The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 23rd of October 2021 - part 2.
Wednesday the 27th
cows and calves

As I went out to check on the cows this morning, I could see 716 and her calf together, and 710 walking toward them with her calf, with a gruesome train of afterbirth. We've not had many slow deliveries of afterbirth in the last few years, since we put a dressing of Selenium in with the fertiliser several years ago.

I checked on 716 to see that her calf had fed, since last year's had to be helped. I noted that 716's front teats seemed a little smaller but I wasn't entirely convinced. I'll check again later.


Looks like a timber milling site!


Fancy 191's daughter. Her central hair parting has become more pronounced over the last couple of days. Her elder paternal half-sister had a similar line when little.


Another unfamiliar weed out on the roadside bank. I've probably seen it before but don't remember it.

So many weeds are spreading around and there's no organised response to it all. We will control them on our little patch for as long as possible but eventually the pressure from outside populations will overwhelm us.


In the bush by the road I went looking for the orchid I'd seen in bud a few weeks ago. I couldn't find it again.

I thought these were flowers until I came home and looked at them on the computer screen with my glasses on: the little Pixie orchids with seed capsules already sprung and emptied.


710's great long train has gone, but there's still some afterbirth retained. I'll check her again, to ensure it clears properly and watch her over the following days for any sign of trouble, in case any remains inside and sets up an infection.

These things usually resolve on their own but when they don't, you want to pick up on it quickly because a sick mother is no good for her calf and it's easier to put things right early, than when a cow becomes very ill. It's all a matter of watching general behaviour and the angle of the ears.

Cows sometimes spend quite a lot of their time looking concerned, which is how I read a still head (no chewing) with ears back. A relaxed animal is normally chewing her cud and if her ears are back it merely indicates the direction of the latest noise she's paying attention to. If it concerns her enough she'll turn toward it. But if she's ill, at the beginning she will spend a lot of her time looking anxious and as she becomes more unwell, her ears will look lower.

In this picture, 710 is alert to my presence, so her left ear is turned this way.

Thursday the 28th

On day 281 of her gestation, three-year-old Ellie 186 was in labour before 8am.

I watched her doing the usual things over the next hour, then she began pushing when she lay down, so I expected to see something interesting before long.

At 10.50 I had a feel inside while she was lying down and whatever was coming wasn't feet and it was solid: the wrong bit of a calf; no wonder she wasn't making any obvious progress.

I donned long gloves, readied the lube and with her restrained in the head-bail I had a feel and found it was the crown of the calf's head presenting at the cervix. A calf can't come out that way. It took tremendous effort to push the calf back, even between contractions, since 186 was compelled to push back against every movement I made. But eventually I pushed the head back (while checking to make sure it really was the head - felt mouth and teeth, made sure I didn't poke it in the eyes) enough to get one arm in beside the neck and down into the cow, as far as my armpit, to try and find a shoulder, then a knee, then a foot and, cradling the foot carefully so that its pointy hoof ends didn't pull along the insides of the uterus, got the foot pointing in the right direction. (Even with the jelly coverings, the feet could still do internal damage if I weren't careful enough.)

I was by now trembling uncontrollably with the extreme effort, so rested for a couple of minutes, breathing as deeply and calmly as I could.

Then back in for the other leg, which was slightly easier to find, since once one leg is up the angles of the shoulders helpfully change. I knew one elbow was a bit jammed but hoped that if we allowed 186 to lie down and push, things would resolve to some extent.

I suspected the calf wasn't alive, a glimpse of its tongue having shown it to be a bit greyer than I'd normally expect. In my experience it's also very unusual for a live calf not to put at least one of its best feet forward!

Stephan put a haystring barrier across the yards lane so 186 would be restricted to the little vet parking area where there's some grass to lie on and where I'd be able to easily tend to her further if required.

cow in labour

When she did lie down and push again, the feet and nose appeared and I could clearly see the skin sloughing off the tongue: definitely dead for a day or two.

The caught elbow was causing a bit of difficulty, so I knelt at her rear and pulled on each leg in turn until it clunked free. When the calf was nearly all out, I asked Stephan to lift, twist and pull, so the hips came easily free and 186 didn't have to keep pushing: I figured she'd had enough for one morning!

cow and dead calf

186 did all the usual things she'd have done with a live calf, except this one wasn't going to move.

It had a very slight odour and the blowflies were settling on it as it came out. I see that I noted two days ago that 186 was sitting quietly and I'd wondered if she were in labour, then saw that she was not; but now I wonder if she knew something was altering within her body at that time.

We left here there on her own, since I didn't really want the others coming to sniff and lick a calf that could potentially have died from an infectious cause.

Later on we set the gates so she could be in the little area around the yards and have access to the trough shared with the others in the House paddock, so still be near them.

As I sat quietly in the early afternoon I cradled the dying Pūtangitangi chick against my chest, as it became less and less responsive, then silent.

What sad, sad day.

I distracted myself for a while, reading the end of Circe, then went out to the Big Back North to check and then move the seven cows and their calves to the South paddock.


Some of the calves are looking very moth-eaten. Something is affecting their skin and I wonder if it's a sensitivity to the ticks this year, or the presence of some kind of fungal condition. It could, potentially, be ringworm, which we've not had through the herd for several years. The calves seem healthy and happy otherwise.

