Last evening Damara 74 started her labour and I watched most of the process. The sire is Pono of Kawatiri, from semen given to me by his breeder last year, so I wanted to make sure everything went well.
When born, I thought the calf was a heifer, there being no sign of anything between his legs and I felt sure I'd seen the tell-tale hair of a vulva under the tail; but by this morning, the calf had changed into a bull. It's funny when that happens.
Ella has been taking Yvette her daily portion of feed nuts, giving her lots of stroking and talking to her.
I can't resist a cute calf photo: Damara's son, again.
The great thing about being wrong a lot is that there are always opportunities to learn something new. I thought this was Towai (Weinmannia silvicola, the leaves looked like it to me) but the flowers now say it's Makamaka (Ackama rosifolia). Fancy that!
There are leaves on several of the orchard trees now. Some have yet to show any growth at all.
We walked up the road to the orchard to show someone where he could put some bee hives. It's a good place out of the way of my farming work, but easy for him to access and we'll have the benefit of bees in our orchard and across the flats to pollinate the pasture flowers.
Ordinarily we'd have heard these huge trees falling down, except during the big storm the wind was so high we couldn't hear much else at all. The left one is Taraire and the right is Kohekohe, probably taken down as the Taraire fell. They'll be blocking the stream pretty badly, so we'll have to come up and clear them when things dry out a bit.
571 and Eva had a fight over the Molasses in this bin, each shoving her face as far in as possible, trying to displace the other. At one stage they managed to throw the bin a few feet away from themselves, but then they were both back into it again.
475 is looking better now, after a few weeks of better feed. The difference will be in millimetres of fat under her skin, but it gives her an overall softer appearance.
701 seemed slightly agitated for most of the day and she had a bit of vaginal mucous showing, after being dry throughout her pregnancy. I was glad when she started pacing around before dark, knowing then that she'd have the calf before my bedtime.
We also had a visitor for dinner and to stay the night, but I unfortunately missed quite a lot of time with her, attending to my maternity duties out in the field.
At about 8.30pm I saw the tip of a toe appear. An hour later, I managed to sneak in to give 701 a bit of help as she lay pushing, because one of the calf's feet looked to be less advanced than the other, indicating that its elbow may have been a bit caught, slowing progress. The bag over the calf was pretty tough, so I used my ball-point pen to break it then grabbed the feet and pulled one and then the other until the calf started to move more freely. Once he was out, 701 lay flat-out, panting for about three minutes, before eventually stirring to investigate the snuffling and movement behind her.
It is for that reason that I particularly like to supervise heifer births. More often than not, once the calf has slid free of their bodies, they rest in relief, ignoring whatever is going on behind them. If the calf has been born within its embryonic membranes and they've not broken and cleared on sliding across the grass, it will quite probably die before the heifer even gets up. Heifers are not particularly sensible about licking the membranes off their calves either, so even if she does get up, a new mum may not save her calf from drowning or suffocation. In most cases calves survive, but in some they don't and I prefer to know how a birth has progressed and be available to make sure the calf gets a good start to its life.
I went back again just after eleven and the heifer was behaving very calmly as her son snuffled around looking for a feed. Often they spend too much time turning around the calf for it to get a chance to find the udder very quickly, but this heifer is being a good mother.
I've heard a Kiwi out in the hills in the last couple of nights, around 9pm. I'm glad there's still at least one there - although one doesn't make a sustained population.
Things looked good this morning: 701 and her calf.
I asked Stephan and Ella to come out for a walk with me to check on the cows in the PW. There are currently 11 in the mob and seven were sitting quietly at the bottom of the hill. I thought we should walk along Route 356 to the other end of the paddock, keeping an eye out for any of the cows up the slopes.
Looking for tracks, I realised we were following the fresh hoof prints of one cow. 517 wasn't with the others and since she has the closest due date for calving, I wanted to find her in particular. The footprints were big enough to be hers. We walked to the end of the track and I put some Iodine in the trough up the hillside, then walked up a little further and saw 517 do a quick turn around from where she'd been standing. That sort of movement is not something a relaxed cow does. My heart sank. 517 had calved out here in this incredibly risky area and was looking distressed and there was no calf.
A cow usually knows where her calf has gone and so the only place to look was down in the gully beside which she was standing.
I was thinking the worst: a dead calf which had slid into the hole as soon as it was born.
But Stephan said he saw a movement, a bit of white: the calf was alive and had a white face!
Stephan lifted the calf out of the hole and I held it while he climbed up behind it (it would not have been helpful for the calf to run off in panic at that point) and then he carried it down the steep hill, with 517 close behind him.
We stopped in the relatively flat grassy area on the other side of the big gully, to give the calf and Stephan a rest and see how it looked. She was pretty floppy to start with, but I got her up on her feet to see if she would feed and then she started up the hill, so Stephan grabbed her again to carry her further out.
I'd told Ella to stand behind a tree so that she was out of the way of 517, who was looking pretty stressed. But I didn't notice that Ella then moved into a comfortable resting place on this side of the tree, from which, when 517 approached her, she could not easily move! It was all pretty frightening for a moment - not that 517 was being very dangerous, but that I couldn't predict how she might respond to whatever Ella did next and Ella wasn't in a position to escape. We'd had several conversations about the danger of just-calved cows and we had another one then about doing exactly as I instruct and doing it quickly when dealing with the cattle, because it might be the difference between carrying on with a nice holiday or being seriously hurt.
