The weather forecast for today had been good throughout the week and so I planned to get some calf weighing done. Usually we don't tag the calves until we do the vaccinations and castrations, when they're at least four weeks old. But there are drawbacks to waiting so long, so today we decided to change our system a little and after every calf was weighed, Stephan would give it a tag. Stella selected 700 for Endberly.
The mob of 20 cows and their calves was in Flat 2, so I set up a tape to form a lane across Flat 1, being the most straight-forward way of getting them to the yards. But moving little calves often doesn't go according to plan! Calves are inclined to "bounce" out of gateways: they'll get to a gateway, then suddenly turn and gallop off in another direction, and in this case, those which had done so then spent the next twenty minutes hooning up and down the paddock. A couple of their mothers eventually came back to fetch them and we propelled the extras through the gateway with them, and order was restored.
The weighing and tagging went very well, and I'm always pleased to have begun the process of data collection.
I've been looking hopefully up to the hill over the road over the last few days, thinking it a little odd that 486's calf was never visible. I've been busily involved in other things and so haven't been up to check on him closely, hoping to see him with his mother down by the gate sometime so I could bring them across the road. This afternoon, with all the calves down in the yards, his mother began calling, so when we'd finished work, I went up to check on him. Seeing him sitting quietly I snapped a quick photo and left him alone, not wanting to startle him into running off, since he hasn't seen much of me yet.
If I had got around to looking closely at this photo straight away, I might well have gone back up there for another check.
Stella and I took the cows and calves from the driveway, where they'd spent the night while the calves rested their sore ears, out to the Frog Paddock. As usual we had a few problems with calves walking through the fences into the House and Windmill Paddocks. I keep the bottom fence wires turned off when we move cows and calves along the lanes because the calves haven't yet learnt enough about electric fences to stay away from them and they easily get caught between cows and the wires, which would give them frightening shocks, but no way of escaping, except through the wires. Once they've been shocked, they're disinclined to walk back through the wires to join the mob again. It's easier to deal with calves which are mischievously in the wrong place, than calves which have had several shocks and are then frightened to go near anything!
As it was we ended up with several calves in completely the wrong places, and when we'd done our best to sort everything out, we still had two which we couldn't retrieve - the calves had run all the way back down the Windmill Paddock and their mothers were uncooperative in coming back for them.
Eventually I got the two heifer mothers back along the lane, and left them to quietly fetch their calves, planning to send them out to join the others again later.
Stella and I had been watching from the window with our binoculars, as 470 paced around in early labour in Flat 3. I went over for a closer look and when two feet appeared I waved back to the house where I could see Stephan watching from the window, and he sent Stella off to join me. He said one minute she was beside him and the next she was half-way up the track!
We were all having a bet: Stella said the calf would have a white face, I said it would be black and Stephan (obviously not playing the game properly), said it would be brown.
I forget how much white some of the cows have on them until they lie down like this.
Once the calf was out, Stella and I agreed that we were both partly right and so we should both have some chocolate.
Stella was fascinated by the enormous bag of fluid which hung from the cow after she'd had the calf. She kept asking if it was the longest-hanging bag I'd ever seen? After several minutes its bottom got close enough to the ground to catch on something and burst.
I told Stella this was a pretty tough spring gate to close, but she insisted she'd be able to do it. She was right, but it looked like a bit of a struggle!
Both 634 and her calf, 704, caused problems this morning. 704 climbed through any fence along the lanes as we walked the cows and calves out from the yards, and then she'd gone back in the direction from which they'd come when she got confused. Eventually I sent her mother back to find her, and after venturing several times into areas they weren't supposed to be, both spent the rest of the day where they ended up with Zella, Imagen and their calves, where I hoped they'd settle down enough to be moved again quietly.
This evening, after I drafted them away from the others, they happily wandered off up the lane and out to where the rest of the mob were, needing only to be let in through the last gate. I caught them up, quietly made my way around them to open the gate, and the heifer and her calf simply turned around and walked off back in the direction they'd come! My language was not seemly.
The calf walked through two more fences and the heifer found her way to join her by jumping over anything in her way and in disgust I left them where they were for the night.
Stella gave the lamb her feed for the last time this morning, then I took her to town to go home on the eight o'clock bus.
We've had a lot of fun during this visit!
A picture I took a few days ago at feeding time: I step outside with the bottle and call the lamb and she comes running across the paddock, from wherever she sits.
634 and 704 rejoined the mob today, although moving the rest of them to their next paddock wasn't the easiest thing on my own. (I took the picture from behind the mob, facing the direction they were supposed to be walking.) At this crossing the calves are inclined to wander along into a little blind corner to the left as their mothers walk down across the stream. Calves learn paths and gateways over time, but this is their first time out this far.
