The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 25th of December 2021.
Saturday the 25th
Christmas Day
811 and 821 at the end of the House paddock

To my surprise I could see little 921 sitting with her head up early this morning. I expected to find her dead after yesterday's exertion.

At 7.25 I took this picture, hoping her position beside her mother indicated that she was feeding; it didn't. She's too weak. She had a little water though, while near the trough. Then she went back to the shade down by the fence.

I didn't fully explain the problem last week: Theileria is a blood cell parasite and to get rid of it, the immune system destroys the cells in which it is present, which is why they become life-threateningly anaemic. There's barely any blood to carry oxygen around their bodies, so exertion can cause collapse and sudden death.

As I understand it, all one can do is support the animal in keeping calm and quiet until the immune system gets the infection under control and the body can create enough new blood cells for normal functioning to resume. I didn't really get very much detail about this from the vet but one of my assumptions is that even digestion takes a lot of blood circulation so not eating is probably a response to severe anaemia and therefore I didn't try and do much about the calf not eating. If she'd wanted to feed, I think she still could have done so, since she had the energy to stand at the udder. It looked like she was too weak, but I think she was as much disinclined.

milking 811

After coffee we decided we'd better check that 811's udder was comfortable, that it was neither too engorged nor developing mastitis.

She wasn't very happy about being interfered with in such a manner, although at some moments she looked more relaxed than this, and licked up a bit of the molasses from the bin at her head. Her milk looked ok and we probably made her feel more comfortable.

I thought we'd better ensure her milk "stays in" in case the calf recovers and needs it again. But if the calf dies, the cow will have to dry off and milking her won't have been the best thing.

an orb-web spider

We went out to get the 15/14 mob because now we know we will need to castrate bull 212, I want him to have had a 7-in-1 vaccination at least a week before we do that.

On my way back along the lane I noticed this spider, seemingly hanging in the air beside the track: its web must have been quite large, from the trees above to the top fence-wire. It was a reasonably large orb-web spider, probably an inch long including its legs.

Zella's calf

While Stephan walked the other mob in to the yards, I shot out to the Bush Flat to have a look at Zoom's calf, 950, who'd been slow like 921. I think he might be affected by Theileria too.

We put the 14 calves through the yards, gave them all their vaccine and weighed them. When they were standing in the race, I leant over and checked the colour of the heifers' vulvae, to make sure nobody else was obviously anaemic. They all seemed ok.

When we were finished we went back to Elizabeth's for Christmas Day dinner, turkey and all the trimmings. More utter deliciousness. We are very fortunate!

We returned home by 5.30, and I could see little 921 was lying flat; I didn't go out to disturb her, hoping she was just sleeping.

I kept checking, then saw her get up and sit down again a couple of times. She wasn't feeding.

At 6.30 I gave her an electrolyte mix. I was going to feed it to her in a bottle with a teat but she was a bit too lively and moved away; so I poured it into a Topmilk bin and held that for her so she could drink it down. Then she took about another two litres of water I brought over to the bin. That's hopeful.

calves running around Mushroom 3

I moved the cows and calves from the Bush Flat to Mushroom 3 and counted 11 of the 13 racing around the paddock. 926 wasn't joining in but was looking lively enough. Zoom's calf was standing with his mother, with his head extended like 921 was the other day.

hot cows

There was some excited activity between a couple of the cows, 773 and 746, on heat for the first time since calving. That's always good to see.

smoke from the Kaimauamau wetlands fire

During the afternoon at Elizabeth's, which is just over the other side of the Herekino Range and that big maunga (hill/mountain), Taumatamahoe, we'd begun to smell smoke again and it was obvious in the air as we drove home. By this evening it was quite thick.

I breathe it in deeply, knowing that may be as close as I'll now ever come to experiencing all those lovely orchids that have been incinerated in the Kaimaumau wetlands.

Sunday the 26th
Boxing Day
Stephan tidying the pond

Getting ready for the (small) Boxing Day gathering by the pond, Stephan had adopted some different technology to manage the pond weed.

I bought some new tech of my own, the new camera, reduced by $500 since I looked the other day. I'm very glad I thought to wait.

Stephan tidying the pond

What comment could I possibly make about someone who uses a mains-powered machine at the edge of a body of water?

sick calf 921 having a drink

I took the calf some more fluids, since that's all I could do for her.

