This week will be presented in two parts, there being so many pictures.
Ross left us early this morning and then we went out to deal with 701's calf again, first giving her a bit more milk so she'd have the energy to walk in to the yards where we could help her learn where her milk should be coming from.
Meanwhile Deva 135 was down at the end of the paddock, obviously in labour and I was watching for any sign of the calf bag at her rear.
We drafted 701 and her calf out of the paddock and began walking them down the lanes. Once Stephan had them quietly moving, I went back down to the other end of the flats for a better look at Deva.
She soon produced the membrane bag with two front feet inside and so I stayed to watch her through.
She had a nice little bull calf, with reasonable ease and as she began cleaning him up, I went back to the other task, with Stephan.
We put a rather unsettled 701 into the head bail area and pulled the right gate in toward her front end, causing her to step back and make her udder accessible to us and the calf.
It took us both quite some time to get the calf onto a teat and sucking but once she did, she had a reasonable feed and we let them out, but kept them in the yards area in case we needed to repeat the lesson, which we did, later in the day.
Because they were all alone with no other cattle around, we moved Zella and Imagen into the Pig Paddock so they'd be nearby.
Queenly 107's daughter has what looks like a funny fold in her face, although it was no longer so obvious by the next time I saw her.
At 5pm two-year-old Jemima 146 began her labour. She placed herself very conveniently in the House paddock so I could see her from the kitchen door, for the next three hours while it was light.
She got this far by 7.15 (two front feet and the nose occasionally visible) but then didn't seem to be making any more progress. I left her for a while so I could eat dinner, then went back out to check and decided that we'd need to take her in to the yards and help her.
She wasn't terribly willing to be moved but that's where lanes are so marvellous: once the cow is in a lane, she has to go in the direction you want. In the race she was obviously extremely unhappy about my probing hand, trying her old "flip myself over" trick from calfhood, which fortunately no longer works because she's too big. I was concerned that the calf might have been stuck because it was too big for her but the head was through her pelvis and I could just slip my hand down beside the shoulders, so over several minutes I gradually fed a calving chain in and around each leg - it takes some persistent effort when the two legs are crossed over and there's really not that much room! Having placed them carefully where they needed to be, I hooked a handle through the end of each and Stephan got into the race to pull, while I continued to check that all was ok with the calf and Jemima. The elbows clunked through with quite a jolt, so I think that was the hold-up in progress. Because by then the calf had been waiting to come out for some time, we decided to carry on pulling to get it out, which was probably a bit more painful for Jemima than allowing her to continue pushing so that her cervix could properly dilate on its own.
The calf was quite hefty and Stephan struggled with it back into the crush pen at the beginning of the race before I gently shooed Jemima backwards so she could greet him. She didn't seem terribly enthusiastic but was at least mooing quietly to him, so we went away for an hour or so.
When we came back, he'd gained his feet and we put them both around into the little loading-ramp area, where there's grass, water and I brought more molasses with Magnesium, to try and settle poor traumatised Jemima!
When we were walking Jemima to the yards, there was the characteristic bellow of a cow just discovering the black lump she's delivered is alive and moving, from out in the Mushroom paddock. When I went out to check, just after 11pm, I discovered 710 with a licked-dry bull calf (I guessed that from his face shape and confirmed it properly later).
And Jet 777 was in labour in the Windmill paddock and as another of my first-time two-year-olds, I needed to watch her through. I fetched my three-legged camping stool, purchased from the garage sale in Auckland, and sat under a tree where it was a bit warmer than out in the open. With a near-full moon, there was enough light to see how 777 was moving around, when she was up and down and almost how much calf was protruding whenever she pushed, trying to keep my alarming torch-shining to a minimum. (The cows are disconcerted by the sharp shadows the bright LED light casts behind them.)
At 1.22am she delivered a little heifer, I pulled some membrane away from her head and went away to my bed.
Jet 777 and her heifer, tucked up for a sleep in the ditch under the fence along the edge of the Windmill paddock.
Here are 710 and her son. Last year's calf was the backwards one Stephan and I pulled.
As I'd ridden out to check those cows, 475 had been pacing around with a couple of feet protruding from her rear and then she did this, which I suspect I've seen her do before and always looks weirdly funny. Calves seem to cope quite well with head out, blinking and poking the tongue in and out, before the next set of contractions expels the rest of the body. I only worry when they stop at the chest, by which time the umbilical cord is also compressed and if the chest can't expand, the calf begins to suffocate and if the cow doesn't carry on in time, the calf may not survive. Such things don't usually happen unless the cow is weak or disturbed by something.
