The week beginning 29th January 2005.
Saturday the 29th
Stephan and Stella, off to collect blackberries Stella with the blackberries

Stephan took Stella blackberrying this afternoon.  Jude and I watched them go, saw Stephan leave the broken wooden gate to the paddock open as they went through so Stella could come home if she wanted to.  Jude said that was unlikely, since Stella would probably collapse in a crying heap, and insist on being carried home, but about three quarters of an hour later, Stella came walking back down the paddock and through the gate and along the track, quite happily on her own.

Stephan appeared half an hour later with over 2½ kg of blackberries and set about making Blackberry Jelly!

Sunday the 30th
Stella and Isla

I like the fact that some of the cows are quiet enough for small children to be able to quite safely approach them.  I am still careful, of course, to ensure there's no excited activity going on in the vicinity which might cause the quiet cow to suddenly step sideways and squash the small child!

The cattle this season are being really interesting in their temperament.  I generally work very quietly with the cattle and I think that approach is increasingly reaping its reward.  There are yearling and two-year heifers in the insemination mob which are more and more often allowing me to scratch their backs.  I've always been able to move within touching distance of most of my cows, but previously most animals would move away if actually touched.  One of the best tests of their quietness is my ability to walk through small gaps between reclining animals, without them feeling the need to get to their feet.

Jude and Roger left and Stephan went out to alter the natural environment.  I went out to check the cattle at the back a bit later and rounding a corner of the track, wondered if I'd slipped into a parallel universe: the whole landscape was different!  He'd been doing another gorse-clearing marathon, suddenly exposing an area of grass I haven't been able to see for some time!  This is what it looked like in March last year and the gorse plants had grown rather a lot larger over the last few months!

gorse and blackberry gorse
cleared area

This photo from the track, looking down on the cleared area.  There's still some blackberry there, but since it's fruiting time, it seems silly to clear it all away right now! This is quite a good blackberry patch, frequented by many visitors, so it can stay for the present.
The gorse is all piled up at the left of the picture.

Onix and Arran 20

Onix (Issa's cow) appears to be on heat and has been followed around by Arran 20 (Isla's son from last year) for much of the last couple of days.

Mating has been a frustrating time this year.  The cows have been quite slow to begin cycling again after calving - some have still not obviously done so.  The other interesting problem is that I've had a number of cows come on heat, at which time I've inseminated them, only to have them come back on heat again about eight days later.  I've only once before had this problem in my inseminated cows, last year when Abigail did it and I didn't re-inseminate her on the second 'heat', which must have been the real one, since she returned again three weeks after that second date.  This year I've had four cows and a heifer displaying the same pattern.  As it happens, Ivy, Isla and Abigail are three of the cows - three generations of the same family!  Neither Ivy's nor Isla's heats have ever been difficult to pick and both have always become pregnant on the first insemination I've done.

Occasionally the bull seems to pick up on these double-heats, but I've generally put that down to bulls being rather more sensitive to the hormonal changes in their cows than I am with those I inseminate.  Generally speaking, the bulls don't actually re-mate their cows in that situation, just hang around looking very interested and waiting for real heat to begin.

I've spoken to the vets, and done a bit of internet research and have concluded that it's 'just one of those things'.  I suspect that the fact that all of the cows have gone through two calvings in fairly light condition and not been able to regain necessary body-condition in between times, will be having some impact (I believe I'm fortunate not to have seen more infertility and other breeding problems before now!); the other 'problem' may be the weather.  After two dreadful seasons of cold and dry weather when it would usually be warm and wet, bringing us little spring and summer grass growth, we started this spring quite early with a lovely warm spell.  That lasted for about three weeks, then coolness resumed.  Then suddenly, at the beginning of January, the temperatures soared, as did the humidity in the last few weeks.  The cattle are probably really feeling the heat as well as their bodily systems perhaps being completely confused!

If you've any light to shed on this (or any other you've read in this site) problem, please do contact me!

sparrow babies

Yesterday afternoon Stephan and I went and cleaned out the shed in which I keep the semen bank and the insemination gear.  What prompted this activity on an enormously hot afternoon was that there seemed to be millions of unwanted tenants inside the shed, tens of which tried to hitch rides out of there on my body every time I went inside and touched anything: bird lice!  It's such a warm place at this time of the year and there have been birds nesting all around the tops of the walls under the roofing iron for months.  The most recent occupants are sparrows - the birds I have been feeding were one of those families.  There were lice on top of everything, so I decided the birds had to go.

There were six baby birds: four from one nest, obviously a couple of days older than the other two tiny babies from another.  They have bits of food stuck to their heads in the photo - feeding is a bit of a messy business!  I'm feeding them soaked chick-starter feed, strained and then presented to them in a plastic pipette.

The six of them together weighed 42g this morning, so the smallest are only around 4g each.  Tiny!  (They appear a great deal larger than life in the picture!)  I feed them every time I go past them.  They're in a chilli-bin on top of a moderately warm hot-water bottle.  The chilli-bin provides some insulation so the warmth doesn't dissipate too quickly.

Thursday the 3rd of February

sparrow babies

Two of the sparrows died, one each of the two families, so there are three large and one smaller remaining.  It is possible that I accidentally drowned one of them during feeding - it's taken a bit of practise to get it right.

They are changing colour as the feathers begin to develop and they're much more active, the larger ones beginning to open their eyes.  The smallest one is on top of the others in this picture.