The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 9th of October 2010.
Saturday the 9th
orchid plant

The orchid has at least nine peduncles this year, although it's a couple of weeks later in its flower development than last year.

When I first found it in 2008, there were only a couple of flowering plants. I'm thrilled that it has continued to expand. The few small plants I relocated have all survived in pots, the largest producing a peduncle with a couple of flower buds on it.

This site is reasonably secure in terms of the low chance of something falling on the plants, or their being washed away, but I think it's still sensible to create a back-up population in case they are disastrously challenged.

Today was the day of the awful noisy car rally again. I do wish they'd bugger off and find a different road, or just stop this stupid event all together!

As soon as it got close to the time we expected the noise to begin, I went out to the calving paddock with my grooming brush and spent the next couple of hours quietly brushing cows and talking to them whenever the banging, roaring noises approached from up the valley. Fortunately this year only four cows have calved so far and none were in labour this morning.

strangers on the hill

Before and during the noise, I was disconcertingly overlooked by a couple or three strangers up on our hill over the road. They probably weren't looking where I was, but they should not have been there! We're really happy to share our place with others, but not when they're too rude to even ask.

548 calving

While I was having a nap to attempt to beat my nasty cold into submission, 548 was in labour. When I went out to check her, I could see two feet already presenting, so watched as she gave birth to her son, her third calf.

When he first moved as she was licking him clean, she gave the usual deep bellow, which brought all the others running to investigate.

548 calving

Athena 72 (Isla's last daughter, at left in this picture) was particularly upset by the calf, slobbering and foaming at the mouth as she very intently followed its first tentative movements.

This sort of fixation in heifers is not altogether uncommon, but can cause problems. 548 wasn't easy about her calf being harassed in such a way, as it tried to find its first feed and kept being confused by the extra cow wanting to claim it as her own.

548 was very good though, and ensured the calf stayed with her and fed and eventually Athena appeared to settle down, so I left them as they were for the time being.

Cabbage tree

This is a Cabbage Tree (Tī Kōuka) on one of our boundaries. I took a photo of it in 2007 when its head had begun to split.

Because I've watched a lot of the Cabbage Trees around the farm from seedling stage, it has interested me to see how they either grow as single-headed trees, or for some reason split into multi-crowned plants. They do eventually split as they grow, but I don't know what makes that happen at different ages.

In this case I know exactly what caused it to branch: I ripped the top out of it to offer to steer 356 when he was stuck in 2004.


Second-calving three year old 561 had a bull calf this evening. I went out to make sure all was well and as I approached her, realised the shape behind her was a hawk, standing waiting perhaps for an easy feast? The hawks clean up afterbirth wherever they find it, but the cows generally make quite a fuss about keeping them away from the calves. I wonder if a hawk would have a go at a calf while its mother was distracted by giving birth to it? This one was certainly close enough to make me suspicious of its intent.

Sunday the 10th
Black Backed Gulls

Two Black Backed Gulls feasting on the afterbirth left by 548 sometime yesterday evening. I feel oddly uncomfortable about these birds, probably because they're sea birds and aren't usually this far inland, and the cattle are very nervous about them.


Athena 72 was causing problems for 548 and her calf this morning, with her chin almost stuck on the calf, mooing to it as if she were his mother. I went home and got Stephan to come and help me move the uncalved heifers out of the paddock, leaving 548 and her calf, along with 568, who was obviously in labour.
Getting Athena "unstuck" from the calf, took some persistence and definitely needed two of us.
She spent most of the day standing along the fence in the new paddock, calling to the calf.

Stephan with Imagen

Stop looking at the cute lambs, the photo's about what's going on in the background!

Stephan began training Imagen to come out of the paddock for milking this morning. She's now quite relaxed about leaving her calf.

Below are heifer 568's calving pictures, but I'm not offering you the option of skipping them, because it's all very exciting!

568 was in labour - walking around with her tail out, looking distracted and uncomfortable - at 7am when I first checked this morning.

She carried on wandering around for the next three hours, before there was any sign of anything more interesting.

From 10am I sat under a tree and watched her where she'd settled up the top of the Windmill paddock beside the stream fence. These heifers are big enough to do all this on their own, but when I see one in labour, I like to ensure all goes well.

