The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 2nd of October 2021.

A couple of people have commented that I'm not running the calving date competition this year. But last time I ran it I received so few entries I had to prod everyone else to participate. Sales and promotion aren't my thing, so I don't want to have to do that. Besides, I couldn't think who might be the best subject for the competition. I loved the extra interaction the competition provided when I managed to interest lots of people in the event, so it was a fun thing to do. Maybe again some day.

Since I therefore have nothing to hide this year, the calving date prediction sheet is available here and I will put a link to it at the bottom of each page for the rest of calving.

Saturday the 2nd

Stephan went off on a little trip of his own this morning, down to Jack's Bay near Russell, to see his younger brother, Edwin and Sue. I urged him to go now, since he has no cow to milk (Zella is now resting her udder for a few weeks) and I think the first calf won't arrive for a day or two.

I spent my day talking first with Sandi next door, with whom I've not caught up for a little while, and in the afternoon, with my aunt, Colleen, in Petone. She tells me the most interesting things about the family, things I couldn't otherwise have discovered, so I'm very glad I've rediscovered her.

The day was warm and sunny, lovely. The grass is growing but, as is usual at this time of year, not as fast as I'd like for the increasing needs of my pregnant cows.

cows

Zella has been on restricted feed since we stopped milking her several days ago - later than usual because she won't calve until nearly Christmas time.

Glia is well-resourced enough to cope with a little less feed, as long as I take care not to throw her into a metabolic crisis this late in her pregnancy.

According to my calculations, Glia is due on or around the 11th.

I moved Zella and Glia into Flat 3 so I could take the yearling heifers across Flat 4 and the stream to the Road Flat. It took ages and for many minutes during the process I didn't think I was going to achieve my aim. They haven't been down into the stream and across many times and are still obviously uncertain about it. But gradually they moved down and then after all standing in the stream for several more minutes, someone went up the other side to the paddock and, eventually, the others all followed.

Moving unwilling cattle isn't quite as hard as herding cats but it's not far off: they're big and fast and if they really want to turn and go back past you, they will. I always have to judge how much pressure (arm waving and a bit of "go-go-go"ing) to put on them and when to give them a little room to see where I'm trying to make them go.

cows

Here are my earliest-expected cows in 5b: Gertrude 162, Fancy 166, 183, 745 and 773. I pulled them together from two mobs on the 22nd of last month.

spring

This is like some kind of nature park: Pūkeko, Pūtangitangi and Poaka.

It's obviously not a conservation reserve sort of place, with a pig in residence! Destructive monster. He's making holes all over the House paddock and I'm forgiving him, for the time being. We've increased his daily quantity of feed nuts in the hope he'll not feel quite the drive to dig up his own food.

Sunday the 3rd

I went next door this morning to assist with the mutilation of some extremely cute little lambs: Sandi is rearing two orphans and they needed rings on their tails. Well of course the sheep themselves didn't have an immediate need for such pain but the adjudged future need requires that they be done now, while they're little.

bulls

I moved the bulls off the flats a few days ago, to free those paddocks up for the pregnant cows. Today I moved bulls 200, 201 and 203 from Swamp East Right to Left, through the little connecting alleyway. It's still very soft underfoot.

native orchids

Beside the track adjacent to Mushroom 1, the big orchid cluster on a low branch of one of the Pūriri is just beginning to bloom.

Many colonies of these orchids succumbed to the drought last year, even in quite shady areas. But these are growing on a low branch of the remnants of a big Pūriri beside the track alongside Mushroom 1 and with the stream on one side and growing near the ground in a low point where water often flows and collects when it rains, they've continued to do well.

Monday the 4th
cows

There was a heavy rain warning for last night, so I'd moved the five cows earlier seen in 5b, and Zella and Glia, to the bottom end of Flats 2 & 3 respectively. I wanted them to have some shelter under the big trees, since it was also very windy.

There wasn't as much rain here as forecast and I tipped only 23mm out of the gauge this morning.

Tuesday the 5th

I got up when it got light, this morning, because I was already awake. I am not in a fantastically fit state ready for calving, having been suffering broken sleep over the last few nights. Hot flushes are very disturbing and if they happen every hour, they interrupt every 90-minute sleep cycle. Then I discovered I may have been incubating a urinary infection, one of those horrible disorders that sneaks up without being very obvious for a while and then knocks you sideways.

So I have addressed both issues: pharmacies can provide a course of antibiotic for simple UTI infections and I've recommenced sticking oestrogen patches to my body. A few hours after taking the first antibiotic pill I began to feel vastly better; the oestrogen will take a little longer.