When he reached the track, Stephan stood the calf on her feet and we watched to see what would happen next. My main concern was that the calf might not have had her first colostrum feed after birth, and I didn't know how long she'd been away from her mother.
But she quite quickly latched onto a teat and had a good feed, which probably indicates it wasn't her first time at that milk bar. I was very relieved.
I didn't want to leave the two of them in the lane. There wasn't much for 517 to eat and the calf was likely to go under the fence and away into the paddock, which would further distress her mother, so we continued along the lane, taking them to the Mushroom 1 paddock where the others are calving.
Once there, the calf snuggled down for a sleep and her mother ate voraciously for the next hour.
How ridiculous: later in the day I watched bull 87 (in Mushroom 2 with Demelza for company), as he sidled up to the sleeping calf in a show of power and strength, snorting and growling, to make sure this new creature knew who was the more powerful. I told him he was an idiot: look at the size of that scary little animal!
Over the Road I could see all the heifers gathered in the top corner, with the colours of some other, larger cattle gathered on the other side of the fence. The fence is in good order, having been replaced a couple of years ago, but I still prefer to keep nose-to-nose contact between my cattle and others to an absolute minimum, so Ella and I went up to investigate.
There was a mob of Friesian heifers on the other side, with a revolting-looking young bull. I really can't fathom why other farmers think it's acceptable to put bulls on boundaries without any notice at all. This is not the first time and although the fence is in far better condition than ever before, I would prefer not to tempt fate - if that bull gets bored with nothing to do on a day when one of my heifers is on heat, would he stay where he's meant to be?
The heifers have had enough of this paddock, so they were quite cooperative when we moved them along in front of us and then on down the hill to go through the gate to the other part of the hill paddock.
Ella and I came home and she changed clothes and she and Stephan went to the airport for Ella to catch her plane home. Hopefully we'll see her again at Christmas time.
Young 701 came over to investigate the new calf in the paddock: her little sister.
In 2010 517 had another calf which looked like this and she turned into a completely mad creature. To attempt to cement a good temperament in this calf, I've been stroking and talking to her whenever I visit the paddock.
She would be a nice calf to keep, despite her pink facial features: she and her two elder sisters are all half-sisters by the three bulls sired by Schurrtop Reality. The bulls were all excellent animals and I'd like very much to keep this particular threesome for ongoing comparison.
Dinky 94 calved in the early hours of this morning, but she wouldn't let me anywhere near her until this afternoon. I wasn't sure her calf had fed, but when I could get close and feel it, her udder's right front quarter was definitely looser than the other side, even though the difference was hard to see.
If the calf had come toward me like this in the morning, her mother would probably have chased me away.
Dinky 94 is in quite light condition, having lost quite a bit of fat over the progress of her pregnancy. She didn't get a drench earlier in the year because she appeared to be doing so well, but I've been thinking I may need to address a possible internal parasite problem. I'll probably weigh and drench her when I walk her calf down to the yards for its first trip over the scales.
Curly calved at dawn this morning. This time she's had a straight-haired black daughter.
The hypotrichosis condition Curly carries is something I'd like to breed past, so that I can carry on the family without that defect. Hypotrichosis is primarily a defect of the hair, but can also affect the dentition of the animals. (Curly's mother, Fuzzy, lost some of her front teeth rather earlier in her life than normal, but I don't know if that was a coincidence or caused by the defect.) The family has been quite a good set of cows otherwise, so I've carried on with the best of them in each generation, despite the problem. Currently Curly and her daughter Endberly are the two members of their family in the herd.
Fuzzy had two straight-black-haired daughters, but I sold the first - possibly before I'd researched the condition very much - and the second wasn't a very good animal. Curly has been a good cow and this is her first straight-black-haired daughter.
The calf's sire is Narrangullen Testement T95 and I've been watching his Australian Angus database listing on a regular basis over the last few weeks, to see whether or not he gets tested for the latest Angus genetic defect, of which his sire is a carrier. He started off with a 50% likelihood of being a carrier, dropped down to 44% (presumably as grand-progeny were tested clear - I could see no tests for progeny listed) but in the last few days he dropped right down to an 8% chance of being a carrier. That's still pretty meaningless, because it's only based on the tests on three progeny, but the more there are tested clear, the more likely it is that T95 is not a carrier.
Curly's calf wandered under the electric fences (bottom wires currently off during calving), across the track and into the long grass in the tree reserve and drain area for a long sleep. She stayed there for most of the day.
Curly spent most of her day not very far from where she knew the calf had gone and was very pleased when I walked the calf back to her for an evening feed.
The twins. The differences in their udders are becoming clearer as they advance toward calving. The extra teat they each have is the mirror opposite of the other's in position, but the form of that teat is quite different. Meg has a whole spare between the two normal ones on one side and Gem has what looks like a melded double teat.
I sincerely hope they both get through the next exciting part of this process without trouble, so their story can continue uninterrupted.
Cuteness abounds at this time of year.
These are Damara's and 568's bull calves. I left the two cows with their calves in Flat 1 together and will combine them with others in time.
Standing watching some of my cows this afternoon, I realised how many of them now have no identifying ear-tags. I can tell who any of them are, but problems arise when I ask Stephan to go and have a look at 488 (on the right) or 475 (on the left), both of which are completely black cows. There are very obvious differences between them to my eye, but probably not to anyone else. If you took the tags off every animal on the farm, I'd get most of their identities right. The only two I couldn't tell apart by sight are the twins. Funny, that.