What? I only looked out the window a few minutes ago, particularly identifying 874, who was quietly grazing and, I presumed, still pregnant. Looks like she wasn't and that she'd quietly calved sometime during the early morning when I wasn't up yet or wasn't looking.
As I fed Nostraminus I noticed that the Swallow nest was no longer under the roof of the canopy in Flat 5a: last night was spectacularly windy and unpleasant and it must have been vibrated loose and blown down. There were bits of broken eggshell strewn around it.
I looked back as I left the paddock and there was little strange calf running. I haven't seen her do that before.
She looks very much like an unfinished baby, one who's not had quite enough time being made and she appears to be gaining strength and sense as days pass. Her mother was only in the insemination mob so she wasn't with a bull who could have been the later sire of a premature calf; it must be whatever shortcomings accompany the missing nostril that are causing her slowness.
Since nobody was imminently calving and they didn't appear to need me anyway, I went out to a Genealogy group meeting.
When I came home all the young, non-pregnant cattle were lying around down by the gate Over the Road, so after I'd changed clothes, Stephan and I came back and brought them across and then left them grazing all this lovely grass around the roundabout.
Four of the five two-year-old heifers are Harry daughters in calf to Kesslers Frontman and that mix appears to be working very well (with the exception of the missing nostril) for easy births. The odd one out is Fancy 191, who's a Chisum daughter in calf to Harry.
At 2.30 some big gulls turned up and showed me where 874 must have calved and then dropped her afterbirth. I'd looked for it earlier but not far enough across the paddock. I hid it under the trees in the stream reserve and the gulls flew away.
Fancy 126's daughter was flat out, fast asleep and dreaming as I walked quietly past her in Flat 5c.
Like her elder, dead sister last year, she has no white hair anywhere and probably just as many extra teats as her mother.
The Tī Kōuka are all looking fabulous with their sprays of tiny flowers.
The cow in the foreground is Dushi.
Gina 142's blood-sucking daughter is looking surprisingly good.
I'll have to construct the pedigree charts for all these lovely heifers.
The last five pregnant cows and heifers, Zoom and Gertrude standing head-to-tail with each other.
Al, out for a run around with us as we wandered around the tree reserve by the pond.
I will have to remove the cat harness because it's now almost too tight. I'll make something else, since the small dog harness I bought for him is still too big. It helps to have something I can clip a lead on to continue our training sessions.
The Pukeko eggs are still being incubated.
There are about five birds associated with this nest, some probably the juveniles from the earlier clutches. They all sneak away as I approach the nest, quietly calling their warnings to the sitting bird who doesn't leave the nest if I keep a reasonable distance.
We let the young cattle out the front into the old yards for the night, where there's more grass than I've ever seen there before and they have access to the trough in the bottom yard. It wasn't a hot day so a drum full of water had been enough while they were in the roundabout but I didn't want to leave them all night without a good drink.
At about seven this evening there were some sudden, heavy showers with big raindrops and just before eight, several flicking power cuts. The cattle seemed mostly unconcerned by the rain and wind, because it wasn't cold.
I thought both Zoom and Gertrude were in labour; neither was. Sometimes the cows can look really uncomfortable in the days before they calve. Their calves must be pressing somewhere sensitive, perhaps. Zoom was certainly walking as if she was in labour - and she had what I concluded was a slow urine drip for a while. I've seen that happen before, again perhaps because of internal calf pressure. I did worry a bit, that perhaps I'd missed some more obvious signs and things had all gone wrong. Then I had a bit of a chat with myself since there probably wasn't anything wrong and there were other signs (like the still-soft rear quarters of her udder) telling me she wasn't quite ready for calving yet and what was there to do but continue to wait patiently anyway? I could feel her calf moving a little and there was not enough evidence of something wrong to warrant getting her in to do an internal examination, so settle down!
At five to midnight, after I'd fed the calf, they all looked entirely normal.
