According to my notebook, the day began showery and cold. I gave myself a moment of panic when inspecting the rear of Gina 142, where there was a little blood and I thought she'd begun labour and there was a problem. But after watching her for a few minutes and as the light increased, I saw that all was well, the bloody mucous wasn't, was just dark stained and the actual blood drip I'd seen on her leg must have come from a squashed tick.
I shuffled cows around a little, moving Zella and Glia from Flat 3 to Flat 2, where there's not a lot of grass, but enough for two cows, especially when one of them is obese and the other not due to calve for two months. Glia's abscess has dried up; no more entertainment there.
I couldn't resist a picture like this.
Walking up the Windmill to check Zoom and the others, Zoom adopted the threat position. See those wrinkles down the side of her face, not usually there when she's relaxed. I would not approach a cow I didn't know, who was doing this! Zoom, and the others in the herd who do it, relax as soon as I get nearer.
There are other behaviours in the cows that I find far more threatening, and from which I quickly and quietly back off, all associated with calving, when they can be very unpredictable.
The eleven yearlings in the PW. They're easy to check when they're sitting around like this. (I can only count ten in the picture, but they were all there.)
We went out and brought the six young pregnant cows forward from the Back Barn, put the two closest to calving in the top of the House paddock, the other four into the Tank. Then moved Zoom and her companions (Dushi, 191 and 874) from the top of the Windmill to the bottom, away from direct proximity to the stream banks.
I let the five cows from the Frog paddock wander along to Flat 4 and as they made their way along the lane, the mischievous calves ran around and around, under the fences out of Flat 5, through the cows and back to their mothers again.
Fancy 166's daughter was sired by the big quiet bull, Chisum, and is delicious to stroke, all soft and supple because she's been born with an ample layer of fat under her skin. She's also incredibly calm, which is how we have known the pleasure of stroking her.
Stephan had come out to help me with the magnesium round again so I could get back in time to attend Zoom class at 6pm.
While I did that, he went back out to the Pines paddock to fix the area of horizontal fence between the PW and Pines because heifer 909 was in the Pines on her own again.
At 9.15 I went out to check the cows, finding Gina 142 in labour in Flat 5d. I went for a walk across the flats to check the others, 773 and Glia being due to calve. When I came back to Gina she was licking fluid from the ground, so I stayed for a while. A quarter of an hour later Endberly mooed, also in early labour, in the same paddock but she'd fortunately moved away from Gina a little.
I went home, came back again in an hour, saw Gina with a membrane bag out and Endberly mooing and pacing around.
From home at 11.27 I heard loud bellowing and when I got out there, Gina and Endberly were licking Gina's daughter.
I'd donned an extra layer of clothing before coming out, it being only 5°C but it wasn't really enough by the time I'd stood around for the next hour and a half!
Endberly remained far too interested in Gina's calf for my liking but there wasn't much I could do about that, in the dark on my own.
At 12.40am I could see two feet in the membrane bag at her rear, so that looked ok, and the head came out and that too was ok but then she seemed a bit stuck and Gina was trying to lick the calf as it was emerging and I had to shoo her out of the way and then Endberly got up. I ended up hauling on the calf's legs to help Endberly get it out: it seemed to have a very big chest. I remembered her huge first calf.
All was well but I'm glad I was there because I think that calf was a bit stuck at the chest. The heifer calf is fuzzy, like her mother.
When I went back out before 7am, the temperature had dropped to 3°C. What happened to Spring?
Gina and Endberly appeared to have correctly sorted themselves out and it looked very much like Gina's calf was feeding.
Endberly was eating her afterbirth.
From the house I'd seen Fancy 191 in labour and then the white of two feet, so Stephan and I went out to check on her and sat and watched her calving, which she did with ease.
As soon as she got up and made the usual bellow at her new calf, the others came to see.
Endberly's daughter, with the characteristic fuzziness of the hypotrichosis defect. I think it makes them look very sweet and is of no particular concern here, in a mild climate and in any case the defect in my cattle does not cause baldness beyond their first year, so they don't get any colder than the others, I think.
The two cows, Gina and Endberly, now seemed less certain about who was whose calf. Both cows looked like at least one teat had been suckled, so I presumed this calf had fed from one or other of them.
I decided not to worry about the calves being with the right mothers since both are very capable of rearing a good calf and it's very easy to tell the two apart.
Stephan hadn't been able to put 909 back with the others before he fixed the fence last evening, so we were pleased to find her near enough to the gate this morning to pop her back into the PW with the rest of her mob.
At midday I went out for a check around, saw this calf lying flat and thought she looked as though she'd died. Her eye looks hollow. I have to talk myself through these horrible moments.
But she wasn't dead, as I could see as I got closer and looked through the binoculars. The dead-eye was simply a shadow effect of her eyelashes; but it had given me quite a fright.
191 had expelled her afterbirth while lying there in the sunshine.
At a quarter to five I saw this reassuring sight, indicating that Gina's calf has fed successfully, although I'm not convinced it was only from her own mother.
An hour later when I went with Stephan to move Endberly, Gina and their calves to the Windmill paddock for better feed, I noticed Endberly's daughter wandering around aimlessly, calling hungrily. It is a noise I rarely hear here, but one I recognise from August each year, when the dairy farm nearby begins calving. The calves there spend most of their first days calling with the same heartbreakingly hopeless tone as my hungry calf today. I'd always thought of it being a call of separation but actually it may well be constant hunger. Dairy calves are reared on as little milk as possible; you'd not want to take much of that money-earning liquid gold out of the vat and feed it to calves! It's short-sighted, cruel. The animals appear to grow up and mature into functional cows but how much better might they be with proper feeding when babies?
