The week beginning the 29th of October 2011.
Saturday the 29th
dead calf

486's calf is dead.

Last evening I noticed she was calling up on the hill and for some reason I didn't go and check.  I was tired, I was busy, it was late, I didn't think much could be wrong ...

But it was wrong, very wrong, and had obviously been so for many days.

At first I thought the calf had become trapped in the mud, but closer examination showed that was not the primary problem.

dead calf

The calf is emaciated; he had collapsed in the mud because he didn't have the strength to go any further.  I think this calf has never fed and it has taken ten days for him to starve to death.

I really lost the plot with this one.  For some reason I didn't go and make sure things were alright in the normal way I do - although generally I suppose I check things as I'm having the increased level of interaction with the cows and calves when they're in the calving paddocks and it is in that context that I would normally see that something wasn't right in the first couple of days, if that were the case.

Even last night, when I watched the cow on the hill set off calling for her calf as I set out the new break for the calving heifers down on the flats, I listened to her calling thinking she'd lost track of where her calf was, giving no thought to the fact that a ten day old calf shouldn't be tucked away sleeping anyway!  The fact that I didn't go up with my torch to see why the cow continued to call is not something I can explain to my own satisfaction today.  I suspect it would have been too late by then anyway, but I can't know that for sure.

Yesterday morning when I did go up to check those cows, I didn't hunt for the calf, again presuming it was sleeping somewhere.  I had earlier heard the cow making low noises as if to the calf, but didn't think any more about it when up there, since she was by then quietly standing with the others.  The calf would have been just up the slope from where I was, and it's only chance that I didn't go that way and see it.  Perhaps it is often only by chance that I do see the things I do and save the ones I find in trouble.  The more you check, the more likely you are to eventually pass the right way to see the crucial thing.  This time I didn't, and I hate that.

This dull and horrid feeling will pass, I know, but it's very real and very uncomfortable right now.

I don't know why the calf didn't feed when he was born.  The cow has good milk in her teats and she's an experienced mother.  The calf was born a week earlier than I expected and perhaps there was something not right with him - although his survival for so long without feed would suggest that he was physically pretty strong.  There was no reason to think that all would not be well with the two of them and so I didn't check closely.  Looking at the photo I took last week, I now think there are signs of him not being a normally well-nourished contented calf, but I might not have seen that even if I'd looked closely at that picture at the time.

male Paradise duck

After berating myself for several hours and trying to work out how my usual care had lapsed to such a degree, I decided to take my lesson seriously and go out and check on the rest of the calves, as has been my usual practice in all other years.  They are only babies and sometimes they get into difficulties their mothers can't solve, and it's my job to make sure they're alright.

On my way out I noticed that the male Paradise duck from the Windmill Paddock is still sitting around waiting for his partner to appear with their chicks.

gully filled with tree prunings

I walked up into the Middle Back paddock and started marking calves and cows off on my list.  There were a few on the left side of this gully with one of the cows and on the right side, with several other animals, 568 began calling insistently.  They do that in the evenings, calling their babies back for a feed after the day spent wandering around, often straying far from each other.  As I passed I felt her udder, to see if she'd fed her calf during the day and it was rock hard!

Peering through the trees on the other side of the gully I couldn't see any more calves, so started walking up the hill to continue my check.  But I could hear a calf responding to 568, so headed around the top of the gully to have a better look amongst the trees on the other side.  Once over there, I heard the calf again, but this time from the other direction.  It then dawned upon me that the calf was calling from "underground", from the bottom of the gully, underneath all the tree prunings Stephan had piled into it to try and make it safer for the cattle!

She must have somehow slipped down the steep side and right to the bottom.  I could hear her moving and she was obviously standing upright, since she was calling quite heartily.

My task was obvious: unpack all the tree prunings so the calf could get out!  That was quite a job for a person of smaller stature than he who loaded it all in there.  The calf wasn't particularly happy about all the scary movement above her either, although that proved helpful in the end.  Eventually I must have removed enough branches for an escape hole to appear for the calf, and as I moved another branch, she made a break for the light!  I think she must have been quite deep in the hole though, because it took her some serious work to get out - and then because the banks were so steep, she had to work her way further down the gully over the top of the rest of the branches, before she could find somewhere to climb up and out onto solid ground.

calf feeding

Getting her back to the right side of the gully again safely gave me a little more concern, but she leapt across and made a bee-line for that very hard udder full of the milk I suspect she'd not tasted since this morning.

One small calf saved by the death of another.

Stephan had gone fishing this afternoon, for the first time in years, and hadn't arrived home until after I'd gone out to check on the cattle.  When I'd tired of branch removal and begun to lose hope of managing the rescue on my own, I'd run up the hill to find a bit of cellphone signal and sent him a text, phoned his fishing friend, and then phoned our neighbour Jane, who went and found Stephan outside and sent him out in my direction.  He arrived just after the calf had scrabbled her way out of the hole.

Sunday the 30th

Demelza's daughter has white hairs on her face.  How strange.

cow and dead calf

We hatched a plan: we have an abandoned calf and we have a bereft cow, so we would try and put them together.

