The week beginning the 17th of February 2018.
Saturday the 17th
heifer and woman

There's no way anyone can now go into 807's paddock without her coming for a stroke.  This is our new normal.

Miryam accompanied me on my evening cow check but I buzzed out on the bike alone for the last one at 11pm.  I was surrounded by weirdly crackly calls from cicadas in the trees, sounding like they couldn't quite get their calls going properly in the cooler air, but it was warm enough still to give it a go.

Sunday the 18th

A front tyre on the tractor has a slow leak.  Stephan took it in to town on our quick trip last Friday but the tyre people said they couldn't reproduce the leak and it might have been that the valve was a bit loose.  It stayed up for long periods but kept needing to be pumped up whenever he came home.

Using some water with detergent (to see bubbles if there was a leak), we tried to figure out where the air was coming from but could only find it when weight was on one section of the tyre, where there was a slit in the rubber.  If it wasn't parked on that bit, it seemed ok.

So the tyre stayed up and Stephan kept working out the back, until it went completely flat when he turned sharply on a slope.  Miryam and I went out to collect Stephan, the flat wheel and the motorised fencing gear, in case it rains before he goes back.

Ella's Lois called in on her motorbike for a late lunch and visit.  It was nice to see her and hear about her current and planned adventures.

Monday the 19th

I'd managed to gather a number of things on a list for the vet to come out and check, so rang last week and booked a visit for today.

Early this morning I erected a tape to pen the big bull in the lane area, where there is some hard ground, creating a small enough area for him to be walked around for inspection of his leg injury.

Then we took the house cows and the insemination mob to the yards and drafted out those I wanted seen.

We started with Fancy 126, getting the vet to look at her little udder lesion, about which he wasn't at all worried.  I'll continue to watch it and ensure she doesn't look unwell at any stage.

cattle yards

Then Genie 150 was coaxed into the head bail, so her mouth could be checked and she remained there while we discussed treatment possibilities after she'd been fully examined.

There's nothing obviously wrong, other than a slightly elevated temperature and she has an unusually scabbed area on her top palate, which has possibly been making it uncomfortable to eat, may have been infected, not sure.

We decided that it would not be unreasonable to give her a long-acting (effective for about six days) antibiotic to address any underlying issues and the vet took a blood sample to test for any markers of any other importance.

Then an internal check on grey heifer 812, to find out if there's any obvious reason for her not coming on heat, which there isn't.  I'm still betting on a copper deficiency.

Then we put Zella in the race to have a pregnancy scan, confirming that she is in calf to the mating of 29 December.  It was Zella's pregnancy I particularly wanted to confirm, since her heats aren't always very obvious and it's important she's in calf.

cattle yards

But Demelza, being so unwilling to move anywhere, got done out in the open yard, standing entirely still while the vet inserted the probe into her rectum and moved it around to inspect the horns of her uterus.

There is no calf in there.  I suspected as much, despite having not seen any particular signs of heat.  With her increasing rear leg stiffness, it may turn out to be a fortunate thing that she is not to calve this year.  She won't have as much weight to carry but I am also aware that we might have to make a decision about her at some point and that's always easier if there's not the complication of a potentially wanted calf in gestation - which shouldn't make a difference to a welfare-based decision but makes such a decision feel even sadder.

Then we all drove out to see the bull, who was made to walk around in his small area while we discussed the probable cause of his lameness.  The vet believes he has had an injury to his stifle joint (the first joint up inside his body, sort of equivalent to our knee - the hock is more akin to our ankle) and said that he would be prepared to certify him as suitable for transport to the works in a few weeks time, when the injury will have had more time to stabilise.

There is always, in such a case, a question of whether earlier veterinary attention should have been provided.  Animals with untreated injuries are not allowed to be certified for transport to the works.  But suitable treatment in such a case may be argued to be the removal of the animal from further damage and exertion.  A few weeks ago I phoned the vet to check that it would be appropriate to do just that in this case.

I've been giving this issue an enormous amount of thought recently.  When I found this bull injured, should I have shot him on sight to prevent his suffering ongoing pain?  Should I have found a vet with a dart gun who could have administered initial pain relief?  (Yes, absolutely, if that were remotely practicable, I'd love to have that option!)  The treatment (or not, depending on your viewpoint) of such animals is entirely dependent on context.  If he'd been injured in a flat paddock next to the yards, we could have taken him in for easy assessment and pain relief.  But even then there are issues related to the facilities available.  This 900kg bull breaks things when he's restrained; not in an aggressive manner but just because he gets agitated in a tight space.  Thus we'd have to sedate him if any examination was required.  Would all of that messing around be potentially worse than being left to quietly recover in a nice spot with food and water?

I'm not a "life at all costs" sort of person, but am still loathe to kill something when I'm not sure there aren't other viable options.  We all have injuries from time to time and a lot of the time we suffer them with inadequate pain relief and mostly we don't wish we were dead.  I have also realised that there are a huge number of assumptions people make about animals, pain, injuries, treatment and healing and that those of us without veterinary training can make some terrible mistakes in how we deal with injuries and illnesses, based on things we think we know.  And in farming, unfortunately, into the mix comes money.  Do I shoot a bull with an injury that will not heal?  Of course, as soon as possible.  But do I shoot an animal when it limps just in case it's an injury that won't heal?  No, of course not.  In the case of the last injured bull here, I called the vet when his condition did not improve at all over the two days after his injury.  In that case I made the decision based on an assumption that an animal might suffer nerve damage that stopped it using its leg.  I was wrong; the animal didn't use its leg because the bones were broken.  The vet got us to walk him to where he could be examined.  Another vet with different experience might have had us shoot him on the spot.  That would have been better but was it wrong to take the other approach?

