Gertrude 162 started her labour early this morning and at just after nine, she had chosen the worst possible place in which to calve.
Those bottom fence wires are turned off but a newborn calf would doubtless end up on the wrong side and then there's a steep drop down into a deep corner in the stream.
I remained where I was until Gertrude decided she wanted to go somewhere else and walked further along the fence toward the other two cows in the picture above, where I left her to get on with her work in peace for a while.
I went back about half an hour later to help her a little as the head came through and so the last calf for the year was born, a bull.
Just as I was about to return to the house I saw Stephan approaching with the cup of coffee I'd left waiting on my desk. The service around here is pretty good.
This was, apart from the early loss of Fancy 126's little heifer, a spectacular calving season. Thirty-one calves were born in 26 days, which, if you're of the farming world, you'll know is exceptional. Having all the calves born in such a tight time-span (and it's hard to get much tighter than that, although it could have been 21 days, had Gertrude's gestation period been in line with the 278-day herd average) makes management much easier, because as they get older, the gap between the oldest and youngest becomes insignificant.
Of the 31, there are 13 heifers, 18 bulls.
Stephan has begun digging the holes for the steel poles on the working side of the race.
In the afternoon the vet came out to check the calf, bringing Rachel, the wonderful Rural Animal Technician, who has the size and strength to grab and hold a 60kg calf so the vet could inspect his mouth. This was apparently the "surgical removal" of the remaining loose tooth (it barely needed any help to come out).
The calf's jaw is ok, so the damage was only to the central two teeth and his adult teeth should come through as usual, in a couple of years. In the mean time, we'll have to see how he gets on with a gap. Perhaps the other six teeth will move a bit, without the middle two there.
He had another antibiotic shot and another three day pain relief one as well, to see him through.
With pain relief in his system, this would be the best time to have a ring around his scrotum, so he got that too.
Rachel expressed surprise that I wished to castrate such a fabulous calf but all our non-pedigree bull calves are steered. You never know what you're going to get if you start using cross-bred bulls!
Looks like Stephan's going to get into a bit of tractor breeding.
I dropped him up at Brian's during the afternoon and he brought Brian's tractor home, with the big, hydraulic thumper on the back, ready to do the yard thumping, when that time comes.
This Clematis vine near the gateway into the Back Barn paddock, hasn't flowered for the last two years. Looking back to 2015, I see I pondered there being two vines here, one of each sex. I wonder now if the dead bits of vine are one of those two plants and perhaps the environment has changed somehow, killing one and causing the other to stop flowering.
It doesn't look like things are changing very quickly but there's careful work going on here all the time. I suggested Stephan secure the steel poles with the intended pieces of timber so that he didn't have to line them all up individually.
I sent the cows with tagged calves off down the lane to graze the Frog paddock.
In the evening I went to make sure they were all happy and discovered I'd left the gates open across the stream they were all in the Swamp East Left. The calves need to get used to crossing streams and doing so quietly with their mothers is the best way, so I left the crossing open between the two areas for them to continue practising.
The wind was very blustery and on my way home I watched this beautiful bird negotiating the wildly swinging branches of one of the big Puriri, feeding on the berries.
There are a few Puriri with this odd growth habit, creating the long snaking branchlets with leaves only at the end.
I updated the weather recordings spreadsheet (daily temperatures and rainfall) to the end of October and discovered that our impressions of the dryness of the year are borne out by the data: in all but two months this year, August and September, rainfall was significantly lower than the long-term averages. To the end of September we'd had 65% of usual rainfall and with October's rainfall being only 53% of normal, we now sit at 64% of the usual annual average to date. No wonder things feel dry.
I am concerned that this will become a very difficult season to manage. I think that here we will cope as usual, with our light stocking rate and the rivers have never yet run dry, but the impacts on the whole district may be severe. There is also significant concern about the consented water drawings of the new, huge avocado plantations all over the northern peninsula, where usual rainfall is very low. Those well-resourced companies from outside our community have consent to draw enormous quantities of water from the aquifer beneath that land, to grow their trees and fruit. Money talks, and they have gained consent from the councils, in spite of strong local opposition and if it all turns to salty custard because they take too much and the sea water is drawn in, they'll simply go elsewhere, leaving a barren land upon which the people who belong there can no longer reside.
Some of the "experts" say they know more about that aquifer than any other but ask detailed questions and they reach the end of their knowledge. Where is the southern end of the aquifer? What feeds the springs welling up in the Herekino Range that feeds our lovely streams? Nobody knows the answers to those questions; we all just have to wait and see what happens. The avocado companies take a big financial risk but the risks they externalise, fall upon this socio-economically under-resourced community.
Now the last calf is born, we let the heifers who'd been in the House paddock go into the Windmill.
Gertrude's calf has been trying various sleeping-in places and this morning I had to go hunting for him, worried that he might have fallen into the stream somewhere.
But mothers are usually right about where their calves are and having fruitlessly searched the length of the stream at the edge of the Windmill, I found the calf at last, tucked in a little hollow, right down near the water. It's a spot in which I've found calves in other years too.
I crept away, leaving him to sleep.
(The calf is the black bit in the centre and the stream flows under the two bars [the old flood-gate] in the top right corner, and is just visible all down the right edge of the picture.)
The Slender Winged thistles are up again in the Frog paddock.
In my mind, it was only last year that Stephan and I cut and bagged all the flowers to try and beat this weed but when I did a search for my note on it, discovered it was three years ago!
What happened to those other years?
Dushi had a tiny friend on her back. I could tell it was a stick insect but had to take a few pictures to look at closely at home, to really see it.
That looks better, no longer a protruding bottom lip. He must be much more comfortable without a sharp tooth pressing into his lip and its broken roots pressing back into his gum.
Cattle can cope with gaps in their teeth, as long as there's sufficient length of grass for them to harvest. The "sheep pastures" my cattle sometimes have, in late winter and early spring, are not sufficient for cows with missing teeth but they can be kept in good order with care.
We'll have another look at his mouth in a few months and see how he looks. There are options, including, for instance, leaving him with his mother for the winter, so he could continue to have milk to supplement his green feed. Or he might be better going off with the others to Heidi's good beef-growing feed levels.
Slow and steady, measuring again and again and then triple-checking...
... making sure it's all right before permanently concreting things in place.
Late afternoon I went looking for the stream-bank calf again, finding him even more deeply tucked away in a hole in the ground. He got a fright when I appeared, leapt in the wrong direction into the stream (I was there because I feared he could have wobbled in on his own) and I managed to prompt him to jump up the bank and back under the fence to his anxious mother. He's not a calm calf.
Stephan milked Zella a bit early and we went out to join our te reo classmates for another noho Marae, a couple of nights and days together. It's tricky for us to get away at this time of year but it's within half an hour of home so we can come back at both ends of the day to milk and to check on all the cows and calves.