Summer has so far been an incredibly busy time and the last pages of last year continue to wait for my attention, which they will receive when I have a bit more quiet time. In the mean time, here's the last week's news. Ella has been with us since early the week before.
Curly was initially in my insemination mob, intended to receive the semen of one of the expensive straws I bought in December, but her calf chewed her heat indicator off her back, then demolished its replacement a few hours after I stuck it on. Without any indication on the cow to back up my visual observations, I wasn't confident I'd necessarily judge her oestrus correctly, so she went out to bull 87's mob instead.
Today she was coming on heat and Mr 87 was staying closely with her, trying occasionally to mount her, which she wasn't yet quite ready to allow.
Some people dislike these lovely climbing Rata vines, Metrosideros perforata, but I think they're really attractive. Here they climb rather than ramble across the ground, which is the misbehaviour I've heard complaints about. Perhaps those who don't like them have cut down all their trees so there's nothing to climb up. I photographed another pair just a couple of hundred metres to the right of this picture, in October 2015.
743 came on heat late this morning and white-faced 746 a couple of hours later.
The uncontrollable urges these animals obviously experience during oestrus makes it look terribly uncomfortable. They're tremendously unsettled for the six to 24 hours they're on heat. Then, if not pregnant, they go through it all again in three weeks. Pregnancy is a much more settled and calm state.
Poor 745, tried to get involved with the hot pair but was chased off. A little later, when her own urge overtook her reticence, she was right in the mix with them, jumping up, being ridden, turning tight circles with them, bashing each other around.
We had afternoon visitors to the pond. Cousin Christina and Dan brought daughter Emma, and grand-daughters Olivia and Laura to slide, jump and swim for a couple of hours of obvious fun with Ella in the pond.
When they left, Stephan and I took ourselves off for a couple of hours' sleep, since we were both exhausted and would have to be up late for today's first cow's insemination. Before it got dark, we walked some of the cows in and kept them near the yards, ready for attention a bit later. Cows which come on heat in the late morning or very early afternoon are a pain, because the best time for insemination is then sometime late at night or very early the following morning. While most farmers have to settle for the am/pm rule, whereby a cow on heat in the morning gets done by a technician that evening (if one is available) or the following morning and evening hot cows get done the following morning, conception rates are not as good as they could be with better timing. Doing it all myself, I can choose my timing and generally have better success as a result; even if we do get really tired for a few weeks. This is the first time I've had to do a late one because of the time the cow came on heat.
At sometime after 11.30pm we went out, and inseminated 743 just after midnight. I decided 746 would need to be done at dawn.
Up and out at first light and white-face 746 got her dose of nicely-placed semen. Then we walked out to fetch 745 and her calf; I hadn't brought them in with the others last night because I hadn't anticipated leaving the others near the yards overnight. She got done after I'd had some breakfast. The last three inseminations have been with the double defect-carrier, C A Future Direction 5321. He carries both AM and NH and I can't quite face using him again in any of the pedigree cattle. In the cross-bred cattle, at least any sons won't need testing because they'll be castrated anyway. Any daughters will require testing if I decide to keep them for breeding.
Checking the cows and bull (87) in the Middle Back, I found 742 happily grazing in the swampy bottom. Another cow was browsing on the ferns growing up along one of the gullies which feeds down into this area. If they are beginning to push into these inappropriate places, it's time they left the paddock.
Once we fence these water-courses, the cattle won't be able to get into them.
I knew the gate out of the Spring paddock next door was open, so went back around the other way to shut it, walking in through the Spring's track on the other side of the wet area above.
This Putaputaweta (Marble Leaf tree, Carpodetus serratus) grows in an area the cattle don't often visit. It is a particularly attractive species and this one's branches had grown up and then were drooping back down at the ends.
I haven't worked out how to take a really clear picture of green on green.
And in the same area several Lancewoods have been gradually increasing in size and maturity. They're stunningly weird trees when young.
One of the gates at the yards has been falling apart over the last week and Stephan built a new one to replace it. This is another which has been causing problems for some time, from the left side of the headbail crush. The old timber had sagged so the whole gate had dropped enough to make it tricky to get the sliding latch to work easily - I could do it well enough with two hands but often one doesn't have two hands free and it's a frustration to have to put things down and struggle with a gate which ought to open and close easily.
With the left-over timber from the new gate, Stephan replaced the flimsy parts of this one and then returned it to the yards and rehung it, where it now works smoothly and easily again.
