The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 25th of December 2010.
Saturday the 25th

Christmas day was a quiet affair for us. While Stephan and Jill prepared nice foods, I went and gently worked a few cattle through the yards, to give them a rather late copper injection. Copper is supposed to be administered at least two weeks before mating, but having ignored that advice a couple of years back and then experienced the best and most compact calving in the following spring, I thought I'd ignore it again. They're better having late copper, in my opinion, than none if they need it, which our cattle generally do.

The gentle nature of my work was for my benefit more than that of the cattle, having awoken with my own special Christmas decorations behind my eyelids, as yet another migraine began. They've become far too frequent, but at least they don't lay me out as they do to some people!

A couple of friends joined Jill, Stephan and I for a late lunch of ham (free with some very expensive drench I bought the other day) and an enormous Christmas Pudding made by Jill.

milk foam

This cow, 479, was standing near the trough at the bottom of the hill over the road. Her calf was nowhere to be seen, but had obviously been there not long before - see all the milk foam around her feet.

Jill and I had an interesting walk back from checking the cows up on the hill in the dusk. A couple of young men next door were sitting with an air rifle and a few beers, practicing shooting things off our boundary fenceposts! The fact that several of their pellets were hitting our shed, and others presumably going some distance beyond it, hadn't occurred to them as any cause for concern. I told them what I thought of their stupidity and requested they cease immediately. I am very glad that I had not managed to carry out my plan to move the bulls into the Pig Paddock ready for the drafting I'll have to do in a couple of days. A pellet hitting a bull in a sensitive spot might considerably affect his fertility and temperament! What complete idiots.

Sunday the 26th
flying fox

Boxing Day is family day here. In the early afternoon people and food poured into the house and then some of the people into the pond.

The flying fox is still a rather risky looking plaything! But all who tried it looked like they had a ball, apart from the odd rope burn.


The pond turned an opaque sort of brown with so many people in it stirring up mud from the bottom - and there was a lively game of water polo at one stage.

There were a number of us who chose to stay dry, sitting comfortably in the shade watching the swimmers.

Monday the 27th

The bulls moved themselves overnight, but fortunately only from one paddock to the neighbouring empty one. One of them must be a head rubber, and presumably he rubs his head so enthusiastically on the gate latches, that eventually he inadvertently unlatches them. I don't think he does it deliberately, but it doesn't matter what type of latch is present, including the hooks with spring-loaded lock rings on them. When the gate swings open, the three bulls wander through to see what's next. I presume the culprit is #89, since he managed to rub his eartag out of existence very early in his life.

We did some vaccinating and tagging early this afternoon, so the twins and Imagen's calves are now done. They went back to their paddock, taking #87 bull with them.

Then the sun came out and it got very hot for a while, so we took a break.

When things cooled a bit, we went back to carry on sorting. I weighed the yearlings just for interest - those I've selected for mating are quite obviously big enough already - and was astonished by how heavy they were. That little first calf of two-year-old 572 last year, now weighs 410kg and Abigail's tiny daughter 94, weighed just over 350kg. That takes 94 well past my usual 320kg minimum requirement for mating, but she's still so much smaller than the others that I'm not prepared to risk mating her this year - it was her sister 74, who remained so much smaller than her herdmates last year, and whose calf we had to expend some effort in pulling out at calving.

An enthusiastic bull!

Gradually we sorted the three mobs into their mating groups: most of the cows have gone to 89 and 90, with the yearlings and a handful of others to 87.

456 was the first cow in with 90 and he was very enthusiastic about their presence, chasing 456 around and around the paddock.

Virago Eva 81 AB

Eva, in with 90. She weighed 578kg.

bull and cow

There was a lot of yelling from the bulls, skiting to each other about how marvellous they are, where they are, who's with them, what they're up to...

White-faced 517 was on heat in the yards, so I watched how long it took for the bull to find her when she came into his paddock: three minutes.

Tuesday the 28th
Carrot weed

Our little Road Flat paddock is seriously overgrown, partly because the neighbours don't restrict their Jersey bull's access to the entire length of the boundary, on both sides of the river. The only stock I could have grazed here were the heifers, and while I did have them here for a few days, I worried about them the whole time!

We've come up with a use for all this weedy pasture: a maze! It'll only be a low one, but there will be strict rules about not jumping over the walls! Stella is coming here for her birthday again, and I reckon a maze would be a great thing to create.

I'll need to find a pattern, plot it out, get Stephan on the scrub-bar, follow around with the wheelbarrow and pick up all the litter.