She's weak enough to let me approach her if I do it slowly and carefully.

children having fun in and by the pond

The children, as usual, had a lovely time in the pond - or actually as in this photo, two in a boat not even in the water.

Maihi has to wear a swimming cap to keep his ear-plugs in. And anyone who can't swim yet wears some kind of floatation jacket.

Zoom's calf looking unwell

Zoom's 950 isn't looking any worse but he's definitely unwell.

I had to take some small passengers out with me to check on the cattle in the early evening or there'd have been tears.

Wana-i-Rangi watching Zella being milked

Wana-i-Rangi was very keen to see Zella being milked.

I never wanted children of my own but I have always enjoyed their presence and watching these children grow up has been a delight over the last few years.

Monday the 27th
sick calf 921

I woke very early, so took the sick calf some more fluids at 6am. She looks terrible but at least she's still alive. Every night I think I'll find her dead in the morning. I'm not sleeping very well.

Al really likes roses

I have discovered that Al is very fond of roses, to eat. Lucky for him there are lots of them in the garden at the moment, so I regularly pick him one or two as a special treat.

Here he was making sure he found every petal. He has a very good nose.

sick calf 921

Little sick 921, sitting where she always sits now. Fortunately it's a spot I can see from the back door, so I have a sense of how often she's getting up and down.

That she can still stand and turn herself around surprises me, having been days without food. She's very wobbly when preparing to sit down again though, partly flopping to the ground once she's half-way down.

We brought the yearling and two-year-old heifers in to the yards to give them a copper shot, weigh them, decide who would join the breeding herd.

My selections in the early days were primarily for animals who grew well and produced calves that grew well. Then I concentrated on foot problems, which seemed to be relatively easy to breed out of the herd, then udder problems, which were less easy to fix and gradually I started to pay specific attention to temperament. That's been an interesting one: some of my cattle are quiet and strokeable in the paddock but troublesome in the yards, and vice versa. I like those that are quiet in both settings, although I'm aware some of our cattle are now too quiet so that getting them to move where and when we want is becoming a problem of its own.

I've long watched beautiful 900's development and always like looking at her but she's nervous and her mother has caused us trouble each time she's calved, so she's 'out'.

Imogen 195 is not quite as good as I'd hoped and bearing in mind how some of those Chisum progeny have turned out, I decided I would not breed her.

893 is a heifer I'd had high hopes for on the basis of her pedigree (I've always liked her mother and that whole family) but she's difficult to handle and nervous in the paddock.

taking the heifers across the road

As I'm looking to moderate the herd number this year, I decided tougher decisions than usual were necessary. Ordinarily I might have bred those heifers and seen how they turned out but not this year. I have concerns about climate, Covid and my own energy levels. We've already had to wait more than a month for a works space for the three big cattle. If you can't get cattle away, you can't keep breeding more of them!

With the heifers were the two cows who didn't get in calf last year, 723 and Imogen 155, so we drafted them away from the yearlings and in with 889 and 885, the two heifers I decided we will breed and the others went back across the road.

I took sick 921 more water with salt and sugar in it, since I've currently no more electrolyte mixes in the vet cupboard. Then I went and cut her some nutritious and delicious-looking grass and clover and since she wasn't strong enough to do anything with it herself, I pushed some into her mouth to the back of her tongue and she began chewing it. I thought it might remind her that she's a ruminant and will need to eat if she's not to die.

Then, thinking that if she doesn't get a bit more nutrition very soon she really will die, I brought her some milk and managed to get some of it into her with a bottle and teat. She really needs some energy.

Stephan mowing the Pig paddock

Having broken the new(er) slasher the other day (one of the blades is seriously bent and the bolts sheared off) Stephan mowed the Pig paddock today with the old slasher. It doesn't do quite as nice a job but the white flowers and their hard stalks are gone and that was the desired outcome.

Then he went out to the Middle Back to mow some of the dead sedge and broke this one too! The bolts that hold the blades onto the central plate are all a bit worn.

