The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 6th of October 2012
Saturday the 6th
Angus cattle

The grass on the lawn has grown quite nicely (although the pastures appear not to be doing nearly as well), so we cut it for the three animals in the House Paddock.  It would be unwise to feed lawn-mower clippings to cattle, but Stephan cuts the grass with the grass blade on the weed-eater, so each blade of grass is harvested whole, in about the same state the cows would eat it for themselves, if we let them into the garden.

Pukeko parent and chick

There are still three Pukeko chicks surviving, growing bigger all the time.  They now have blue breast feathers and a small patch of white under their tails.  I see the adults still giving them food from time to time, but the chicks are doing a lot of foraging for themselves, as well.

Angus cow and calf

Here is Eva's daughter.  The weather has not been conducive to photography and the cattle have been lying around keeping a low profile to the wind and rain.

young rabbit

I keep seeing this little rabbit, which uses one of the culverts under the track as a hiding place.  Presumably it finds somewhere else during heavy rain.

Sunday the 7th
Angus cow, calving

I watched Ranu 31 in labour.  (I brought her and five others to the flats from across the road yesterday.)  This is her sixth calf, but she seemed to be finding the process quite uncomfortable - the photo shows her kicking her leg in the air during a contraction, not holding it up in that unusual position.  The calf must have been pinching a nerve somewhere.

She delivered a bull calf after I gave his legs a pull - I suspect one elbow was caught on her pelvic rim and his shoulders got a bit bunched up.  She'd have done it on her own in a while, but she was obviously quite uncomfortable.

Late in the evening I found 561 in labour, soon producing a bull calf.  So far we have eight heifers and seven bull calves.

Again I noticed a loud rumble from big seas out at the coast.  There has been so much strong Westerly wind in recent weeks.

539, a cow I really like, was standing on her own at the top end of Flat 1, presumably in early labour, as I passed to see the other cows.  She was quite calm, so I decided not to wait around for anything decisive to happen.  If they're actively in labour, I'll usually wait or come back in an hour to check that all is well.

Monday the 8th

At seven this morning I was surprised to see that 539 had no calf with her.  I kept an eye on her during the morning, wondering if everything was alright, trying to decide whether or not I needed to check...

flying swans

I moved some of the cows and calves from the flats out to the Bush Flat.  It's a rather involved process because the cows don't always manage to keep their calves walking beside them and they turn to go back to find them, push other cows' calves out of the way as they look for theirs and create more confusion as they do so.

This small flock of swans caught my eye as they flew past.  I like watching big birds flying, even at a reasonable distance.  I've never seen swans land here, but have occasionally seen them like this.


The Pukeko family have been becoming more accustomed to our presence lately, evidenced by our ability to watch their young so much more easily than usual.  This one showed up when I went to feed the chickens.  I threw it a few kernels of maize, which it picked up individually and ate in this manner, holding each one while it cracked it with its strong bill.

Angus cow in yards

By noon I was getting seriously worried about 539, who'd been pacing around the paddock for much of the morning, but with her tail in its ordinary position.  Cows in labour usually hold their tails out from their bodies, sometimes almost straight out behind them.  A tail not held up in that way suggests that there's nothing very uncomfortable happening in the cow's pelvis, but if she's in labour, there ought to be bits of calf pushing their way through and prompting that external reaction.

At 1pm I took her and a companion to the yards, donned a glove and had a quick feel.  539 was pretty jumpy (probably a bit stressed after so many hours in unproductive labour) and so I didn't spend a lot of time prodding about after I discovered a couple of upside-down feet.  I went to the shed and called for a vet to come and assist.  I was extremely tired, having spent the last couple of nights doing three-hourly checks on the first-time heifers, who are both due to calve, and really didn't feel it would be a safe or sensible idea to work with a jumpy cow on my own in that state.

Angus cow and calf

The vet came, found the calf's body was the right way around, but that it was lying upside-down, so its front feet couldn't come into the cow's pelvis.  I expected it to be dead after so long, but as Andy was putting his calving ropes on its legs, it kept pulling one of them back.

We pulled the calf out, carried him back out of the race into the crush pen and, after an Oxytocin injection, let 539 back to join him.  There wasn't quite enough room for them in the pen, so I opened the gate and as I signed forms for Andy, watched the calf flip himself off the edge of the concrete into the mud, as he tried to make his legs work.  I'd intended to let them into the grassy loading-ramp area to the left, but 539 was not a very happy cow and so her calf learnt to walk very quickly, in deep, sticky mud, as she led him down and out of the yards.

The presence of the big drop (or step up) from the concrete is not deliberate; it's the result of old yards, rain, and cattle feet carrying the substrate away from around the edge of the concrete.  We're all accustomed to working around this interesting feature, but I'm sure the Labour Department would be horrified at the dangerous working conditions.  A load of lime-rock in there would help a lot, but we procrastinate.

milk pooled in a hoofprint

This is not an uncommon sight at this time of the year, as the cows respond to their new babies and have more milk than the calves can drink.  Lots of them have milk streaming out of an unsuckled teat as they wander around grazing and the milk often flows quite freely while the calves are feeding.

