The week beginning the 31st of October 2020.
Saturday the 31st

Are you infecting my other calves?

If this calf's deformity were caused by her mother contracting BVD, my reading about how embryonic formation occurs would suggest it was very early in pregnancy and thus the calf would be Persistently Infected, whereby her own immune system doesn't know she's infected, so she remains so for life, constantly shedding virus and infecting anyone else around her.

This dreadful worry about the possibility of BVD is very uncomfortable. I keep casting my mind over all I know about my herd and events of the last few years. I looked up my records to see when we'd last done a test on any of the cattle to check for BVD - it was after the winter during which the 10-acre neighbours allowed their heifer to graze our Bush Block without our knowledge, which led to her spending long periods on the other side of the fence in many of our paddocks. That was November 2016. There were no antibodies measured in any of the cows then.

I feel hopeful about the lack of any signs of illness in my cows and calves. I wonder about the few early pregnancy losses, except there are empty cows in most years in every herd, so hopefully they're not meaningful either.

Because the weather was showery today, we put off doing the cattle work and the blood tests until tomorrow, since the blood can't go off to the lab until Monday anyway.


Slung across the cab of my little buggy was this stick-like spider's single-strand web - at least at first glance it looked like a bit of stick, rather than the owner of the web.

When I unavoidably disturbed it, it retreated to the other anchoring end and looked much more spider-like. I gently removed it to the lemon tree.


The last-to-calve mob, about to come out of the Frog paddock and head in to the flats.

The black cow with the ear tag looking at us, is Eva's daughter Gertrude, looking very much like her mother.

I'd already set out some molasses in bins for them in Flat 2 and was amused to watch them as they entered the gateway: five of them went directly across to the fence adjacent to Flat 1, since the other cattle are in that paddock; only Zoom noticed the blue bins and walked briskly in their direction and probably had most of it before the others saw what she was doing.

Sunday the 1st of November
feeding a calf

A face only a mother could love. Luckily for this calf, her mother really does, even though they're still not a suckling pair. 877 often comes and licks the calf while she's having her bottle.

I have given up on trying to get the calf to suckle her mother. I suspect that when she tries, the udder blocks her nostril because she has to suck on that side of her mouth and so she has to let go to breathe. When a calf has two nostrils, it's still able to breathe when one side is blocked.

This was the first of her three two-litre feeds. She's slow. That's where at least an hour of every day is now going, standing here holding a bottle, getting the teat back in her mouth if she lets it go, since she doesn't seem to be able to do that herself.

I'm now referring to her as Nostraminus.

calf and cow

775 was feeding her newborn daughter this morning, born sometime in the early hours. I'd thought she was probably starting her labour at 11 last night, when I was feeding the calf. But 775 does everything beautifully on her own, so I had no intention of coming back to check.

I like her a lot, even though she's a skinny cow. She was born to her two-year-old mother in 2014, calved as a two-year-old in 2016, then in 2017 and 2018; in 2019 I kept her daughter, 885. I might keep this one too. Her sire is bull 176.


Ellie's calf is facially almost identical, so I'll have to be careful when I tag these two, since they'll go to the yards together.


This is the smallest calf yet to enter this race. Last year we did all the castration, tagging and vaccination in the old yards, since these weren't yet ready.

We began work today by bringing the two cows and calves in from the House paddock and this is one of their calves, about to be tagged.

The system I designed by which we can easily draft the cows out to the side of the race so they remain near their calves - and the calves are encouraged to walk into the race - worked brilliantly!

As well as the number tags to make my life easier in knowing who's who, 811's son also had a rubber ring applied to the top of his scrotum. He's only a couple of days old and that painful process is less awful for them when that part of their body is still very small - as long as both testes are present in the little bag. Castration of young calves is still permitted this way without pain relief.

We put Fancy 166 and Ellie 171 in the race and Stephan took blood samples from them. We didn't do anything to Fancy's calf since we couldn't find him - he's still sleeping in somewhere, so best not to disturb him for tagging yet.

Next were the five from the Windmill, taking blood from Dushi 170 and Gina 142 - I'm testing the mothers of last year's bulls as part of my surveillance, to check them for antibodies. Breeding bulls should ideally be checked to ensure they are not BVD carriers but if their mothers are clear of antibodies, it should be safe to assume their sons are clear.

The blood-taking all went calmly, cleanly and there were no wasted tubes - sometimes the tail vein is missed or the vacuum in the tube is lost if the cow jumps or moves too much. And weighing the calves was a breeze because once they were in the crush, it didn't matter what they did and they were all quite calm, since we didn't have to be very near them to keep them in the right place, as we used to have to be when using the platform in the old race.


