The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 30th of October 2010.
Saturday the 30th

Little Matariki, my favourite bottle-fed lamb, started wobbling around this morning, her rear end collapsing under her. (We had brought all the sheep to the yards to have a look at a couple of foot problems.) I brought her back to the house so I could keep an eye on her and gave her a shot of penicillin after reading my Veterinary Guide. I eventually got hold of a vet who thought she might have a spinal abscess for which antibiotics would be indicated.

She seemed alright for most of the day, except that her legs gave way occasionally and she couldn't easily get up from sitting, nor walk very steadily. She wandered around and sat down where I was working in the kitchen from time to time, seeming only unusually quiet, not really in great distress.

Just after 2pm I thought she looked a bit less bright. Half an hour later she looked worse and her breathing was laboured. Five minutes after that I held her as she died.
I am so sad. My beautiful, lively, friendly, lovely little lamb, went from bouncing around ordinarily at 7.30 this morning, to dead at 3pm.

I thought it possible she was afflicted with Pulpy Kidney, a clostridial infection which kills well-grown lambs - their mothers were all vaccinated, but I probably ought to have given the lambs themselves a vaccination by now. Stephan and I did a post mortem examination on her later, as we prepared to bury her. From my understanding of its presentation after death, it wasn't Pulpy Kidney which killed her. We also couldn't find a stuck swallowed teat from the bottle. Her gut had an unusual appearance in one region, about which I shall seek more expert comment.


Meanwhile... the twins were out in the sunshine, perfectly healthy...

... and the first orchid flower had appeared in the warm sunny day.

Sun Orchid

In case you're not familiar with this story, the orchid shown is of a plant currently unofficially known as Thelymitra "puriri", being a recently discovered hybrid of two naturally occurring orchids of this area - although I've not personally ever seen either. This one appeared a couple of years ago on a fallen Puriri tree trunk near our garden and caused some excitement in Native Orchid Society circles because of its beauty and uniqueness. The clump of plants doubled in size last year and again this year, so that there are a dozen flower spikes carrying buds this season.
I have been tending the expanding colony of plants, attempting a little separate cultivation where such interference didn't threaten the stability of the existing plants and waiting with great interest to see the plants flower again.

Sunday the 31st
thrush in the garden

A pair of thrushes is nesting somewhere near the house, the adults repeatedly appearing outside my office window where they stalk and then pull worms from the soil.

flax flower buds

Nearly all our flax plants have thrown up their beautiful flower stems, huge tall things on the oldest and biggest plants. These are the flower buds of one of them.

Curly 562 was in labour at 10.30pm. When I went back to check on her three quarters of an hour later, she looked entirely normal, as if nothing was going on at all, so I went to bed.

Monday the 1st of November
Curly and her second calf

All was well this morning with Curly and her new baby, her second son, this time carrying the same skin and hair condition she does.

As far as I can determine they have Hypotrichosis, giving rise to the sparse, curly, charcoal hair colour at birth, and almost no tail switch in the adult. Last year's calf had a normal straight haired, black coat.

607 calving

After standing around looking thoughtful all morning, 607 began her obvious labour just after noon.

The feet which eventually appeared looked enormous! In a first-calf heifer, within about half an hour of the appearance of the feet one should see some sign of the tongue or nose of the calf, and there should be obvious progress with each contraction, although sometimes that may be only by a few millimetres. I wasn't altogether happy that 607 was getting on as she should, so knelt down behind her, got a firm grip on both ankles and with every contraction, pulled and then held the calf. Gradually the nose and face appeared and once the eyebrow area is through the rest is generally much easier, as long as shoulders and chest are not huge.

The calf lay limply on the ground, gulping as if it couldn't get any air, but eventually all was well.

607 calving

I was as usual quite careful to use a low birthweight bull for the heifers at mating last summer. Bull #60's calves last year had tiny streamlined little heads and bodies, so I didn't anticipate any trouble at all this year. But the calves from these heifers are far bigger.

The heifers are all daughters of #43, and he was a large calf at birth, weighing 46 kg. I consequently used him only on mature cows. But that trait appears to have had a significant impact on the size of his daughters' calves.

None have been so big that they've required serious intervention, but they have benefited from some help where things were slow. The heads of the calves I've been helping have come through quite smoothly, so they are a good shape, just quite big.

Tuesday the 2nd
calves and cows on the bridge

Stephan and I brought the calves and cows in to put them over the scales. 607's grey calf weighed just over 40kg. He and Curly's son were really slow in their movements and reactions. Bull calves in particular seem prone to mental slowness, particularly if there's been a hold-up during their births.

Curly's calf

As soon as Curly and her calf were let out of the yards, he sat down and went to sleep. Those youngest calves would naturally not move very far from their birth sites in the first two or three days, so after this I put them down in the Pig paddock by the yards, so they didn't have to walk any further today.

Wednesday the 3rd
injured starling

Riding past the Windmill Paddock on my bike, I saw a lot of bird flapping, which I thought was two birds having a fight, except there didn't seem to be enough wings. When I went over for a closer look, I found this starling in a poor state. It must have collided with a fence during flight, or been attacked by something, which had given it a head injury which was presumably the cause of its being unable to remain upright. I found a rock and put it out of its misery, there being obviously no hope for its recovery.

water cress in flower

The big patch of watercress we found a few weeks ago is now in flower.

Thursday the 4th

I mixed the mobs of 15 and five cows and their calves today and they seemed to be quite happy together. It isn't so long since most of them would have been together and the only one new to this group is the little heifer, Damara 74, who is so unassertive in her behaviour that it's unlikely any of the others will challenge her.

Native orchid

The orchids are coming out in greater numbers now. They'll be fabulous on the best days, with so many buds to bloom at once. The weather forecast is exactly right for the orchids, even though we could really do with some rain instead of continuous sunshine.

Native orchid

In the orchid flowers most of us are familiar with, the bottom petal is usually quite different from the others, forming the lip (or labellum). In these flowers, the petals and sepals (three of each) all look like ordinary petals to the lay person. It was only when I noticed the centres of the first ones I saw, that I realised they were something extraordinary.

Friday the 5th

I watched today as Stephan drove up the lane and disturbed three Paradise ducks, which I then realised were the parents and chick who live on the Windmill Paddock. This is the first flight I've seen the chick take and it seems very early for it to be flying. Perhaps a single chick will grow and mature faster than several together in a family.

fancy shade structure

Stephan's been building a structure to provide shade for people sitting by the pond this summer. It's pretty fancy!

The centre pole is part of an old telephone pole from up on the hill, where it has been lying since the poles were replaced by underground cable some years ago. The rest is Kanuka from out in the PW where Stephan and his helpers were clearing and filling holes a few weeks ago.