The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 16th of October 2010.
Saturday the 16th
479 and newborn calf

We had visitors for lunch, but having slipped in an hour of sleep before they arrived, I needed to do a quick check around the cows before we ate. 479 was cleaning her just-delivered daughter, and 539 was in the process of delivering hers. I could see two feet, so left her to it.

After lunch we walked out to see the new calves, 539 having delivered a heifer as well.

Sunday the 17th

Stephan has whipped up a little milking shed for Imagen - and for Zella when it becomes her job, hopefully next year. He tried it out for size this morning. It has yet to have a bail built to restrain the cow during milking, and a calf pen so that the calf can be kept in a safe sheltered area when we take it away from the cow overnight, so we can have her milk in the morning. At the moment Imagen's calf is still with her all the time, because he's not drinking too much yet. He'll still get enough when he only has her during the day, but we won't get enough unless we get the whole night's production at once.


For those who have nurse cows, the sight of more than one calf on a cow will be of no great excitement, but there's something pretty special about two born to the same mother and their being so well looked after by her.

I had a good look at the two of them today and I wonder if they're actually identical? Their hair whorls both centre just out from their left eyes. The only difference I've noticed between them is a bit of white on the larger calf's navel.

I have a theory... Irene 698, mother of #60 bull, sire of these two, was a twin. In her family there were no other twins anywhere in her maternal ancestry. The only place twins turned up was in the list of calves sired by her sire. The sample size wasn't huge, but he had 93 registered progeny, of which there were three sets of same-sex twins.

Fraternal (non-identical) twins are formed by the fertilization of two eggs at once and are the same genetically as siblings born from different pregnancies. Called super-ovulation, the production of more than one egg in each oestrus cycle could be inherited by a bull and the trait passed to his daughters who would presumably then have a higher than normal likelihood of twinning. But the egg-splitting which produces identical twins has long been thought to be a random chance occurrence.

There is a theory that the sperm of some males carry an enzyme which causes the early splitting of the developing fertilized egg, to create identical twins. Irene's first son #26 didn't produce any twins, so perhaps he didn't inherit the trait, but I wonder if his younger brother did?

I've read as much as I can find on the issue and while there is some research on the topic, it doesn't seem to be of huge interest - and because human society tends to monogamy, finding men who have sired identical twins with different women is probably difficult. In cattle though, where twinning is not terribly common, it would be possible to conduct such an investigation.

There are still another ten pregnant heifers and cows to calve which were mated with #60.

Monday the 18th
making butter

Imagen's cream settles to the top of her milk like a thick leathery skin, which I have been skimming off the top and saving. Today Stephan beat it up with a hand-held whisk, but could only get it to the stage of the first photo, which looked like over-whipped cream and tasted like something you'd put on top of a nice cheesecake. The beater couldn't do any more, so he transferred it into a food-processor machine with a bit more oomph and it separated into butter and butter-milk. After washing and pressing, he had a rather impressive butter pat!

571 in labour

When I went off for an afternoon sleep, I saw 571 walking around the Windmill Paddock looking like she was starting her labour. I expected she'd be well on by the time I woke, so left her to it.

But things had not progressed very far at all in about four hours. A little after I began watching, a foot appeared and disappeared several times, and when I got close enough (she's not one of the quieter heifers) I could see it looked as if it was probably the wrong way up. A front foot can sometimes come out turned around a bit, so I didn't panic yet, except that if all was well she should have been far more advanced in the calving process.

571 in labour

We brought her and the other two cows-without-calves out into the lane and headed them toward the yards, where Stephan had already set up the gates ready.

We put her up into the head-bail area of the race and I washed her down before donning a long glove, pouring some lube over my fingers and going in for a feel. I found the foot I'd already seen, along with it's pair. The first joints were suspiciously stiff - the front legs have more flexible first joints than the rear legs - and I confirmed the identity of the legs as back ones by the feel of the next joint up on one of them, which was a hock, the back "knee".

In such cases, we call the vet. Unfortunately the vet was a new locum who wasn't familiar with the area and got lost, causing a half-hour delay, through every minute of which I worried about the calf. The heifer had sat down in the race, so she was comfortable enough; Stephan set up and ingenious light holder and we waited.

Eventually the vet, a young Australian woman named Lauren, arrived and got her gear ready, before lubing up her bare arm (no glove for her!) and checking inside 571.

With chains carefully placed around the lower legs and handles attached to the chains, Stephan pulled while Lauren kept her arm inside to make sure everything was coming out as it should, and the two of them delivered the heifer calf. Stephan sounded as if he was at about the limit of his strength, which is quite something!

Little heifer gasped and began breathing and Lauren gave 571 a shot of long-acting antibiotic to cover any chance of infection as a result of her putting her arms and outside bugs deep inside her. Stephan carried the calf around to the grassy side of the yards, we let 571 out and she spotted the calf and began doing all the motherly things in exactly the right way. A lovely, very satisfactory outcome.

The calf took a long time to stand up, and was still sitting down two hours later, but by 12.30am was up and feeding. As I left the yards area to head for bed, Irene 35 was obviously in labour, but I figured she could get on with that on her own.

Tuesday the 19th

My first sight in the yards this morning was Irene standing by the gate feeding a heifer calf. Good - except the calf will have contracted Neospora from her mother during gestation, so she may not have a long life as a breeding cow. I'm pleased that Irene has managed to produce a live calf every year so far despite her Neospora infection from before her own birth. This is her fourth calf.

571 and her calf

571 and her calf this morning.

It always surprises me that we can put so much pressure on the lower legs without causing terrible damage. The calving chains must cause quite a bit of bruising and leave the calf feeling a bit battered, but she shows no sign of it when moving.

