Two inseminations this morning, using the last Ardrossan Connection X15 straw in Ellie 119: if a pregnancy results, the calf will require testing for Arthrogryposis Multiplex, the recessive gene defect that bull carries.
The second was for 775, whose stick-on indicator was deeply red this morning even though she was showing no other signs of being, or having been, on heat. I decided it was best to trust the indicator, since its surrounding material was also very dirty, indicating that she'd been mounted many times during the night. Later I noticed she had dried saliva marks on her back, another sign to add to the others - the mounting animal will often dribble in excitement or exertion.
775 wasn't very happy with the whole insemination process and then Stephan dropped the backing rail and gave her a fright before she left, so she'll probably never come in again! Hopefully she won't need to this season.
Lovely farm produce: potatoes from the garden (a surprise, since Stephan hadn't realised there was a plant there) and the overflow milk bowl, milk Stephan pours from the bucket half-way through milking, to ensure there'll be sufficient room in the ten litre bucket for all Zella produces.
In the evening we went out to the big patch of flowering Ragwort in the Spring paddock, with our bags and cutters. I cut and bagged and pulled some of the small plants while Stephan cleared all the large plants as well.
Then he carried the piles of plants down the hill and we transported them along the track to the nearest reserve area ...
... and threw them all over the fence. They'll dry and die there and, without their flowers still attached, no seeds will set.
They have to be pulled to stop them flowering again and then put out of reach of the cattle because there is an alkaloid in their foliage that affects bovine livers, and as plants wilt they often become more palatable to the animals.
The bull mob in the Middle Back, standing wondering if I might move them through the gate.
They didn't look that unhappy about where they were so I left them there.
The bull is second from left, standing next to 613. I'm not sure if that proximity was significant or not. Sometimes it's hard to tell if a bull has mated a cow unless you see them at it and this bull is particularly sneaky, leaving very little evidence of his attentions.
Heat-detection in cows and heifers is a fascinating task. The best times to check the subtle signs of approaching oestrus are late at night when the cows have settled down to sleep, and early in the morning before they get up. It is at those times that I go around every animal, checking for mucous in or from her vulva.
Often there will be a tiny pool of mucous on the ground behind a recumbent cow, giving a stronger indication of things being about to change, there being enough liquid to drip out. I see a great range from little pea-sized globs of thick cloudy mucous through to the clear stretchy fertile mucous, which is often what pools on the ground behind them, or coats the backs of their legs as they swish their tails when standing up. I have a library of abbreviations for my notebook observations.
Late night and early morning are also times I often observe the sudden change in an animal, signalling the start of her period of "standing heat". My early and late checks suggest that they don't come on in the middle of the night very often.
When they come on during the day, I can usually see their increased activity across the flats from the house or wherever else I may be working. Recording the beginning of the standing heat period is very helpful in regard to calculating the timing of insemination, which I now do between 10 and 18 hours after they start standing, if I've observed that. Otherwise I do it within six hours of them stopping.
745 was almost standing at 7.15 this morning, bashing everyone around her, something many of them do when on heat.
It was a very hot day to be on heat but that didn't appear to deter her, although it may have made her rather more fractious than she would have been in cooler conditions.
At noon her daughter, yearling 865, here on the left, also came on heat.
At my next check at 3.30, 865 was staying clear of her mother because Fancy 126 was also being violent with anyone getting too close to hot 745.
Fancy 126 was on heat on Christmas Day, so is due on again on the 15th but a cow with no calf seems prone to stronger hormonal fluctuations than one in milk.
Domestic Bovine behaviour is not constrained by any awareness of familial relationships: if your daughter is on heat and so are you, mounting her is the same as doing it with anyone else.
Here 745 is mounting 865 and 126 (with tail out behind them) is advancing on them quickly to give someone a shove.
865 obviously found it all a bit intimidating being pursued by the ardent adults, particularly her overwrought mother, who at some times during the afternoon wouldn't leave her alone. It's too hot to be chased and have to run!
At the completion of my check, I opened the gates so they could go into Flat 5b across the lane, if they wished to. When I returned three hours later to bring 745 in for insemination, 865 was sitting alone by the trough in Flat 3, resting quietly away from the everyone else.
While these photos show the cattle sitting out in the full sunshine, there is lovely shade available. When there's wind, they sometimes they like being out in the heat.
This is a dock flower stem I noticed as I was setting things up for the cows in 5a. I think, from comparing it with internet pictures, that it is Rumex conglomeratus, clustered dock, rather than the other broad-leaved dock, R. obtusifolius.
We used to have quite a lot of dock around the place but I think it's one of those plants that grows only under certain conditions and that our soil fertility and/or acidity has been sufficiently altered in recent years that it no longer appears much at all. I see it a lot on one of the dairy farms down the bottom of the valley, whose soil fertility should be good but the balance is obviously in favour of dock in that location.
On the way to get 745 I passed these two in an intimate moment. I'm not expecting Glia to come on heat for another week, so this is presumably just friendly grooming, rather than courting.
When I brought the group of on-heat animals along the lane, the bull, faithless swain, left Glia and paced the fenceline as the cows walked along toward the yards.
When we got to the yards, I decided that 745 was in such a state of excitement that inseminating her was likely to be fraught with difficulty and distress; so we sent her back along the lane and let the bull out to serve her a few times instead.
It was really cold for a mid-summer morning: 8°C. We both thought this completely out of order but going back through the weather records, I see that it is not particularly unusual to have the occasional cold morning, just less common in the last decade than the decade before. The average daily minimum temperature sits around 13°C.
We were up before 5.30 to take heifer 865 in for insemination. The new crush is fantastic in that once an animal is in there, she can't get out and so I can be a lot more focussed on and relaxed about my particular task than I was ever able to be in the old yards. There an animal could decide to try leaping up and over the rails and occasionally did. Most of the animals wouldn't think about it but occasionally one would surprise me.
Mid-morning I finally received the genetic test results for bull calf 194: AM Carrier. Damn and blast.
The test has taken so much longer than expected that I now think we've missed the opportunity to put a rubber ring on his scrotum, which would have been the best option. But he's a good looking animal and the last of his particular branch of the family and so I will leave a final decision until later.
Work continues on the approach to the new yards.
While the fencing is being rearranged, I asked Stephan to adjust the edge of the House paddock to bring the fence out a bit from its original line: there's not quite enough margin on the other side before a steep drop into the stream.
While it hasn't ever caused a problem, I always worry when cows calve in this area, that a calf might stumble through the fence and not have enough room to turn and find its way back without getting into serious trouble. New calves are also prone to climbing through the fences into the reserve areas to sleep and a sleeping calf can fall off an edge, either while sleeping or as it unsteadily gets to its feet when it wakes.
The bull spent some of the day with 723 but by this evening she was quietly grazing on her own again before I called them down to the gateway to the Spring paddock.
Stephan and I then went around the Middle Back with our bags and cutters, hunting Ragwort. In most places there is much less than usual.
I stopped and gazed at the moon for a while as it rose over the hills, tinged pink from the Australian smoke and dust.
It was a busy day in the insemination mob, 792 having been on heat early in the day and inseminated at 6pm. Imogen and Jet's daughter 877, came on a bit later, along with Harriet 141. Those three will need to be inseminated early tomorrow.