If you're anywhere near any native bush at this time of year, look up and see if you can see the epiphytic orchid plants attached to any branch or trunk and if they're there, you're likely to see the little flowers blooming.
We brought the young heifers back from Over the Road a couple of days ago and sent them straight out the back. The fence along the boundary is still awaiting removal and replacement and every time I put cattle in the Big Back South paddock, I fear there'll be an escape; but so far, so good. As soon as the ground dries, Stephan will start work on the fence.
The heifers are looking really good for this time of year, all set to achieve record pre-mating weights by December.
On the huge fallen Puriri trunk in the middle of the big swamp, the sun orchid plants are this year managing to produce flower stems. Several of the plants have had their leaves nibbled, so I presume there are possums around - although the recent wetness has probably discouraged them from crossing the wet places and saved the orchids so far.
I liked the varying colours of the lichen growing on this Kahikatea tree in the swamp, all of it being blown like tresses in the wind.
There's a great deal of lichen on the trees in this area. Some say it's a sign of very clean air and other people suggest it is killing the trees. So many things still to learn...
Thelymitra "puriri", the fabulous Sun Orchid on the Puriri trunk in our garden, is looking healthy again this year, with more plants appearing every season.
I need to do a bit of gardening, to remove a large Blackberry plant climbing over the area, along with lots of dead Willow Weed which grew up around the other side of the trunk. The protective frame Stephan put around it last year for the netting to stop the possums getting at the plants, also needs renovation. That'll have to happen soon, before some adventurous possum finds a great place to dine and I lose the chance to see the plants bloom again.
It takes only a few minutes for the cows to come to my call in the Back Barn each afternoon, to have their Magnesium and Molasses.
When they've had it they all look a bit disappointed, as if that really wasn't enough! They only get about a cupful each, enough to deliver what I know they need. Molasses is extremely useful as a delivery medium, since all the cows get hooked on it very easily. That enthusiasm for the taste makes dishing it out a bit of a dangerous job, dodging fast-moving bodies and big heads wanting to emphasise their impatience for the treat. Many of the cows get quite assertive about their desire for me to deliver the molasses faster than I do and it's not a job I'd ask someone to step in and do in my place, without knowing the nature of each of the animals and their particular behaviour.
Ida 75 appeared to be in labour from just before noon, and I was beginning to become a little concerned when nothing obvious had happened by a quarter to six, but then I noticed she was in the process of producing a bag of fluid, which burst into a thick yellow-green pool behind her. Eventually there was a foot, then another, then the bulge and space above the feet indicating the presence of the head. I suspect there was some delay in the delivery of this calf, but he got up quickly enough.
At my last check the calf hadn't fed and Ida was concentrating almost exclusively on eating her afterbirth. I didn't like to interfere in the dark, so hoped they'd sort themselves out.
This morning Ida's calf has managed to find the tiny supernumerary teats on the back of her udder, but seems unable to work out how to find the others, all hanging, temptingly full of nourishing colostrum. We are about to walk the two of them toward the yards, to help him learn how to feed. It's odd how some of them do this. It's usually bull calves and I wonder if it's mostly after delayed births?
I would get him feeding in the paddock where they are, if I could, but neither cow nor calf will cooperate and stand still for long enough, so require the restraint of the race for the cow, so we can concentrate on getting the calf to the right place.
Meg has some likely-looking mucous this morning, so will probably calve today.
After standing around for hours looking suspicious - tail out, just thinking - Meg finally lay down and got on with some serious contractions at 1.35 this afternoon. She got up, lay down, got up, wandered around, repeated the process and all the while nothing seemed to be changing. I knew she'd be nervous if I went out, so I watched the whole process from inside the house - thank goodness I had cleaned my best observation window!
I tried going out to have a look behind her at one point, when she kept lying down so I couldn't see what was going on, but she immediately got up, so I that was obviously not going to yield any information and I just had to wait.
Eventually, at 3.45, there was the white of the bottom of a foot, along with a large bulge and as that burst with a huge gush of fluid I concluded that it was the fluid-filled bag coming through the cervix at the same time as the first part of the calf, which had probably held everything up. The cervix requires the nicely tapered and firm structure of the calf's feet and head to dilate properly and if, for some reason, a bit of the membrane bag goes through too and takes fluid with it, I think it probably slows everything down by cushioning the stretching so it can't happen effectively.
Quite soon afterwards there were two feet and the bulge of a nose, before Meg lay down the other way a number of times, obscuring my view of things.
When she stopped moving much, I thought I could see more of a black mass behind her than had been there before, so I ran out to make sure everything was alright, which it was, except I startled everyone by my sudden and hurried appearance. I took this picture when I got back to the house, when the others had all responded to Meg's bellowing and gone to investigate the newcomer.
These heifers are being spectacular mothers. I'm very pleased with them, all being very calm with their calves and facilitating their first feeds as early as possible.
So both twins have calved successfully. I've enjoyed the sense of sharing the experience with all those who participated in the Twins' Calving Competition, even though nobody (including me) managed to guess both dates correctly. Congratulations to Joyce and Peter, both of whom guessed Gem's calving date and the sex of her calf and to Bernie, Sandy, Nadene, Melanie, Megan and Hannah, who guessed one or other of the dates.
After I'd done my Magnesium rounds, Stephan and I went back over to the yards to see if we could get Ida's calf feeding successfully. We milked some more colostrum from Ida (it's great having cooperative cows) and I fed some to the calf by bottle, just to ensure I knew he'd had some, but he wasn't very hungry; so although Ida's teats were quite muddy, I think the calf has been feeding during the day.