In 87's case I'd seen the worsening of the condition over a couple of days and had misdiagnosed the problem, thinking it was a return of his earlier foot issue; but it was a joint issue worsened by repeated mounting of cows during mating.  Taking the cows away stopped the problem getting worse but didn't address the pain of the injury.  How bad was the pain?  Was it acceptable to allow him to recover for a while before making him walk anywhere, or should we have made him walk to the facilities wherein he could have been examined and his pain relieved?

If you're reading this, whoever you are and whatever your experience, I'd be most interested if you'd like to send me your thoughts on how we treat farm animals - any animals, if you like.  If you don't know more than what you read here or hear from animal rights groups, that's fine.  I would like to try and fathom how we, as a wider society, currently approach issues of animal welfare.  What are the assumptions we all, any of us, make?


We put the cattle away, had lunch and a swim and Stephan took the tractor wheel back to town.  The fix-it people said that they'd previously fixed the slit we'd found with a rubber plug and it would take a lot of work to remove and replace it to fix the problem which they still couldn't reproduce without weight on the wheel.  The best option would be to order a tube for the tyre and put that in if there were continuing problems.

So we all went back out to the tractor with the fencing gear and Stephan got on with the job again with a bit more care.

Miryam amused herself during the afternoon by cleaning and tidying things, while I got on with several hours of work on a VCNZ complaint decision document.  I like writing in collaboration with others, making sure we've done the best job we possibly can.

Tuesday the 20th

Fat, fat sheep!  And as for the feathery one ...


I kept watching little wether, who had a strange black mark on his side.  The maggots are all gone now there's nowhere to hide but his skin was obviously very irritated by their presence.

He looks a bit odd, mid-chew, with his ears sort of droopy.  He's ok, normally looks pretty much like that.


Stephan has now thumped posts all the way around the wet area at the bottom of the Middle Back and just had the last two at the top of the slope near the tape gate to do when I went to see him.

After lunch we three went on an expedition!

On our southern boundary is the Marko Buselich Reserve, a piece of bush land donated to the Department of Conservation in 1999 by its now-deceased owner.  When I first came here he still kept his big steers in there and sometimes they got into our place.  He once left one behind, which he told us we could eat, so we did.  Stephan is fairly sure he would have milled some of the best trees from the area but a lot of very old original trees are still there and there have been no grazing animals in there now for many years.

We drove out to the end of the Mushroom lane to save a bit of walking.


On the way past the cows, I watched Genie 150.  It's subtle, but I think she looks just a little bit better than she did.  She is holding her ears ever so slightly higher than has been usual of late.

Angus bull

The young "bull I prepared earlier" for 746 when she came back on heat last week, was standing near the gate to the paddock the other two are grazing, so I took the opportunity to put him back in with them as we passed.

native bush

And then we walked across the Bush Flat, climbed through the electric fence into our reserve area and carefully over the much older boundary fence with its barbed wire and started following the stream through the bush.

It is odd that we've never thought to come here before.

Northern Rata

A little way in we discovered a big Northern Rata.  Later I noted that we can see this one from some places in the Big Back North.  I like being able to identify individual trees.


One of Miryam's photos.

The stream is bigger than we anticipated.  Streams look different in different settings, depending on how deeply they're running and here I realised it has about the same flow as the Waikawa, from which we draw our water, on the other side of the farm.  This one has no name on the topographical maps but originates deeper in the Herekino range.

There was a lot of silt on the ground on either side of the stream, washed there by the latest big flood and there were huge trees damming a couple of places, so there must be slips up in the hills that we have not been able to see.  The big slips we can see on the side of Taumatamahoe do not feed into this stream.

On the other side of the reserve is more farmland, where the stream and a tributary wetland are unfortunately not protected from cattle.  One set of owners of part of the land through which the stream flows are very public conservationists but it seems that what the public don't see isn't included.

heifer in long Kikuyu grass

I walked the Spring paddock just before dark, to check the ten pregnant cows and their calves.

I have lost control of much of the Kikuyu this season.  This is far too long.  There's good enough feed here as long as I leave them only long enough to eat the green tops of the grass.  I'll gradually get it back under control over the next few weeks and months.

This is Dushi in the picture.

Wednesday the 21st

How now brown cows?

Stephan took Miryam in to town to catch the 8am bus back to Auckland.  We will look forward to her next visit.

hen and chicks

Why don't you just come right on in and make yourselves at home?

Thursday the 22nd
calf and birds

How many Myna birds can you fit on one sleeping calf?  They look like vultures on something dead!

The calf is Zoom or Spot, in the House paddock.

Friday the 23rd

Gina 142 with her daughter, Gina 168 and niece 180.

I always notice when family members sit together but I'd have to take a lot more notes to know if they do so more often than they sit with just anyone.  Mothers and calves obviously do it but what about other adult relatives, or as in this case, younger relatives like nieces and nephews or young siblings?


In yet more light rain, the Northland Regional Council people came back to collect their dust monitor.  It has to go to the Northland Field Days to demonstrate its work.  I wonder if they'll have any more dust there?

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