About every three hours I go out and walk quietly around my insemination cow mob, checking for tell-tale mucous and changes in behaviour. If the cows are within sight of the house, I look out for sudden activity whenever I'm near a window. I want to know when anyone starts their standing heat, because that makes timing the insemination a lot easier than waiting for them to stop and not being quite sure that they really have. I can then inseminate ten hours from the start of standing heat, as long as the activity continues for that long. If it doesn't, which happens in some cows, I will do it a bit sooner. In three weeks I'll know which of those calculations works best.
Some cows are far too cryptic for me: two days ago Dexie 101 started sniffing some of the others, had a bit of mucous around her rear but didn't show any other firm signs of oestrus except for holding her ears back and looking distracted for a few hours. I kept waiting for more. I didn't inseminate her and, today, I found traces of blood in her mucous which tells me she was on heat then and has ovulated. She'll have to go out to one of the bulls.
We had rain during the afternoon and early evening, bringing us just over 10mm over the last three days (8mm today), which won't do much for the overall soil moisture levels but must help a bit. The grass has stopped growing, since everything is now very dry.
Through the drizzle I spotted a strange extra on top of the gazebo, a Black Shag, which when we all moved to get a better look, took to the air and went on its way. I've seen it a couple of times in the last few days, presumably finding some good fishing in the pond.
Back to warm and sunny weather. It's nice to see there's enough shade from these trees along the northern edge of Flat 1 to provide a pleasant resting place for several cows. The Totara trees grew from seeds dropped by birds perching on the fence and we decided to prune them up so they could remain growing where they'd started so well, to provide some much-needed shade along this side of the paddock.
I had an extremely gross but intriguing moment this afternoon, finding that the vaccination abscess beside Eva's tail had a tiny scab, indicating it must be in the process of releasing its contents: I gave it a squeeze. It was a slightly stomach-turning experience watching a huge glob of near-solid pus spurt out. These are the moments I feel I should share with you all.
We had a barbecue gathering this afternoon so Aunt Elizabeth and William could come and spend some time with Ella before she returns home. They also brought Christina's two resident children, for swimming and to stay the night with Ella.
Ella, Emma and Olivia all went out with Stephan to get the cows in for milking.
And then watched while he milked Zella.
Emma (smiling) and Ella fell in love with each other some years ago and have continued to enjoy spending time together whenever Ella is up. They're four years apart in age but that has never appeared to matter.
Lots of calves sleeping in the sunshine in the Frog paddock.
Fencing the streams has had the very useful benefit of making paddocks like this available for use with the insemination cows. Because of the indicators on their backs, I can't put the cows in paddocks with low tree branches, or they rub the indicators which either activates the dye capsule or rubs the indicators off altogether. With the stream trees out of bounds, it is practicable to prune everything else to a height they now can't reach. In the middle of the Frog paddock is the frog wet area which has still to be fenced, so we erected an electric tape around it to keep the cows out of there, since we do not wish to prune those trees. Better that the cows aren't pugging around in the soft area anyway.
Emergency came on heat early this morning. Fortunately I was there to observe that early activity because the only animals interested in her at the time were the yearling heifers and none of them was quite big enough to press on the indicator on her back, so it didn't go red until later on.
By the end of the morning 787 had also come on heat and the two of them were circling and trying to mount each other.
Emergency is in such good condition because she didn't calve this season. She could now remain fat for the rest of her life, which wouldn't be a bad thing.
I checked on them throughout the afternoon to ensure they were still actively "hot". (If you're from North America, I suspect that word may carry connotations somewhat more vulgar than I intend.) Emergency's daughter, 150, had also joined in the activity, although without the same enthusiasm, since she was on heat a week ago.
Between practising the flips Ella had taught them from the jetty, the two little girls repeatedly did coordinated pool entries, one from the edge of the pond or the jumping board, and the other down the slide. They had a fantastic lot of fun.
Christina came out to have dinner and pick up the girls and Lois arrived to stay the night before taking Ella south. Stephan cooked a corned beef with mustard sauce and we had ice-cream afterwards, since there was still some chocolate ice-cream left.
Once Christina and the girls had left, Stephan and I shot out to bring the insemination cows in, intending to draft some of them out of the mob so they can continue the mating season with one of the bulls. We had barely enough light to see their tags by the time we'd finished. We rarely say no to visitors in the summer because it's such a lovely time to come; but sometimes it makes our lives a bit tricky!
When we'd put the drafted cattle out of the way, I inseminated Emergency and then 787. I'm finding the actual insemination easier now than I did in earlier years. I think the difference is my level of confidence: I know I can put the semen exactly where it needs to be and while some cows may be more difficult than others, in nearly every case I know I'll find my way. I am not the quickest inseminator in the world; the easy ones take only a couple of minutes but the tricky ones, with folds of vaginal wall all over the place, can take me a bit longer.