If they lose track of their mothers, they're also inclined to head back to where they came from, which makes things even more confused and meant I couldn't move far from where I stood on the track. Cows who had gone ahead to the Back Barn paddock and realised their calves were not with them, gradually came back to collect their babies, but there were several spare calves still unsure where to go and how to get there. I resigned myself to simply waiting for them to sort themselves out, and when a couple of heifers came back, I encouraged as many of the calves to cross the stream with the adults as I could, until they were all gone.
In the Back Barn Paddock near the boundary fence, I found some interesting footprints, along with a couple of associated holes, which might well have been made by a long probing bill: Kiwi! I've seen a Kiwi print here once before.
In some soft mud next to the track fence in the Swamp paddock, I found more Kiwi prints. There's one in this picture in the bottom left corner, to the right of the left-most clump of green.
I'm thrilled to find them and this is still the closest I've ever been to seeing a wild Kiwi.
The three empty cows on Jane's place have been rather neglected of late, with only cursory attention paid to their needs - there's a reasonably large area for them to graze and they don't need very much feed at the moment, but it was high time they were moved.
Irene 35 and Damara 74 were near the gateway to the stream crossing back to our place, but I had to go looking for Demelza, finding her all alone up the other end of the alleyway which joins the two grazing areas. Three things about her struck me immediately: firstly there was something not right with her metabolically - her stance was quite abnormal; secondly her udder seemed rather more fleshy than I recalled it being before, certainly not as I'd expect in an empty cow; and thirdly she looked all soft and pliable around her (now raised) tail-head area, where the pelvic ligaments soften as a cow approaches the time for calving!
Demelza was having obvious trouble walking on her front feet, whether because of pain or weakness it was hard to tell, so I called her and Stephan followed her, gently keeping her moving. I didn't get an opportunity to smell her breath, but I'm certain she was in the early stages of metabolic collapse, and that if I had not checked on them today, she might well have progressed beyond a point from which she could be retrieved! This presumed empty cow (all the evidence I saw back in June indicated she had slipped her pregnancy) was fast approaching calving, having reached day 277 of her gestation.
Leaving Demelza quietly grazing some long grass (luckily she was still able and willing to eat) we walked the other two cows up the road to the overgrown Road Flat paddock.
On our way back along the road, we spotted this Kukupa sitting in the trees just to our left. They're often very placid and will sit without much concern while one takes photos (or aim, if you're that sort of vandal).
Rural Mail: you put your stamped letter in the mailbox, put the flag up on the box and the postie takes the mail to the Post Office for you. I had a dozen large envelopes to send which wouldn't fit in the box, so I hung them in a bag on the fence-post instead. (We were weighing calves in the yards just a few metres away, so I could keep an eye on my mail and ensure that the right person collected it.)
The two little pigs have settled in happily, getting used to who brings their food and when it comes. They're living in what was once the chicken run, since it has reasonable fencing around the perimeter and a couple of shelters inside, along with some weed trees for shade.
The ewes and lambs are back up in the Chicken paddock surrounding the piglets' enclosure. The grass has grown well here and it was time they left the House Paddock to the House Cows.
While we were working in the yards, Demelza had a good dollop of Molasses and Magnesium Oxide and ate all the lush grass in the loading area of the yards. Then I let her make her way slowly along the lanes to the top of Flat 1, allowing her to eat as much as she could. After a couple of hours she was looking a lot less shaky!
I had a very violent and nasty experience with a spring gate this evening! I'd stretched one across a lane where one is not usually used, in my attempts to get that pesky heifer and her calf into the right place the other evening, and I'd left it there as I was concentrating on moving the animals. Today, as I rode up the lane looking for Topmilk bins to dish out molasses to the heifers and Demelza in Flat 1, I rode straight into it, not even realising I'd done so until I heard the characteristic wire-pinging noise of it coming off the fence behind me, accompanied almost simultaneously by a searing pain in my left thigh!
It was one of those injuries which leaves one feeling sick, overwhelmed by sensation so that the actual injury doesn't seem to hurt in quite the way it ought. I could feel a large and very tender lump through the material of my jeans (thankfully I was wearing thick denim and not thin cotton or shorts) and wondered what on earth I'd find when I got home!
The bruises are impressive and I expect my leg will feel pretty stiff and sore for a couple of days. The spring gate is wrecked.
Yesterday afternoon I moved the six remaining R3 pregnant heifers into the top of Flat 1, where there's a good lot of feed and then added Demelza as well. This morning 604 had produced a large bull calf and was chewing on her afterbirth. What a happy sight.
