The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 29th of September 2012
Saturday the 29th
Stephan and Ella

548, the cow which didn't come out of the Big Back Paddock yesterday with the others, still hadn't appeared today when Stephan, Ella and I walked out to move the cows again.  We set off into the 20-acre paddock, Ella and Stephan up one side and I up the other.  We checked all the gullies and holes and walked over most of the paddock and still didn't see her.

an Opossum

When we'd not found her anywhere, I started walking down the dilapidated boundary fence, looking for evidence of a cow going through.

Catching sight of Ella and Stephan on the other side of the swamp (more correctly referred to as a wet-land, but we've always called it a swamp), I stopped to talk to them, then realised there was a possum sitting on the grass looking at me!  It was quite a young one.  They don't usually come out during the day unless they're sick - although I wonder if a young hungry possum whose mother had been killed, might be out feeding from necessity?

My apologies for the light levels in the picture - difficult to portray those people in the shade and the sunlit possum.

I carried on down the hill and at the bottom was thinking about where I'd go next when there was a moo from some distance behind me and 548 lumbered into view and wandered down the track.

Goodness knows where she was, or how many times we passed near her in the scrub.  I'm glad she's ok, but I do wish she'd told us she was safe earlier in the hour!

Angus cows eating Molasses

We walked 548 along the lanes to join the others out at the farm's front gates.  Of the 21 cows, 17 went over the road and these four came back to the flats, because I want to watch them and start giving them Magnesium Oxide each day.  I prepared their first Molasses and Magnesium mix as Ella and Stephan went to fetch them from the yards.

They are 539, Eva 81, 606 and 602.

The six heifers who had been over the road, went out to the Back Barn Paddock.  I want them to graze out there for a while because that area had the fertilizer this year, including some Selenium.  I started having Selenium added a few years ago after we had a few problems with cows retaining their afterbirth.

Sunday the 30th

Daylight Saving began this morning at 2am, which instantly became 3am.

Angus cow calving

Queenly 23 was in labour at 9am and delivered her calf at 9.46.

This is not an elegant way to enter the world!

Angus cow and calf

Cows often make a muddy mess where they give birth.  They tramp around in small circles as they lick up the fluids they produce before the calf is born.  This is a particularly small and muddy spot.  The calf was covered in mud as she flopped around learning about her legs.

She spent most of her feed-hunting time nudging far too high up on Queenly's body.  She also got through the fence and received a couple of nasty knocks from Dinky 94.  Cows can be quite vicious with calves which aren't theirs!

Angus calf

This is Dinky's calf, on the other side of that fence, glossy and warm in the sunshine.

Angus calf and cow

Athena and her three-day-old daughter, in the Windmill Paddock top corner.


A frantic cry from Ella drew me upstairs to find her watching ants crawling out of the cracks above the windows in her room (this house moves with the wetting and drying of the ground beneath it).  There were dozens of ants, many with wings.  I read that the queens and the winged males will swarm to form new colonies in other places.  There seemed to be two or three large winged queens among them.  By late afternoon they were all gone.

Angus cows

Demelza, usually so quiet and friendly, didn't look very relaxed about Ella and I wandering up the lane to watch her calving.

In the background, in front of the Cabbage tree, sits Queenly, with her little calf.  Dinky 94 is in the neighbouring paddock, still watching Queenly's calf intently.

Angus cow calving

Ella and I walked home and I returned on the bike a little later to check on Demelza's progress.

I've been interested to see which of my cows deliver standing and which are more likely to lie down.  In this family there's a definite line of standing deliveries: Ivy 556 of Maunu, one of the first two stud cows; her daughter Isla and Isla's grand-daughter Demelza (pictured).  Most of the others lie down for most of their labours, only getting up when they think the calf is already out.

Angus cow and newborn calf

Another daughter for Demelza.  Daughters are another thing which runs in much of this family.


Oh to be a child again and not feel the cold!  Actually no, I'll put up with not liking cold-water swimming for my adulthood.

Queenly's calf failed to feed by the end of the day, so I coerced Demelza into letting me take some colostrum from her and fed that to the calf by bottle.  Queenly isn't quite quiet enough for me to milk her with confidence in the paddock, in her newly-calved state, and Demelza is handy and will let me without any danger.

After a small feed, the calf went avidly back to looking for more from her mother, which was good to see.

But later on when I went out for my last check, she'd obviously still not managed to feed.  I milked Demelza again and got a bit over a litre into the calf and hoped they'd sort themselves out overnight.

The weather data for September here shows that while the average daily minimum temperature (8.4°C) was 1°C warmer than the long-term average, the average daily maximum temperature (14.9°C) was 2.4°C cooler.  Those figures, combined with nearly 50mm more rain than usual, explain the ground conditions and slow grass growth.

Monday the 1st of October

Stephan took Ella to the airport and sent her off for a few days at a swimming meet in Auckland, on her way home to Whakatane.  We think she had quite a good time.  It's fun watching the "our" girls growing up and becoming more robust and independent people.  I have no doubt Ella will continue to come to stay for her Daddy holidays, but I hope Stella and Matariki and their friends will also continue to be regular visitors over the next few interesting years in their lives.  I might have liked to have children, if I could have had them when they were already about seven.

pugged, waterlogged ground

All the hoof holes in the paddocks are full of water again, after another 16mm of rain overnight.  How will we ever dry out?