As I stood feeding the calf, I watched the Swallow pair swooping in and out of the canopy, beginning to build another nest.
Hopefully they'll stick this one on well enough that it can't be blown down again.
Stephan has finished his table. It's beautiful.
And the chair.
The afternoon's weather having cleared, we brought the non-pregnant mob along to the yards.
Because I'm feeling nervous about BVD and because this mob have spent the winter where other people's cattle have been on the other side of the boundary fences, I decided to complete our surveillance testing by taking some of their blood as well. The vet had commented that the best test candidates would be 877's contemporaries but as I'd sampled across all the ages, this felt like another hole to plug in my investigations.
We put them all through the race and Stephan took blood from most of them, then I weighed them, then we put them around and through the race again for a copper shot, since they didn't have theirs when the cows did before calving.
The yearling weights are the ones I'm most interested in at this time of the season, because they will determine which of the heifers is sufficiently well-grown for mating at the end of December. The best-grown of the heifers is my favourite, 900 at 370kg, so already sufficiently well over my 360kg minimum mating weight. White-faced 889 weighed 362kg, Imogen 195 361kg and the smaller two, 893 and 885 weighed 343 and 337kg. They could, over the next 52 days, easily reach 360kg. I will watch them with interest.
Nostraminus in the middle, looking this way, is noticeably smaller than the other calves. Where she's putting six litres of milk a day, I'm not sure. Maybe it's going into belated brain development, because she's certainly getting smarter every day.
The day was horribly windy and when Stephan was bringing Zella in for milking I had gone out to do something nearby and heard the clink and rattle of one of the gates and the two calves shot across the driveway and crashed into the gate down by the bridge; there was a blood-curdling calf distress call and they came hurtling back up the drive again, now followed by their alarmed mothers and Glia's calf hit the steel gate up into the lane, despite my attempts to slow them before he reached it.
I can only assume they were startled by one of those miniature whirlwinds that happen in these conditions and panicked. They hit the first gate with a horrible crash, pushing it through the opening so Stephan later had to take it off the hinges to restore it to its usual operation. The calf was obviously sore in his left front leg, although he could bear weight on it and within a couple of hours was walking almost normally again so it appeared that nothing was broken and he would come right.
I felt so awful for him. I hate it when they're frightened by things and are then hurt by the infrastructure.
Gertrude 162 must have been in labour when I looked through the binoculars at 7am and observed her quietly grazing. I'd been out at twenty to six, so was content with a quick check from afar.
At 7.35 I heard a lot of bellowing and went out to see what was going on. Why do some cows become so upset about their calves? Gertrude was bellowing, hanging her tongue out and drooling as her calf flopped around finding its strength. Calves must think they've been born into a terribly noisy world.
This upset went on for hours. Every time the calf moved, Gertrude bellowed about it.
Just after noon two-year-old Fancy 191 was quietly grazing but very suddenly changed pace, stopped and hunched with her tail out and lay down: I think this was the very beginning of her labour, although I may not have seen earlier contractions.
She got up, walked around with her tail out, lay down, and an hour after I'd first observed her, I could see the white of a foot.
I kept watch over the next half hour, then thought I'd go out for a closer inspection. Coming into the paddock I had a horrible moment thinking those were hind feet: it's all very well pulling a backwards calf out of a quiet, mature cow but having to do the same (on my own since Stephan had gone out) with an only recently-tamed heifer, wasn't something I felt relaxed about. But feet can look like they're at odd angles sometimes and these were, on closer inspection, front hooves.
Hooves and a tongue - there's a little slip of light colour above the hooves in the photo, the calf's tongue on its way back in after it had been pushed out a bit during a contraction.
Meanwhile there was disturbance behind me as Gertrude's calf was trying running for the first time and his mother wasn't happy about that sort of movement either.
She'll get over it in a day or two. But the distressed bellowing at him went on for most of the day.