Ruth with a calf on the scales

Around noon we weighed the calves in the yards, along with that of 579, after walking her in from where we'd left her in the paddock yesterday.

This one is Irene 35's brand new daughter, a bit bewildered by everything, so that I had to climb over the top and past her to push her gently back out of the race to her mother.

571's backwards heifer weighed 37kg, Irene's was 40.6kg and 579's 3-day-old bull calf weighed 37kg.

Quanda and calf

I missed another calving date. I went out to draft Quanda 09 off from the six cows out the back, because as far as I calculated she was three days from calving. But I didn't take into account the possibility that a heifer, which the calf is, would have a two-day-shorter gestation than her previous bull calves. Many of the calves are an extra day or two earlier than expected, perhaps because the cows are in better condition than usual.

No matter, all is well and the two of them moved with the others across the stream to the next paddock for more feed.

Wednesday the 20th
528 and calf

528 was looking distracted late last night, so I headed out early this morning to check that all was well. I could see her sitting, looking like things must have happened or be in progress, but I couldn't see the calf until I went all the way around her, because it was hidden behind that large thistle.

Poor calf stood up and stumbled backwards into the prickles before coming over to investigate me while 528 stood and attempted to catch the afterbirth trailing behind her. He's a bull, her third calf.

While feeding the lambs this morning, little Matariki suddenly stopped - she'd broken the teat out of the bottle-top and was chewing on it until she swallowed it! She then had to wait for the rest of her bottle until Springs had finished hers. I'll have to buy another teat. I doubt the one inside her will do her much harm; we might find it in the paddock one day.

Athena 72 is this evening in a paddock on her own, her companion 546 having begun her labour late this afternoon. I don't need a third lesson in how hormonally overcharged Athena gets in the presence of a calf! 546 surprised me because her two previous pregnancies have averaged 282 days and today is day 277. Her mother, 418, had a 284-day average.

My gestation data spreadsheet now records 468 gestation periods, of 540 calves born from 1996 to now - the remainder are mainly calves of which I couldn't be sure of a conception date, and occasional calves like Ivy's extremely early twins, which would skew the data. Over time the average gestation has settled at 279.1 days for heifers and 280.6 days for bulls. There are obvious family trends and it's interesting to compare the gestation EBVs for the bulls I use with their actual outcomes in my herd.

After over two weeks of feeling miserably affected by a cold, I am beginning to feel much better! I can walk and move around at normal speed again, which is pretty useful in my line of work.

Thursday the 21st
unruly electric tape

There was some uproar this morning! Athena was grazing to the right of this tape and the heifers to the left, until one of them went under the tape and started fighting Athena. Eventually one of those two pushed the other back through the tape, the whole tape stretched until the hook broke off the other end, and the reel bounced off the fence at this end, and down into the drain! I had to be quite careful in climbing down to retrieve it, since the tape was hot, being draped over the top wire of the paddock's electric fence.

Two of the heifers harassed Athena to the extent that she was foaming at the mouth and doing a lot of open-mouth panting, so I went up and fended off her tormentors while I walked her along to the gate and out of the paddock.

546's calf

Here's the reason for Athena's solitude, the early-born daughter of 546. There's something extremely attractive about upturned eyelashes. Most of the cattle have straight ones.


I found a whole lot more orchid plants today, on a tree species I'd not seen them in before. They're beginning to flower, but the flowers are so tiny they're very hard to see. The wind was blowing, so it was quite hard to get a clear photo while holding the camera at arms' length above my head.


This is Hangehange, Geniostoma rupestre var. ligustrifolium. The flowers are very fragrant.


They're fascinating flowers in close-up. How beautiful a plain green flower can be.

pregnant heifers

The heifers are all approaching their calving dates, so this evening I introduced them to molasses with Magnesium added to it. They weren't terribly keen, but once one or two had come to investigate, the others wandered over to see what was happening. Squiggles and Curly have had it before, so they were naturally the first to approach.

Friday the 22nd
517 and calf

517 had produced her calf by early this morning and was happily devouring her afterbirth. I didn't go any closer to see what sex the calf was, happy enough that everything was in order.

Stephan hunting for a calf's hiding spot

546 was standing on the highest point above the stream in the Windmill Paddock, calling mournfully. That behaviour always frightens me, because cows are usually pretty clever about where their calves have disappeared and straight down the bank and into the water wouldn't be a very good thing for a calf.

I walked down and back up the river bank on both sides, but could find no sign of the calf.

After breakfast we both went for a look and Stephan accidentally startled the calf out of these ferns when he parted them to see if she was in there - we'd looked everywhere else.

Some trampled ferns suggested that she's been sleeping in there more than once. Sometimes their mothers are far too alarmist.

aggressive wether

I want the House Paddock to grow some grass and the ram and wether have a lovely lot of grass to themselves in the Chickens Paddock, so today we sent the ewes and lambs to join them. The ewes shouldn't come back into oestrus until autumn, so if we leave them with the ram for a couple of months, there shouldn't be any early lamb surprises next year.

On the right in the picture is the wether, suddenly grown very large, and behaving very aggressively toward the ewes and lambs! We'll put him in the freezer when the lambs are weaned and then give the ram the weaned wether lambs for company until he's due to go back out with the ewes.

517's calf

517's calf is a heifer and she has far too much pink eyelid and nose skin!

White-faced pink-eyelidded cattle are prone to Cancer Eye, squamous cell carcinoma, usually of the eye ball or third eyelid. Animals with dark pigment around their eyes rarely suffer the problem and in this part of the world, where UV levels are at times extreme, pink skin is hazardous.