The week beginning the 25th of October 2014.
Saturday the 25th

We let the hen and goslings out of their cage to forage around the garden this afternoon.  They had a lovely time.

The hen tried to take them too far afield for my liking though, it being early enough in the day for hawks to be looking for a luscious young gosling for afternoon tea.  We shut them in the little area near my greenhouse where there's grass and enough space to explore.

Sunday the 26th
a pond

We made an early start this morning bringing the various little mobs of cows and calves to the yards for weighing and to have their numbered tags inserted.

While we were having a late lunch-break, a lot of lovely young relatives arrived for a Labour Weekend visit.  As usual we all ended up around the pond, although it was a bit too cool for swimming still.  With rakes and dead flax flower stems we did some pond-weed extraction, pulling the weed up from the bottom and bringing it to the sides.  We made only a small impression, but it was obvious where it had been removed.

I went out to check on my pregnant dams and noticed that 719 was now looking decidedly unwell.  I'd been observing her closely since Friday evening, when I saw her stamping her rear feet in an irritated fashion.  She appeared happy to feed her calf though and so I put it down to ongoing nerve issues after the difficult calving.  She was also a little wobbly on her back legs, which I thought supported that presumption.  Yesterday she carried on eating and looking pretty normal, if a little slower than usual, which I again thought was quite likely in an animal who'd been through such a calving.  But this afternoon I noticed that her udder, usually nicely plump, looked shrunken and almost empty.  Where she'd been sitting there was a strong-smelling fluid on the grass, quickly turning the clover leaves black - it smelt very much like ammonia.

I rang the vet and arranged to pick up some antibiotics and pain relief for her and left our guests with Stephan while I drove to town.

On my return we got 719 and her little mob in to the yards (a little earlier than I'd intended to weigh and tag their calves) and gave her the injections.

cow and calf

Then we finished the last of the tagging for the day, bringing the four cows and three calves from Mushroom 2, all the way along the lanes and then back to the Windmill Paddock, where everyone met everyone else again after the weeks or months they've been apart.  There didn't appear to be too much fighting.

Here are Endberly and her daughter going into the Windmill Paddock.

The twins have been separated out, because I want to keep them together and Gem 698 has yet to calve.  So Meg's calf will have to put up with being on her own until someone else is born and then she'll be far bigger than her playmates!  She already weighs 66kg and is looking lovely.

Monday the 27th

Stephan spent several hours going through one of the vegetable garden sections which had been taken over by Kikuyu, so he could plant some tomato plants.

The tomato-planted segment previously looked like the one on the right, which used to have Strawberries growing in it.

newborn calf

I watched for an hour this evening as Curly went through the final stages of labour.  I thought her calf was black, until it was born and some almost-bald patches around his eyes became obvious, along with a definite wiry kink in the hair his mother had licked clean.  He has Hypotrichosis, just like his mother.

Tuesday the 28th

The goslings' feathers are starting to appear: grey for the goose and white for the gander.

Angus cows

Feeding molasses to the cows is both entertaining and dangerous.  I have to step in with noses breathing down my neck, their addiction making them unable to politely wait at a decent distance - and then they're just as impolite to each other, shoving their noses into other cows' bins because they think there must be more on offer over there ...

I was very pleased to see sick 719's calf running around again today.  I've been watching the two of them, wondering if I'd need to step in and provide some supplementary milk for him, but she seems better and her udder is looking more normally filled again.  I think she was a great deal sicker than she was letting on.  Usually sick cows are pretty obvious, with their heads lowered, ears down, not eating and so on; she was doing none of those things.

I have kept meaning to remark upon the number of snails around this year.  On my late evening checks, particularly if the ground is wet, I ride over what sounds like a shelly beach, with lumps of squashed snail flying up from the wheels of my bike.  It's grotesquely satisfying.  On drier evenings there are sometimes none to be seen on the track, but by the time I return, there are many.  It seems they must respond to the vibration of my first passing and come out of the longer grass of the fenced drain reserves.

Wednesday the 29th
newborn calf

Curly's curly son.  He's a big, floppy sort of calf and no doubt he'll do very well.

crossing a stream

It rained a whole lot, again.

