amongst them, checking for signs of anything untoward. They gradually all lay down in the warmth of the afternoon.

calf with blood scours

This calf has blood scours, presumably the end of the process of Coccidiosis. The dried blood in the faeces on her rear is obvious in its shiny darkness. As I watched her, she produced some fresh blood, to confirm my suspicions. She's still bright, feeding and behaving normally. I took her picture partly to identify her again later, as I'm not sure whose daughter she is, but may be able to compare her facial hair features with earlier photos.

Demelza's wart

This is a warty growth on Demelza's back, which has recently grown in size. I'm not sure what it is. I might try treating it with Iodine to see if that reduces it, but I've also wondered if it's a melanoma, which apparently Angus cattle can be prone to - unlike the human version, cattle melanomas are apparently mostly benign. This one was just a little bump under her hair for a long time, but in the last few weeks it has increased to about 10mm across.

somebody's tooth

Walking across the paddock back to my bike, I spotted this tooth on the grass. I presume this is a deciduous premolar from one of the young heifers in the mob of last-calved cows in this paddock. I found an interesting, albeit a little gory, page on aging cattle by their teeth.

Before I post my pages, I check all my links back and forward - I've just looked back at the week for this time last year and am horrified by the first picture, of Imagen as we began milking her after her calf died. It's hard to believe that such a cow was not the worst you'd have seen in the area after last winter's awfulness. It's also astonishing how one becomes blinded to the condition of one's own animals when tending to them day by day. Compared with this year, they were appallingly thin last year, but I then thought they were still doing reasonably well, considering the season. The marvellous calving record in this season suggests things may not have been as bad as that photo indicates; thin cows don't return to fertility very quickly after calving and subsequent seasons' calvings tend to draw out longer as a result. Imagen milked for nine months after that photo, raised two pigs, a calf and kept us in milk all that time, and calved only two weeks later this year than last.