White-faced 746's son is now a month old and he could pack a powerful kick, so we stopped trying to put a ring on him in the wooden part of the race and sent him forward to see if the head-bail would hold him. It worked very well and once he was restrained by the neck and trying to pull himself back through the gap, he stopped either bothering to, or being able to kick backwards as Stephan applied the ring to his scrotum. Tagging him was very easy with his head held still.

The priority today was to take the blood samples, which I wanted from five of the eleven pair mob, so when the calves went off under the fences in unhelpful directions on the way in, we didn't worry about them, but couldn't therefore match pairs to do the tagging, so I weighed the half dozen who'd come in, painted spots on their sides for temporary identification when weighing, and let them out and I figured out who they were later, when they were feeding or calmly with their mothers.

blood-test tubes

The blood tubes were all gently tipped back and forth to mix whatever was in them to preserve the blood appropriately, then I laid them in a small chillibin with an icepack at the bottom. At home I completed the labelling with my name and they went into the fridge for the night. We'll take them to the vet tomorrow to be sent to the laboratory for the BVD test.

Monday the 2nd
swallow nest

There are four warm eggs in the Swallow nest.

It is primarily lined with cow hair and feathers have been added in the last few days.


716's pretty daughter.

Tuesday the 3rd

Showery weather this morning so after feeding the calf and checking the pregnant animals, I was sitting writing. At some point not long after it arrived I read this email...


Two things happened in my head as I read it: firstly I spotted the shape of my own name immediately, which was very exciting but I averted my eyes from that line for long enough to read the introductory paragraph and extend the anticipation and then I thought, got to be a scam... except it was from Massey University and the BVD Free programme exists, even though I couldn't actually remember anything about entering a competition.

The other winners' surnames have been changed since I don't have their permission to publicise them. There are 16 $100 prizes down the second part of the list.

That's an extraordinary sum to win, more than I've ever won in my life - the biggest thing before was a television, won for encouraging a workmate to open an account with the Post Office Investment Society when I was a telephone technician in Auckland and before that was a frozen chicken in a quick fire raffle at a Taipa Area School gala day when I was a child.

I kept looking at it, marvelling at this enormous stroke of good fortune and still, a week later as I write about it, I remain thrilled.

It's a huge first prize and a big gap between it and the others. I'm not sure why the prize is that amount except that according to a news article I don't recall reading before, but which announced the competition, $4,000 is the average annual cost of BVD across all farms in this country. Of course I'm about to spend some of it on testing the herd for BVD. I wrote back to Dr Carolyn Gates and told her I was delighted to accept and that the announcement was weirdly timed for me, considering our blood samples are currently being tested for fear of an incursion.

I've always been interested in BVD and keen to see its presence in this country eradicated, so must have entered my details in the site when last I was updating information in my glossary page.


I haven't been seeing all the bulls regularly because they're not all in the same paddock, two having gone through the dilapidated fence between the PW and Pines.

Today I brought 194 and 200 out of the Pines, along the track and in through the Route 356 gate to join the others in the PW, before they fortunately all decided to go where I wanted them to, along the track to the Middle Back.


The last-to-calve mob are in Flat 3, grazing their way up toward Ellie 119 and 775, who will have to move out to join the cows and calves across the lane. They'll all be in the same group eventually but it's easier to manage these six together until their calves are all born.

In the foreground is Fancy 191, the only pregnant daughter of the big Chisum bull, whose calves I expected to do a great deal better than any of them have. She's in calf to Harry, who sires tiny, narrow calves.

Wednesday the 4th

It was a blustery, showery day today, so I spent more of it inside than out.

Just before 6pm the vet emailed with the blood test results: "No exposure" and a 0.00 antibody reading. He commented that "I have never had a zero result before so your biosecurity must be good." He has actually seen a zero before, the last time we tested; I'm glad the efficacy of our biosecurity measures is confirmed. In fact I was so relieved I spent the next couple of hours feeling a bit trembly and tearful. It's been a tough week.


Zella, Glia and the calves are now where the sheep used to live, in long, lush grass! It's nice to have an extra paddock available for cattle grazing now.

This is the only grazing area on the farm that has not been fenced along the stream-banks. It can only really have a one-wire fence because the floods come across here often, so there wasn't much point doing that when only the sheep were here, since they'd have walked under it anyway. But now the house cows will use the paddock, that fence wire will have to go in. In the mean time we'll use electric tapes.

Thursday the 5th

I spoke with the vet today about a niggling worry, that somehow we've missed something: he said it would cost very little to do an antigen test on 877 to ensure she isn't a BVD PI (one of those persistently infected animals). It's highly unlikely there could be one in the herd and there be no antibodies in anyone else but we're not heavily stocked and ... I'd rather be sure.

Otherwise there's no obvious explanation for Nostraminus's deformity and we'll have to presume it's "just one of those things".

pollen cones

In the evening I took Stephan out to have a look at the trough in the Middle Back, it having filled very slowly after I cleaned and emptied it before the bulls went in.