In Flat 1, I found 860 had a bag of fluid hanging from her rear, then I saw the toes of one foot and soon after, when she lay down, the other foot was visible. I left her to quietly continue while I checked the cows in Flat 2.

milk

I think this was where Fancy 166 had just been lying.

I'm expecting her to calve around the 12th but her udder is already getting tighter by the day and, obviously, leaking under pressure.

cows

Harriet 860 got on and pushed out her second daughter within the next half hour. The calf has an unfamiliar face - I mean that so often the calves look very much like each other each year, having so many relatives in common, but this one's nose was quite straight, as was the hair on her face, radiating from a central point. Usually there is a whorl.

cow and calf

Up and fed by lunchtime.

calf

And now she looked quite different from earlier on. It is almost as if her face had changed shape, which I suppose is possible. I had the impression her nose was straighter, her hair not as smooth, which gave her quite a different appearance.

Being born is a pretty squeezy process and human babies are sometimes born with their unfused skull bones still deranged, why not calves too?

farm

Going out to dish out the molasses this afternoon I noticed the strip of brightly-lit grass behind the Pines. I have noticed it occasionally but it looks a bit like there's more of a gap there now, a tree missing perhaps?

That hill will look quite different if we ever get all the Pines off it.

Wednesday the 6th

Fancy 166 had a bouncing heifer calf with her under the trees at the bottom of Flat 2 this morning, already fed. I didn't go too near, since they both looked a bit nervous. This is day 273 of her gestation, which is earlier than she's been before. Her shortest gestation before this was 279 days.

trees

On Monday our arborist friend, Roger, came to look at the leaning tree over the crossing to the Tank paddock and emailed this morning, after having considered some pictures he'd taken and discussed it with his arborist son. He thinks he can safely cut it down, rather than us having to wait until it falls down, possibly hurting someone or something in the process; there doesn't seem to be much holding it up.

Stephan and I went for another look at the branches it will probably hit as it comes down, on this tree on the other side of the stream and track. It also leans but it has a great deal more of the world beneath it to keep it upright.

ducks

Two ducks making tracks through the weed on our pond. I'd earlier assumed the plants to be the native Azolla rubra but I fear it is more likely Azolla pinnata, an introduced species.

These ducks turn up every spring.

cow and calf

Cute mother-baby interactions: Harriet 860 and her daughter.

cow and calf

Fancy's daughter had moved herself, or her mother had led her away from the shaded mud under the trees to a drier, better place to sleep.

cow and calf

By the end of the day, Fancy had gone up the paddock to eat and I was able to take some closer photos when she came to have her molasses.

view

That splash of white in the trees is a Clematis vine we've seen flower for several years. This year it has been very striking, a solid bright patch against the dark green.

As I walked into the Tank paddock with the four cows' molasses this evening, I noted what has again become my very welcome and comforting accompaniment: the honk and squawk of a pair of Pūtangitangi. There are several pairs around the farm again, after a couple of years of population depletion due to the local Council's uncontrolled Botulism bloom in the sewage treatment ponds, where many of the birds go for the summer moult and have recently died.

This morning, grey 812 was harassing Harriet 860's calf, so I whipped the electric tape around between them, letting 860 graze the top of the paddock, leaving 812 with 865 in the bottom section. All day long 812 intently watched the calf and I watched 812, knowing she must be about to begin her labour.

When I went out to check at 9pm, all three cows were back in the bottom half of the paddock, 860 was bellowing with distress toward the stream and I couldn't see the calf until I got halfway across the paddock, sitting under the fence on the riverbank, beyond the other electric tape I'd erected to stop any of the cows calving on the slope or near the drain or river fences.

Again I drafted 860 into her own area, so she could be near her calf and I just had to hope the calf hadn't been injured by whatever mad scramble had gone on out here in the dark. I suspect the calf went for a run around the paddock, under the tape, then 812's intense attention frightened her into running away from, instead of back to her mother. 860 must have run over the tape, bending some of the standards holding it up.

I managed to coax 812 across to the gate out of the paddock and then led her up the lane, trying to decide what I'd do with her. I took her up to Flat 5a, where she'd be not too far from the cows in Flat 2, and left her to settle down.

183, in the top half of Flat 2 was grazing and wandered up toward the trough.

When I checked at 11.15, 812 had a membrane bag out. I went home for a cup of tea. I was concerned about her because she's become more and more lame as her body weight has increased and I'm not sure this will all end well.