One of my Puriri trees in our Native Planting area near the house, has red leaves up in the top of its developing canopy. They appear to be healthy young leaves, but I've not seen red ones before.
I fed Demelza molasses and Magnesium a couple of times yesterday and again earlier today when she began looking distracted and as if she might be in labour. Her udder is by no means properly full, but at 3.30pm I noticed her most definitely commence the active part of her labour, which progressed reassuringly normally.
I checked my records last night to see which sire was responsible for this secret pregnancy and noted that it could be either #90 or #87, because #90 was inexpert at his task in the first few days and when Demelza and another couple of his early-mated cows came back on heat, I put them in with #87. I was thinking about the possibility of needing to test the paternity of the calf and looked up to see the bulls in the nearby Camp paddock having a test of their own!
This was a serious-looking fight! They frighten me when they do this, both of my remaining lovely bulls, endangering each other's well-being. There's very little one can do about it, if you think about the power and weight behind any movement they make. They shove each other around with huge force and it would be extremely unwise to get in the way.
You may see in this picture that #90 (right) has an injury to his eye. I took several photos to try and determine the problem and it looked likely, from watching the violence of their interaction, that the skin had been torn or grazed. #87 had a couple of small gouges or scrapes to the top of his head.
Meanwhile the calf I imagined they were fighting over was calmly born: a heifer.
I believe that if I had not checked on her yesterday and then taken urgent action to improve her state of health, Demelza would very likely have died during calving. Once a cow progresses too far into metabolic collapse at such a critical time, it can be impossible to retrieve the situation with such success.
Demelza is obviously still in very good condition in terms of her fat reserves, but such reserves cannot be safely mobilised in times of feed stress without causing metabolic problems; fatness is no protection against a lack of adequate nutrition at times of particular need, like the very end of pregnancy! I inadvertently starved Demelza throughout the last six weeks of her pregnancy, the period during which I usually make sure I feed the cows well as possible. I am extremely lucky that the outcome was not very bad. Crap farmer.
Mr Ram is off to live at Ronnie's place, where his brother has been while he's been here. I do not wish to repeat the mating mix of this ram and my ewes again, but he's a well-bred ram and Ronnie said she'd like to use him. Otherwise he would have made sausages.
We'll find another ram for the next season, although we may even not have lambs next year at all, since we breed them only for eating and the on-the-hoof larder is still well-stocked.
When I noticed #90 near the fence today, I went out to check on his eye. My suspicion yesterday was fortunately correct and his injury was only a graze. It's probably sore, evidenced perhaps by the formation of tears (not because the bull is crying, but as the eye's natural reaction to trauma), but will quickly come right.
As I rode out to check something this evening, I saw movement where there should have been none: in Mushroom 2 the four little pigs I saw last week, were rooting up the grass, happily oblivious to my disapproval.
I rode home and collected the .22 rifle and took a number of shots at them, although from too far away, I suspect, to have much chance of success. I missed.
We'll get them eventually.
I went over the stream to check the two empty cows in the Road Flat, then wandered around looking at trees for a while.
This is a Kohekohe trunk which grows at a 40° angle to the ground, with its berries now formed where the flowers earlier bloomed. Kohekohe flowers commonly emerge directly from the trunk and branches.
The pollen in the Totara and Kahikatea trees this year is profuse. It looks like there's a fire somewhere in the trees whenever a light breeze prompts a release of a cloud of pollen, which looks like smoke as it wafts away.
Things have moved into the felled Pine tree trunk. I noticed some dust several months ago, but now there are little volcanic piles of it all along the trunk.
While I was near the Pine tree, I could hear the soft call of a cow to her calf, so climbed the hill over the road and saw all four cows - no calf, but 486 seemed happy enough, so I figured he was sleeping somewhere nearby. Later I wished I'd looked for him.
There's no mistaking what's going on here! We're seeing Imagen feeding her daughter's calf more and more often. It doesn't matter too much, meaning only that we get more of Zella's creamy milk and perhaps the calf won't get quite as obese as she otherwise might.
About three years ago I bought an expensive packet of Gazania seeds from Yates, from which only one plant survived. It's a stunning flower.
Gazania grow all around Northland as wide-border plants, because they cope well with the hot dry summers. I remember them well from my childhood on the East Coast near Cable Bay in particular, although most of those were single-colour flowers.
The Greenhood Orchids are flowering out the back again.
Tiny plants are growing, if you look hard for them, and now they have flower stems. This one has an aphid on it, which may indicate its size. I've found some areas where there are lots of these plants, often growing on old Puriri logs, so will go back and visit them again and hopefully catch them flowering. These will be the little white-petalled orchid I found for the first time last year.