Particularly since all the strong wind, there are Tōtara pollen cones all over the ground, looking like millions of brown maggots.

man and trough

Stephan said he found a scrap of plastic, something that may have come out of the tank from the time of installation, stuck in the ball-cock valve, which didn't stop it nor slow it all the time, but was moving freely enough that it could have got in the way of the flow sometimes. It's been slow before but then fine again the next time we checked, so the problem wasn't then further investigated.


The big Tī Kōuka in the garden is just starting to bloom. It has become a spectacular tree.

Just after 9pm the people (not what I called them, I assure you) on the 10-acre block started shooting fireworks into the air with all their alarming and repeated explosions. It had not occurred to me to worry about them, because while they've been unpleasant people to deal with for most of the last many years, I never thought they'd be this stupid. I always give people more credit than they end up proving they deserve.

I shot outside and could hear bellowing and distress across the flats so we hurriedly donned boots and went to see if we could calm the cattle - and shone lights repeatedly in the direction of the idiots, hoping they'd stop their insane explosive activity. Their own cattle were crowded into a corner along the boundary, beside themselves in alarm.

I could count the right number of eyes of calves and cows in all the paddocks and couldn't see any obvious trouble, other than signs of extreme anxiety. Fortunately none of the yet-to-calve cows was in labour and within a few minutes they were standing quietly chewing their cud. There's a distinct difference between the alarm level of a cow before and after she calves!

Luckily I'd shifted Ellie and 775 across the lane at dusk, so they were not in a direct line of sight or sound of the fireworks but had trees and the Bush Block hill in the way, although that didn't do much to soften the alarm the noise and flashes were causing.

Later when I fed Nostraminus I checked the animals in Flat 5d, finding the bottom wire of the fence between it and 5c broken, but again no obvious injury anywhere. A calf would have had to hit it at high speed to have broken it so it must have hurt someone to some degree.

Everyone was quiet and unlikely to suffer further upset tonight, so I left it as it was.

Friday the 6th

Out with Stephan early this morning to gather up the broken wire and remove it. We'll now try a two-wire fence between these two paddocks.

I could still see no obvious injuries amongst the calves; they're tremendously robust little creatures.

cows and calves

In the early afternoon, it being sunny and fine today for a change, we brought the eleven pair mob back to the yards, having the same problem we did last time with the calves going under the fences everywhere. We'd set up a spring gate across the gateway out of the Windmill but still couldn't get the calves to go back to their mothers.

Plan B was to get those we had into the pens, then draft out a mother or two of the calves who'd not gone in and, once the cows had called the calves closer, try and shoo them through the gateway along the other end of the yard lane fence. Fortunately that worked. I wanted them all in for tagging and castrating today.

With so many pens to use, we waited until the calves and cows drifted into different corners, watched to make sure that mothers were behaving as expected toward their calves so we could tell they were paired correctly, then propelled a couple or four animals at a time toward the concrete pen, enticing the cows through the outside gate and as they walked along the outside of the yards, the calves quietly walked toward and into the race. I chose a heifer and a bull calf in most cases, so I could distinguish one from another for the correct tag numbers and to ensure we didn't castrate the wrong bulls.

cows and calves

When we finished I went ahead and opened Flat 5c with its lovely grass, for the five-pair mob in 5d and then the 11-mob came across 5d to join them. They will remain as a 16-pair mob until mating.

Feijoa tree

In the garden the larger of our three feijoa trees is daily sporting more red, as it flowers better than ever before. It had some excellent fruit last year and I hope it does at least as well this year, with hope for a greater number of the aromatically sweet berries.


Al, streaking around the garden this evening. He seems quite content in his cage, snoozing for much of the day and I go and give him a scratch and a bit of a chat from time to time and if I have a few minutes to spare, I let him out for a run around. He's not always very good at coming to me when I call but has, so far, always returned if he's gone out of my sight for a while.

He often runs so fast around corners that he falls and rolls over. Funny piglet.

Stephan bought me a new kind of feeding bottle for the calf today and after not being very sure about it, I found that it is a vast improvement on the old one, which I've had and used for several years. The old one is thin plastic and about to crack where it repeatedly kinks as the sides are sucked in when the calf is feeding - the sides are more flexible than the air valve. The new one is made from much thicker and more rigid plastic, has air holes of two sizes and the openings are controlled with a tap on the side. There's also some cleverness in the lid which appears to let some air into the bottle as the calf sucks, and the 1 and 2 settings progressively more, so that a fast feeder isn't hindered by a vacuum forming in the bottle. I don't think Nostraminus will need number 2 hole for a long time.

The extra test we did on 877's blood sample, to make sure she isn't a BVD PI, came back negative this evening.

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