Thursday the 7th

At 12.35am I could see two feet presenting and 812 lay down to push but then wouldn't do any more while I watched, so, having heard a little moo somewhere, I walked down Flat 2 to see if anything was happening there.

As I shone the torch across the paddock, I could see a pair of shining eyes (they reflect bright white back at torch-light) just behind 183, who was sitting quietly on the ground. I thought, what's 166's calf doing there? Then I saw 166's calf sitting next to 166.

The little calf sitting behind 183 had just been born and was sopping wet and shivering. 183 seemed entirely unaware of the calf and I wondered if she was alright? The calf was ok, starting to attempt getting up and I stood back to watch for a minute. 183 reached back to lick up some fluids from the ground, and her recognition of that fluid indicated that she must have been actively involved in the birth of the calf at some point. Eventually, when there was some snuffling exertion from behind her, she stood and turned, licked up some more fluid and walked hesitantly toward the calf. Then of course the fuss began.

183 is one of my first-time three-year-olds and they often make a lot of noise about their calves. Since 183 was alone in this part of the paddock, she wasn't going to have a lot of other concerned cows arriving to confuse things, so I decided the best thing to do was walk away with my confusing torch-light and let her get on with things.

By 1am 812 wasn't looking any different and after half an hour standing in the bitter cold (it had been under five degrees when I came out) I realised she wasn't going to do much while I was there, so I went home to thaw out and to sleep.

cow and calf

7am and all's well: 812 has produced a grey heifer, has a shiny rear teat which may indicate the calf has fed. That quarter does seem a little less engorged than the rest of her udder, but still feels very full.

cow and calf

183 had sorted herself out and her little calf was quietly feeding. Nice.

cow and calf

Interestingly 812's daughter has normal-looking hair. Usually these hypotrichosis calves are, like 812 herself, born fuzzy and charcoal-coloured.

The only other straight-haired calf we've had from one of the grey cows was 812's sister Endberly's first daughter.

Here is a moment in writing this website that demonstrates its ongoing value to me: I had completely forgotten that 812 and Endberly were sisters! That they've both had straight-haired calves is very interesting. I'll have to think hard about what this might mean genetically. I gave it quite a lot of thought when the silver calf was born but without another instance of straight hair in a grey calf, I couldn't really draw any conclusions.

cow and calf

The calf is very much the same colour as her mother's adult hair.

farm

It's fun to see the tiny black cattle appearing across the flats.

cows

811 and 775 have been separate since I gave the rest of the cow mob a copper injection on the 18th. Both cows had sore front feet and I drafted them into Mushroom 1 as the mob went past, so they could take things easy for a couple of days before receiving their injection too.

Since they were here on their own, I've been including them in the Magnesium and molasses rounds each evening.

cows

Six of the younger cows, including a couple of first-time three-year-old heifers, are out in the Spring and seem quite content.

bull

Andrew and 189 are in the nearby Swamp paddock.

I congratulated 189 on becoming a dad (to little grey calf); he snorted and growled at me.

It rained all afternoon so we both rested; I read my book, a wonderful title I discovered a few months ago when wanting to use the about-to-expire balance on a Women's Bookshop voucher the Women's Studies organising committee had earlier given me. It is The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, a fiction based around the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and the other critical events of the time. When I first read a short excerpt from it, I knew I wanted to hold the real book and enjoy it all and I've been anticipating doing that since it arrived in the mail. It has not disappointed.

cow and calf

When I'm not certain about a calf having fed, it's such a relief to see this.

calf

I'm always entertained watching little calves, particularly the way they hold their tails straight up behind them whenever they run around.

Being black against the green as they streak across the paddocks, makes them highly visible, from any distance across the flats.

Friday the 8th
sky

Without that fluffy white cloud's appearance behind the trees early this morning, I would have found it difficult to see that the sky was blue, rather than a dull, cloudy grey. But the promise of a fine day didn't last, light drizzle falling by the time I walked back from my first paddock check at 7am.

183's calf is quite brown and very calm, so I crouched and stroked her for a few minutes on my rounds. The equivalent of stopping to smell the roses.

At 8.40 there was a loud moo from Flat 2: Gertrude 162 had begun her labour and was agitatedly stalking around the paddock, looking intently at things I couldn't see, even when I looked where she was looking. I walked over and gave her some molasses and Magnesium, hoping it might help her.