Wednesday the 29th
Imagen and her calf

Imagen has two working "quarters" (presumably they're actually sixths, in her case) at the back of her udder and her calf is entirely familiar with them. When he'd finished feeding on the normal teats today, I watched him head off around behind and empty those as well. Some breeders will remove supernumerary teats, but they don't worry me. In dairy cows they're probably more of an issue, since milking machines only come with four cups; calves are far more adaptable.

bull and cow

How not to miss a cow on heat: stand over her until she's ready.

486 must have smelt like she was coming on, and 90 had nowhere else to be. 486 eventually got tired of not being able to sit comfortably and got up. She wasn't properly on heat until the next morning.

cow urinating while lying down

I've only seen this a few times: a lying cow urinating. It's not something they do very often, usually waiting until they're standing. It probably takes practice. It is quite usual for them to defecate while lying, generally then getting the stuff all over their tails.

scouring calf

602 had a really sore right eye a few days ago, and I very nearly got her in to see if we could relieve it somehow, but then it suddenly appeared much better and she's fine again. She probably had a seed in it.

Her calf has Coccidiosis scours, with bleeding and I'm watching her to ensure she's getting better, not worse. She's feeding avidly and still curiously exploring her environment, so I'd say she's still feeling alright.

I have recently seen some press releases on experimentation with catnip oil to repel biting flies which affect cattle in North America. Apparently catnip is more repellent than DEET (diethyl-m-toluamide), which is a reasonably toxic chemical in most insect repellent sprays. We have a vigorous catnip plant in the garden, so I've been taking a pocketful of leaves out with me to the cows, and rubbing it into the hair around their udders, where ticks primarily gather. I've then made notes on how many ticks I find on later inspection, and I think the stuff works!

I had heard that penny royal works as an insect repellent, and if I've forgotten to apply insect repellent before going out in the paddocks, I've sometimes tried it, but it doesn't work for very long. I'm now experimenting with rubbing catnip on my skin instead. Some skins may react to it, according to some of the literature, but mine doesn't and if it saves spraying on the toxic chemical stuff, I'm all for it.

Pukeko nest

Noticing a Pukeko dashing away from a particular area in one of the paddocks, I went to see if there was a nest and found it hidden amongst the Willow weed and long grass.

protection for a Pukeko nest

I want to let the cows in here, and they might well take exception to the bird and her eggs and at the very least frighten the sitting bird away, so I put up a protective electric tape.

There appears to be only one bird associated with this nest, which is very unusual - usually a few sentries are visible around the place, and they'll warn the sitting bird of approaching danger. On the several occasions I've come over here, I've seen no others.

Thursday the 30th
bull and cows

I haven't put heat indicators on the cattle this year, and so far I'm managing to keep track of who's being mated - it helps that the bulls are slobbery, excitable fellows and often leave all sorts of evidence of their activities with the cows.

The cow in the foreground is 486. She was on heat this morning and has lick marks on her back, which you may be able to see in the picture.

Stephan, Char-Lien and Jonathan

Char-Lien and Jonathan came out to visit and after lunch we went for a walk. The three of them carried on while I stopped to keep an eye on the cattle, and they brought back lots of flowers they'd picked along the way (Ragwort flowers in bread bags).

Synchronised swimming

Synch or swim?

Stephan usually has to perform his synchronised swimming routines on his own, but it works better with someone else! They paid particular attention to smiling in just the right way.

grazing cattle

89's mob are making their way up the Windmill Paddock, where it hasn't been grazed for some time. This is such a great season for these cows now. The rain came just in time!

bath time

Bath time. We heat water in a drum over a fire, then when it's lovely and hot, run it down into the bath (via an ordinary tap one can turn on with one's foot while relaxing in the water) and lie in it for as long as we feel like. Stephan set up a light on the shade rotunda so I could read, then brought me an umbrella to stop my book getting wet when it started to drizzle.

There was still plenty of water by the time I'd had enough, so he (pictured, dimly) had a soak too.

Little lamb had her last feed today, because I've had enough - she's down to 200ml per feed and hardly needs it, so I won't give it to her tomorrow.

Friday the 31st of December 2010
three calves

Three little calves (Irene's daughter and the twins) all sitting on Isla's grave. There is still a bare patch of soil and we haven't built the protective surround for the tree(s) I'll plant there yet - although the timber and posts are now stacked there ready. I miss that cow.

And there went another year!