568 calving

After forty minutes the calf was expelled to this point, with the thick membrane over its head and the heifer then took a moment to relax. When calves first start moving, they tend to extend their heads out and up, which means the nose presses into the membrane, rather than away from it into the pockets of air around the front legs.
The membrane is so tough that it must be pulled off, rather than punctured, which I did. Then it occurred to me that the heifer would probably stand up, with the calf still partly inside her, so I grabbed his front legs, twisted him a bit to ensure the hips came free, and pulled him out.

Then the fun began. 568 began sniffing and licking the calf, bellowing at him, shoving him around until he went under the fence. I went down and tried to shove him back out into the paddock again, while she continued to push him back to me.

568 and calf

Eventually I prevailed, but then as soon as he began to try to get up, she pushed him over again and back under the fence, and down the slope.

568 and calf

When I got him out under the fence and pointed in the right direction, he managed to get properly into the paddock area. Every time he got up, she bowled him over. This went on for some time.

568 and calf

When the calf was reasonably steady I decided to leave them to it, even though by then he was back on the wrong side of the fence again. He could walk back to his mother, the bottom wire of the fence being disconnected from the electricity for the duration of calving.

But then I noticed 568 hunch up and push out that tiny spot of white at her vulva, which made me turn back and keep watching. There's only one thing which is likely to come out of a cow looking so white and that's the bottom of a hoof.

I phoned home to Stephan and told him what was happening, so he came speeding up the lane in the ute and joined me to watch the rest of the process.

568 calving

When the first calf came back to her, 568 got up in the middle of delivering the second, leaving him hanging in the breeze, until he dropped, splat, onto the ground.

Stephan and a calf

568 wandered off with the first calf as he tottered around looking for a feed, leaving the second calf lying on his own.

When he eventually moved, he rolled off down the river bank, so Stephan rescued him and carried him out into the paddock. Eventually he mooed a little and 568 responded, but was so intent on the other calf, she didn't make any move toward him.

568 calving

We were going to leave them to it, but decided that a bit more careful intervention could be a good idea, so we gently prompted 568 and the first calf to move back to where the second was lying. I figured that it would be best to ensure that 568 was firmly attached to both her calves as early as possible, rather than leaving her to move off and possibly lose her connection with the second.

As 568 started cleaning him, the second calf began his attempts to stand.

cows and calves

I'd seen Damara 74 stamping her back foot at 1pm, so at 2pm when she was lying down in this picture, I thought she was probably in labour. Many cows will go away on their own when labour begins, but some will quite happily remain in the midst of the herd.

An hour later Damara had produced a membrane bag, inside which I could see a couple of feet.

Stephan and the heifers on a faraway hillside

I'm not well enough to climb hills, so having not seen all the young heifers for a few days while they've been exploring the PW (Paddock With Three Holes Two Steers Fell In...), so I asked Stephan to go and round them up and bring them down. I think he was making friends with Zella in the picture (which I took from Flat 1 while watching Damara), before the heifers galloped off down the slope.

For regular readers, there is a map of the farm available on request.

The heifers are heading for the Road Flat paddock, which is fast growing carrot weed, which needs grazing before the flowers emerge. The heifers are (almost) the only mob I can put up there at the moment, since everyone else is approaching calving. Demelza and 572 could go there, but don't need that much feed, and I wouldn't put the bulls up there where I can't easily see them all the time - on a boundary and next to the road - now that it's springtime and there are the tempting smells of attractive heifers on the air.


I had to go back and look at these three lots of times today. They are the first twins I've had born in the herd which have come without problems. Ivy's twins were the first I'd seen and got a bit stuck on the way out. Ivy was aged and extremely thin - she lost a lot of weight in the last three or four weeks of her pregnancy, as this heifer did to some extent. Because she was in such poor condition, she couldn't adequately feed her calves and so they didn't do as well as they ought to have done.
The next set were Ivy's again, Imagen and her soon-dead sister, although Imagen has turned into a pretty fabulous cow!

The third set were those of Ingrid, Ivy's first twin daughter, to whom Ingrette and a dead sister were born in 2007. Ingrette's story was a sad one, and that experience rather put me off twins.

But these two, with their fabulous mother who hasn't the experience to know that calves don't usually come in two parts, are a delight to watch. Both being bulls, there's no problem with Freemartinism (if they'd been a bull/heifer set, the heifer would probably have been infertile, a Freemartin). They'll both be steered, since their mother is not a pedigree cow.