On the way home I noted that 710's afterbirth was now dangling down as far as her hocks; and that was the last I saw of it. Presumably the cows still eat it all up, if they're that way inclined, even when it's not entirely fresh.

Before sending 723 and Imogen to the Tank paddock, we pushed 723 into the head-bail for a look at her chin. There wasn't anything obvious required so I sprayed the abscess with some iodine and let the very unhappy 723 out again. Then I realised we should have inserted some ear tags while we had her restrained because we'll have a hard time ever getting her in there again! She hated the restraint. She's a lovely quiet cow otherwise.


Stephan, taking molasses to 872, whose udder and teats I found to be still quite soft. She's up to day 278, so I expect her to calve any day now but I don't think it will be quite yet.


We moved the yearlings from the Middle Back, back in to the PW, where I had earlier thought they still were.

922 has a noticeable collection of nose warts.

Warts don't require any action unless they're in weird places, or get very big. These will go away on their own in time. The cattle often have them as yearlings.


Two of this year's calves have strange eyes: this is 710's daughter, with funny pools of light blue under the pupil. I've seen this before, years ago, commonly in my calves. I presume it's genetic rather than some other influence. The blue usually disappears over a few days but it's quite pretty while it lasts.


The other is 746's son, whose wildly staring eyes are quite disconcerting. This is also something I see from time to time and they usually revert to a more normal appearance in time too.

Friday the 29th

We buried the little chick, in the same place as our former Pūtangitangi companion, then planted a Pūriri over them.

I'm sure we planted a tree when we buried Ms Duck but it failed to thrive and since then there has only been an old Tōtara batten to mark her grave. Hopefully this tree will survive.


Stephan is fencing the Chickens paddock (where no chickens have recently lived, where the pig-sty was built with William and where there was once an orchard).

This is the last stretch of stream on the whole farm as yet unfenced but as it had no real stock pressure (the sheep caused no issues and Zella and Glia were equally peaceful) we'd left it until we decided how to do it. Stephan is putting a two-wire electric all the way around, hoping the wires will be high enough that any flood water will flow underneath.

swallow nest

A week or so ago I gently removed the now-empty Swallow nest from the collapsing truck canopy in 5a, since we mean to take it away as soon as the ground is sufficiently dry.

But the Swallows have other plans and are already nearly finished building a replacement nest.

cow and calf

Wanting to bring some more calves in for tagging, I asked Stephan to pull the dead calf through the fence so 186 could continue to have access to him but be out of the way of the other cattle.

She comes back regularly to sniff and lick him. When she's finished we'll move him away into one of the reserves.


Endberly's daughter, another calf with bald patches.

I wanted Endberly's and Gina's calves in because the others can most conveniently come and join them back here in Mushroom 1 when they're all tagged.


Before tagging I sit down with the tag numbers and decide which calf will have which tag of the range available. I chose 937 for Endberly's daughter to remind me of her link with great-grandmother Fuzzy 357.

Gina 142's daughter got 214 and hopefully that will help me remember whose she is when I'm not looking at a list.


Then we brought the four cows and calves out of Flat 1 and weighed and tagged them, castrated Zoom's son. We also tagged and weighed 813's daughter, since she came through the fence from the Windmill and joined the little mob as they passed. 813 wasn't very happy but we returned her as soon as we were able.

In the picture 811 is just getting up from rubbing her face and neck in the bare soil in the gateway. One of the calves had shot under the fence into the cat cemetery but fortunately just came out under the other fence.

When there were more wires on these fences, they'd still go through them but be disinclined to come back again. The other change Stephan has made is in earthing the bottom wires as well as turning them off for calving time. When they're off, current is still induced in them by the top wires and little calves can feel that with their feet in wet grass, so while they were not getting a big shock from the wires and could ignore it if they wanted to, it was enough to frighten some smaller calves, who'd then stay in the wrong places into which they'd accidentally stumbled. With the bottom wires earthed, any induced tingling is removed.


When finished tagging and weighing we sent the four pairs ahead, I followed and Stephan brought Gina and Endberly and their calves behind. We managed to stop 813's calf rejoining and staying with this lot as we took them up to Mushroom 1, where they could sort out any social issues in a wide area. The cows have been reasonably calm, when mixed with their very young calves at foot.

We moved 813 and her calf and young 872 from the Windmill to Flat 1, so 872 would be a bit easier to watch and a bit closer to home.

three cows

Time for the three in the Frog paddock to come forward, so I put their molasses bins outside the gate and let them out. When they were finished they made their way along to Flat 5d.


The Flat 4 lane gate is closed, so all these calves from Flat 3 and Flat 5a can't come out and mix with the other lot. They completely ignore the fences since the bottom wires are all turned off, but they learn how to duck under the bottom wires safely at speed, which can be a useful emergency skill. Once we put the power back on, they'll learn very quickly that their freedom is curtailed.


It was after 8pm so there was a lot less light than these pictures show.

From Flat 3, 792 was calling her calf to return from playing so long with the others.

872 looked like she was probably in labour, walking, standing, her tail swishing.
I came back out just before ten to check on her again and she looked much the same. I went home to bed, setting my alarm for 3am.

The 2021 calving date prediction sheet is available here.

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