It rained all day today from early in the morning, a good fall of 40mm. While it's still colder than usual, at least we're not also suffering horribly wet ground conditions but are getting enough rain to keep things healthy and the grasses will be ready to shoot off as soon as the weather warms.
I took the opportunity to whip up the first batch of butter for this season. While Stephan used a bit of the commercial stuff through the winter, he left enough of ours for me to avoid having any of the other, as I slowly ate through our frozen stores.
In the early evening when the rain stopped I went out to check the six in the Back Barn paddock, thinking I'd better bring a couple of them forward to the flats. I was a little late, finding 703 with a bull calf delivered some time during today; calf number 28.
When we brought the cows in this evening, Imagen was even slower than she's been over the last couple of days and she was trying to steal her grandson. I've seen her do that once before and it didn't end well.
A bit of prevention is always easier than regrets and lots of work later and with that in mind we put Zella's calf into the cowshed for the night, so Imagen could not continue her inappropriate bonding. I presumed she was in labour, although there was no definite sign.
As she was just outside the house, I popped out with the torch every hour or so to check on her, usually finding her standing up by the gates, which was where she was still when I found her like this, with a chubby little just-born heifer.
All watched over by the ghost cow!
Guess who had found the big pile of lime rock dumped in the driveway the other day for the pig pen. I watched Zella rubbing her head and neck in it earlier with great enthusiasm.
Imagen, with her enormous udder and cute little daughter. She hasn't had a daughter since Zella, in 2009. She had a couple of heifers before Zella, but I didn't keep them.
This heifer is a bull 87 daughter, a mating I haven't tried before. His daughters are generally very nice, so I look forward to seeing how this one turns out. She should be quite tame because she'll have a lot of close handling while Stephan milks Imagen to help feed the pigs this season.
If I hadn't known 703 had calved yesterday, it would have been very easy to miss it. She was grazing quietly with the others and had no tell-tale mucous around her rear. I couldn't see her calf anywhere, so mimicked a calf call to see where she'd look and even when she indicated where he was, it was hard to spot him, sleeping down by the stream amongst the ferns. Newborn calves can be lost by inattentive farmers who move cows like this to new pastures, not realising there's a tiny calf tucked away somewhere.
Loofah's oldest chick is big enough to pick up and introduce to the world. They are funny looking things.
I will try and handle them often, in the hope they'll become tamer than their parents.
Something we deliberately do at this time of year is drive very slowly and carefully along the lanes, gradually accustoming the new babies to such movement, without startling them and making them dart away in fright. After two or three careful passes on the bike, talking to them quietly as I go, the calves learn that it's safe to remain where they are when they hear an engine. I like the cattle to learn that they don't need to get out of our way and to treat them considerately so they never feel they need to, except when actually necessary.
We tagged the first seventeen calves this morning, a job I always approach with trepidation. It went very smoothly though. It's work we do slowly and quietly, wanting the calves' first experience of the yards to be as calm as we can make it; but it's always upsetting for them, to some degree.
We bring the cows and calves in, let them settle down in the grassy yard in the driveway for a while and then as the pairs become obvious, draft them up to the race, mother and calf together and put the calf up the race onto the scales platform and then while Stephan holds each one still, I reach over the rails and insert the numbered tag.
It is a slow job, but that lot only took us a couple of hours, including the time to get the two mobs in. Afterwards they went (still as two separate mobs) out to Flat 1 where they mixed with enough space to sort out any social problems. Because the mixing was of 12 young cows and heifers with five of the mature matrons, there wasn't much fighting. The social hierarchy is well understood by the youngsters when they meet the older cows.
It helps that some of them have now rejoined their mothers and older sisters. In this mob of 17 cows, the biggest family group is 475 and three of her daughters, 606 (and her daughter 718), 725, and 745.
A couple of hours later when I looked down the paddock, most of the calves were lying in the sunshine, probably feeling a little tired out by the unusual activity and their sore ears.
At the top end of the paddock were the four cows who'd calved over the last few days, including Demelza and her lovely daughter.
As I'm expecting 36 calves, these four will become part of the other mob of 17 (all going well) which will be tagged a little later. (The other two calves belong to Imagen and Zella and will remain separate until weaning.)
I like it when they're tagged, making it possible to be sure who's who - not that there was any doubt in this case as Eva's daughter wandered away from her mother under the electric tape and her mother called for her to return. Calves are not generally obedient children.
Stephan attempted to relieve some of the obvious discomfort of Imagen's udder this evening, although didn't have much success. Her back quarters in particular are so engorged that it was difficult to get much from them. The situation will resolve itself in time, but until the calf requires more than the contents of one quarter and goes looking for more feed, the rest of a cow's udder often goes unrelieved.
The very satisfactory sight of dead rat-tail plants greets me whenever I look across the House paddock. I wiped these on the same day as I attacked the sedge plants near the pig sty.
Rat-tail grass (Sporobolus africanus), is a tough plant which grows in little clumps and isn't much good as a pasture plant. It will become common in the pasture if we don't control it and is gradually spreading around the farm from the tracks where it mainly grows. I don't know if it has always been here, or is yet another lovely gift from Bellingham Quarries, hitching a ride with their metal, since their quarry weed control is woefully inadequate.
Meg 699 was in labour and while I was staying out of her way, waiting to check that the right sort of feet were coming out first, I wandered along the stream bank pulling weeds (ragwort, mainly). Fortunately I looked up before I accidentally got too close to and startled 703's calf, whose favoured lying-in places seem to be shady, ferny spots near streams. He was aware of my presence, but stayed where he was as I backed off and moved away again.