This is what I do for fun if a heifer will let me - and only if she actually could do with some help, which it looked like might have been the case. This calf's head is a lot bigger than the slimline heads of the other heifers' calves, despite being a Harry daughter.
How did I know she was a heifer at this stage? Because I guessed it from the shape of her feet. I've been challenging myself to assess the hoof shape as the calves are being born, to see how often I get it right; and most of the time I do. Bull calves have a wider, rounder foot than heifers, whose hooves are narrower.
It's quite a process getting that quite large baby through that quite narrow space but fascinating to watch as the head comes through, especially close-up - and that's why I often carry binoculars, even if I am able to stand nearby, so I can see it in as close detail as possible when I'm not sitting directly behind the heifer.
I took that photo at 2.11pm...
... and this one at 2.15pm. Once the eyes are out, the rest of the calf comes out very quickly.
191 lay for several seconds before noticing the coughing and movement behind her, when she quickly got up and turned to greet her daughter.
Last night in the frequent rain showers, I noticed how cold and shivery Nostraminus was so got Stephan to hunt out the calf cover for her and put it on this afternoon when she was dry.
That created a bit of upset when she tried to run away from this odd new thing and everyone else in the paddock must have thought she was some kind of dangerous new animal. Fortunately they settled down again in a few minutes.
Swallow nest-building is going well.
Marvellous: another heifer mum (Fancy 191) doing all the right things in good time.
I moved the 16-pair mob from Mushroom 2 to 3 this evening. The calves are already getting easier to move with their mothers, mostly through the gate, some under the fences.
I didn't think to turn these bottom wires on and should have, to start providing the necessary training opportunities for the calves. The voltage from the energiser unit is still turned down as low as it will go, so when we do turn it on, it won't be as unpleasant as it usually is - and will be when the calves are bigger and we need them to respect the fences.
902 is 792's son, sired by Harry. I was of course hoping for a heifer from that mating. This beautiful calf will end up at Heidi's place and look so impressive that passers-by will ask where she gets her fabulous calves. (Apparently this presently happens and she doesn't tell.)
Peering at Gertrude's udder, trying to decide if that front left quarter is smaller than the others, if the teat has been suckled. It looks likely.
I think I've discovered the other way to tell if a calf has fed: dried milk on its face. There are flecks of white powdery stuff all over Gertrude's son's nose, so I'd say he's definitely been feeding.
The cat I saw the other day was in one of Stephan's live-capture traps this morning.
She's lactating and while neither of us felt inclined to open her up to check, it didn't feel as though there was anything lumpy and kitten-like in her belly so somewhere out there is a nest of kittens who are now getting hungry. The cat has been roaming from the yards, through the House reserve bush, around Jane's garden, back to ours, so it's hard to know where the kittens could be. I'll have to listen around all those places to see if I can hear them anywhere. Otherwise they will weaken, sleep, die. (Not that I intend saving them but I would put them out of their misery more quickly than it will naturally happen, should I discover them in the mean time.)
De-sex your cats! Dumping strays is illegal and cruel.
Al seems entirely recovered, is very active when out and goes to sleep with his face in his feed bowl. Not all the time but often in the last few days.
After a showery morning the afternoon was fine, and as the three cows had eaten most of the grass in the House paddock, I wanted to move them out as soon as I could.
We took them to the yards to tag and weigh Fancy 166's calf, since he'd been sleeping somewhere when we did the other two. Ellie 171's and 811's calves have been gaining 1.78 and 1.83kg per day respectively. Those are not unusual gains for little calves. Later they'll settle down to nearer 1.1 to 1.2kg/day.
Then we propelled the three cows and their calves to the top end of the Windmill and erected an electric tape across the paddock.
Then out to get those in Flat 5a in. When we brought the three there in last week for blood testing and initial tagging, we'd had to leave Nostraminus behind because she wasn't up to going so far. She'd run along a little but begun collapsing on her front right leg, as I've seen very young calves occasionally do when caused to move further than they are ready to go. We had to take 877 in to the yards to get a blood sample, but did her first and then let her return to the paddock immediately before we worked with the others.
