The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 23rd of October 2010.
Saturday the 23rd

The little orchid plants (Drymoanthus adversus) I've been discovering around the farm, are now blooming.

The black thing is not the top of a bottle, nor an umbrella, but a Biro ballpoint pen! They are very small flowers.


A spray of flowers at different stages of blooming.

Sunday the 24th
607's scurs

This is interesting! My heifers, according to my knowledge of the genetics in question, should not have scurs! (You can see one in the photo, a little light coloured knob where a horn might grow.)

I know that 607's mother 367 carried the scur gene, because some of her sons had them - a male animal need only inherit the scur gene from one parent to have them. However a female animal, as I understand it, requires two copies of the scur gene to have scurs and unless there's been some extraordinary mix-up somewhere, which is very unlikely bearing in mind my close management of this herd, this animal can not have inherited two copies of the scur gene.

Since writing the paragraph above, I have been directed to a Gelbvieh publication on the inheritance of horns, polledness and scurs, which suggests that homozygous polled bulls (which all straight Angus bulls are) might carry a scur gene and not express it. It is still thought that animals with scurs are most likely heterozygous for the polled and horned genes. Curiouser and curiouser.

The genes for horns/polled and scurs are on different chromosomes, so they are not directly connected, but the horned/polled gene obviously affects the expression of scurs if present, and there is a sex linkage, in that the expression is different in females (which require two copies of the scur gene for them to be expressed) and males (which require only one copy).

My first reference to scurs is here.

Monday the 25th
twins feeding

While waiting for a heifer to calve, I went for a wander around and found the twins in the middle of a feed, both on the same side of their mother - they usually feed one on each side.


Back watching the heifer again, this Yellowhammer flew down onto the grass just in front of me. I rarely manage close photos of birds, because they fly off before I have a chance to get the camera ready.

newborn calf

601's calf popped its head out, at last, but appeared to be gulping, as if for air, which made me nervous enough to go and give them a hand, and pull the calf the rest of the way out.

601 was a baby not so long ago herself.

newborn calf

Some calves have the most extraordinarily long eyelashes! I was standing just through the fence along the drain, to stop the calf blundering too far and into trouble, so when she fell down, I took some quick photos of her.

cows and calves

We walked out and brought some more cows and calves in for weighing. They move reasonably well as long as they're taken slowly and quietly, so that the cows don't lose track of their calves and get panicked about where they've gone.

486's calf is only a couple of days old and got pretty tired going in, and Quanda, with her first-ever heifer, a potential replacement for her mother if she were any good, has produced a mad-as-a-snake daughter who will have to receive some serious handling to quieten her down, or a bullet. Cows which produce calves with that sort of temperament go off on a truck! One of her sons was the bull which leapt over the top of the vet gate, wrecking it, some years ago and was then put on a truck to the works. His brother's daughter, 606, who ought to be a very quiet sort of cow, being the daughter of 475, is very stand-offish. I'm tired of those sort of animals, so time to get rid of the cow who's responsible for some of them. Quanda herself is very quiet, but there's something in her genes which is not so good. One of Abigail's daughters was the mother of Stupid steer and his elder idiotic brother, and Abigail and Quanda are paternal half-siblings, as were their mothers, so who knows where it comes from, but there's enough commonality in there to suspect one or other of those sires.

On the subject of uncooperative heifers, Ida 75 went into labour tonight and was taking a very long time about it. When she'd produced a couple of feet and all signs that the head was probably following, I gave up watching and went to bed.

Tuesday the 26th
Ida 75's calf

This morning Ida was sitting with her safely-delivered daughter. She's reasonably early at 272 days. I have seen before, in early calves, that slightly overshot bottom jaw. Things even out in a few days.

607 flat out

I thought 607 might have had her calf by now, judging by an older sister's gestation length, but no, she's still full of calf. It must all be quite tiresome.

Athena 72

Athena 72, Isla's last daughter, has also remained pregnant for longer than I expected, now up to day 283. But this afternoon when I checked her, I noticed streaks of blood in the mucous behind her, signifying that her labour had begun - although she showed no other obvious sign for a while.

The calf wasn't born until 11.20pm, and after ensuring the calf was alive, I left Athena to it. She was not a quiet new mother! Such cows always sound and look like they're going to kill their calves as they stomp around them in what looks like immense distress. I didn't like to risk confusing things by shining a torch on the scene.

Wednesday the 27th
Athena and calf

This morning all is well with Athena and her bull calf.

I've been nervous about Athena, not for any real reason, just a lot of emotional ties with Isla - Athena is a lot like her.

dead possums

Stephan's been out laying toxin and setting traps for possums. There's a sudden influx of young males around. The possum hanging in the tree has been caught and killed by a trap baited with peanut butter. The one on the ground ate a cyanide pellet.

We weighed a few more calves today. One was the son of little Damara 74, which Stephan and I had to pull out two weeks ago. We also weighed Damara, to see how little she really is. She weighed 396kg and her calf weighed 57.4kg.

While Damara has seemed very small, I see from past records of other heifers of the same age, that she actually compares reasonably well with some of them. Her sire produced quite small progeny, so perhaps it is only that her contemporaries were all sired by much larger animals which has made her seem so small.

Thursday the 28th
heifers and their calves

Three heifers and their calves.

As each of them calved in the mob of 11, I let them through the tape and up into the remainder of the Flat 1 paddock, where they can eat as much as they like. The still-pregnant heifers are restricted to a degree - they need adequate feed to continue growing and to remain healthy as they approach the end of pregnancy, but must not be allowed to get fat.

There is a view held by many farmers as fact, that overfed heifers will have larger calves, but I don't subscribe to that and research has demonstrated that feeding levels have far more effect on the energy levels and ability of the heifer to calve than they do on the size of the calf. If you selected the wrong sire, you're not going to fix a too-large calf problem at the end of the pregnancy by starving the heifers!

Friday the 29th

Having arranged three appointments in town this morning, I knew that a heifer in labour might well throw them out. And so there was 606 in labour at 7am.

I postponed one appointment while I waited to see that the right sort of feet appeared, and when all looked well, left Stephan to watch the heifer through the rest of her delivery while I headed for town. I told him that having first seen the feet at 9.50am, I'd expect the calf to be born by eleven. A couple of minutes after 11am I received a phone message from Stephan to say that I was right on the minute and that the calf had splashed out at exactly 11 o'clock.

calves sheltering in a tree reserve

I'm never sure I'm comfortable about the calves walking under the turned-off bottom wires of the reserve fences, but they look so comfortable in the long grass, often curled up and sleeping, that I keep letting it happen.

The bulk of calving will be over soon and I'll turn all the fencing back on. That'll surprise them!

So far we have nine bull calves (including the twins) and 19 heifers.