The three heifers I kept on the flats last week are all looking increasingly closer to calving (which they inevitably are, of course) but so much so that I have today begun going out and checking them in the early hours. At 3.25am, I was outstanding in my field. There was little competition.
Attention, FMG Insurance: the umbrella with which we have long advertised your business is now in a poorly, dilapidated state and requires urgent replacement!
In the early afternoon, it having stopped raining again, I went out to check cows and found Queenly 107 in labour. I've been watching her for days, thinking she was starting but she must just have been uncomfortable.
Out in the Frog paddock Jemima 146 was in labour already, so I brought her and her two paddock mates to join Queenly in Mushroom 2, a slightly safer place to calve.
A couple of hours later I came back to see how she was getting on. She stalked off into the trees and I had to spy on her through some gaps. As this hoof started to show, I gradually confirmed my initial suspicion that it wasn't the right sort of foot. An upside-down foot means a backwards calf, so off we went on our way to the yards.
Jemima was fortunately quite willing to go, so I didn't need to chase her around the paddock. I think she thinks the yard race is where you have calves. Last year we pulled her first calf when it was a bit big for her then smaller frame.
We had words with Mr 87 about putting this one in the wrong way around.
In we went and pulled the calf out so it wouldn't drown before it was born and carried ... no, we didn't, we stopped urgently when my back went ouch as I tried to help Stephan pick it up. Damn.
We left Jemima to clean up her daughter in the loading race area and took her some molasses with Magnesium to hopefully calm her down a bit, since she was very nervous.
I got back out to check on Queenly 107 just as she delivered a daughter. This one is sired by Bon View New Design 878.
Here you can see how much the pelvic structures expand as the cow approaches labour: the tail head is much higher than usual, with a noticeable groove between it and the rump, where the dips appear just before birth. It generally only takes a couple of hours after birth for everything to tighten up again. When you think about the wash of hormones in the cow as all these changes so quickly occur, it's not surprising they are at their most nervy and dangerous at calving.
I spent the evening doing careful back exercises to try and relieve whatever damage I'd done. This is my second injury for the calving period. The first was a relatively minor thing but annoyingly painful: I dropped a Topmilk bin on my finger one evening when dishing out molasses, taking a chunk out of my skin. It was deep and has been painful for the ten days since. It's hard to keep injuries like that clean when I keep having to get my hands wet.
I don't think I used to hurt myself quite so often when I was an urban person. The outdoors is a dangerous place.
2.45am, outstanding in my field.
When I went to check on 146 and her calf after dawn, 710 had bullied her out of the way and was mooing to the calf. She seemed a bit agitated so I sent her on her way back to the paddock they'd come from. I'd half expected her to calve overnight.
And back in that paddock 714 was part-way through labour, with a white nose already out. I stayed to watch, of course. I love watching calves being born.
When the calf ended up in this position, looking like he was about to slide down into that cold puddle, I climbed through the fence and tried to pull him around so he wouldn't ... and shouldn't have. My back had been surprisingly less awful than I thought it would be but now I'd really done it. I could barely get to my feet and for several minutes there was no way I could get through the fence. What a fool.
Stephan went out a bit later to check for me that the calf had got up and out of the puddle successfully.
Once they'd had a bit of bonding and recovery time, we sent Jemima and her daughter on their way, out to join the heifers in Flat 1, so they didn't have too far to walk.
I was generally not walking very far either and only very carefully!
Stephan drove me out to do things in the ute in the early evening, so he'd be there to help if I disabled myself any further - although primarily to remind me not to do anything so ridiculous. We drafted three more cows out of the Spring paddock, since they're getting close to calving.
710 had gone back to the paddock this morning and at some stage produced her calf, a bull. I missed it, having been too sore to go anywhere at that time.
White-faced calves are so much prettier when they're clean and dry than when they're all covered in goo.
Meg 699 came over for the evening molasses with her tail held out. When she'd finished she promptly stalked off toward the trees. In labour.
I went off to do some other jobs, including removing the break tape from the edge of Mushroom 1, where grass has been growing quite nicely out of reach of the cows, despite the sodden state of the ground.
Then we moved some of the cows and calves. In the last few years I've tagged them early before shifting them away to larger paddocks but with the ongoing inclement weather, we've not had many opportunities.
These are the two cows and calves from the Windmill, heading down to the crossing to the Tank paddock. The calves, as always, took a bit of 'encouragement' to go across the water for the first time.
Then the three from Flat 2, Eva, Ellie and Gina with their calves. They went across the bottom of the Windmill to the gate to the Tank crossing and joined the others. So far this season whenever I've mixed cows, they've behaved nicely with each other, so I hoped these five would and left them to it.
Back to check on Meg, to find her with an already cleaned and standing son. That was quick. I hadn't realised, when she came for the molasses and walked off afterwards, that she was already very much in labour.
Nobody guessed today for Meg.
Daughter, 749, and mother, 714, back together again, now that they've both calved.
I'd begun to think 742 must have missed conceiving to insemination, until I felt her udder yesterday and found it quite tight.