Now there are five in the paddock, with the addition of Ellie 119 and 775, who had joined them afterwards.
723's son was draped over his mother as we approached, then repeatedly moved back and played at mounting her again. Calves do that with each other often, sometimes with their patient mothers but when they're a bit bigger, heavier and potentially more hurtful, their mothers generally get up in a hurry and I've seen calves thrown to the ground as a result.
We walked them all slowly to the yards, Nostraminus being bullied repeatedly out of the way, probably still because of the cover she's wearing. I couldn't quite catch her on the way to take it off and make her walk easier.
We weighed all five calves, the two previously weighed nine days ago have gained an average 1.2-ish kg/day. Nostraminus weighed 37kg, which is about as heavy as some of the calves are when they're born. No wonder her mother popped her out without much effort. We didn't tag her because we're not sure what her future will hold yet and it's not difficult to identify her.
I didn't take her cover off, fearing more rain in this cold spell, although I certainly considered doing so, to stop the others taking exception to her.
The five pairs then went out to the bottom half of the Windmill paddock.
Back at home having afternoon tea I heard the most awful racket and looked out the window to see everyone in the Windmill paddock, all eight cows and their calves, sprinting down the paddock. I think one of the still-nervous three at the top of the paddock had seen and taken exception to the strange creature in the calf-cover, perhaps as she ventured under the tape or maybe the cow came out to attack her; there had been an audible cry of alarm from a calf at the start of the stampede. The electric tape was still in place.
Nostraminus was terrified and out in the lane and, thinking it best to belatedly remove the cover, Stephan and I had to corner her as she desperately tried to escape through any gap she could see. Poor thing. Once the cover was removed, she wandered into the peace of Flat 1, since there were still too many snorting large bodies along the Windmill fenceline.
I wonder if a black cover would have caused less fuss? The canvas has faded from its original dark green to a very light colour, so any animal wearing it doesn't look remotely like any of the others.
874 was much less reactive to her presence in Flat 1 and so she wandered around in there for a while until things across the lane had settled down.
The other calf here is four days old and markedly bigger than Nostraminus who's nearly two weeks older.
The evening was cold, windy and showery. As I went out with the calf bottle at 10.15 (for an again-shivering Nostraminus) I could see Zoom looking very much like she was in labour, so I called in on her on the way back, half an hour later, by which time she had a small membrane bubble at her vulva: things were well underway, so I stayed to watch until I saw she wasn't doing very much, then went home to get some warmer clothes on.
After a few minutes standing watching again a shower came across and I got a bit damp. Zoom was very slow but making some progress and then she lay down and suddenly there were two feet visible and then somehow the membrane bag was gone and it looked like things were about to happen. It rained again and I got wetter but the clouds passed over and the stars were visible again and so I kept waiting. And waiting; and the sky started getting very dark from the south and then the rain came again and it didn't stop and I could feel the backs of my jeans getting wetter and then there were cold drips down into my gumboots (in which I wasn't wearing any socks because all my socks have disintegrated into holes) and gradually I could feel my left foot was in a pool of wet in my boot and still it rained. Thankfully it wasn't coming through around my neck, which would have been even more horribly cold.
About an hour after I'd seen the feet, Zoom lay down and actually started pushing. I couldn't quite decide what sort of feet (heifer or bull) I was looking at and I was mindful of her gestation having been a couple of days longer than I had expected, which would tend to indicate the birth of a bull.
Twenty minutes later when I was thoroughly wet and very cold, the calf was finally born. It flopped about and then sat on its haunches for ages, so I couldn't see which sex it was. Eventually I discovered she's a heifer, which is extremely satisfying, this being another insemination calf, a sister to Fancy 126's daughter and Imogen 155's son. Insemination calves in the non-pedigree cattle need to be heifers for me to keep them.