Over at the yards I was pleased to see 701's calf now feeding herself.
Jemima's udder looked reassuringly reduced, with clean black teats, so presumably all is well there too.
We let both cows out so they could graze the roundabout together, waiting to check that they'd accept each other without a big fight. 701 is older and much bigger and Jemima is used to submitting, being the smallest of her group, so there were no challenges between them.
The green leaves floating on the stream are Tradescantia, now taking over every spare inch of stream bank from the point at which it was left beside the stream and carried off in a flood, to the sea. This is one of those appalling ecological crimes people commit without a second thought. We know who released the stuff and curse them regularly when having to fight the creeping weed back from our pastures or anywhere it could be broken off and carried away to the other streams which run through the farm. At this time there's nothing effective with which to fight it.
I feel somewhat exercised about it particularly because I was once judgementally reprimanded by one of the people at the Tradescantia source, for being an ecological vandal in burning the bags in which we collected our paper rubbish, which were recycled plastic supermarket shopping bags. We stopped doing that; but there's still an expanding pestilence of Tradescantia in our stream reserves which will go on causing environmental degradation for ever!
The big, curled root is from another weed plant which grows all along the stream as well, something I know only as Elephant Ear. While it is also quite invasive, it does not smother out all opportunity for other species to germinate and grow, as the Tradescantia does and has.
Imagen was looking uncomfortable for much of the morning and just before noon, started mooing loudly and turning toward her rear as she did so.
Just before 1pm she checked in to the maternity suite, Room 1.
She lay down in there for a set of contractions but the accommodation wasn't to her liking and so she moved to Room 2. That too was obviously not to her taste so, after a bit of a neck rub against the door frame, she moved on to Room 3.
Room 3 was obviously just right, so there she stayed.
I watched for some time from down by the bridge, with the aid of binoculars and Jude's zoom camera.
Imagen pushed most of the calf out then stood up to see where he was. Imagen is not a short cow and the calf's head was touching the ground before his hips were delivered!
Once I'd seen that he was safely out and alive, I went away to do other things while his mother cleaned him up and he got up to look for his first drink, which he was doing when I returned to check an hour later.
I hadn't checked the heifers for a couple of days but had left some gates open for them to make their way into the Mushroom 3, which they hadn't, so I went out to see what they were up to. Only four of them were in the Bush Flat and 745 had obviously returned to the Big Back South, through the gate I'd earlier not closed, presumably to have her calf a little earlier than I was expecting.
Stephan came out to help me look for her, in case the heifer needed rescuing from somewhere unfortunate but he said he found her with her tiny calf happily together. 745 immediately set off down the hill when Stephan appeared.
In retrospect perhaps I should have left them where they were because we upset them a bit with the move. The calf had obviously only been born early this morning some time.
Here the calf was being investigated by the other heifers who'd not seen her before, nor any other calf since last year.
A bit later I watched 728 calving. I think cows who know what's going on probably see or hear something of their calf when it's mostly out and that's why they get up in a hurry before the calf is completely out.
But it can make for a very undignified entry to the world!
After doing my last daylight check, I rode home in the fading light, to see the huge full moon rising over the trees to the North-East. Moonlight during calving and mating is wonderfully useful, making it possible to see where animals are and how they're moving about, even when it's not quite bright enough for fine detail.
With three heifers now calved and the other two not due for some time, my late-night check was quite brief, just a quick look around those which are closest to calving according to my list.
I'll have to look back over my records to see whether we've ever had a five-calves-in-one-day day before!
Early this morning I did my usual rounds, including a quick look at the four heifers we'd moved from out the back yesterday, who were in the little Camp paddock. All looked quiet. When I went out again at 9.30, 743 was licking her just-born calf under the trees there. Bull 137's calves are arriving a couple of days early in a lot of cases. This one was a heifer, which is nice, since that family seems to be fairly good and daughters in the next generation are welcome.
475's son, in the shelter of the long grass along the Flat 1 drain.
Little calves, when they lie in for the two or three days after birth, fold themselves into these compact little shapes, remaining motionless, except for an open eye if something is heard approaching. If you get too close, they often bolt in survival panic!
