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The week beginning the 27th of March 2010.

Saturday the 27th

walking the bulls up the road

Convenient paddocks with grass in them are scarce.  But the little inconvenient roadside paddock up the road hasn't been grazed for some weeks, and has enough in it to feed the little bulls for a while.  We put them over the scales and gave them a pour-on drench, then set out up the road with them.  I was pretty nervous about whether they'd move easily or not, but they were fantastic - followed my call to come along the road rather than head into the grassy area directly opposite as they came out onto the road, then quietly walked along to where I opened the gate to their paddock.

Sunday the 28th

Eva 81 finally came on heat late last night and so I had the opportunity to inseminate her late this morning.  While she's looked unscathed by her falling-down-a-hole incident, I suspect it has had an effect on her health and fertility since.  I hope she's now in calf, because she's a very well-grown heifer already, well ready to carry her first calf this year.

I met a very nice couple from just a few kilometres down the road, with whom I'd made contact after an exchange on the www.lifestyleblock.co.nz discussion forum.  They were keen on Lowline Angus cattle and I'd suggested that many ordinary cattle aren't necessarily huge, and also generally far less expensive than some of the "boutique" breeds.  It suited us both for them to come round this afternoon and stand around with some of my cows, to get an idea of their size and character.

Monday the 29th

Old Irene was on heat today, the first really firm sign I've seen this season, just a couple of days before she's due to go off to the works.  This thick trail of mucous fell on the ground as she was attempting to mount another of the cows in the cull mob.  Fertile mucous is clear, slippery and generally very stretchy.

fertile mucous on the grass

Tuesday the 30th

The New Zealand Angus Association (NZAA) has a Ward Tour every year.  This year the region hosting the event is Northland.  It generally costs about $800 per person to join the tour, which generally causes me to think I won't be going.  The Annual General Meeting of the Association is always held during the tour, so I decided that this year I would definitely go along and ask some questions of the Council members about their approach to the recently exposed Angus genetic defects (AM & NH).

I addressed the meeting on two issues of concern to me: firstly that the NZAA has in my view not adequately informed its bull clients and the commercial farmers who will have bought carriers of the defects over the last several years, of the known presence of the defects in a particular family of Angus, and the availability of genetic testing. I also questioned the appropriateness of Council members in particular, selling bulls from known carriers before the tests were available to prove the status of those bulls, or selling untested bulls when tests were already available, during the bull sales last year.  I said I had been told that I was the only member of the association to have expressed any concern to the association and that I wished to know if that was correct.

In summary I was informed that I remain the only member to have contacted the association or the President on the matter; that the Association had realised the first defect discovered (AM) would "affect about 30% of our cows" and that they then "aligned ourselves with the Australian position, which was to basically breed it out".  Their position appears to be that because there are a number of defects coming to light, these two are of only minor significance.  According to one speaker AM has been present in the New Zealand herd since 1991, although I can only find registrations of calves of the affected pedigrees from 1995, with the first use of Rito 1B2 of Rita 5H11 Bando.

Further comment was then invited from one of the newly elected councillors, whom I realised later is the principal of the Fossil Creek stud.  He effectively suggested that publicity would be dangerous because people might perceive the problem to be worse than it really is.  He also said that "the percentage of dead calves that one would get, even from a very largely affected herd, is very very small".

I queried that last comment, because according to the science of heredity, if one mates two carrier animals (each parent has a good copy and a defective copy of the allele in question) then there is a 25% chance of producing an animal which is without the defect, a 50% chance of producing another carrier, and a 25% chance of producing an affected calf, i.e. a dead one.  New Zealand breeders must be incredibly lucky, if they have avoided the dead 25% over a number of matings.  In the case of the NH defect, it is quite likely that the proportion of dead calves born is reduced, because many pregnancies apparently fail early in gestation, but those cows will be unproductive when they do not produce a calf in that season.