Angus calf

Queenly's teats were still tight and mud-covered this morning, so I moved her out into the lane (away from Demelza the molasses hog) and gave her some molasses to convince her to stand still for a few minutes and managed to get the calf onto one of her teats.  Once on, the calf was away and feeding and after a few minutes seemed satisfied, so I let them back into the paddock.

I watched her sleeping during the day, with that internal magic working.  She did not have as much colostrum as she should have done as soon as is optimal, but that cannot be helped now.

Angus yearling heifers

The yearlings, still in the PW, hoping I'd move them, which I did.

They are looking as good as I hoped the daughters of those lovely bulls would at this age.  Their sires, 87, 89 and 90, were the best-grown yearling bulls I'd ever bred and I hoped that their good growth traits would pass to their daughters.

gull eating cow's afterbirth

Seagulls show up at this time of year.  I'm not sure I like them being around, fearing they might bring things with them I don't want.  They come for the afterbirth.  I presume this is a young Blackback Gull.

Angus cow and calf

Queenly's daughter didn't seem to be able to find her way to dinner, so we brought her in from the paddock and put them in the housecow milking yard, where we were able to convince Queenly to stay still while we got her daughter latched on for another feed.

Getting a young calf to suckle can be surprisingly difficult, because you need to get its head down to the teat, but if you push the top of the head or neck, the calf resists very strongly.  Nor can you pull the head forward, because the calf will struggle backwards.  The job becomes a mix of physical battle and trickery.  If the calf will suck on your finger, sometimes you can lead the mouth to the teat.  Once the calf is getting a stream of lovely milk in its mouth, it'll usually get the idea.  Sometimes it takes several repetitions of the struggle!

The two of them can stay in the little housecow holding paddock until I'm certain feeding is properly established.

While checking the cows over the road this morning, I heard many Shining Cuckoos (Pipiwharauroa) around in the trees in the sunshine.  They've been around for a little while (they're migratory and come down from the Islands in the early spring), but I don't always notice the first ones.


My greenhouse is full of red things: this one Gerbera I grew from a very expensive packet of Yates seeds.  This is not the first expensive seed packet of that brand I've bought, from which I've achieved only a single plant!

cactus flowers

Some sort of succulent I grew from a cutting from someone else's collection of pot plants.  They're stunning flowers.


The Amaryllis I was given two years ago.  I split two smaller bulbs from this main one and repotted them all and this might be the first time it has flowered since - I don't think it did so last year.

The moon has been full and out late at night around the time I've been doing my last cow check.  This evening I was walking toward the direction of the rising moon and in the dark ahead of me all I could see was a sparkling waterfall of cow urine, as one of the cows relieved herself in exactly the right place to catch the light.  I couldn't see her at all.  It was an oddly magical sight.

Tuesday the 2nd
Paradise Shelducks

The Putangitangi family in the Windmill Paddock now has only two of the original seven ducklings left.  There were five the other day when Ella and I went to look at them in the stream, at which point they all dived under the water to escape our attention.  I hope they didn't get eaten by eels on that occasion, but might well have done.

Angus cow

Of the four cows in the Camp paddock, only three were sitting around in the sunshine when I took them their molasses this morning.  606 was on the other side of the stream in the trees, standing quietly.  I thought she might be in early labour, so took her a container with her share of the molasses.

After eating it 606 moved to come back over the river, so I took the opportunity to pop her into the bottom of the Windmill Paddock, where I could more easily keep an eye on her.  I put Eva in with her a little later, so she'd not be on her own when the others headed off across the stream in the Camp paddock again.

Three hours later she had obviously begun active labour, with some blood in the mucous at her rear.  She kept walking over to me in a very deliberate way.  It's easy to think an animal is trying to tell you something is wrong in such situations, but if in labour, they probably do think that.  I ignored her and got out of the paddock, in case she had unfriendly intentions.  She certainly gave Eva a hard time, pursuing and bunting her around the paddock.  Eventually she lay down and got on with delivering her calf.  I took some photos of the end of the process, which you can see here.

Angus calf

I kept watching Queenly and her calf during the day, to see whether the calf was feeding successfully or not.  Eventually I caught her doing so and all appears to be well now.

cows and calves

I brought young 660 and her calf to be near Queenly last night and this afternoon we put them together and took them to the yards, to weigh and tag the calves.

660's daughter, now 12 days old, weighed just under 47kg.  Queenly's daughter weighed just over 33kg.

If my estimate of 660's calf's birthweight were close, she's growing very well!  I thought at the time that she probably wouldn't have been much more than 22kg.  But even at a more conservative 27kg, which I think would be the heaviest she'd have been likely to be, she's been putting on around 1.6kg/day, which is very good.  She doesn't look that big; scales are great!

Wednesday the 3rd
Angus cow

Up on the hill over the road I nearly walked past 475, hiding in this Totara tree.  I'm making notes on udder development, hoping to anticipate any earlier-than-I-expect calvings, so I can take the cows down to the flats for the crucial event.