Meg got on with her labour in a deliberate and efficient fashion, lying in one place once the head appeared and quite quickly delivering a son. Often a cow will get up and down, lying on alternate sides which helps the head and shoulders change their positions slightly as they move through her pelvis. This calf must have been perfectly positioned and small enough not to require such adjustments.
I moved the four cows and calves from the top of Flat 1 so the others could then be shifted out the top gate, on their way out to rougher grazing - where there's more grass, but the calves will have to learn about a whole new world of stream crossings, gullies, and more complicated terrain.
They all moved very nicely. The five cows' calves had already learnt about streams because they'd spent a few days in the Tank and Camp paddocks. Their confidence in crossing water would have helped any of the others who were near and only one or two needed a bit of careful urging as I followed along behind them. With a tape across the Frog paddock, they all moved really easily down and around through the next crossing to the Swamp East, where there was most grass for their mothers.
I've got better at these shifts over the years and so have the cattle. In some times past, calves got horribly lost a long way back from wherever their mothers had gone!
Over the last couple of weeks Brian and Stephan have had some conversation about doing some mole ploughing in our orchard. Today Brian rang and said his other work was interrupted by a mechanical breakdown, so he could bring his tractor over and get on with it today. Naturally we said yes please!
Stephan shot up and mowed as much grass as he could before Brian got there, but didn't have time to dig up the irrigation lines, so they had to be sacrificed. The pipe was all second-use material and bearing in mind Brian was here as a kindness, it would have been unreasonable to ask him to wait.
The plough part is a bullet-shaped thing at the bottom of the ground-cutting blade, which gets pulled along about 40-50mm under the ground, leaving an open channel through the soil for water to drain along.
As he mowed, Stephan watched a Pukeko dashing off and back on to its nest. I decided to move the eggs before Brian started, in case he drove too close or over the top of the nest. When he was finished, I put them back again and Stephan said that on his next visit to check the possum traps around the orchard, the eggs were warm, so our interference had not upset the birds too much.
When the orchard was finished, Brian came and did the same thing to the wet parts of Flat 1, dropping the plough in to the drain along its south side, then dragging out and up across the paddock.
It all made a bit of a mess, the paddock looking as if a mob of feral pigs had paid us another visit. But it will heal in time and hopefully next winter will be less waterlogged.
It is a fine thing to have kind friends in "retirement", willing to help with such experiments. Thank you, Brian!
It rained again this morning and I kept peering through the trees from the house into Jane's far paddock, trying to get a glimpse of the heifers. I could only ever see one or two, so when the rain stopped I went over to check they were behaving themselves. They weren't.
The three big ones were grazing where they should be, but most of the yearlings had wandered away over some very unsatisfactory fencing into the bush! Fortunately they'd not been out long, nor gone very far, although I did have a few minutes of worry when I couldn't see two of them. I called and they came back, then found their way back through a gap I opened, which was once a gateway.
We'll have to do something about the fencing there if we're to continue to graze it for Jane. Because of access problems, we've never been able to put lime or fertilizer on and because it's not our land and we don't have a formal agreement with a definite term of use, we've not wanted to put a lot of our own resources into the fencing either, so Stephan has done patch-up jobs on the existing paddock boundaries, rather than full replacement, which is what it really needs.
I moved the cows and calves right out the back to the Spring Paddock this afternoon, again with very few problems. It's nice to see the little calves out here, learning their way around the farm.
742, Curly's lovely daughter, all ready for calving, due by my estimate on the 4th.
Over-conditioned 701 produced a tiny daughter last evening at about the same time and in almost exactly the same place as she had her first calf two years ago. I had worried that she might have trouble during calving because she's fat, or that the calf, growing in a mother with ample resources, could potentially have been larger than otherwise, but neither appears to have been the case. It was disappointing when 701 slipped her second pregnancy and I'm pleased she has now made a successful return to the breeding herd.
Her afterbirth hung for nearly 48 hours before eventually dropping free. We've had no such problems with retained membranes since the addition of Selenium to the fertilizer in recent years, so this slow release must be an individual problem and I note it here for my later reference.
Loofah's four chicks are starting to grow some blue feathers. I take their nest box out of the breeding cage every couple of days to clean it out and give them new bedding, having read that one should not leave them to their own devices, since the parent birds don't clean out the nest.
I walked across the Spring paddock this evening, looking for the cows and calves and a thundering of little hooves signalled the approach of a group of calves who dashed past me, down to the bottom of the paddock, wheeled around and all came back again, about nine or ten of them in the group.
Eventually nearly everyone gathered further up the hill for their evening feed.
On my way back to the bike, I walked down into the new reserve area which used to be part of this paddock when it was the Back Barn, to look for orchids. I first saw one or two of the greenhood plants here a couple of years ago and they're gradually colonising the area. There are lots of them just up-wind on the other side of the Spring hill.
Two weeks ago the trail camera captured this pair and I kept seeing others like them around on the grass as I was out checking the cows. When a baby possum is born, it is tiny, pink and not properly formed. It crawls up its mother and into her pouch and latches onto her long teat, to which it remains attached while it grows into something rather more possum-like.
When the baby is mature enough to leave the pouch, it climbs onto its mother's back and she carries it around wherever she goes. Whether it still accesses milk feeds at that stage, I don't know. There may already be another baby in the pouch.
This evening the camera captured this pair, a mother and now-independently travelling baby. Not far from here during my late check (and on the following two nights) I almost fell over a youngster out on its own. It wasn't fast and if I'd not been cautious of its claws, I could have caught it, so I presume it was only newly away from its mother.
A pair like this was in the back-to-back live-capture traps recently, by the big Puriri tree where the Putangitangi nested. One of them must have been caught in one box and the other went around to the other end to try and get closer and was also caught.