The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 25th of September 2010.
Saturday the 25th
lambs on the deck

On the deck this morning, two lambs and a cat.

I'll have to block some gaps where the fences aren't electrified.

four pregnant cows

The four pregnant cows in the early-calving mob have been spending the nights in the bottom of Flat 2 where there are big sheltering trees, and their days over in Flat 1 where I can see them more easily from the house. The strong cold winds have finally eased, so I'll probably leave them in Flat 1 now until they've all calved.


Imagen, looking great. My calculations say she's due to calve on 1 October. I'm often wrong by days. She has an increasingly huge udder.

Kerehoma and Sarah feeding a lamb

A car arrived late this morning and out of it came Elizabeth, Sarah and Kerehoma. What a delightful surprise.

We went for a walk amongst the sheep and lambs, had a look at the Paradise Duckling in the stream and when it was time for the lambs to be fed, Kerehoma gave two of them their bottles.

Stephan had conveniently left freshly squeezed orange juice and some fruit loaf in the fridge, so there were nice things to share with guests. (Stephan was out learning how to make cheese.)

Sunday the 26th
Grey Warbler collecting wool

Finan, chattering as he does when stalking birds, drew my attention to this rather interesting sight: a Grey Warbler (Riroriro) gathering wool from the lamb cage where the ewes have been rubbing. Riroriro are everywhere around us and my book suggests they generally nest in the same area each year. In the last two or three springs I've noticed a Shining Cuckoo chick in a Totara tree outside our bedroom window with its tiny Riroriro foster parents, and it was into that tree that this bird disappeared with its wool collection.

Maybe the Cuckoos threatened to take their egg elsewhere if the accommodation wasn't upgraded for their demanding offspring. The photo isn't very good mostly due to my hanging out the office window, trying to catch the bird in a still second between flits.

Abigail and calf

Calving has begun, thanks to an unplanned mating on Boxing Day last year, when young bull #60 jumped over a gate to do the business with Abigail.

Abigail started looking like something was up at about 8am, then began standing around in a meaningful manner an hour later. There was nothing much to see for another couple of hours, until a lot of fluid poured out of her. I was on the phone watching from the house when I noticed a red streak down the back of Abigail and feared problems, but then noticed a little black lump in front of her. The calf must have shot out in seconds when the time came.

Stephan and I both went out to see the season's first calf and thought there might have been a twin for a while, the way Abigail was behaving, but perhaps the calf caught a nerve during its quick exit, causing Abigail's obvious discomfort.

Both mother and baby lay around for some time, not stirring much until around 4pm when Abigail delivered the afterbirth and a little while later I saw the calf looking for her first feed. Just before dusk (later on the clock today because of the start of Daylight Saving this morning, when the clocks went forward by an hour) the calf was doing the little jumping skips they do if they're feeling good, so all's well.

Monday the 27th

The weather was fine and looked likely to continue that way for a few days, so I decided we must take the opportunity to dock the lambs.

just-docked lambs

I loathe this job. I don't mind the actual handling and putting the rings on and so on, but I feel so horrible about causing pain and ultimately mutilating these small creatures. But, on balance, I still believe we and they are better off long-term if they're done. There's one tail I thought I might leave, but considering a long future for the ewe, put the ring on with my usual profuse apologies. My little bottle-fed lamb has an unusually mobile tail - most of them only appear controlled for about the first three inches, then the bulk just drops inertly below.

The lambs spent the next hour flopping down and writhing, as they always do. It seems to take a couple of days for them to recover entirely, as one might expect. Docking is done to address the long-term management issues of sheep with woolly tails which inevitably become urine-stained and often daggy. We've had a few long-tailed sheep over the years and the extra vigilance required in flystrike-watch remains the argument for docking, although I do wonder whether these days, with the presence of a fly which strikes clean sheep anyway, that argument still really holds in our situation. On large sheep farms shearing efficiency would be a major argument for docked tails, along with the fly management issue.

No pain relief is (legally) required for the procedure, so it's not a vet job, although there are recommendations around the age when lambs may be docked in this way. This year we're late doing it because of the weather being wet much of the time. When it was fine, there were still lambs with feeding issues I was attempting to sort out.

Tuesday the 28th

Outside watching the lambs today while bottle-feeding, I contemplated the amount of pain we attempt to control in animals and how much we as fellow-mammals put up with: I woke with a nasty headache which just won't shift. Today I was supposed to go out for my "last fling" before I'm confined to home for the calving period, for lunch with a friend; an outing I was very much looking forward to.

calf, lying in

I spent the day quietly moving around doing the things I needed to.