Meanwhile I had been trying very hard to be relaxed about Damara and her lack of calving progress. As you can see from the photo below, the end of the story was good, but I suspect it could well not have been.

Her calf came out as far as its two front feet and stopped, so when she lay down for a while, I inserted my hand to check if the calf's head was where it ought to be. It was, but feet and head didn't seem to be making any progress over the next hour or so, so I started helping Damara by pulling on a leg. I spent longer than I ought to have done, considering my own health, but with every pull I thought she might push enough to get the calf out. I had checked around the calf's head inside Damara to confirm that there was enough room for the calf to come out and was fairly sure all was alright on that score.

Damara and calf

When Stephan arrived back from fetching the heifers, I called him to come and give me a hand, and grabbing one leg each, we gradually pulled the calf out of Damara. He was a pretty big baby for such a small heifer. If Damara had continued to grow as her herd-mates did, there would have been no problem, but for some reason she's still very small.

Jersey bull

A potential nightmare in the making! This animal stood watching me through the fence as I was setting up an electric tape on our side of the boundary in the Road Flat paddock.

He was one of four tiny Jersey calves which appeared next door some months ago and somebody said they'd been "cut", i.e. castrated by some method. But the way this animal looked at me today made me check him more carefully. Between his back legs is a significant scrotum.

While they're beautifully cute when they're very young, Jersey bulls can grow into the most dangerous farm animals around (even though Jersey cows can be the quietest). Why he's been left as a bull is beyond my comprehension. They're not my animals and will hopefully never be of direct concern to me, but the fact that one of his herd-mates is a tiny Jersey heifer creates a potential problem in that she's quite probably already pregnant, Jersey heifers being prone to very early puberty, far too early in her life to survive calving. It is criminally irresponsible to keep animals like this with such little concern for their welfare.

Monday the 11th
moving the twins

Having left the twins and their mother in the paddock where they were born for the first 24 hours, I managed to get them to move reasonably easily this morning, so the heifer would have access to adequate grass. Having lost condition in the last couple of weeks, I need to ensure she has enough to produce the extra milk she'll need for two calves.

Little Damara 74 is spending much of her time lying down. I have no doubt she's exhausted. She spent most of the rest of yesterday standing feeding her calf, so all's well so far.

Queenly 23

Nothing to see? Queenly was standing off across a little swampy area this afternoon, looking very thoughtful. I decided her labour was in its very early stages and went off to have a couple of hours sleep.

When I returned three hours later, Queenly was lying down, and it was some minutes before she showed any sign of the labour I believed was in progress. She eventually got up and started pacing around with her tail out.

Queenly and her calf

When I went to check again later, Queenly had just delivered her calf and was cleaning her as she began to stand. A bit of peering through the rushes determined that the calf is a heifer, full sister to the sad smelly little calf we pulled out of Queenly last year. They're much nicer like this!

545's calf

I try and get at least one picture of each calf's face when they're still young. I've been prompted to do this by the silly mix-up between 604 and 606. I now have them sorted, but for a couple of years I thought they were the daughters of each other's mother. That hasn't mattered too much, except that 604 missed being tested for Neospora, because I thought she was a member of a tested clear family. She's actually the only remaining member of 323's family and sometime I'll have to test her.

443 and calf

443 produced another grey daughter in the early hours of this morning.

Weatherwise it wasn't the best first day for a calf; there was frequent hail and the air temperature was bitterly cold.

Tuesday the 12th
Dexie 46 and new calf

I heard some bellowing around 4am this morning, when I was sitting up having a coughing fit. This calving must have been the cause of the disturbance and the noise may not have been coming solely from new mother Dexie 46: Athena 72 was just out of the frame and she was very interested in the calf, to the obvious distress of Dexie. I suspect, from their demeanour, that Dexie and the calf had been being pursued around the paddock by the over-enthusiastic Athena.

I grabbed an electric tape and standards and when the three of them had gone up onto the little hill corner, I managed to chase Athena out of the area and whip the tape across the gateway to stop her getting back in. The calf was very confused and frightened by all the running around and Dexie looked frightened of the calf by the time it worked out which one was mother. But eventually the two of them set off up the slope and into a quiet corner under the trees where they got to know each other better and the calf had her first feed.

