The spring calves who didn't go to the weaner fair for sale, seven heifers, are all now six months or older and due for weaning as soon as we've had some rain to wash the last of the fertilizer off the grass. I weighed them all on Saturday and they average 267 kg so far, the oldest being Abigail who was born on 11 September. What this means, is that over the last five years, we've added around 90kg to our heifer weaning weights, with which I'm pretty pleased.
This site is now in mourning for a most beautiful creature, Virago Iona 04, she of the suspected twin pregnancy, who calved 13 days ago. Today she died, after tangling in some wire, either by strangling or drowning as she fell in to the ditch in which I found her this afternoon. Losing calves by deaths of various kinds is hard; losing beautiful adult animals who've been bred and raised here with care and planning, is almost unbearable, at least at the moment. I know accidental death is to be expected from time to time and I know also that it will become just part of the farm story, in time, but just now, as she lies still in the paddock awaiting burial, I feel as bereft as when losing any friend.
Stephan dug a very large hole and we dragged a very blown-up Iona over to it and buried her. Having been present at her conception, I felt extremely sad to be watching her disappearing beneath the earth. All that care, time, potential, life, beauty, all suddenly no more.
On Wednesday evening, we brought a couple of cows out of the autumn mob, with their calves and Iona's boy and took them into the yards. We enabled the orphan calf to get a feed from #32, the old friesian, since she's so quiet and cooperative. We then left them in a small area together for the night, during which the calf decided that Onix was more to his liking and by the morning, he was helping himself to the back of her udder. Since Sapphire (Onix's calf) has been seen frequently helping herself to the udders of other cows, I was prepared to let the calf go with Onix if that worked, so having seen him get a reasonable feed several times during the day, we sent them all back to their paddock, since they needed to get back onto some good feed.
After burying Iona, we brought the heifer calves and their mums to the yards for the weaning
process, which basically means weighing everybody (the calves in this case, ridiculously, for the
second time in a week, but the scales were there and it doesn't take much effort), and then
separating them into two mobs. The mothers go off to a paddock with reasonably short grass
(don't want them feeding too well when they need to stop producing milk) and the calves go onto
as much lush feed as we have (even though they tend not to eat much for a day or so). Then
not much sleep is possible for the next two or three nights as they all stand around and shout
about the separation.
As soon as things have quietened down, the cows go off on their clean-up duties, i.e. they don't require very good feeding at this time of the year, so they chew out the pastures which have become a bit straggly from not being eaten right down over the summer. When the grass is growing fast and we're feeding milking cows and growing youngsters we let them eat the best of the grass and then move them on to the next paddock. Kikuyu, which is the predominant grass here, needs to be occasionally knocked back a lot harder than that sort of grazing allows, so that's what the "dry" cows do.
By Friday morning, the calf was pretty hungry and no-one wanted to let him feed, although not for want of enthusiasm on his part. After work on Friday afternoon, we brought him back to the yards again for an experiment. One of the just-weaned cows is a cull (going off to the works once weaned) and is in incredibly good condition, in fact, one might say, fat! We are trying to get her to accept this small boy, now that we've taken her large girl away from her. We have no idea whether or not this will work, but it's worth a try. If we don't succeed, then we'll have to try harder to put him onto one of the cows from his mum's mob. The advantage of using the cow who's otherwise going off to the works, is that she's not pregnant, in great shape to carry on milking and taking milk from her doesn't disadvantage another calf.
Since the calf is such an enthusiastic feeder, we put him straight in with the cow, hoping that she might just let him feed. She didn't. So we put her up in the race, where she can't turn around, and let the calf go in from behind her. Thus he had a good feed to go off to sleep on.