We took the calf to the yards - on his own, because he's been in the milking shed on his own anyway - and then brought the cows down off the hill.  486 sniffed and licked her dead calf as she went past and called back a couple of times, but then went on down the hill.

cattle yards

Down in the yards, the little calf waits...

When the cows came across the road, the calf called from the yards and 486 pricked up her ears and headed over to him in a most interested manner.  We put them in together, but he's so shy of cows now, after being bunted and kicked away from any udder he's ever tried, that he wouldn't go near 486.

We put 486 up the race and tied the gates so she stood with her udder accessible through the little vet gate and manoeuvred the calf into position.

The calf was great, taking very little help to find and suckle a teat, which was surprising, considering he's never had the opportunity to feed from an udder.  The cow was less willing, but she didn't kick too much and stood quietly enough in the bail.

In the early evening, before the light faded, I took a scalpel, camera, tripod and torch up the hill and did a post mortem examination on the calf.  I found nothing obviously unusual.  His stomach and small intestine were entirely empty, and in his large bowel I found a dark sticky mess, which may have been meconium from when he was born, never expelled because he never fed.  When I was finished, I curled him up under a tree in the long grass of the reserve, and left him, as if asleep.  Poor baby.

Later I cut open his abomasum (the last stomach, where digestion occurs) in the sink out in the back porch, because there was a lump I suspected could have been a blockage at its exit.  But internet photos of the same organ show a similar formation of tissue in the same location, so I don't think it was a problem.

I should have shut more doors before I began my task, because I then heard loud exclamations of disgust and nausea from Stephan as he evacuated the house and went out into the fresh evening air.  The job had been quite bearable up on the hill with a gentle breeze blowing, but the smell was putrid where the air was still!

I found three-year-old 613 standing looking quite normal late tonight, but slurping fluid from the ground.  There was no other obvious sign she was in labour - except for a couple of drops of fluid on the back of her udder.  I stayed and watched her for a while to ensure that all was well, eventually helping her a little just after midnight (so I could go to bed worry-free), to deliver a daughter.

Monday the 31st
cow feeding calf

This was very hopeful this morning, but did not continue as easily.  The other problem is that if I'm correct in my suspicion that 486's calf didn't ever feed from her, she probably won't have enough milk, because she will have been naturally drying off and won't come back into full production this season.

We continued to try, thrice today and again on Tuesday, but the calf wasn't getting enough milk and the cow got more and more uncooperative.  We didn't want to risk the calf's health by interrupting his feeding schedule too badly and we both have far too much to do to continue to put intense effort into this scheme which will probably fail.  So we gave up, sent the cow out to graze with her three friends and put the calf back with his mother, sister and niece.

cow and calf

601 delivered this daughter at noon today.  She looks quite like her mother!

The calves are coming in fits and starts: three today after a break of five days.

We had to take Finan back to the vet today, because his wound has developed an increasing hot lump under the skin.  I phoned the vet on Saturday when I first noticed it and she suggested he recommence antibiotic treatment to keep any infection in check until today.  Today vet Fiona said she'd anaesthetise him and cut the wound open and remove whatever the problem was - perhaps a foreign body like a cat's claw from the initial injury?

Finan's now back in his plastic collar with big stitches down his side - the vet said she removed a lot of necrotic fat, which sounds quite revolting.  Hopefully the treatment will work this time.

Wednesday the 2nd of November
calves fighting

This year's calves are a scrappy lot, regularly fighting with each other.  They obviously take after their fathers!

woman and calves

Jill's up to stay for a couple of days.  The calves knew she was a different sort of human from their usual ones!


601's daughter, with her distinctive facial markings.

Thursday the 3rd
grey cattle

This is a grey area!  All three grey calves happened to be together with one of the mothers (2-year-old 639) when I went out to check on them this afternoon.

pink Manuka flowers

I sploshed around in the swamp for a little while on my way around the cattle - the thick plant growth forms a mat which holds a body above the real depth of the wet area.  I found some Sun Orchids, and then looked up to see this glorious colour on an otherwise unremarkable Manuka tree.  I haven't seen another really pink one around the farm before.  Usually the flowers are white, some with a light pink bar down the middle of the petals or at the centre of the flowers.  I'll have to come back and gather seeds.

Friday the 4th
cow and hidden calf

611 had her calf yesterday.  This morning when I couldn't see it anywhere, I spent twenty minutes searching the long grass along the drain down Flat 1 paddock, trying to find it.  611 didn't seem to know where it was either!

Eventually, back at the gate through which I'd entered the paddock, we found it.

native trees

Cabbage Trees are either already in flower, or about to bloom.

cutting grass to feed cows

We're having a cool dry spring and the grass just isn't growing.  Stephan's been cutting the grass around our tree plantation and throwing it over the fence each evening for the house cows, so they don't have to go too far from the house for overnight grazing.


Zella has marvellous cream!  The milk sits in a large saucepan in the fridge for 24 hours and then we lift an almost solid, thick mat of cream off the top.  It takes very little beating to turn it to butter.