701 and her gruesome train. Her calf was "lying in" (many calves settle in a safe place and sleep for their first two or three days, getting up only to feed) and 701 came back to check on her, since I was in the paddock.
I don't know why this afterbirth is taking time to come away but the usual practice is to leave it alone for up to a week, watching for any sign of illness in the cow, which is unusual. The membranes will gradually release and the whole thing will drop from the cow and she'll continue to clean out as normal, a process which can take a couple of weeks. In most of the cows I'll continue to see a bloody lochia discharge from the vulva as the uterus returns to normal.
This afterbirth had gone by the evening, presumably left in a stinking pile somewhere I never discovered.
Stephan spent a productive day in the kitchen, making biscuits, marmalade and beer.
The Mallard ducklings now look like ducks. They followed their mother across the lawn this morning before jumping off the edge of the wall (mother is behind them, about to go) and heading down to the pond.
I put Floss up in the Puriri tree as an experiment before I was tempted to do something far worse. She screeches at an ear-splitting volume and this morning she bit Stephan on the nose, leaving him bleeding for ages.
Yesterday she discovered a regularly-used remote control device and bit all the buttons off it. Fortunately it still works, but now the buttons are just stubs of rubber without any indication of their purpose, since all the little marking label bits are chibbled up on the floor!
I wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to get her down again from the tree when I wanted to, but figured she knows where her cage and food are and that she'd eventually make her way back to them, or at least as far down as I could reach. It kept her busy while I got over being very cross with her. She later appeared on the back porch roof, from where I was able to get her to climb onto a long stick and bring her down.
Stephan took his bloody nose out on the tractor to create a two-wire fence around the small bit of stream-bank the heifers grazed recently. It didn't take him long to bang in a few posts (he'd already done some pruning and clearing with the chainsaw in preparation), then wire the fence and we have another small grazing area.
In the late afternoon sunshine I sat on the Spring paddock hillside watching the antics of the calves. This little thing made me laugh: every time I looked back at him, he'd moved a little bit closer, reminding me of one of those scary "weeping angels" in the Doctor Who television series. If you look away or blink, they move closer. I've seen a hilarious video (oh, silly internet cat videos, not something I look at much, but that one appeared on TV one night) of a kitten doing much the same thing, sneaking closer every time the observer looked away and then freezing whenever again observed.
I do a lot of solitary laughing at this time of year because the calves are so entertaining as they explore the world.
There was not actually nearly as much light as this photo indicates, this morning at 6.15 when I went out for my first check. Seeing that second little body in the paddock lying next to 742 was a lovely surprise. I thought it possible she was near calving when I checked very late last night, but couldn't be sure, so didn't come back for a 3am check.
This baby was born ten minutes after midnight this morning as I watched, before stepping in to clear the thick membranes away from her head.
728 was pregnant for a short time last year but something went wrong very early on. I have always liked her family and so I carried her through the year and gave her another chance to show what she can do. She spent the winter with the cows, despite being young and a first-calver, because as a rising three-year-old she was in good condition and had not had the stress of rearing a calf as a two-year-old. I watched her carefully and as the cows were all on adequate feed through the winter, she did well.
Fortunately this cow, 716, was confused in my memory with 723, meaning I watched 723 calving easily with all the concern I would have had for 716 had I remembered that it was actually she who'd had trouble last year.
716 calved in private, without my hovering, worried presence, just before I arrived early this morning to find her cleaning up her slippery new son.
With earmuffs in place, Stephan and William put rings in the piglets' noses this morning. It can't be pleasant for the pigs, but was soon done and they later seemed entirely unperturbed.
This will lead to positive improvements in their lives when they're a bit bigger and used to where they live: with ringed noses, they can be let out into the wider paddock to graze. Without rings, they would have to remain in a small area because they root up the ground and damage the pasture.
Looking at us with some suspicion when the job was finished.
I read the New Zealand Pork recommendations on the use of pig nose-rings (no longer available in 2023), which recommended the insertion of two of the clips we had bought, but Stephan said he'd always only used one and it worked, so one got two and two got one each.
I was about to get ready to go to town, so zipped out to check on 710 and 729 and found 710 in early labour. I waited, as I usually do at this stage, to ensure the right sort of feet appeared. But they didn't: these are back feet, not front! Front feet have much less visible white on their top side because upwards should be the dark hoof, not the soft white covering of the bottom of the feet.
I thought about what to do next. The two cows were in the very small holding area which used to be part of the Small Hill paddock, but 710 isn't reliably tame enough to let me get close to her, especially if she's stressed. It also occurred to me that I couldn't be absolutely sure these were not upside-down front legs with a very complicated calf presentation and would need to put 710 up the race to check. I rode back to the house to set up gates and tell Stephan what was happening, then went back out and walked the two cows in to the yards.
With 710 up the race, I cleaned her vulva with water with a bit of antiseptic added, then inserted a gloved, lubed hand in to feel for the knee or hock of the calf. A front leg's bottom joint and the next one up will bend in the same direction; a back leg's bottom joint bends the same as the front leg's but the next one up will be the hock, which goes the other way and feels quite different in its structure; and that is what I found.
I put a chain on each leg for later and we let her out and around into the grassy little yard leading to the loading ramp and waited for a while. I hoped she'd settle, lie down and do some more pushing and that we could be on hand to give the calf a last pull if she didn't push it all the way out at the end of the delivery. But she was too stressed and began to look as if she'd like to go over the top of the rails.
