The pregnant heifers, after spending a couple of extra days with the others on this side of the road, went back over there today.
The brown one is Fuzzy, #357, with her funny, fuzzy, thin hair. I'm not sure if she has some abnormality, or it's just an individual characteristic. She's half pedigree Angus and bits of Hereford and Murray Grey.
It is time to begin advertising for entries for this year's ...
We've done this, just for fun, over the last couple of years. The usual gestation period for cattle is 275 - 290 days and Isla was inseminated with the semen of N Bar Emulation EXT on 22 December last year. Her first calf, Abigail, was born a few days ealier than the expected earliest date, and her second, Amelia, towards the end of the expected period. This year, your guess is as good as mine!
And, this year, a real prize: a small trinket box, something like the one pictured below, will be crafted by Stephan, for the person submitting the closest guess. (If more than one person guesses the same closest or correct date, we will hold a draw for the prize.) You may enter once, from anywhere in the world!
The date will be measured in New Zealand "clock time" - if Isla calves after the beginning of Daylight Saving time, then those who decide she'll calve on the changeover date, will have only 23 hours in which to be correct! If you have a strong feeling about a particular moment in time, please take those things into consideration.
We went to a great deal of effort, yesterday, to move the pregnant cows from the largest paddock at one side of the back of the farm, to the middle, warmer - and I presumed at the time, grassier - paddock. I climbed the hill, calling the cows while Stephan followed, pushed and prompted in various ways, from behind at the bottom of the hill. It's a big paddock, full of large trees and there was a stiff breeze blowing, so by the time I reached the top of the hill from where I could see the new paddock, I couldn't yell loudly enough for him to hear me say "stop, don't bother!". Moving the cows at this time of the year is often just about changing the scenery, finding somewhere with a faintly greener tinge than the last place, so we put them all through the gate and walked back home again.
Today, I walked out to the bottom of that middle paddock and led the cows through the new gate and over the new culvert, to the large paddock on the other side of the back of the farm.
The picture above, is of that Middle Back paddock. It faces North so is sunny and warm some of the time, and it is sheltered from the cold southerly winds. The grey coloured large trees are dead or dying Puriri, a particular problem in this paddock on that hill-face. I have wondered if the trees have only died since the Pines (the big trees at the top right corner) were planted by the Forestry Department (a government employment scheme, apparently), back in 1982 or thereabouts. I suspect it is possible that the presence of the Pines might have altered the amount of water, or added something in their run-off, on that side of the hill, or perhaps the trees have just reached the end of their lives. The Puriri on the other side of that ridge still look very healthy and there are one or two others in this paddock which do not appear similarly afflicted.
Many of the other, smaller trees, are unwanted Totara and Manuka, most of which we'll cut down to ensure that grass remains the dominant plant in the paddock! When clearing areas, we always leave a fair number of Totara, particularly the larger ones, to provide shade and shelter for the cattle, but they grow like weeds, so they're not a tree we worry about conserving where they grow in inconvenient locations.
The cows, after wandering slowly through the gateway from their sunny mid-morning napping places, quickly dispersed around the new paddock.
In the picture above, the hill at the top center, is covered in mature native bush. The fence-line along the edge of the grass area, is our boundary and the scrubby area in between was, until a couple of years ago, covered in very tall Gum trees, which were at that time harvested by their owners, who also own the pine trees around the corner along the back of our property.
The line of trees just beyond the cattle, are Totara growing along the riverbank.
Panning right, the grass areas are in this and the next paddock toward the front of the farm. The bush on the far ridge belongs to an area set aside as a reserve by our neighbour.
The charming yellow-flowering plant in the foreground, is gorse, that most ridiculous English import! I believe it grows in a disciplined manner as hedging between fields in its native setting, but here, it just spreads, everywhere, quickly and then the seeds remain, germinating for decades after it's cleared off the land. Gorse is a great nitrogen fixer in the soil, apparently, but that's no good to us where it covers the ground, preventing grass growth. (You can see a close-up photograph in the "Works in Progress" page.) It is not a friendly plant, being extremely sharp at all its points. I rediscovered just how nasty it is, yesterday, when I raised my head at the wrong time when passing beneath a large bush, which really hurt, with very short hair and no hat on!
Here's Isla, at the top of the hill beside me. She's in reasonable condition still, although not carrying much fat, as you can see by the appearance of the area over her ribs. There is a calf in there - I've felt it moving around when I've held my hand against her body.
Here are some of the steers. I decided we could carry them through the winter until they are ready to go to the works sometime later this year or at the end of next summer. Such animals take longer to "grow out" here than on some properties, because of the sort of pasture on our farm and the fact that they stop gaining weight at this time of the year. After these guys go, we'll not keep any more of the steers. These ones are only here because they were too young or too small to fit in with the few I sold as weaner calves a couple of years ago. There are also three from the autumn calving of last year, who will be here for a little longer yet.
In this paddock is another Rata, not standing as an independent tree, but growing as a large epiphyte in a huge Puriri. The Rata is the highest crown in the picture at left, then the rather spindly foliage of its host Puriri is the next leaf level, then below is a tree I'll have to go back out and identify and the one at the right is Totara.