I was and am astonished and really very angry, but I have done about as much as I can without resorting to an email campaign to find out whether the Angus breeders who have not been involved in this mess, understand the ongoing implications of this approach, which will potentially negatively affect all of the membership.  There will be scores of carrier cattle in the unregistered Angus population; there were bulls sold last year by registered breeders which were tested as AMC (carriers of the AM defect), and many more sold before any of us were aware of the problem.  While registered breeders can easily breed their way around the problem because pedigrees are known and testing has been done, what of the commercial breeder who buys an unpedigreed bull from someone, or through a local sale?  In my view, the NZAA had a great opportunity, which they have now missed, to inform farmers of the defects in an unalarming manner, educated people on avoiding the problems, and could have stated very clearly that any bull bought from a registered breeder would be guaranteed free of the defects, because many of us have gone to a great deal of effort and expense to ensure that would be the case.  What I did not anticipate was that some registered breeders would sell carrier bulls.  To my mind that is entirely contrary to the aim of the association of improving the breed of Angus cattle!

I realised as we drove away from the meeting that I felt rather sad.  For months and months I've been quietly boiling about this issue, tried my very best to work out why the NZAA weren't doing anything about it, corresponding with various people in the organisation and getting nowhere.  I do not wish to continue to support the New Zealand Angus Association when this is their approach.  I need to do some thinking about whether quitting my registered breeding membership will have effects I do not want, and whether on balance that would matter anyway, bearing in mind how strongly opposed I am to the direction of the organisation.

If you know someone who breeds black cattle, ask them if they know anything about this interesting issue!  Please feel free to send anyone with queries in my direction.

new cafe at Mangamuka Bridge

We left the Omapere Hotel at the end of the meeting and made our way home via the farm of another Angus breeder, who was involved in the tour and readying her property and cattle for the tour's visit later in the afternoon.

At Mangamuka Bridge we found that the old petrol station has been transformed into a café, so stopped to sample their coffee and service, both of which were very nice.

I had not noticed the change to the building in the dark this morning as we passed it on our way to catch the first Kohukohu ferry across to Rawene.

Back at home Mr Ram was keeping Lamb company.

new ram at work

Wednesday the 31st

The cull cows went off on a truck today and it was a horrible experience for some of them and for me.  The truck driver, a young man we've had here on other occasions, lost his presence of mind and took that out on lovely grey 367.  He took no notice of my protests or demands that he desist in triggering his electric prodder.  When bullying men are involved, women and animals are at the bottom of the heap!  I have and will take what action I can about this incident.

To my usual cow eulogies:

  • Taurikura Irene 698, the best of the four cows I purchased from Takou Bay in 2003 when I rescued them from an empty cow cull mob destined for the works.  I have infused her genetics into my herd as much as possible, firstly with her son #26, whose daughters had their second calves this season; second son #60's first calves have not been impressive, so I used him only lightly when I had to.  Her third son born this season is looking very nice so far, and I'll keep him for use in the herd from next year.  Irene's infection with Neospora, probably contracted on the farm from which I bought her, has meant I can only really use her sons or grandsons, since her daughter will continue to pass the infection down to her calves.  Irene came here as a cow which would run to the far corner of a paddock at the very sight of us, and left having spent her later years enjoying regular grooming.  She had the most beautifully long and wavy tail switch.
  • 367, grey daughter of my first grey cow #16 (16 was the first calf born on the farm after I came to live here).  In my mind I've often melded the two animals into one, because they were so similar in appearance.  367 became one of my strokable cows.  It was she who had the surprisingly large splinter in her neck last year before calving.  367 leaves one yearling daughter here, grey 607.  367 is going because she's getting on a bit, is getting increasingly stroppy with the other cattle, which I don't like, and I have to cull out at the top end to fit better younger cattle in at the other!
  • 529, grey heifer, 367's daughter, a lovely animal but there's something not quite right with her.  She's always very thin, which makes keeping her healthy a struggle, and when at the end of her last pregnancy she began to look like there was some sort of uterine prolapse beginning to happen, I decided she would go on the cull list.  Her calf this year was a poor specimen; when that happens twice they do not get a third opportunity.
  • 418, my first and favourite daughter of bull Quadrille 07.  There is one daughter in the herd, 546, who had her second calf this year and she's doing well enough to keep for the time being.  418 has had a chequered career here, beginning with her birth!  The next problem was an infection with the Woody Tongue bacteria in her lower gum.  That resolved successfully and then after losing her calf late in gestation in 2008, she had another infection, this time in her muzzle.  She has been an excellent veterinary client, but an expensive cow to keep!  But she had a lovely nature and I liked having her around.  I made the decision to send 418 off when I began to see stiffness in her gait, probably caused by some hip problem, perhaps even stemming from an injury during her birth, joint injury apparently often leading to arthritic degeneration in later life.
  • 525, a cow I was never sure would do well, considering her family's performance, but she looked like quite a nice heifer and turned into a nice looking cow; but her calves were slow growers while 525 always looked in prime condition.  She's always been jumpy in the yards.
  • 532, scatty, unpleasant to work with, has produced two unimpressive calves.
  • 538, only slightly less scatty, and two unimpressive calves.  I expected more from her as a daughter of her quite good mother.
  • Delilah 36, daughter of Abigail, but without as much early milking ability, so that her first calf did poorly to weaning.  Like others in her family, she had an odd habit of wandering off on her own, but without the charm of approachability, that became tiresome.  Her last calf, a bull, is actually rather nice-looking and his temperament is surprisingly good, considering his mother's tendency to nervousness.
  • Ranu 62, the heifer we had planned to send to the Auckland works before discovering she was too big, so Moerewa for her instead.