I pushed Athena out of the paddock into the lane and for company gave her the one cow in the group I expect to calve later than her. This unnatural interest in every calf born in her paddock is causing too much hassle and would no doubt continue to be a problem. Hopefully she will settle down once her own calf is born. But if I let her get too attached to other calves in the mean time, she may decide she doesn't want anything to do with her own calf when it is born.
There are some problems which don't get sorted out on their own.

Late this afternoon, leaving Damara in Flat 1 (she's still looking subdued) we moved the other cows and calves in to the yards for the calves' first trip over the scales.
The twins weighed 27 and 29 kg. No wonder their mother looks a bit thin! Those are good-sized calves - many of our singles over the years have only been that heavy.

Wednesday the 13th
yearling heifers

The young heifers are having a lovely time in the Road Flat with all the lush grass.

443's calf

What a delightful colour!

Thursday the 14th
cows and calves in the lane

After the walk in to the yards the other day and the excitement of their walk through the yards, I left the cows and calves in the Pig paddock for a couple of nights. Today being nice and warm and calm, I let them quietly wander their way out to the Bush Flat paddock. The weather having been so cold over the last few days, the grass has stopped growing, so it's not as easy to manage all these animals on the flats and some will have to go further out on the farm.

penned sheep

One of the lambs has been stamping its foot and looking like it might be hosting some maggots, so when they all drifted toward the makeshift pen, we chased them in and shut the gate. Yvette was very slow in coming up from where she was sitting and her lamb wouldn't go in with the others, so we enticed the two of them into the little cage instead.

Stephan grabbed the lambs and with some kitchen scissors I snipped the wool which was all that was holding their tails on, the rubber rings having done their job already - although the ram lambs' testicles are still well attached - and sprayed a bit of iodine on their tail stumps. We couldn't find any maggots at all, thankfully. The only tail which wasn't ready to come off yet was that of my little pet lamb.

I don't believe I told the story of her naming: Stella decided that Lamb's lamb should be called Springs and when Jude arrived and watched the lambs running to us for their feed, she laughed and said the other looked just like Stella's friend Matariki, so that's what we've called her.

The little ram lamb stopped taking his bottle while the children were here - he must have grown big and strong enough to fight for adequate feeds from his mother. Every evening now at about 10pm, I step outside the back gate, call the lambs and flash my torch up the paddock, and two fast little white ewes (usually followed by Lamb, who must be getting quite fit!) come belting across the paddock for their bottles. They often collide with my legs in the dark and their enthusiasm.

Damara 74 and her calf

Time for Damara and her calf to move to better grass, so I gently coaxed them out of the top Flat 1 gate and along the lane to join Dexie in Flat 3, where there's a nice lot of grass. I'd like to know how heavy that calf is, but my curiosity is not as important as ensuring their health and well-being, and a long trek to the yards wouldn't be the best thing for them. My muscles have stopped aching after pulling the calf the other day, so I presume Dexie is probably also well on the way to feeling better.

Friday the 15th
488 and calf

I miscalculated 488's expected calving and she had her calf at the top of the Camp paddock yesterday morning. When I couldn't find her then, I figured that's what she was up to and sent Stephan up to check. She had this nice little heifer and today she brought her down the hill and out of the paddock, and I put her in with the other cows and calves. The calf, like her elder sister, has inherited her mother's funny facial hair pattern.

frolicking lambs

I stopped to watch the lambs this afternoon because they're such a joy to see running around simply having fun. For some reason one rarely joins the running. Perhaps the others tease her.


The orchids I photographed the other day are now flowering.


Here's a close-up shot of some of the flowers.

Just before dark, heifer 579 was obviously beginning labour. At 10.50pm when I went out for my late check, she was still in labour. As over three hours had passed since she started, I figured it wouldn't be too long before she calved, so I'd wait.

After walking around for about an hour (during which I snoozed under a tree), she finally lay down for some contractions. Another hour later and there was a membrane bag visible. Fifty minutes after that I saw a foot, and then two, followed a few minutes later by a tongue and nose and at 2.01am the calf was born. Having seen one set of twins born, I thought I'd better hang around for a little while, but while there were a couple of reasons for twins to be a possibility, there were another couple against it. 579's aunty had twins at her first calving a few years ago, and her sire and the sire of her calves are both the same as 568 who had the twins the other day. But 579's gestation length was 283 days, only a couple of days shorter than my expectation, and she's in very good condition. Shortened gestation and weight loss late in pregnancy seem to be common occurrences when a cow is carrying twins.