The trunk (above right) is the host Puriri, with three or four Rata roots descending (diagonally towards the right and curving down at left). It's easier to determine which are Rata roots and which part of the Puriri trunk when one is actually looking at the live tree!
I've done some record-checking and realised that we're actually now within the expected lambing period! I'd been thinking we were still at least a week away - of course it may well be that long before anything happens. I think the sheep look so interestingly "full" at this stage. They're all belly and back end, full of who-knows-what - well, lambs of course, but there's no telling how many, nor even what they'll look like this year.
The ewe in the middle of the left picture may have a sore front foot, or is simply finding it easier to eat from her knees. Minty, in the top right of the picture at right, is a Suffolk-Romney cross, the same mix as most of our expected lambs. I'm looking forward to seeing the colour or her offspring this year and those of her daughter. The ewe at the front of the right-hand picture, is a first-time lamber, #20, who I believe will be one of the first to lamb. The blue stripe is the raddle (special chalk for marking wool) Stephan rubbed into the wool to enable me to identify some of the ewes at a distance.
I moved these sheep later in the day, to the house paddock, so I can keep a close eye on them during lambing.
The heifers have eaten most of the grass in their paddock, so I brought Ivy and the three expectant "teenagers" out of the mob and put them on the river bank, in some long grass.
Getting four animals out of a mob of 30 who also want to leave the paddock, without a long stick to block some of the gateway or tap the nose or flank of the occasional beast, is quite a trick. All four are in excellent condition and I want to keep them that way. The others all waited around near the gate for some time, hoping they might be about to go somewhere else too, before eventually wandering off to graze.
Looking across toward the sheep, I noticed one who wasn't the right way up!
This is little #26, who's now nearly four years old, mother of #20 above and one of my bottle-raised babies. She didn't mind too much, waiting an extra few seconds while I photographed her in this predicament. Heavily pregnant ewes are particularly prone to this difficulty - all it takes is a shift in the wrong direction to itch something, or a bit of a roll over a lump while trying to get up, to leave a ewe on her side or back, legs flailing uselessly. Sometimes the less quiet ewes will right themselves as I approach them, to avoid contact! All they generally need is a gentle push in the right direction, to get back on their feet. Sometimes, if she's been down for too many hours, a ewe will need a bit of steadying, while she regains her balance and composure. I like to keep a close eye on them at this stage, to avoid that sort of stress - not only is it probably very uncomfortable, but not eating for too long can bring on all sorts of metabolic complications at this stage of pregancy.
Predictably for August, it has rained, enough to flood the river, so the Muscovy duck has lost her nest. Just before the water reached her eggs this evening, we went out with a bowl and a torch and rescued them. Unfortunately the duck struggled too much for me to hold onto her as I perched perilously on the edge of the river bank, so all I ended up with was 15 eggs, and some very smelly and wet clothing!
Not having a clucky hen to hand and not having been able to catch the duck, we had to work out some way of keeping the eggs warm, or the ducklings within would die. I placed the eggs in a makeshift nest in a polystyrene box for the greatest insulation from cold, then placed a warm-water-filled bag on top of them to provide the necessary warmth.
I ensured the water was around 101°F, not wanting to make the eggs too hot, since that would be far more dangerous for them than being a little too cool for a while.
Having sorted that out, it occurred to me that it would be sensible to check that all the eggs were fertile (I did have look at a couple of them for confirmation on first bringing them into the house) since if not, those which weren't didn't need to be taking up space in the box. The process is called "candling" and can be done with a bright torch in any reasonably dark place.
I couldn't get a good picture of what I could clearly see, but this gives a little idea. In any fertile and developing egg, after the first two or three days of incubation, the air-sac will be visible at the wide end of the egg. (I have come across two or three eggs with the air-sac at the other end, but the babies usually don't hatch successfully.) The other most obvious thing to be seen through the translucent white of a duck-egg shell, is many blood vessels, which indicate that all is healthy within. Depending on the stage of development, the embryo can often be seen floating or moving around. The shadow of the duckling and the air-sac can be seen in the picture above.
Fourteen of the 15 eggs were fertile and one has a crack, but the duckling is at this stage still alive. It is unlikely that it will survive to hatching, since some infection entering through the crack will probably cause its death.
Our new goose started to lay a couple of days ago. Her first egg was rather large and covered in a smear of blood, so must have taken a bit of effort to lay! Then we found the second egg, which was simply HUGE!
Here's a line-up of some of the eggs we currently have in our kitchen...
The first thing in the line is a pen, for a size indication, then the second goose egg, weight = 190g/6½oz; the first goose egg, weight = 136g/4¾oz; an ordinary sized duck egg, weight = 78g/2¾oz; a medium sized hen egg, weight = 60g/2oz, and a bantam hen egg, weight = 44g/1½oz. (I didn't weigh the pen.)
The river level is still high above the Muscovy's nest area. I would think it unlikely she will return there to nest, so her eggs very much need a new home if they are to survive.