For me, reg­u­lar and plea­sur­able con­tact with my herd is vi­tally im­por­tant

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Down On The Farm -

yards, for­tu­nately usu­ally re­solves with time. Those which be­come com­pletely placid adults can be a prob­lem too, if they won't go up a race and don't re­spond to the usual prompts.

Tem­per­a­ment of the cows them­selves now arises only as a rel­a­tive mea­sure. A calf whose tem­per­a­ment was ac­cept­able five years ago might not have made the cut now as the herd be­comes ever qui­eter. If the cow was not able to be eas­ily tamed, it is likely her calves may not now meet my re­quire­ments. If she pro­duces good wean­ers for sale, she stays, but I will even­tu­ally re­place her with a qui­eter an­i­mal.

Se­lect­ing for tem­per­a­ment last has made the process of herd im­prove­ment eas­ier. If I'd se­lected for tem­per­a­ment as my first pri­or­ity, they'd all be pets and it would be harder to ac­cept and act upon the re­sults of some of the ob­jec­tive mea­sure­ment-based tests.

Calm tem­per­a­ment and meat ten­der­ness have been found to be pos­i­tively linked, im­por­tant if some­one is go­ing to eat your an­i­mals or their prog­eny. The link is pri­mar­ily be­cause of the ef­fects of an­i­mal stress on meat qual­ity, so an an­i­mal which re­mains calm dur­ing hu­man han­dling will nearly al­ways make bet­ter eat­ing than a wilder one.

Is tem­per­a­ment harder to ad­just in a herd than con­for­ma­tion and growth? It all de­pends on where you ap­ply the most se­lec­tion pres­sure, the qual­ity of the ge­net­ics you in­tro­duce and how much time you spend amongst your an­i­mals. How im­por­tant it de­pends on how you want to in­ter­act with them. For me, reg­u­lar and plea­sur­able con­tact with my herd is vi­tally im­por­tant; it's why I do this. My safety when work­ing closely with the an­i­mals means I'll be able to carry on for a long time.

All in all, Jan­uary is a pleas­ant time to enjoy be­ing around the an­i­mals with­out too much pres­sure to de­cide any­one's im­me­di­ate fate, but time to pon­der and come to terms with the de­ci­sions which will soon have to be made.

As nights go, it was com­plete and ut­ter chaos. The power had gone out at about 8.30, the trees were bash­ing against the side of the house, and the gut­ter was do­ing a Ni­a­gara Falls look-alike. The sheer vol­ume of wa­ter com­ing down wasn’t just cats and dogs, more tigers and ele­phants, so the spout­ing was hope­lessly over­whelmed.

It was a bit early to go to bed. Well, to go to bed to sleep that is. And it prob­a­bly wasn’t a good idea to get any other ideas as there was bound to be a call­out of some de­scrip­tion.

No doubt the power lines­men were hav­ing to don their wellies too. Some jobs just don’t go away un­til the sun shines. For the Vet, really bad weather usu­ally brings on the calves.

You would think mother cows would have the sense to keep their legs crossed, but the stormy weather must trig­ger a release of cor­ti­sone or some­thing. Or maybe the cows just want to lighten their load through the mud.

Be­cause as ev­ery farmer or li­nes­man or vet­eri­nar­ian knows, it doesn’t rain but it pours.

And it sure was do­ing that now. The weather fore­cast­ers had been talk­ing about 120mm in 48 hours, but it felt like we were go­ing to get that much overnight. Who knows what state the roads would be in?

We sat up by can­dle­light for an­other hour. The light was a bit dim for read­ing by, but the Vet shuf­fled a pack of cards into a game of soli­taire and I fum­bled my way along a few rows of knit­ting, largely by feel. The fire was hot and we could pre­tend that we might get to stay dry un­til morn­ing.

Sure enough, we were just about to head to bed when the phone went. It was hard to hear in the roar of the wind and rain, and the cord­less phone was dead from the power cut, so we had dragged an old land­line push-but­ton one in from the sleep-out. Even though we could hardly hear it, the flash­ing red light as it rang was alarm enough. “Oh dear.” We both looked at it. Fi­nally the Vet an­swered. “Yep.” “Yep.” “Yep.” And he hung up. “Two cows up at John Wheeler’s. One is a head back, and one has gone down. Prob­a­bly aci­do­sis or stag­gers from the weather.”

The downer cow might or might not be calv­ing yet, but she would need sup­ple­ments to get her me­tab­o­lism back to nor­mal or she would die. The head back was a calv­ing prob­lem. In its rush to be born on the wildest night of the year, the calf had failed to get it­self lined up prop­erly, so in­stead of two front feet and a nose pre­sented in the birth canal, it was just the feet. The more the cow strained, the more the calf was locked in po­si­tion with its head twisted around the wrong way. It would never come out un­less some­one pushed it back in far enough to make space to bring the head for­ward. So ‘some­one’ was get­ting his boots on. “John said he had got them both down to the yards, part of it is cov­ered. Should be able to keep dry there if you want to come.”

Which trans­lates as ‘please come and if you want to, you can carry buck­ets of vet gear and hold the torch’.

It really was a wild night. There was a steady 30 knots down in the val­ley but I could hear the wind up on the ridge, a full-blown gale. The trip was mem­o­rable for its lim­ited vis­i­bil­ity and branches and de­bris scat­tered over the road. We couldn’t break any speed records, but at least there were no slips, and no big trees block­ing the way.

John was wait­ing in his ute by the yards with its lights play­ing on the back pen.

One cow was ly­ing down and he had thrown a horse blan­ket over her. The sec­ond one was march­ing back and forth with her back arch­ing and tail ex­tended. She was the one try­ing to calve.

“Let’s get some­thing into the downer cow first.” The Vet took her tem­per­a­ture, looked at her eyes and lis­tened to her heart. She was away with the fairies and to­tally un­re­spon­sive.

“Cal­cium, prob­a­bly about to calve. I’ll put a couple of bot­tles in the vein and then see what hap­pens while we

We’d love to hear about your property and its an­i­mals, your projects, your life’s mo­ments. Email ed­i­tor@nzlifestyle­block.co.nz, and if you wish to in­clude im­ages, please send high res­o­lu­tion jpegs.

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