Tuesday the 28th
a tarweed plant in 5c

I walked up Flat 5c to check the mob of 13 cows and their calves and spotted this large, seeding Tarweed. I wasn't carrying a bag and didn't want to accidentally drop seed all the way back to the gate so left it, meaning to come back to it later. I made a careful note of where it was in the paddock but this was the last I saw of it. I suspect someone ate it, so that will do an even better job of dispersing the seed all over the farm! Marvellous.

cows, calves and a bull behind a gate

I shifted those cows and calves down through 5b into Flat 4 for some shade. I made sure little 950 made it down to the shade under the big trees. (The cows all drifted back to the other two paddocks later, since they'd not finished grazing there.)

feeding a sick calf

This is how I've been feeding the sick calf, since she was unable or unwilling to suck a proper teat: it's an old softpac for the copper injections, washed out and I cut the tube to be about the same length as a teat would be in her mouth. Then I was able to squeeze the milk into her mouth as slowly or quickly as was sensible so that she could swallow it and not inhale it.

This morning she seemed to be licking my fingers looking for more whenever I withdrew it from her mouth.

a sick calf

This is all having an unpleasant effect on her digestion: she started the weekend with firm, grass-digestion faeces and now she's exploding with aerated milky stuff. Not enough grass! Hopefully that's all it indicates. I keep trying to move or cover smelly piles of muck so she doesn't have to lie in them.

She looks terrible. I still think she'll die.

the sick calf's flesh colour

This is the colour of her vulval tissue: pale cream. This should be a deep pink. She has so little blood that it's not being sent out here. (Vulval tissue colour is far easier and less upsetting to check than gum or eyelid colour.)

I worried in the first days that feeding her anything might cause problems if she had so little blood her digestion wouldn't work, or digestion might put too much load on her system so she might die. Now I think she'll die anyway if she doesn't eat something.

more smoke in the air

Another lot of smoke drifted through this afternoon.

On many days the smoke from Kaimaumau could be seen on the satellite visible-cloud pictures, so we could also see when it was being turned back here by changes in wind direction. On the worst fire days, the smoke showed up on the rain radar!

the sick calf

Standing-up time for a little while. I felt that 921 was a little better this afternoon, watched her swallow quite a bit of water after some milk; but her breathing is laboured and she still looks so ill. There are so many flies buzzing around and landing on her.

Getting up and down is crucial for a bovid (that's a word I found last year and noted it down for use for a single bovine animal) because they're heavy, and lying on their own muscles for long periods without relief causes damage. Even this little calf weighs 100kg, or did on the 17th.

Wednesday the 29th
sick 921

Still alive.

She took about 500mls of milk without much enthusiasm at first but was licking at my fingers by the end. I think her eyes look less sunken today and her breathing was slightly less laboured.

I decided to take regular pictures of her because retrospective consideration is often useful. I couldn't see that she looked terribly dehydrated but perhaps I might later.

another voluntary victim in the head-bail

Stephan's brother, Edwin, brought their three grandsons to visit and I was delighted to see Sue get out of the car too. I haven't seen her for a long time.

Here's Jonathan, another victim of our wicked head-bail trap, which nearly everyone who visits the yards seems oddly willing to try out.

The boys and Edwin went out with Stephan to try and find the bits of slasher blade and bolts that had flung out into the Middle Back paddock somewhere. Sue and I sat comfortably under the grape vine and had a lovely catch-up.

Fancy 126 in the bull's paddock

After they all left, we went out together (romantic eh?) and I could see across the flats that there was something odd about the Flat 3 gate! I could also see the bull sitting down and feared it was he who'd caused the gate-crumpling and that he'd hurt himself.

But as we came along the lane I could see he wasn't alone as he'd been earlier in the day: Fancy 126 had obviously fancied a bit of what he had to offer, so helped herself!

Fancy's injured foot

And she'd hurt her left hind foot in the process, presumably catching it in the gate on her way over. It looks like she ripped her inside toe.

(I checked her often over the next few days but she never limped or showed any sign that it bothered her, so fortunately nothing more came of that injury.)

the badly injured gate

She made a real mess of the gate, now all buckled and seriously bent along the top. I hope it was worth it!

I should have put an electric tape around the gate to stop either animal doing this. Mating is about to begin anyway; now we have a start date.

sick 921

I fed 921 when the visitors were here and again this evening and she seemed more depressed than I thought she would be - I thought some food might perk her up a bit - so I decided it would be sensible to medicate again, and gave her a shot of antibiotic. With her immune system under severe stress or barely working, she was likely to catch any other illness in the environment around her. Nearly every day has felt like life or death, she could go either way.