Back up the race I ensured the chains were still appropriately placed and Stephan put the handles on the ends and after I'd checked the tail was between the legs, he began to firmly and steadily pull the calf. It came out pretty easily and I stepped in and cradled its body as its chest came out and lowered it to the ground. We then carried it back to the grass before going back around to let 710 out of the race and showed her where her calf was. Fortunately she'd slurped up lots of the amniotic fluid when out in the paddock, so knew the smell of her baby already.
We had never undertaken this sort of delivery on our own before. I had somehow understood that a backward delivery was a calving emergency and required veterinary intervention. But last time a backward calf arrived she fell out of her mother without any intervention on our part and I rethought my approach. Because the cow in that instance was standing for the last part of her delivery, the calf, once mostly out, fell out without any delay during which she might have suffocated with her head still inside her mother. But for lying deliveries, which is by far the more usual method, the calf would not necessarily be pushed all the way out of the cow's body before it needed to take its first breath, hence I would want to be present to lend a hand at that stage. In many cases though, that would require some restriction as was necessary today, to ensure I could get in to provide assistance when necessary - although with a less tame cow, my stepping in to pull the calf the last bit out would probably prompt her to stand and it would fall out anyway. I don't know that I want to risk that though. It's a long year's planning and waiting for each calf and too much of a waste if it all comes to nought at the end.
As usual I got covered in all sorts of muck - poo, mucous, birth fluids and blood. A change of clothes and some washing were in order. But who cares when it all worked out so well?
I got sucked back in to NCEA exam involvement, something I'd not anticipated. The new Exam Centre Manager had been, to put it politely, misled about the extent of and processes involved in her role and was in need of some expert assistance. She'd not been officially advised to contact me, but found me through a conversation with someone else. We had a long chat a few days ago and I eventually offered to go and give her some guidance on how to most efficiently get the remainder of her planning done. I meant to go yesterday afternoon but ended up dealing with 710's calving.
And so I spent a pleasant few hours this morning doing the fun part of exam planning. I always rather enjoyed the organisational parts of the job which I did before the exams began; I did not enjoy the politics of dealing with disgruntled, put-upon teachers having to do more and more internal assessment with less and less resources from the NZQA, leading some of them to an uncooperative attitude to me in my role when in the school.
This year it's all care, no responsibility; brilliant. I'll get paid something, probably not enough for the hours it will take, but I'm playing fairy godmother to a stressed young woman who could be very good at the job if she doesn't get frightened off by its enormity in this first year. Stephan later reminded me that in my first year I came home every night and organised everything for the following day, not being sure of the best way of doing it and not wanting to create problems with early errors. By the third year I had everything organised before the exams began, each day's papers all sorted with their supervisors' rolls and materials and the job became a great deal less difficult. By the end it was easy. The processes are essentially the same now, so I could walk in and do what looked like a nightmarishly big task to the new ECM and take a huge burden from her shoulders.
710's calf had moved around the yards by the time we came home, so we walked them back out to the farm. He seemed a little tender on his back legs, but they're often quite wobbly to begin with anyway, so it's hard to tell if there's much difference. There must be some soreness from the compression of the chains on the legs, along with the pull in an unnatural direction. The one long-living animal here who was born the same way was 418, who ended up with some hip problems in mid-life and I have wondered if pulling calves backwards does affect them negatively if they live long enough - better than not living at all though.
710 was quite keen to take her calf along the lane and away up to the top end of the Windmill paddock, but her companion, still-pregnant 729, only slowly grazed her way along the lane. I went out to move her along a bit and she started limping on her left rear foot, as if she'd trodden on something sharp. There didn't appear to be anything stuck between her toes and her limping progressed to a partial paralysis of that leg. I decided to put her into the top end of the House paddock so I could watch her. If she were bipedal one might conclude the baby had pressed against a spinal nerve and that still remains the only idea I have, although I'm not sure the calf is in a position to do that at this stage - I can still feel large bits of it moving down in her belly when I stand next to her. She worried me but over the next hour or so she stopped obviously limping, so we'll wait and see.
I check on the cows and calves every day. I used to leave them for a day if I got busy but two events changed my mind: one where a calf disappeared down into a deep gully (in this paddock) and would have been cold and hungry had I not found her quite soon and the other was cow 604, who fell suddenly ill and while I could not have saved her whatever we did, I would like to have found her a little earlier, having missed a close check on all the cows in the busyness of Christmas.
Gorse is a dreadful weed; look at it all! Fighting it is a perennial challenge and it's obviously easy for it to get away when one is looking in another direction. Last year Stephan spent the whole summer fencing, so the newly-growing gorse remained unsprayed.
714 and cutie 787. They have such pretty markings.
It took me ages to find this cow, 714's two-year-old daughter 749. A white-faced cow should be easy to spot but because her distinctive head was down, grazing, I didn't see her amongst the gorse until I got very close.
What a pretty gateway. The climbing Rata vine (Metrosideros perforata) grows up or over anything and it won't be doing much for electrical insulation where the fence feed-wires go over the tops of the poles. I bet we couldn't get it to grow so decoratively if we wanted to nearer home.
Calves are funny creatures. This is Eva's daughter, suckling away on one of her favourite teats, entirely ignoring the back left, which looks as if she's not touched it all day and it is relieving its own pressure by squirting milk onto the ground.
Another pretty thing interfering with the efficiency of the electric fence system. I think this is Muehlenbeckia complexa. Muehlenbeckia australis apparently has larger leaves and is an altogether larger plant than these which I've found growing in several places around the farm.
Greenhood orchids growing on the shady slopes of the southern side of the Spring paddock. Once you've seen them, you wonder how you missed them before.
Except that they're easily missed when walking, if you're not expecting to see them.
I still wonder if I've tramped over dozens of them in years past when walking through here, or if they've only quite recently so thickly colonised the area?