Angus cow, calving

Irene produced a daughter this afternoon, a tiny little thing, born in a very strong membrane sack.  I worry about calves born within their membranes, when they don't slide off their faces as the calf slides along the ground on its way out.  I stepped in to pull this lot off.  They probably don't die terribly often, but anything which restricts the ease of the first breaths the calf takes isn't doing any good.

Irene has Neospora and last year's calf died at the beginning of Irene's second trimester.  The calf will carry the parasite as well and at this time there's nothing we can do about that except give her the best start we can and support her general good health.  Irene has coped well with the infection, apart from the one lost calf.  I haven't liked any of her daughters (two others so far) enough yet to gamble on their being her replacement in the herd.  With the heightened risk of aborting any calf, a daughter is going to have to be fairly good for me to keep her on for breeding.  Hopefully this could be the one.  Her sire is #87.

native orchids

The orchids on the Puriri trunk are developing well.  They're a bit earlier than last year, by the look of this picture compared with the one I took last year on the 19th.

cutting grass for the cows

The heifers now know what the sound of the weed-eater means: fresh cut grass.  They come galloping to the fenceline and wait for the piles of grass to be tossed over to them.

Tuesday the 9th
Angus cow and calf

I checked the cows over the road on Saturday when I took six more of them down to the flat paddocks and 604 had not looked anywhere near calving; but here she is, with a healthy little calf sitting nearby.  I haven't been up for a couple of days because I've been so busy, and thought I had assessed dates and udders well enough that there would be no surprise deliveries in that paddock!

When I walked up to check on her, the calf got up and took off in a panic across the hillside.  I thought we'd have all sorts of problems getting him and his mother down to the gate and across the road - I am not happy about cows being up here with new calves, because I can't keep a close enough eye on them and I know that bad things can happen as a result.  But as we brought the other cows up to join 604, then walked them around the edge of the reserve and quietly down the other side, I talked constantly to the calf and was gradually able to get closer and closer to him.  I didn't need to touch him, but I did need him not to be so frightened of my presence that he wouldn't go where I needed him to.  By the time we were down at the bottom of the hill, he trotted quietly along with his mother through the gate and across the road.

After letting them rest for a little while, we put the calf over the scales (46kg) and tagged him (684) and then sent him and his mother to Flat 1 to join some of the others.

Then we went out the back and rounded up the other surprise-delivery calves with their mothers Emma 93 and 634, and brought them in for weighing and tagging too.

Angus cow and calf

We were on a roll, so carried on, bringing Eva and Athena and their daughters in.

Here's Eva and ... Evita?  She received tag number 120.  When they're a bit bigger, probably around the time we give them their first vaccinations, we'll put the NAIT RFID tags in their right ears.

Evita weighed 38kg.  They're nice little calves from my bulls.  Her sire is #90, so she's a full sister to last year's Emergency 111.

I saw Squiggles (Ivy 73) lie down and get up again over in Flat 5d, from the house window at 7.30pm, obviously beginning her labour.  I checked a couple of times between dinner and watching a bit of television and at 9pm went out and stayed near her to see that all was progressing as it should.

At 9.30 she produced a big bag of fluid, immediately followed by a clear bag with a perfect set of upside-down feet: a backwards calf.  I called Stephan out to help me, because Squiggles didn't want to leave the spot she'd chosen to give birth, but I needed to get her down to the yards.  I haven't had to run so hard in quite some time!  But we beat her at every turn and gradually worked her over to the gate and then out into the lane, down which she then quietly walked.  She stopped for contractions every now and then and the legs were sticking out far enough that we could both see and feel that the next joints up the legs were definitely hocks, rather than front knees.

I called the vet after-hours service as we walked down the lane, hoping I'd still have cellphone reception by the time the vet called back.  I didn't, but he fortunately set off on his way to our place and we communicated via the after-hours people as he travelled.

Chris arrived and was putting on his waterproof trousers and boots when a noise in the pen where Squiggles was standing made me shine my torch over, to see a wet black lump at her feet: a live calf, delivered backwards, with no help from anyone.  Chris happily took off his gear and left without having to touch the cow and we will of course be charged for calling him out.  But there has been learning even in this situation.

I've written an article to go into my monthly New Zealand Lifestyle Block Magazine column, exploring the assumptions I've made about this sort of calving, and my now revised thoughts on the matter.  I shall make it available when it has been published.  (They have first-publication rights, for which they pay me!)

Wednesday the 10th

Early this morning I walked Squiggles and her little calf out to Flat 1, since she'd spent the night in the yards, away from the other cattle.