Ella and Stephan posed for their usual photograph before Ella returned to Auckland with Lois, from where she caught a plane home to Whakatane. We also measured Ella against the bathroom door frame and note that she's grown another couple of centimetres since last time we measured her, six months ago.
Curly's daughter 742, sitting in a lovely cool spot under some trees in the Spring paddock.
Over the hill I found bull 87 with 728, for the second time. That makes me nervous: is 87, at 7½ years old, still adequately fertile?
This is Curly's grand-daughter and Endberly's daughter, yearling 792 (on her way back from the yards where I'd just inseminated Jet 777). She's a little nervous of me but is turning into quite a nice animal. Her sire is 87.
My favourite so far this year, Imagen's lovely daughter, 155, also sired by bull 87. I think she'll become a very good cow.
Stephan has milked Zella of whatever she has left at the end of each evening since she calved, but now she has so little (or none) that it's not worth doing. Her calf, ten weeks old today, now drinks all she produces during the day.
We had another 10mm of rain this morning, which relieved my worries a little. It's not serious rain but with the same amount the other day, it will make a difference to the Kikuyu, which needs very little to get growing.
In the afternoon, on this cool and overcast day, we brought all four mobs in to the yards to weigh the calves.
We've trained the cows to come up through the pens to the little gate by the head bail, where I let them through to the other side, while I stop their calves from following. Then the calves are really easy to get up into the crush pen because their mothers are on the other side. We used to do it some other way which wasn't nearly as easy but if you work with what the animals think they want to do, everything goes quite smoothly.
The second mob in and out was that of yearling bull 151. Stephan had put Zella and Imagen with their bull, yearling 154, into the little area attached to the milking shed and as 151 went past in both directions, there was an awful racket, lots of dirt flying and the trough even got moved, as the two bulls tried to push each other through it.
The cows just ignored them.
We took 151's mob out to the PW and I walked ahead along Route 356 to clean the trough at the other end (should have done it before!) and on my way back along here met some galloping calves, who slid to a halt and turned and bolted back the other way again.
These cows then passed me and discovered the pile of clay Stephan had left, having not completed his track widening job before the rain. Cows love fresh soil!
It was an extremely slippery track after the morning's rain.
I caught up with Stephan again down the bottom end of the House paddock, as he followed the insemination mob in to weigh their calves. I also weighed the yearlings and Jet 777, so I could put some pour-on drench on her back, to see if that makes her look and feel any better than she currently does.
The calves average growth-rate since November is 1.1kg/day. Breaking that down further, the male calves (two bulls and the rest steers) grew at 1.13kg/day and the heifers at 1.07kg, so not too much between them. More interesting, perhaps, are the differences between the sires of the calves. 134's calves, all born to two-year-old heifers (so we'd expect slightly lower growth with a little less milk in their first lactations), grew at 0.98kg/day; 137's calves at 1.07kg; 138's at 1.12kg; 144's at 1.15kg and big 87's at 1.22kg.
Henrietta 141 kept yelling in a very shrill manner this morning, then began pacing around the paddock with her ears back, looking perturbed: she's coming on heat. I've been waiting for this, since we're up to day 23 of the mating period, into the second cycle! She's not actually late coming on; her interval from calving to now is 85 days, which is pretty normal, quite good for a heifer with her first calf at foot. Mature cows in good condition often return to oestrus in around 40 days (sometimes even sooner) but first calf heifers are always a more difficult group to get back in calf, if they're not well looked after.
11.30 in the morning seems to be the easy time to check on the cattle, since they all gather for rest and rumination, usually somewhere at the bottom of any hill.
723 had a weird pool of green in front of her, formed by saliva dripping from her mouth as she chewed her cud. I could see a lot of fluid in her mouth as she was chewing. The next time I checked her she wasn't doing it. Presumably sometimes the regurgitated rumen contents come up with a bit more liquid than normal. Interesting.
At 12.30 I went back to see what Henrietta was doing: nothing much. So I followed her around for a while until she suddenly set off in the direction of 150, who was giving her that 'come hither' look. Henrietta attempted to mount 150, which set everyone off and both 150 and Dexie 121 began repeatedly mounting Henrietta, which was exactly what I wanted to see: she's now in standing heat.
Later, after Sarah and her boys, who came for swims and blackberries during the afternoon, went home, we took the mob in to the yards and at 9pm I did the insemination. Henrietta got a new bull named Ayrvale Bartel E7, an Australian of recent stud popularity. His EBVs look good and (oh, what a change the internet has made to this whole thing!) the pictures and video I can find of him are also reassuring.