I went home for a very long, very hot shower and took a hot water-bottle to bed.
At 6.30am I could see heifer 860 (Harriet, after her sire, Harry) showing far too much interest in 874's calf and obviously in labour. I went back to bed for about five minutes before deciding I'd better get up and go and intervene.
By the time we got to the paddock there were two feet and a tongue visible and while Harriet would lie down and push, as soon as she got up again she'd go back to licking the other calf.
I stepped between her and 874 with a string tape, attached it to the fence, reeled out a small enclosure for her and chased the calf out of the way.
860 lay down and got on with some serious pushing: all four feet came off the ground as she rolled back on her side with the effort.
Fortunately 874 and Zoom had a bit of a disagreement which meant they both ended up some distance away, which suited me very well.
860 took about five minutes to get the calf out: another extremely satisfactorily easy birth.
She'd now forgotten about the other calf and so we could remove the tape and let these two get on with things together.
So that's my last heifer - and the only cow left to go is late Grey 607 - and leaving aside the sad nature of 877's calf, these Harry daughters have calved and got on with being mothers with the greatest of ease. Interestingly Fancy 191, who, with her increased birthweight and better growth predictions, should have been the best grown and easiest to calve, was the heifer who had the most difficulty due to a larger calf. Her calf is a Harry daughter but it must be the contribution of 191's own birthweight from her sire, to her calf birthweight that made the difference.
Genetics is fascinating and nothing is ever as simple as one might expect. The Chisum bull has very good figures for the ease of calving of his daughters, probably because they're big animals throughout their lives; but here they've not done very well - perhaps not a good mix with the genetics of my cows, perhaps simply a poor fit for this environment in some way.
Breeders sometimes caution that "stacking" low birth-weight sires over successive generations will lead to terrible calving difficulties because you will end up with small heifers come calving time. But my Harry daughters were some of the smallest calves I've ever seen born and then they grew like mushrooms and kept on going, so that now at calving time they're in excellent condition, well grown and their own genetics for low birth-weights will have contributed to the size of their calves, making the process very easy for them now.
At 1.30 on our way out to move the big mob together, we stopped and walked around Flat 1 to check on the newest calves, finding everyone feeding - except for 191's calf, who wasn't anywhere we could see her.
In this picture 860 is across the paddock, Zoom in the foreground.
Then, carefully going around behind everyone, we gently moved the sixteen cows and their calves out of Mushroom 3, down to the stream crossing where lots of the calves calmly crossed and a few had to be urged (but not shoved, as I sometimes have to) and all went into the Bush Flat.
The first time the calves cross water is always a bit tricky but this went well. They'll have a bit more practice in the paddock, because there is the other small grazing area over the other side of the stream. At some stage we'll have to stop them having access to the crossing but need to install a trough over there first.
We went to the end of the lane to ensure no gates were unexpectedly open and on the way back came across a big group of calves back out in the lane. They fortunately all quietly went back into the paddock, either through the fence we then forgot to turn on, or under the tape gate I'd left in such a way they could do that easily. Someone always ends up out in the lane and it's easiest to leave things so they can get back.
They all seem happy and healthy, exploring their new space at high speed.
On the way home we stopped at the bottom end of Flat 1 to see if we could find 191's calf down there. I spotted her in the long grass on the edge of the bottom drain (in the centre of the picture) before I got too close, so quietly went away again. She'll come out when she's ready.
It was her cousin, 166's son, who also disappeared for hours every day during his sleeping in period after birth. There's some research material there!
Her mother was half-way up the paddock, a long way away.
When Nostraminus finished her bottle this morning, she went to her mother and looked for all the world as if she might feed.
I couldn't see well enough in those shadows and didn't have my binoculars and if I'd gone closer, she'd have come to me instead; so I went home for coffee.