The weather has been inconvenient, although the precipitation has mostly been light, not drenching, which would be even more unpleasant.

farm

But we could hardly complain when we saw we had our own private rainbow, not shared with anyone else, just us, just in Flat 1.

pus

Having seen the veterinary technician give most of my cows their 7in1 vaccinations in their caudal folds (beside the tail) a few years ago, I decided to opt for that site for Glia when she and Zella were a bit upset about being in the yards for their recent injections. Glia barely flinched when I did it but as is common with those vaccinations, an abscess has formed at the injection site. This morning I noticed it had begun leaking pus, so I gave it a little assistance.

I've met people who have an odd fascination with squeezing pimples and I can only imagine what delight they'd find in this. There was quite a lot in there, of varying consistency! I hope you weren't eating lunch.

Squeezing the abscess doesn't seem to annoy Glia at all while I'm doing it.

Imagine if we all got abscesses like this from a Covid-19 vaccination! Then the hesitant would have something real to worry them. Remember BCG's nasty messes on our arms? I still have that scar, as do most of us. My Smallpox vaccination, only necessary because I travelled overseas in 1977, left barely a mark, although from memory it's abscess was worse. I had a mildly sore arm from the first Pfizer vaccination shot and barely noticeable discomfort after the second.

cow and calf

At 9.55 Gertrude 162 had a membrane bag out, and then through binoculars I could see the white covers of two hooves from the house, so I continued watching from the kitchen.

The calf was born at 10.08, nice and fast, fell without landing on her own head, so I carried on doing my own thing and left Gertrude and her daughter to theirs.

The calf was up on her feet by 10.30, was probably completely deaf by then, thanks to her mother's bellowing in her ears whenever she moved. I wonder if everyone's cows do this or have I bred a herd of weirdos?

The next time I looked out they'd moved up the paddock and were looking alarmed: there was a hawk swooping low over some Pūkeko. The cows appear to have a natural fear of big birds of prey when they have little calves.

I went over to discourage whatever the hawk was doing and try to find what was attracting it but saw nothing obvious.

Gertrude sat down with her daughter and continued bellowing but then quite suddenly settled down.

tree pruning

Stephan took the pruning chainsaw-on-a-pole down to the Tank stream crossing and pruned several branches of one of the Pūriri.

He fed some of the leafy branches to the four cows in the Tank paddock, then loaded the tractor bucket with a lot of the rest to take away to some others.

fungi

There were all sorts of other things growing on the branches, including many of these tiny fungi on the undersides.

heifer

Having forgotten to go and shut the yearling heifers in the paddock I'd sent them to, they'd come back down the lanes as far as they could and were sitting at the corner of the Windmill paddock - at least ten of them were. As I pushed them back along the lane, I noted all their numbers until I worked out who was missing: 909.

As we proceeded out toward the PW I heard a yell from somewhere ahead and to the left, from the hillside in the Pines, perhaps, so at least I knew 909 was safely upright.

When I'd shut the others in, Stephan and I went to find out where 909 was and I discovered her just up the hill from the first gate into the Pines paddock. She ran down and out the gate, then along the lane and into the PW to rejoin the others. She must have come through the section of horizontal fence between the PW and Pines, then the others had come out of the PW and down the lanes and she was left on her own.

We let the cows out of the Big Back South to wander down the lanes ready to draft a few of them out of the mob, then walked through the Bush Flat reserve for a while.

native orchid

I went to look where I've seen a number of tiny orchids growing and found this beauty, so tiny I couldn't see it was actually in bloom from a standing position, but the leaf markings are distinctive, so I knew what I was looking for.

I've not seen these this far along the Bush Hill reserve before but there are many here this year under the Kanuka and Kahikatea.

native orchid

This is one of those I thought I might find, already finished flowering and now developing the ovary of seeds.

native orchids

Here are those shown on Tuesday, now in full bloom.

native orchids

They're pretty little things but unless I take glasses with me, I have to wait until I get home to the computer to see them in detail.

cows

At the top of the flats we drafted Endberly, Gina 142, Fancy 126 and 792 out of the cow mob and into Flat 5d.

The others went back out to the Blackberry paddock.

cows

Then we moved the four out of the Tank paddock, along with their molasses bins. Zoom, Dushi, Fancy 191 and 874 all went along the lane and up to the top end of the Windmill.

I want to graze them at that end where the stream runs along the edge, so that by the time they start calving, they're down the safer end.

cow

When I spread out the bins this evening I remembered that 792 has never wanted Molasses. Funny cow. Everyone else loves it after they've tried it a few times but 792 has never picked up the habit.

She's looking a bit thin. Obvious weight loss now is from decisions or difficulties finding enough feed four to six weeks ago. All I can do now is keep feeding them as well as possible and hope the weather warms up.

The 2021 calving date prediction sheet is available here.
 

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