I had one of those "did I really just see that?" moments this morning when going through the kitchen.  Finan keeps bringing little rabbits into the house.  One hopped across the living room floor the other evening as well.  I think I know where they're coming from, so have taken them back there - down by the big Puriri log in the Native planting area.  If they survive to adulthood they may end up as trapping bait, but it's hard to kill the cute babies at this age.


Waiting for 628 to get on with her labour this morning, I wandered around in the House Paddock reserve under the huge Puriri trees.  This is a Karaka sapling, with it's fabulously glossy leaves.  The pigeons eat the large berries, so Karaka can appear anywhere the birds roost and drop the seeds out the other end of their digestive systems.


Pigeonwood.  I've not seen the flowers or fruit of this tree, but see the seedlings in many places.  There's an adult tree in this reserve, but this sapling must have grown from a dropped seed.

Out in the paddock, where it was raining quite steadily by now, 628 produced a heifer, sired by #90.  She'll be a keeper, I should think.

nesting goose

The goose is nesting again, funny old bird.  Unfortunately we usually don't notice her eggs until she begins sitting on them, by which time they're getting a bit old for us to want to eat them.

545, mother of last year's twins, delivered a heifer this evening.  I was somewhat surprised, because even though her dates indicated she would calve soon, her udder was not tight.  A cow's udder usually gets quite full and hard just before calving, but this year a number of them have not done that.

Thursday the 11th
Angus cows and calves

More cows and calves coming in for weighing and tagging.  We spend ages doing this first trip to the yards, because the more quietly we do it, the better behaved the calves are the next time they come in.  I used to do it on my own, but Stephan now does most of the yard work, while I'm preparing tags and recording weights and he's discovered that spending some quiet time stroking the little calves as he's pushing them up the race onto the scales, yields great dividends for us later.  They don't much like having an ear pierced, but they don't seem to notice the addition quite so much as they appeared to when they were a bit older when we first put the numbered tags in.  Maybe it's because everything is so new and one more thing makes little difference.

pushing a reluctant cow

Demelza is not the easiest animal to deal with.  She's so quiet that it's really hard to get her to move, unless she wants to herself.  Slapping her rump does little, and taking that to an extreme to get more response would not be acceptable, so we resort to all sorts of waving and noise-making to get her to move.  She does eventually go where we want, but it's a bit frustrating in the mud of that yard.

You might notice a "21" on her side: it's where her hair fell out after I sprayed her number there for Brian's benefit when he was checking the cattle when we were on holiday.  The paint was dedicated tail paint for cows, so I'm surprised it caused that reaction.

Angus calf

The newly-tagged calves went into Flat 1 for a rest, before I moved them all a bit further out later on.

This calf, son of 539, which the vet and I pulled out with some force on Monday, produced this alarming coloured poo as he got up and followed his mother out of the paddock.  It was filled with tiny fizzy bubbles and a very definite red, so blood is coming from somewhere.  He seems stiff when he moves, so I'm quite worried about him.  He is feeding though, so I'll watch and wait.  He's not old enough to have picked up any of the usual infections we deal with, like coccidiosis.  I wonder if he has some sort of internal trauma from his delayed and then forced birth?

Angus calf

Out in the Bush Flat Paddock the first-tagged calves are having a lovely time.  This is Queenly 23's daughter, 118, the calf I had to assist to feed at the beginning.  She let me get close and stroke her for a while.  Little calves are so lovely and soft.  She has the same sort of stance as her elder sister, 107.  I suspect she'll be a bit of a character.

Friday the 12th

I helped 602 deliver a daughter this morning - another calf a bit sticky on the elbows.  602 is one of the daughters of #43 and they all had unexpectedly large calves the first year and I think this calf was reasonably big around the shoulders.  She'd have managed on her own in time, but the quicker they're out, the better they get on with their lives.

Calf 689 of the bloody poo, was skipping about a bit this morning and still feeding well.  I waited around to watch what came out of his rear end.  Nothing did, so when he lay down, I coaxed a sample from him (a wet finger works better than a dry one!) and it looked a great deal more normal than yesterday's effort, so I'll leave him alone, but under continued close observation.


Mike, two sons and an extra boy, came out to camp yesterday, for one night.  I found them packing up again late this morning.  It's nearly the end of the school holidays, so time is getting short for them to enjoy themselves in such a manner.

Eric set a few traps last night and went around this morning to collect the possums he'd caught.

In Flat 3, 456 delivered a bull calf.  456 is mother to 602 who calved this morning.  They were mated on different days to the same bull.

milk bottle in the stream

We ran out of milk, so I went out and got some.  Since Demelza had let me milk her so easily when I needed to last week, I took her a bit of molasses in exchange for a jarful this evening, which I left to cool in the stream as I checked on the uncalved cows in the Camp Paddock.  I love having quiet cows!

The calf tally to date is 24: 14 heifers and ten bulls.  On most days in the last two weeks, two calves have been born.  It's all going very nicely - apart from the lack of grass growth to feed the cows!

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

See here for the Competition Entries and Result