Stephan decided to bring his table out of the shed and set it up ready to come into the house. It's big, heavy, but beautiful. (It hasn't come in yet because it still smells of the polyurethane with which he coated it.)
When I took the afternoon feed, I had a close look at 877's udder because her teats look suspiciously like Nostraminus may indeed have fed from them. I'm not sure. She didn't finish her bottle, so maybe she did have some extra milk during the day.
At 4.30 this afternoon the email I was waiting for from the vet arrived, to say that our blood test results had again come back with a zero reading for BVD antibodies. This is a sound confirmation of the security of our boundary precautions. There have been some pretty dodgy-looking calves on the neighbouring properties in the last four years since we last tested and since we've been keeping our cattle away from the actual boundary fences, first with electric tapes and later with permanent two-wire electric fences. I have wondered if the separation was sufficient and it would appear that it has worked so far. There may not have been infectious animals on the other properties but as various studies estimate the level of infection in this country at between 40% and 90% of herds, it's a significant danger.
Rather late in the day I went to check the 16-mob cows and calves in the Bush Flat and together we moved them, into the Big Back North paddock, a real expansion of the calves' world.
Going out to check on the calves and cows, I saw that the trough between Mushroom 2 & 3 was overflowing. I went back to get the maintenance staff to fix it, since I wanted to drain the trough out the back and it probably wouldn't have refilled very quickly with water flowing out here.
The ballcock arm pin had disappeared, so there was nothing to shut off the water flow. Stephan took the valve out, replaced the pin, put it all back together while I went on my way out the back.
This was a nasty-smelling bit of loose poo. I don't know who did it.
The calves are now from three to six weeks old in this mob, I was surprised to calculate today, so if we're going to see any coccidiosis, it could well begin showing up now. Nobody looks anything but entirely healthy so far.
One of the littler calves in the other mob, 811's son, who was two days old when we put his rubber ring on, has a well-shrivelled scrotum already, so I was interested to record one of these when it was presented so visibly. This is 792's calf and his castration ring was applied five days later than the other calf, at 24 days old.
I saw all the calves and most of the cows. I always look for all the calves but if I don't see all the cows, I don't worry too much - as long as none of the calves is calling hungrily. The calves are more likely to get into trouble out here in the wilds of the farm than the cows are, although nearly all the dangerous places are now fenced off.
Here's another view of the Tī Kōuka at the top of Flat 5.
I decided to cut off a bit of the top of Flat 1 so the grass could recover, then go down and let the cows graze a strip at the bottom that has been beyond their reach. One of the calves was asleep by the drain fence, so I avoided going too close. But as I was tensioning the electric wire, the calf must have got up and I watched it trotting down the paddock (not sure who it was).
At some point its mother, and all the others, spotted it and dashed to rescue it from whatever predator they imagined had set it running, which frightened it into a full-on gallop away from them. I watched in horror, wondering which part of the fence it was going to crash into but fortunately it stopped. So did the cows. All but its mother realised they didn't need to be there and went off in another direction and the calf's very sensible mother approached it very calmly and they both settled down.
When cows are alarmed they often run after their calves in such a way that they frighten them, causing them to keep on running, rather than stopping and calming down.
I was surprised to find a fat caterpillar on a rose leaf this afternoon. There are too many wasps around for many (I thought any) to survive, so I brought it inside on a branch of Swan plant to keep it safe. It abandoned that and climbed up a thin stake in the orchid pot.
The white webbing at its hind end tells me it is preparing to pupate. The white stripes at the bottom, at its head end, are changing colour, which is also a sign of metamorphosis under the skin, which will soon be shed, leaving the bright green chrysalis.
Zella's calf (919) has been drinking far too much milk. Zella produces more than the calf needs and if said calf drinks that much every day she will become unwell and/or exceptionally fat.
There has barely been enough milk for Nostraminus on some days and so this evening we have separated them from their mothers for the first time. 919 is now five weeks old, so this is about the time I expected to do this. We may have a noisy night.