I digress, as usual: we went home, got a container of Zella's frozen colostrum out of the freezer and I came back and fed the calf.
After 171 and 186 in the House paddock had finished with their molasses, we watched Al investigating the bins, then saw that he'd obviously discovered something very much to his taste.
I think we'll have to start restricting him to his pen during calving because even though the cows appear quite relaxed about him at the moment, I doubt they'll be as calm if he's near their new calves.
We took molasses to the four in the Tank and as is quite usual with young cows, had to provide "room service". It's all part of teaching them the useful addiction to molasses. Taking a bin to a timid cow also gives her a bit of extra time to eat a good amount of it before one of the more senior cows comes and shoves her out of the way.
During my late check I had another look at Endberly's calf who did not appear to have begun feeding on her own. She was shivering and the night was cold, so I went home and warmed up another lot of colostrum and fought with her in the paddock to get her to drink it: a hungry calf forgets all it only knows by instinct until it is reminded. By the time I'd managed to get a third of the milk into the calf, she'd realised the good of it and sucked the rest down with enthusiasm. Then she had the energy and renewed enthusiasm for trying her mother again.
Three degrees this morning. These cold nights will not promote good grass growth.
I came out at 7.15 and found 773 in labour, two feet already emerging, so I stopped and watched through my binoculars.
When the steaming calf was born a couple of minutes later, 792 came over to have a look.
Further down the paddock I could see Fancy 126 feeding her newborn calf.
At the top of the Windmill Endberly's calf was looking much happier, bouncing around the cows.
I still didn't think she'd fed though, just felt better from the milk I'd given her.
After a cup of coffee, we both went out and set up a tape across the Windmill, then herded the two cows and their calves in to the yards.
I know I should have culled Gina after last year's udder disaster and I'll have to go back to figure out why I didn't: I think I simply wasn't ready to give up on her, since in the end she'd raised a beautiful calf once we'd dealt with her bloody udder. So here we are again.
Fortunately Stephan is so delighted with the yards that he doesn't mind this job too much. He milked out a lot of what looked like strawberry milk from Gina's rear quarters, leaving what was in the front right quarter for her calf. I don't think there's much to be had from the left front but there was a little there and both those teats were producing milk, not blood.
Gina looks weird in the picture, as if her large head and neck do not fit on that little body; it's an odd visual effect with the bulk of her shoulders and brisket obscured by the light-coloured frame of the crush.
When that was finished, we shut Endberly and her calf together in one of the pens and while Stephan discouraged Endberly from moving out of the way, I helped the calf find her teats and then kept helping her find them again and again until she could do it on her own and so she had a good, long feed.
There's a trick to getting calves to drink, in that you can't just push them under and they'll find the teat, because they're strong and they'll struggle against any pressure applied. Try to push a calf's head down and it'll push right back against you. So instead, I get the calf sucking on my finger, then try to lead it to the teat (often with some shoves from behind because it's not quite as easy as it sounds) and flick the teat into the mouth in place of my finger. It's taken me much practice to get any good at the manoeuvre.
I think I ought to take more notice of this peach tree when it blossoms, since we've rarely had many fruit from it and its major contribution is therefore beauty, rather than taste.
Our climate is very humid most of the time and the peaches often rot on the tree. We had one beautiful year and ate the delicious fruit (preserved in Agee jars) through the following winter. Last summer we gathered a few before they rotted and have again enjoyed three or four bottles of them through the winter, but it was a meagre harvest.
A Mayfly in my buggy. I've only occasionally seen them alive and at rest; usually they're flying above the streams or dead on the surface of troughs.
Endberly's daughter is having a difficult start to life. I found her when out for my 2pm check, apparently stuck under the bottom rail near the gate into the yards.
I tried gently pushing her head back but she was in the wrong position for that to work. I went around to her back feet and pulled her out from under the rail. I'm not sure if she was really stuck but it didn't look comfortable and she did seem to be pressing her brow up into the wood in trying to move.
While I'd being paying attention to other things, 792 must have been in labour in Flat 3. She's well within time at 277 days and has previously calved on this day but I'd thought her udder not yet developed enough.
All looked well from afar, so I didn't intrude.
I later noted the calf is a bull.
The Flat 1 Tī Kōuka is looking good again, now protected more permanently by an electric wire, to stop the cattle repeatedly chewing its top. I don't know how many times it would have withstood that assault before giving up life.
I moved the five cows from Flat 5 to Flat 1 and three of their calves went with them. The other two frolicked up the lane in the wrong direction, so I shut the cows in and left the calves to come down later.
In the mean time the other three didn't stay with their mothers either and ran back and forth from their paddock, across the lane and drain and into the Windmill, upsetting everyone there.
This is the first year Stephan has routinely come out to help with my evening rounds. It's nice to have a useful assistant.
The cows have always been "my thing", so he's been on hand if I've needed him but while I didn't, he's got on with his own stuff, whether that be other work, relaxation, cooking dinner.
While Stephan milked Gina out again, I went all around the stream trying to find her calf. Endberly's calf had been sleeping down the far end of the green area around the yards, which we've always called the Camp, since that's what I did there when I came back 25 years ago. But I could see no sign of the other calf and the light was fading, particularly under the trees along the stream.
And then this, the little calf, tottering up the lane beyond the closed gates. She must have gone out into the House paddock under the fence, then on through the fence to the lane and then into the drain, to sleep away her day. Of course.