Then she drank 13 swallows of water, which was more hopeful.

milking 811 again

We tossed up whether or not to milk 811 again. I don't want to spur her into carrying on producing milk if her calf is going to die but if the calf doesn't die, I don't want her mother to have stopped producing milk. So we milked her, just in case.

Thursday the 30th
sick 921

How can you look this bad and not be dead?

She drank some sugary/salty water again this morning but didn't want any milk. Then she seemed to be standing more often than yesterday. Perhaps the medicine helped to some degree.

Zoom's calf, 950, was looking very unhappy last evening but this afternoon I watched him try to mount one of the cows who was lying nearby. That looks like lively behaviour to me and a positive indication that he's feeling a bit better, although he was still extending his neck in the same way as sick 921.

jars of blackberry jelly

Stephan bought some Granny Smith apples and with the frozen blackberries in the freezer from last year, made a big pot of blackberry jelly.

Later in the afternoon we got the 13-pair mob in for their 7-in-1 vaccinations. We drafted Zoom and her calf out into the House paddock with sick 921 and her mother, thinking 950 may not be in healthy-enough condition for the vaccine to do him much good at the moment; let's wait until his immune system isn't already under so much stress.

bull 200 and Endberly

Then I drafted the cattle in several different directions for mating, according to the plan I'd made earlier. My plan was mostly to assign each cow to the bull who was least closely related to her.

Here was bull 200, coming out to join a group of cows going up the lane, including Endberly, who always gives those little trees a beating, whenever she comes past them. I wonder what they ever did to her?

We were late finishing putting the cattle where I wanted them so I didn't get out to the sick calf before dark. At 10pm I took her some of the commercial electrolyte mix I'd purchased earlier in the day and Sandi had kindly brought home from the vet in town. I don't think the calf liked my torch light very much and only drank about a third of the two-litre mix, then stood up and walked out into the paddock near her mother. Interesting.

Friday the 31st of December, 2021
New Year's Eve
bull 189 and his cow mob

I decided to use the bulls rather than insemination this year because the summer has already been crazily hot and it's often difficult to detect cow heats when they don't feel like doing much in the heat of the day - which is all day at the moment. It looked like the bulls were quite happy with that decision.

Here's 189, following 775, just checking.

sick 921

This morning I'd given the calf the rest of the electrolyte mix she didn't drink last night, then a little milk. Then I took her some water in the middle of the day.

When I approached her she looked dead, then I saw she was twitching, her eyes a little open as she dreamed, a very normal kind of activity for a calf. I haven't seen her do that while she's been so ill.

Zoom's calf

950 was looking quite feeble before noon, not putting much energy into having a feed. He doesn't look too bad here though.

lots of pond fun

Three lots of nieces and nephews with children came for swimming and barbecuing and had a lovely time in and around the pond.

Evie and Alfie on the tractor

Evelyn and Alfie on the tractor.

Evelyn going with Stephan to see the littlest calf

Evie going with Stephan to see the littlest calf.

sick 921

At 4pm I took two litres of electrolyte mix out to 921 and when she'd finished it she got up and walked out into the paddock! Then over to the tree roots in the picture where she licked at the soil and then began eating bits of fibrous dry grass.

Perhaps I should have been bringing her dry horrible grass, rather than green nutritious pasture. You can see what it did to her digestion!

sick 921 feeding!

Then an hour later I saw this!

She lives! She feeds!

The funny way she was standing was because she was collapsing a bit on her hind legs, having become so weak. Now I'm very glad we milked her mother to keep her producing. This was astonishing and I cried with relief.

She'd been a week without a proper feed and yet here she was, up and moving around and hungry again. I'm so glad I persisted during those hopeless-looking days. The fluids were what kept her alive while her body rebuilt its blood supply.

bull 189 controlling his cows

Bull 189 wasn't letting anyone through the gate from Flat 3 to 2 this evening. Eventually one of the cows made a run for it and outran him through the gate, so he gave up and came through himself, followed by everyone else.

I hate it when they herd the cows. They'll keep them in stupid places, out in the hot sun, or far from a trough and they'll chase down anyone who dares to try and escape. I'm always surprised by how effectively they control the cows - even a yearling bull has real influence over even the most senior cows. It seems to happen only when they sense that one of the cows is coming on heat, which makes sense. I still wish they wouldn't.

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