This morning I went to look at her lying in the paddock and she got up with a burst of fluid. Sixteen minutes later she delivered her bull calf. Today was day 285 of gestation; the gestational average for bull calves here is 280 days.
Meg's son was out and about in the sunshine. Gem came over for a look, confusing the poor baby, since their calves can't tell the difference between the identical twin mothers.
The thin/pregnant mob are currently in the Middle Back, where I checked them this afternoon.
Deva 135 was looking very loose in her pelvis and while her udder wasn't very full, I felt suspicious enough to want to take her in to the flats - her mother, Eva, wasn't very udder-full this time either and Deva is in equally light condition. I checked my calving date sheet and noted that Deva, having been with the bull for the whole of the mating period, could potentially have conceived three weeks earlier than I thought she had, which would make her due now.
I popped her out through the tape gate, since she was next to it, then walked her quietly along Route 356 and down to the main track home.
At 7.40pm I noticed two-year-old Queenly 149 walk briskly to the top of Flat 1 with her tail out, where she then stood for a while, looking perturbed. I went home for dinner, then came back out at 8.50 to find her sitting normally, chewing her cud. I was very suspicious; I was fairly certain she was in labour.
Thinking this could take some time, I went to bed for a sleep. When I came back out at 10.50 she had her tail out and looked disturbed but there was still nothing much happening. Heifers can be slow, so I went away for another hour.
At 11.40 she was sitting chewing her cud again but when she stood up I found a pool of birth fluids where she'd been lying. I watched her for a while this time and concluded that things were not going as they should. In my experience, a cow can't sit with her tail in a normal position when the calf is coming through the pelvis, it will always be stuck out in line with her spine.
I hate dragging Stephan out of bed in the middle of the night but that's what he's there for. At 1.30am we were in the yards, put her up the race and I washed her down, donned a glove and some lube and put my hand in to find out what wasn't happening the way it ought. I found two feet but they were sideways, so not coming up as they should into the birth canal, which explained her tail's position when lying. I grabbed a foot and pulled it up as far as I could and then the other one as well - the calf kept pulling them back out of my hand, so it took some strength to keep hold. The calf's membrane sac was also still intact and I couldn't break it, so once I had turned the calf around into a better position and made sure I'd felt it's nice little teeth, so I knew the head was in the right place, we let her out again, so she could get on with her labour as normal. Without putting something sharp in there, which I didn't want to risk, I couldn't break the bag to put chains on the legs anyway.
An hour later she'd produced a couple of feet and we kept watching, waiting for something more. Sometime around 4am we put her back in the race, I put a chain on one leg and narrowly avoided a seriously nasty kick in the knee as she really didn't like all this messing around. I couldn't get a chain on the other leg and with her level of agitation I thought we'd let her out onto the grass again and use the chain to pull when she next lay down. Didn't work. When she looked like she'd like to have a go at jumping over the gate onto the road we herded her into the high-railed little loading ramp yard where she promptly lay down, ready for the next contraction. When that came on she lay back ... and fell over the edge of some concrete under the grass: cast! I took the opportunity to get the other chain on the calf's other leg, since she couldn't kick me in that position and we tried pulling it out, but couldn't. We couldn't leave her in that position for long so had to get her up again.
Stephan pulled the bottom rail off where her hip had wedged underneath it (sometimes it's good that things are a bit old and rickety!) so she would be able to move and then in trying to launch herself upright again she got her jaw wedged between the concrete under the grass and a post. When that sort of thing happens, it's difficult to act slowly and with a cool head; Stephan reached in to help her and she flung her head back and caught his hand against the post. A typical yard injury situation! We had to ignore that for the time being, since he was still able to move.
Queenly got to her feet and we put her back into the race, now with two chains to pull on. But with all his considerable strength, Stephan couldn't move the calf, although I had checked to ensure there was room enough around the head, which was mostly through the tightest bit. Brian had given us some pulleys a couple of years ago, when he stopped having cows and so we put them to our first use, halving the effort Stephan needed to apply to pull the calf. The shoulders were tight but once they were through, I realised the chest was also really tight! This is a problem in this family, I now recalled, having had to help 149's mother a couple of times. Stephan continued to pull, I jiggled the calf up and down from above and we gradually got it out without 149 falling down. I stayed out of the race, where usually I'd have climbed in to catch the calf as it fell out and it hit the concrete with quite a slap. We both hoped that was just wet skin on the wet ground, not the noise of breaking bone.
I let 149 out and she wandered off in a bit of a daze, then Stephan dragged the monster calf out of the race into the open and we herded the mother back. I thought the calf was a bull because of its size (they're usually a bit bigger than heifers) but later discovered she's a heifer.
Queenly took a couple of minutes to work out that this was the calf she'd been labouring over and whose fluids she'd been licking from the ground for the last few hours, then began licking her clean.
I was hugely relieved: we had both a live and walking mother and a live calf. I wasn't sure the calf would be able to stand and we were so tired we weren't hanging around any longer to see; we'd come back when it was light in a couple of hours and find out.
At home I splinted Stephan's injured finger and we collapsed into much needed sleep: 5.30am.