I was taking nice pictures of 606 in the sunshine, having just had a conversation with Queenly 23 about how many more days we'd be waiting for her calf. Suddenly Queenly put her tail out and stalked off into the trees!
She got on with the job fairly quickly, although lying with her rear against a tree-trunk made delivery slightly tricky. The calf looks quite mad. Sometimes they look like this for the first couple of days. He's a son of Pono of Kawatiri, the semen given to me last year.
This doesn't look like much of a picture, but if you study it, you can see the new shoots on the Totara at bottom left and the pollen cones of the Kahikatea at top right. These subtle colour changes make the native bush continually interesting to those who study it, even though to many it's just green.
571 decided that the bit of scrubby, swampy ground near a big drain which runs out of the bottom of the Bush Block, was a good place to hide with her calf. I was a little worried the calf would end up in the drain, but they emerged a few hours later again into the sunshine.
Zella was calving and I was waiting, so I went for a walk around to see whether or not these orchids were still in bloom. Lots of the plants I found had no flowers at all - an effect of last summer's drought and a dry winter, perhaps? I found several, at my shoulder height in the low branches of a sprawling Totara, blooming. I can't really see them clearly now, unless I take good macro shots and blow them up on the screen. If you'd like to see some of those close-ups, do let me know - although there are also some from a past year here.
Zella, nearly finished.
A couple of hours later, after he was washed and dressed.
I was up in the night, so when I could see all was well with the heifers at dawn, I went back to bed.
Stephan came back from fixing a pipe leak to report that Zella's calf was in a tricky spot and it would take two of us to fix it, if the calf wasn't to fall into the stream.
We got there a bit late.
It's always Stephan's job to get into the cold water and rescue things and he does it very well.
Poor calf. He was very cold and shivered terribly when he was back on dry land, but immediately searched for a warm milk drink and then settled down in the sunshine to sleep.
This was where he'd been sleeping, presumably beginning on this side of the fence, but sliding under the bottom wire and as soon as he moved, he toppled over the edge and down about six feet into the water. I hope it was deep enough to have broken his fall well enough, so he wasn't in danger of breaking bones.
606 was in labour this morning and did everything exactly as last year. She harassed 613 and pushed her around, even though 613 was trying to stay out of her way; she got down and hardly pushed before getting up and looking for her calf, over and over and over again. Eventually she lay down for long enough to get the calf half-way out and then spun around just as last year, flinging the calf out onto the ground and throwing the afterbirth around in a wide arc behind her. She had a bull calf.
The nights continue to be very cold and the grass isn't growing well enough. I need to move the heifers from the House Paddock, but want to tag them first. Some visitors arrived today just as we were about to go and do that job, so when they left, Stephan cut some grass to keep the heifers going in the mean time. It took a little persuasion to get the animals to understand that we'd brought them something good.
We milked Zella for the first time this evening, taking just half a bucket from her, to make her comfortable. I froze the colostrum, in case we need it for another calf during the rest of the season. It's always comforting to have some colostrum in the freezer.
Queenly 107 quite easily produced a heifer late last night. I was fairly confident that nobody else was ready to calve overnight, so went to bed and stayed there.
Early this morning 711 was in labour and produced a son, then over the next couple of hours got on with doing everything exactly as she should. Here, feeding the calf while eating her afterbirth.
The trick here is to ride up the track without startling the calves, so that they remain lying where they are. I can't quite do it yet, but they are getting better. The less I startle them, the quieter they become as they get older.
Endberly stood around for much of the day, looking pensive and at times uncomfortable.
Just before 7.30 this morning, I'd watched Endberly stamping her rear right foot and walking backwards, a sure sign of pain. I assumed she was in the early stages of labour. But nothing more (that I saw) happened throughout the day. At around five and six in the evening, I noticed she was holding her tail out occasionally, but by nine, nothing more obvious had happened. Heifers are always a bit tricky, and watching them is often a nerve-wracking process. I reassured myself that some of her sisters had taken as long to get started and went home again for a while.
At 10.10 there were two feet in a bag and Endberly was lying, pushing. But beyond that there really wasn't much progress and she didn't seem to be making a lot of effort over the process at any time.
I wasn't sure whether there was anything actually wrong or not, but eventually stepped in to help her with the calf. His feet seemed huge, but I know I often think that. I pulled every time she pushed and not much happened. Eventually one leg clunked through and out further than the other and then there was a bit of movement and the nose emerged. But further progress was then held up until I pulled the other leg through whatever was restricting it. During several of the contractions, Endberly cried out in obvious pain, an unusual occurrence during calving.
Stephan called out from outside the house, wondering what I was doing, having seen the light of the torch lying on the ground and thinking I'd been bowled over by a cow. By the time he turned up, the head was on its way out and so we both grabbed a leg to help pull and the calf got stuck at the chest! A slippery calf is really hard to get a good purchase on and that baby was not coming out even when we put all our effort into it. When Endberly had another contraction, he moved out as far as his hips and we had to wait again for her next push, to finally pull him free of her.
The calf was alive and breathing, but Endberly was completely flat-out and looked as though she'd die where she lay. After a few minutes I stepped in close to her head, to see if that would prompt her to sit up, but no. Eventually she swung her head and shoulders up to rest on her chest, but even the calf's movements as he began to try and stand didn't attract her attention. After a couple of plaintive calls to his mother, Endberly noticed the calf and heaved herself to her feet (we weren't sure if she'd be able to) and began tentatively licking him clean. Then she gently swayed to the right and fell over.