Imagen following Stephan

Imagen is still eagerly following Stephan anywhere if he carries molasses.  Because of this willingness it's easiest to move her away from Zella at night than the other way around.  (We separate them nightly so Imagen can be milked in the morning.)

Thursday the 1st of April

Oryctolagus cuniculus minimus.  Fast moving, rarely seen, never before photographed in the wild.  This specimen apparently had amnesia and tremors, causing it to remain disoriented and shivering, halfway up a Kanuka tree.

They are reputed to have extremely sharp teeth and claws, so are best left entirely alone.

weird tree-dweller

Friday the 2nd

digging a hole to find a water pipe

We went out to the fence which marks the end of the Swamp paddock (we're supposed to call those soggy bits wetlands these days, but you can't just change a paddock's name on a whim) and the beginning of the Back Barn Paddock, because I had determined it would be a very good place for a water trough.  There are streams running through both paddocks, but the cattle demonstrate a preference for troughs much of the time, as long as they're kept clean.  A stream crossing where cattle might stop to drink, will often be downstream of another, so there may well be "essence of cow" detectable in the water, which is presumably not a good taste.

Stephan started digging a trench where he thought the main water line runs underground.

The soil is very dry.  There is only the coolness one would expect as part of the soil structure, but no real moisture.

This is the base of a parsley dropwort plant, which is often called carrotweed, but is a slightly smaller plant than real wild carrot.

dropwort parsley roots
more holes in the ground

I went home to try and find something for him and came back to find Stephan had been digging all over the place, but had managed to find the pipe.  He'd decided to go back to where he was certain it was, then dug holes to get a line to show where he should be digging by the fence.

The next task was to drill a hole in the pipe and install a saddle so that another pipe could be branched off the main line.

installing a saddle fitting
installing a saddle fitting

I like this sort of clever thing.  It's clever enough to make me suspect a woman might have designed it!

And there it all is, ready to have a piece of alkathene fitted to feed the new trough.

installing a saddle fitting
the trough, in place

Stephan then banged a couple of posts in on the fenceline, cut the three bottom wires, put the trough in place, then rejoined the wires from each end to the new posts.

I went for a wander to see if I could find some more Beggar's tick plants and seeds (which I did) and spent some time wandering down the stream.

There are dried marks on the rocks which indicate the normal level of the water.  It looks to me as if the level is currently about two inches below normal summer flows, and about five inches below the winter level.  I may have to return later in the year to take comparative photos.

stream bed
strange little plant

I don't know what this plant is.  Please feel free to suggest possible names or plant families.  These appear to be flowers, and were minute, on many-branched stems.  There were no obvious leaves, although there presumably were some nearer the ground.  I primarily took the picture so I look at the little flowers later - my eyes are getting a bit hard to focus in such situations.

I weaned another five calves today.  Last year we weaned most of them in one big mob and it was chaos; this year I'm doing them in small groups and they're much calmer, quieter, and settle more quickly.

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