Abigail's calf, "lying in" as newborns do for the first two or three days, was invisible until I walked over to find her. Abigail knew where she was, but I checked occasionally, to ensure she hadn't wobbled when she got up and toppled into the drain to the left in the picture.

Abigail's daughter

She'd found a lovely warm spot in the sunshine, tucked down out of the cool breeze.

Jasper and Stella feeding lambs

In the early afternoon Jill arrived with Jasper and Stella. The two children were going to come up on the bus until Jude discovered they both had to be over seven to travel without an adult. Jasper's still six. The children have come to stay for a few days on their own, before Jude comes up after the weekend.

I've asked the children to think of names for the lambs.

I had been explaining to the children how to tell if a cow was about to give birth and within a couple of hours, 470 presented us with an example of exactly the behaviour I'd described. That was a surprise. I had expected Imagen to calve at any moment, but was not expecting 470 for another week, on the history of four previous calvings indicating a usual 279-day gestation.

470 and calf

The two children and Jill came out with me to stand in the paddock to watch the birth. It's fun watching the white-faced and grey cows, because their calves have a 50% chance of looking like them, or of being black. As soon as I saw this calf's nose, I could see white.
As usual for this cow, the birth fluids were a horrible green colour.

I didn't find out what sex the calf was until later in the evening when I heard a cow mooing in the agitated way they do when their calf has gone beyond their own ability to follow - sometimes into a drain, often through a fence - and spent a couple of minutes coaxing her back to her mother under the electric tape which is controlling their grazing. The calf has lovely black lower eyelids, but a pink nose. She's a good-sized calf, for all that she has arrived a week earlier than I expected to see her.

Wednesday the 29th
470's calf

Do they do this to taunt their mothers and me? A more precarious position would be difficult to find: right on the edge of the fairly deep drain, which then drops immediately down into the stream to the right. And once a calf has found a lying-in spot, she'll go back to it whenever she feels like another sleep.

I checked several times during the day to make sure she was still where she needed to be.

Those checks were done in the vaguely-human-feeling periods between fits of intense illness I'd be best not to describe! Having commented a few weeks ago that my migraines had changed for the better, it seems they've changed again for the far worse. I was so ill during the morning that I rang the doctor's surgery and sought assurance from a nurse that my symptoms were quite normal for some types of migraine and that I wasn't going to die, for all that there were moments I almost wished I could. She very helpfully arranged a prescription for some new migraine medication I've not tried before, which Stephan collected after lunch and which made me feel almost normal again later in the afternoon. To whomever developed that little wafer-borne medication which dissolves in the mouth, eliminating the necessity of swallowing anything, thank you!

Thursday the 30th
runaway bulls

Stella and I looked out the window to check the cows this afternoon and noticed some animals where they ought not to be, then realised it was the bulls out for a stroll. The hook on their gate has no ring to stop it being jiggled out of the latch staple, and bulls liking to itch their heads against fence posts and gate latches, can sometimes accidentally open them.

Fortunately the lanes were shut at a number of points, so they hadn't gone very far. We all went for a walk to fetch them back to their paddock again, and replace the hook on their gate with one with a ring designed to stop it being easily opened.

In the early evening I drafted nine animals out of the main cow mob. I'll graze them on the flats with slightly better feed than they've been getting. Even though they're looking reasonably good, I drafted out the three R3 first-calving heifers, along with the thinnest six mature cows.

Imagen was in early labour this evening, following one of the calves around in between standing off on her own looking thoughtful. Throughout the evening after dark she constantly called, which I don't remember her doing before. She produced some fluids just after 10pm and her calf just after midnight, a bull.

Friday the 1st of October

The children went pig-hunting with Stephan while I shifted cattle. They walked right up around the back of the farm. I don't know how much walking they're accustomed to, but that was a pretty serious sort of stroll!

pregnant heifers

Meanwhile I shifted cows and heifers around. These are the pregnant heifers in Flat 3.

Of the nine heifers and cows in the Windmill paddock, heifer 568 looks the most ready to calve, which is odd, since I don't expect her to calve for almost another two weeks. Her pelvic ligaments are softening ready for birth, so her tail-head is more prominent and the area between her hips and tail ripples when she walks. But that indicator of readiness is very variable between cows. I'd been taking photos of 470's rump to note her pre-birth preparations, thinking I'd have a week of photos to compare, but then she calved the next day before I'd noticed much change from normal. Others get very loose very early.