In retrospect, I suspect that there was some nerve pinching going on from early in the morning and wonder if the whole birth process was slowed because of Endberly's experience of pain or numbness. During the active part of her labour, she'd only push a little with each contraction, probably because it all hurt too much.
We watched them for some time, Endberly occasionally swaying sideways, but managing to stay on her feet as she cleaned the calf.
Up early and out for a check before six this morning: Endberly was sitting upright and then just as I was leaving the paddock, she got to her feet without too much trouble.
The calf is definitely rather larger than I planned for any of my heifers. He's fairly streamlined, fortunately, but he's long and tall and large.
Endberly's grandsire was Isis's son #43, the one bull which tested clear of both of the genetic defects his sire carried and I kept Curly and most of her very nice sisters while I waited for those test results. Bull 43 was a big calf and I was surprised that his daughters were very moderate in size, although that may have been influenced by the awful winter of 2008. Those heifers had some very big calves in 2010. Endberly is of that generation and it looks likely that the big birthweight effect may have been transmitted to some of these grand-daughters. I'll have to keep that in mind next year when a few more of them will be first calvers.
Endberly is not in great body condition either, obvious now she's empty of calf. I managed the feed supply for the earlier-calving heifers fairly well, but this later group has apparently suffered some restriction. I'm sure they'll come right, but they look a bit too light and bony at present.
613 produced another daughter sometime in the early hours. This is her fourth calf and third daughter. We're currently eating first daughter, 713.
We took the five heifers and Ida 75 and their calves to the yards and then tricked the adults into going through to the other side of the race without their babies. Because their mothers were on the other side of the race, the calves quite happily went up into the crush pen. Herding calves can otherwise be tricky; they move like smoke.
We weighed each calf and then put a numbered tag in its left ear. In these small mobs, I know whose calf is whose from their facial differences.
Afterwards they went into the Pig Paddock. The little calves' huge ear tags look far too big for them, but they don't seem to mind them too much.
We did the calves of the four cows from the Windmill Paddock afterwards, including white-faced 517 and Curly and then mixed them in with the others in the Pig Paddock.
What a cutie. This is Queenly 107's daughter.
When I applied soap to wash the milk-straining muslin this evening, I felt the tell-tale sliminess of the presence of somatic cells in the milk. I read that it is quite common for there to be an increased level of those cells (which are usually an indicator of infection) in the colostrum and testing the milk from her four teats individually showed that only the back right quarter was affected. I'll test again in a couple of days and in the mean time, Stephan will milk that quarter onto the ground, instead of into the bucket for drinking - there's no human health implication, but we're getting enough milk from the rest of her udder anyway.
After spending the night together in the Pig Paddock, the mob of nine cows and their newly-tagged calves walked out to the Bush Flat paddock. For the calves it was the first long walk and their first stream crossing. They all moved very nicely. Every year the herd gets easier to handle, as the cumulative effect of quiet handling increases.
Stephan has started stripping the old boundary fence between our Big Back South paddock and the Department of Conservation (DoC) "Marko Buselich Reserve" next door. In some places, as soon as the battens were removed, the posts fell over. There wasn't much keeping my cattle in, other than their good habits.
Most of those big trees will have to go. Up the top of the paddock there's a Rimu which is the only tree we'll make an allowance for - Totara and these others grow very commonly here, but Rimu are not so frequently found. Rimu was always heavily milled, so I wonder if it was a lack of seed-bearing trees at one time which created the apparent lack of middle-aged trees here now? These days I find seedlings quite regularly, but the number of mature trees is quite small.
I watched this little bull being born last night - without getting involved. 602 was a bit nervy and I didn't need to be in her way in the dark. I waited around to make sure he was coming out the right way around and that he was safely on the ground, then left them to it.
This is calf number 25, bull number 15.
Another sort of cow tagging - nasty children do it to buildings; I do it to cows. Curly is shedding her coat at such a rate that the old hair easily comes away with a gentle pull or rub.
If I were less tired and feeling more artistic...
Ida's calf is still making use of those little back teats. They're obviously productive enough for him to keep them going; if there was hardly anything in them, I expect he'd stop bothering and they'd just dry off.
While I was standing stroking Curly and watching everyone, these two were running around and around the group, panting hard, stopping occasionally, then setting off again. I was amused to observe it's the "brothers", the sons of the twins.
These two, with their genetically identical mothers and the same sire, are effectively genetic full siblings. If I use the same bull on the twins each year, it'll be the same genetic outcome as one animal producing fraternal twins at each calving.
Still trying to eke out the grass on the flats, I put some still-to-calve cows into the top of Flat 2, then slung an electric tape across the paddock and let the cows and calves in Flat 3 into the bottom end. During the day, 470's calf went under the tape and wandered up the paddock for a sleep. Her mother went back into Flat 3 and up the fence-line, to be as near as she could to her daughter. When the calf woke again, two or three hours later, 470 didn't just stand there yelling through the fence, she intelligently walked the calf back down the fence-line again, until they could meet in the open gateway. This is the sort of good sense I'd like to breed into all my cows!
I took the photo from the house, across the House Paddock and Flat 1 (where Dexie is lying).
Stephan's getting on really well with the fence stripping. Few posts needed to be pulled out, since they were nearly all rotten at the base. The trees growing through the wires were the only thing holding the whole thing upright. If my cattle weren't so quiet, it would never have kept them in. If there were cattle on the other side, we'd have had to replace it years ago.