I'd been out to check on the cow and calf mob in the morning and wanted to move them further out the back this afternoon, when the rain stopped.  But the streams were up and flowing quite fast, slightly too deep for either of us to get across without getting river in our boots, so Stephan built us a bridge!  The fences are off out here until the calves are in a better place to learn about them.  The Frog Paddock has too many corners where the calves end up going out into the lanes and it's easiest if they can just go back again without shocks.

abscess on cow's neck

As she passed me in the lane, I noticed that 475 has an abscess on her neck.  It'll be at the site of her last Copper injection.  I could squeeze it if she'd let me, but it'll drain and clear on its own.  I'll check in the next couple of days and make sure it's still looking alright.

cows and calves

I brought Stephan out to help me with this move specifically because of this crossing, where the calves always end up on the bank where I'm standing, and then turn back instead of going with their mothers.  With Stephan behind them, I could go ahead and stop them diverging from the appropriate path.

This lot have had a few days of river-crossing experience where they've been grazing, so they went across the stream quite easily.

Thursday the 30th
Angus cow

When I was out checking at just before three this morning, all was normal, but at 7.25 I could see membranes hanging behind Demelza, who appeared to be wandering around grazing, rather than being in the middle of active labour, as she should have been.

I walked her in to the yards, because she wouldn't let me investigate internally out in the paddock.

The calf was upside-down, feet up at a one o'clock position relative to her body and the head down at seven.  Fortunately I was able to pull on the calf's left leg and that brought it around to the normal presentation angle.  It's always my preference to leave them to it once I know the calf is in the right position, because the cervix has yet to be stretched properly by the wedge shape of the calf's legs and head.

The membrane hanging in this picture is coloured green/brown by her faeces which had dribbled down it.

I left her in the driveway with Emma 93, who'd come in with her, but she wasn't relaxed enough there to get on with calving, so after I while I took her back over the bridge.

Angus cow and calf

We put a tape across the bottom end of the House Paddock so Demelza would be separated from the other cattle in the paddock and also be where I could easily watch her from the house.

After doing most of the pushing lying down until the head was out, at 11.52 I watched through the binoculars as Demelza squeezed her calf out while standing.  Another daughter, this one sired by Kessler's Frontman.

I sent Emma 93 out of the paddock, now she was no longer required for company and took the electric tape down, because as soon as she could walk, the new calf went under it, out of Demelza's reach.

In the House Paddock now are Demelza, two of her daughters (this new one and Ellie 119), two granddaughters (Ellie's calf and Emergency) and a great granddaughter (Emergency's daughter).  The three new calves are all sired by Frontman.  Keeping track of the familial relationships in my herd gets trickier by the year.

Angus heifer

While I was watching Demelza, I could see two heifers starting their labours in Flat 3.  I knew one would be 726 and I assumed the other was 729, who's due in a couple of days, but has been looking like she could go a little early.

When I went to have a closer look at 726, I was surprised and very concerned to find that it was 721 showing all the signs of labour; she's not due for another 17 or 18 days and has shown no extraordinary udder development to indicate an early calving was on the cards.

Angus heifer and calf

726 got on and produced a little daughter with no problems, other than that she came out with her membranes all over her head, so I stepped in and removed them.

By then it was ten past two.  721 was still lying down and pushing, getting up and walking around with her tail out.  There was no mucous or birth fluids and I decided something was most definitely wrong, with a dead late-term calf my best (worst) guess.

I phoned the vet to arrange a visit a bit over an hour later, thinking it would take a while to get her to the yards - and wanting to bring sick 719 in for a check too, since the vet would be here.

Ordinarily these days I do an internal check myself before calling the vet in, but in this case I was quite sure there was something wrong and figured that another dead calf would require a post mortem examination and samples to be taken for testing, because three dead calves in a season is unacceptable.

There aren't any photos of all this for reasons which will become obvious.

According to the vet 721 was definitely in labour, although her vulva and vagina were not in the usual loose state to facilitate birth.  He could feel the calf's feet and it was alive, to my great surprise!  But 721's cervix was not properly dilated, nor softened as it should be during labour.

He put calving chains on the legs, but with the cervix restricted could not fit his hand in to ensure the head would come into the correct position if he pulled.  The heifer repeatedly went down on her haunches because of nerve pressure as the vet was working inside her, which meant she was virtually hanging by her neck in the head bail.  We'd started off with just a rail behind her and her head free, but as she began to sink it became necessary, for the vet's safety, to restrain her at the head end instead.  If a heifer goes down when you have your arm inside her, you'll be broken over a rail at her rear.

After many unsuccessful attempts to get a chain around the calf's head to guide it, we stopped and considered our options.
There was some very fresh blood on the ground, probably from a tear in the heifer's cervix, so continuing to work through that opening to try and pull the calf would cause further damage.  Another option, but still through the cervix with the same concerns, would be to kill the calf and bring it out in pieces.  I didn't think much of that course of action, with a vigorous calf and the danger of doing too much damage to the heifer anyway.  Caesarian section was the only other option.