Angus cow

Most of the hillside is in pasture, but down the bottom there's a sizeable scrubby area where the cows mooch around and browse on whatever grows there - not including all that Digitalis or Foxglove.

Angus cow

These two were wandering around together and I turned from one to the other to take the pictures.

The little shrub beside this cow (546) is a small Kanuka, which will grow very tall if it doesn't get chopped out sometime soon.


Hangehange, Geniostoma rupestre var. ligustrifolium.

Good heavens, I've just read it's known as New Zealand Privet!

Hangehange flowers

They're fascinating little flowers.  My book says they're heavily perfumed; I'll have to go back and sniff them.

Bush Lawyer fruit

These are the berries of the Bush Lawyer whose flowers I photographed three weeks ago.


These fungi were growing on the underside of a live Totara branch, about five feet from the ground.

I watched Ida 75 through her labour early this afternoon and caught the moment her calf fell to the ground, and the way it landed:

calf being born

I always step in to untangle this sort of landing when I see it, because I can't see how a calf can get a good start to life if it can barely breathe.  I wonder how often calves like this suffocate?  It would be interesting to see if a calf, desperate for oxygen, would struggle enough to untangle itself; or do they simply drift into unconsciousness because they fail to breathe adequately?  It's not something I'm willing to experiment with.  Birth and life and death seem to be separated by a thin enough line already.

I've seen moderately twisted calves turn themselves, but that ability probably also depends on the speed and lack of difficulty of their birth.  A tired calf might not have the energy and then it would be a dead calf.

Angus cow and calf

Out in the Back Barn, I discovered two more animals than I expected.  Suffering a migraine yesterday, I didn't come out and check them, nor move this cow, 634, closer to home.  Both she and Emma 93 had produced bull calves sometime in the last 24 hours.  All seemed well, so I left them quietly to themselves.

I took the two first-time heifers back to the flats though, not willing to risk they might calve out here on their own.  I'm a little nervous about Dexie 101, because she's not quite as big as her two contemporaries.

Angus cows and calf

Checking the Mushroom Paddock on my way past, it took me a moment to work out what was going on: Ida 75 had delivered and was eating her afterbirth; Squiggles was feeding the new calf!

Squiggles was entirely fixated on the calf and there was no way I could separate them on my own, so I called Stephan to come and help and together we herded Squiggles out of the paddock, away from the calf, leaving him to bond appropriately with his own mother - even though he no longer needed his first feed.

These cow confusions can cause all sorts of problems and are worth sorting out as soon as they're observed, because once a cow has decided one thing, it only gets harder to change her mind with time.  Last year it was Ida herself who got confused, as she was calving.

Thursday the 4th
Angus cow and calf

Imagen proved she is capable of delivering and mothering her own calf.  This is the first year she'll be an ordinary beef cow, after four years of being hand-milked for us, for pigs and last year to feed her own calf after she rejected him.

This is bull #96's first calf, born at 274 days, which is four days shorter than Imagen's usual gestation period.  Presumably Zella may calve a little earlier than expected as well, being in calf to the same bull.

Angus cow and calf

579 is a lovely cow.  She's the only daughter of 446, another lovely cow, whose one fault was the production of some overly large bull calves.  They always had trouble being born and so I culled 446.  579's previous two calves have both been bulls and here is a daughter.  The calf's sire is #87.

Walking back from a check over the road, Stephan and I startled some Pukeko chicks, one of which ran off the river bank into the stream.  They can swim well enough, but frightened baby things often don't go where they need to to reach safety.  This chick swam to a steep bit of the bank and repeatedly tried to gain a foothold to scramble up into the grass.  There was no way it was going to succeed, so Stephan walked around to prompt it to move to an easier exit.

Friday the 5th
Angus cow and calf

571 and her latest daughter, this one sired by #87.

Her previous two daughters have been lovely, the second being last year's beauty, 710 (pictures of her in January and May).

At 3am 571 was looking quite ordinary, but her daughter was born and standing by the time I came out again at 7am.  It's lovely when everything goes smoothly and quickly.

When I was out for that early-hours check, there was a huge rumbling noise coming from the west coast.  The strong westerly winds of the last couple of days must have created a significant swell, which is now breaking on the rough shores of the coast, which is about 20km away from here.

I spent my day doing exam planning, watching cows from my office window.  I'm very tired, didn't have a sleep during the day and my head doesn't work properly: when moving the bulls this afternoon, I stopped the bike and leaned it over on the stand I hadn't put down and consequently crashed to the ground with the bike on top of me!  It really hurt!  (Writing this, I've now remembered how I got that bruise.)

Eva looked very much like a cow near calving this evening, with loose pelvic ligaments causing dips in her rump in front of the pin bones, although her udder wasn't very tight.  But I wasn't surprised to find her obviously in labour at 9.40 when I checked.  She delivered her calf when I was looking the other way, but as she had stood during all the contractions I'd seen, I presume she did so while standing, just like her mother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother did.

Eva's Second Annual Calving Date Competition having come to its natural conclusion:

See here for the Competition Entries and Result