When he was born, his hooves were covered in the soft white substance that protects the mother from damage from the pointy feet (the eponychium or "deciduous hoof capsule"). As soon as they start using their feet, the soft covering begins to break away. On this calf, it has worn from the points of the hooves but there is still some which has dried and hardened, in the middle of the foot.
I went to run an electric tape across the middle of Mushroom 1, observing as I got off the bike that Dexie 101 was in labour, with two feet visible in the calf bag at her rear. By the time I'd walked the tape half-way across the other paddock, there was the characteristic bellowing indicating she'd already delivered the calf - in about five minutes flat!
I later discovered it is a bull, calf number 23 of the 40 expected.
Imagen's udder is awful: huge, tight and consequently the wrong shape for easy access by a calf, particularly one which isn't in perfect condition himself. The calf has bloodshot eyes, as did his brother two years ago, which I presume indicates some period of extreme pressure during birth, which seems to make these calves less able to understand and get on with life as well as they might.
This calf's affliction isn't as bad as that of the earlier calf but I suspect he may not have begun suckling his mother so we gave her some molasses to keep her in one place while Stephan milked her and I fed that milk to the calf. We always end up milking Imagen to try and reduce her obvious udder discomfort. This will be her last season.
Today's third calf, a daughter to 613, who landed on her head. Because I was quite close when this happened, I waited a bit before rushing in. I've always assumed calves needed to shake their heads free to rectify this situation but as I watched, this little heifer gradually flipped her back legs over, so her whole body straightened out and she could begin breathing normally.
It always worries me when they land like that, not yet familiar with breathing as a life-giving necessity, they can't easily respond to the need to do it and sometimes they do just die.
I did some mob reorganising this afternoon, first taking the still-pregnant heifers out of the little Camp Paddock.
I am extremely pleased with Henrietta 141, on the left, with her beautifully plump rear. She's the two-year-old daughter of Ellie 119, another of those animals who show that some of what I'm doing is working: the heifers of heifers are sometimes not quite up to becoming heifer mothers themselves but when we manage to do that, things must be working well genetically and environmentally. (At time of writing, I happen to know that she calved successfully, providing the proof of that pudding.)
I also brought the mob of ten cows forward, noting that four-year-old 725 was obviously in early labour, stalking around with her tail out; but she was willing to come out of the paddock with the others without any fuss. When we reached the Windmill paddock I drafted her and 723 (who could do with some better grass, since she's always thin) in there and the four "next" cows into 5d, leaving the other four in the lane for a few hours, where they wandered back up alongside the Mushroom paddocks, grazing.
Meanwhile Stephan got on with finishing the new fence battening.
725 continued stalking around the Windmill, looking exceedingly agitated at times, until I decided to let her have her will, which seemed to be to get out of that paddock and further away from everyone. I let her go into the Mushroom paddocks, whose interconnecting gates were all open. She marched around in there for a couple of hours until I became concerned that too much time had passed with no sign of her labour progressing and sent her along the lanes with the other four cows, toward the yards. I was sure I took pictures but they must have been in my head.
Meanwhile, as a complete distraction, 725's two-year-old daughter, 775, had been in labour for a while and I was busily watching her, to make sure everything was as it should be. I wasn't quite sure what to do first.
I was amused to look at my photo of her udder, with all those extra teats here and there - two more than necessary at the back and a double teat, which I am seeing quite frequently amongst the younger cows, on her front left.
At 7.15 she popped the calf out, a nice little heifer.
Stephan and I immediately went over to the yards to deal with 725, putting her up the race so I could check what was going on inside her. The calf's bag was still intact (not surprising since she'd not yet laid down to do any pushing) and I found both feet and the head, with its reassuringly present little teeth - I like teeth, they're an unmistakeable feature of the front end. When I grabbed one of the legs, the calf vigorously pulled it back out of my grasp, so I decided it was just fine where it was, since it was there in the correct position and whatever reason 725 had for delaying was nothing to do with the presentation of the calf, which was quite happy at present where it was.
We let her out into the roundabout area with her friends and went away to have dinner.
Forty minutes later the calf membrane bag was out, another forty minutes later there were two feet visible and half an hour later when I checked again, 725 was licking her just-born calf clean. She has a son.
And that was the fifth calving for the day, for the second day in a row! Ten cows, a quarter of the herd, have calved in two days.