None of us was expecting this!

After clipping and washing the heifer's side and then injecting a lot of local anaesthetic down the proposed incision, giving her a long acting pain killer and a big dose of antibiotics, the vet cut through her skin, very carefully through the muscles beneath until the pelvic cavity was reached, taking extreme care not to nick anything else, the rumen and small intestine being there at the opening.

The vet found the uterus and pulled it toward the incision and carefully cut it to expose a black hind leg, then another, than passed me the back end of the calf as he pulled it from the heifer.  I took her and carefully laid her on the ground, making sure she was breathing, then got back to my assistant position for the longer part of the job.

I had to hold the uterus while the vet prepared his equipment, then stitched the incision he'd made.  We then washed its bloodied surface before he replaced it inside the cow.  My arms were aching!

Poor heifer.  When everything was sewn up, we let her out of the head bail and she stood in the yard looking very subdued.  She didn't take any notice of the calf.

After I'd caught up with all the other things which hadn't been done or checked on during the day, I warmed some frozen colostrum for the calf and took it to her.  Happily she suckles well.  Her mother began to respond to her just a little, taking tiny sniffs at her and tentatively extending her tongue, almost as if she might think about licking her ...

Friday the 31st
Angus heifer and calf

This morning 721 was being a bit more maternal, talking to her daughter a little, wanting to be near her.  I kept them at the yards until after I'd given 721 her antibiotic injection for the day, then let Dexie 121 (who'd been nearby for company) go back to the other heifers, and let 721 and her calf begin moving toward the bridge.

premature calf's teeth

When I took her a feed, I had a look at her teeth to see how far they'd erupted.  Full term calves' teeth are generally not still covered by their gum tissue when they're born.

I'd initially wondered if I'd made a mistake in my notes from last summer, but after careful checking, I found that 721 was definitely always in the insemination mob away from the bulls and that this calf was conceived on Valentine's Day, 14 February.  That made yesterday day 258 of gestation, which is very early for a calf.  I have no idea what set off labour, since neither mother nor baby were ready for it.

The calf, now named Julia Caesaris (the name of Julius Caesar's daughter), does not have very good control over her muscles, so she's very wavery when she walks and often looks as though she'll collapse.  I understand that this sort of floppiness is common in premature human babies as well.


I was about to obtain some milk from Demelza for Julia when a bellowing attracted my attention across the flats: 726 was upset because her calf had disappeared into a drain at the edge of Flat 4.

I went over, calmly slid into the drain to help the calf and it scrambled out, went under the fence, ran wildly across the paddock, flipped through the electric fence, got up and carried on.  It pelted straight at and through the next fence, across Flat 2 and through that fence and ended up in the drain along the side of Flat 1.  The last was probably a very good thing, or no doubt it would have continued on and ended up in the river!

After opening the gates along the lanes for 726, hoping she'd come around to where she'd seen her calf go, we had to intervene.  Stephan went over and brought 726 along the lanes and into Flat 1 and opened the drain-side area so she could access the calf.  But she was confused and upset and didn't see her baby, so we both had to get involved.  Stephan carefully climbed down into the drain and the calf moved along away from him, while I made the heifer turn back towards it.  That still didn't work, so eventually Stephan caught the calf, which bawled and struggled and behaved just as madly as it had when bolting across the flats.

Stephan climbed out of the drain as we both kept hold of the calf, then carried it back along so the heifer could see it.  It continued to struggle and bawl and we knew that if we let it go it would be off again and goodness knows where it would end up and it could easily hurt itself in a blind panicked run.

The heifer was too upset and frightened by her calf's behaviour to be of any use, so Stephan carried the calf (despite a nasty knock to his head as it threw its own head upwards unexpectedly) back to the milking shed and we put it down in a very small area between the gates there, so it couldn't do itself too much damage.  As soon as it was on the ground in that dark space, it lay down and became calm.

Then we went and fetched the heifer.  Although she appeared to sense where the calf was to begin with, she then forgot again in her distress and looked entirely like she'd go over the gates and rails of the housecow area.  We stood at either end where there was no electric fencing to stop her and eventually I went and lifted the calf out to where she could see it and she immediately calmed down, although was still extremely nervous.

Fortunately the calf seemed to have calmed down enough not to bolt again, or we'd have been fishing it out of the pond!

The two of them spent the night in there, with 721 and her little calf as near neighbours, while they recovered their equilibrium.

What a week!

The annual Eva's Calving Date Competition closed at midnight on Monday 27 October.

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