Ida was very happy to head out of the yards and back to the paddock with the others. The yards where they are, is not the best place for a new mother and her calf, with a dog next door and all sorts of traffic along the road. I look forward to having yards in the middle of the farm, where I have more control over what's happening around my animals when they need to be there.
I want to use Flat 1 for the heifers next, so we moved Athena, Damara, 568 and their three calves back to Flat 2. Evening is not the easiest time to move calves, I now remember, it being running-around time.
What we thought was some horrible and invasive weed in our garden turned out to be Aquilegia, producing these pretty purple flowers. I don't know where it came from, but people bring us plants and the seeds must have been in some pot or other.
I've been wondering if the extent of white on this calf's leg has changed? But I think it's only an impression, as she's grown bigger and the shock of the strange-coloured leg has faded.
470 produced this little heifer just before my late check last night. She's the second daughter of bull 106, Emma 93's son.
I was very pleased this morning, to see that Ida 75's calf eventually worked out where the best milk supply could be accessed, emptying the left side of her udder. Without a bit of help from us yesterday, I doubt he'd have kept trying today, because he'd have given up hope and lost all his energy. I watched him for a while this morning, determinedly hunting around, trying the back teats over and again until he must finally have snuffled around low enough to find the proper ones.
710 was unsettled early this morning and, just after 9am, disappeared out of my conveniently placed electric tape enclosure (which kept the last two heifers within sight of my office window) and stalked off up the paddock with her tail out.
Just after noon I helped her deliver a daughter, another one for Kessler's Frontman. 710 has only very recently allowed me to scratch her tail when she's lying on the ground, but today seemed happy to let me come near and assist her with the calf. It was another delivery which would have been fine without me, but I do so like to get involved. I just speed things along a little, which is good for mother and baby.
I thought 714 was probably pregnant to the insemination I did on 5 January, but now I'm pretty sure she's actually in calf to bull 116 and due about 18 days later than I thought.
I'll remove her from this paddock and put her back with the other four heifers.
Meg 699's son has a double hair-whorl in the middle of his face. I can't remember seeing one quite so pronounced before. They'll often have a dividing line, or more usually a single whorl or sometimes the hair will all go in one direction right up or down the nose. Later, looking at the face of cow 613, I realised that she has two whorls, which create a line across her nose, but they're further apart across her nose than on this calf.
I'm now giving all the cows Magnesium, so my afternoon bike run is a little longer. I'm gradually replacing some of the two-dose white containers with the two litre milk bottles which will hold enough for six or eight cows each.
I don't usually carry on giving the calved cows Magnesium, but the weather has been continually cold and grey and they could probably do with it.
I drafted white-faced heifer 714 away from her calved friends this morning and sent her off with the other four heifers. I walked behind the four and let 714 follow me, but as they all seemed unconcerned about each other - there's often some tussling as they re-establish who's who in the social order - so I let them wander along the lane together to graze the Mushroom 1 paddock. They're probably a few days away from calving and I'm hoping Flat 1 will be grown enough for them to return there and be closer for me to watch as they begin producing their calves.
I went up the hill in the Big Back, looking for all the heifers and found them quite contentedly grazing amongst the scrub and dead gorse, so I left them to it. I like finding them happy.
Emma 93 had a calf in front of her early this morning, a bull by the sire I used for the first time this year, BT Right Time 24J.
Yesterday Stephan started making me another chocolate cake, then stopped with an exclamation, having found he didn't have enough milk. The prospect of not having a chocolate cake being completely unacceptable, I went out with a jar and managed to get a couple of cups from Curly - I needed a cow who'd calved long enough ago to have cleared the colostrum already, and preferably one who hadn't received the pour-on drench during the winter. (They're outside the withholding time for the drench, but I prefer the surety of no residues at all.) Curly eventually kicked me away, but by then I had enough and hadn't dropped it on the ground, so I took it back to the cook.
Today, having run out of milk for tea and coffee, I went back out and got some more. This time she didn't kick me, thankfully.
This morning in the very early hours, the moon was almost full and shining on the mist in the hills. It was a magical sight.
Checking cattle in bright moonlight is rather pleasant and if I'm riding my bike, I don't turn the headlight on, so I can see where the calves are if they're sleeping along the fencelines next to the lanes. I go to some efforts to keep the calves as calm as possible when they're young, without startling them. That means we drive past them slowly (on bike, tractor or ute), talking to them all the time, until they no longer get up and move away when they hear us coming.
The Cabbage Tree in the garden continues to change. It's about to flower again, which will presumably lead to more splitting of the crown. It's neighbour, on the other side of our deck, has a divided crown, but has never put out any trunk shoots.
The recent floods left a big pile of gravel on one side of the crossing from the Mushroom paddocks to the Bush Flat, so on his way out to do some fencing, Stephan dragged it across the stream and up the other side to help cover the track.
Ground conditions continue to be unseasonably firm. I will need to collate the weather data to see how the rainfall has varied this year from normal.
571, mother of 710 who calved on Monday, calved this morning. She got up a bit too soon and wondered where her calf was.
Within a couple of hours they'd made their way up the paddock.
Cows are interesting in their early post-partum behaviour. Many will stay exactly where they calved, some move a little distance away, but even when they've calved in a sheltered and secluded spot, some, like 571, will go off on what looks like a significant trek for a newborn, to settle somewhere else entirely. Nearly all the calves spend their first two or three days curled up, asleep.
Two years ago these flax plants grew at least 20 flower spikes. Last year they only had two. This year looks like one of the good ones again, with at least 25 coming up.