How this column helped to save a lamb
HEARING FROM READERS who have found something useful, educational, heartbreaking, beautiful or amusing is always a great pleasure.
The most memorable reader response to this column was from an NZ Lifestyle Block reader who stopped reading my lambing column because she had to dash out to attend an urgent appointment, but left it with her partner, saying ‘follow this and help that ewe!’
He did and the ewe and one healthily-delivered lamb lived happily ever after.
about it never raining, but pouring, and it’s the same in farming as it is in life.
But it wasn’t too much rain that was the problem this time. Quite the opposite.
It was a long dry summer the year Clive’s calves started falling over and dying.
Clive was a stoic sort. He was milking a couple of hundred cows at the time, on a bit of rough rolling country that he was bringing into good production, largely by dint of hard work, increasing fencing and paddock subdivision, and lashings of fertiliser. It wasn’t a farm that would ever break production records per hectare, but it would eventually provide him and his family with a comfortable income, or act as a stepping stone to an easier property down the line. If the weather gods were smiling.
This year the weather gods were in hysterics and playing all sorts of nasty tricks on the mere mortals below. For a start there had been no decent rain for over two months. Early spring had gotten off to a reasonable start, then October had been cold and dry, but that was normal. Most farms were only just starting a second rotation of grazing for the year.
But then the dry continued into November. By December it turned hot as well. Compound that with a couple of cyclones to the north of the country and there was heaps of drying wind, but still no rain.
Then, the weirdest bit of all. As that summer’s cyclones passed to the north of the country, the low pressure under them combined with a spring tide and on-shore winds that wouldn’t let the high tide escape. It flooded. Not downpour floods of fresh water that everyone understood, but an insidious creeping tide from the sea that dribbled, then trickled, then poured over the stop banks guarding the reclaimed flats at the head of the harbour. There was nothing anyone could do but watch the tide come in higher, then higher still and eventually spill over the banks that had been sufficient to keep it out for the last 50 years. It was a freak combination of events.
The result was a couple of feet of sea water over acres of the region’s prime pasture. Some farms lost 40 acres, some 100 acres. One lost a hay crop that was only a week away from harvesting.
Clive’s place wasn’t too badly affected. Out of 40 acres, perhaps half of it had been inundated. These were his best
paddocks for his calves. It was a bit far from home for the milking herd, but ideal, easy and fertile country for weaners and normally they did really well on it.
But the trouble didn’t end with salt water hitting the pasture. Clive knew the affected grass would die back and hoped the calves could eat it first. But instead, they started dying. He found the first one a few days after the flood so he shifted them onto the clean pasture. But then another one died.
Clive twigged. The sea water had poured into the holding pond for the stock water system so the troughs were full of sea water. The more the calves drank, the thirstier they became so the more they drank, and so on and on. Grazing salty grass had made them thirsty to begin with.
More calves were going down so he shifted the mobile ones to paddocks with a different water source and carted fresh water to the crook ones. It was no more work than it had been getting milk out to the buggers back in spring time and he was confident the problem was solved. A narrow escape and he had solved it all on his lonesome.
But his confidence took a beating. Five calves died in the following days and even more were looking really sick. That was when he finally called the Vet and we got the whole story.
“I don’t know what’s going on Doc. They had been doing really well, there was always plenty of feed there considering the drought, those paddocks hold on really well.”
“Have they been grazing the grass where the salt came in?”
“A bit for the first few days. I lost one then we shifted them out. The top paddocks are fine, the grass is good.”
But a quick visit out to the calves showed a large percentage of them seemed listless. Of the two crook animals, both appeared to be blind and one was quite agitated. The other had diarrhoea and was circling aimlessly.
“Well, I don’t need to do an autopsy. It looks like a classic case of hypernatremia.” “Which is?” “Salt poisoning.” “Yeah, but look at the grass, it’s ok up here, and we stopped them getting access to the troughs.”
That was when the rest of the story about the salt water in the troughs came out.
“So they were drinking sea water for a couple of days?” the Vet asked. “Yeah, but then we shifted them and got fresh water to the crook ones. They were really thirsty and it was a job keeping the fresh water up to them to start with. But we did. Thought it was a real close call.”
“Well, that is most likely what did it for them.”
“You mean we killed them giving them fresh water? But wouldn’t they need to drink lots to dilute the salt.”
“Yes, but very gradually. The body can cope with quite high levels of salt, if it is introduced or removed gradually. The danger comes with sudden changes, which messes up the balance between the fluid levels inside and outside of cells. Sodium is a major cation in body fluid, it has an osmotic effect which is important in shifting fluid in and out of cell compartments. The biggest danger is to the nervous system as neurons effectively shrink with high salt levels so the animal gets dehydrated.
“But then you give the animal fresh water and the body tries to correct the imbalance. Fluid is drawn across the cell barrier by osmosis leading to massive oedema and swelling.” “So we killed them with kindness.” “Basically… yes. But now you know and it shouldn’t be too late for this lot,” he indicated the remaining mob of calves.
“A bit like petrol prices isn’t it? Make changes gradual enough people will swallow anything and no one will even notice.”
“Or politics. Take it all with a pinch of salt I say.” ■
did you know your Poppa’s white? You didn’t tell me that. I thought he was Maori.”
He’s not white, you egg – he’s mi poppa. He’s a fairer kind of Maori, country-born, Aotearoa in soul and mi oak, mi grandad.
Poppa is always feeding you. Loaves of bread. Fresh buns. Donuts. Fresh veges and fresh fruit, farm produce. The mean hangis he shares with us have pork, mutton, turkey, chicken, beef, possum, watercress, stuffing, pudding, kumarariwai. I love it when he calls up. “Come for a feed and ice cream.” His farm is a bit strange. Sheep are always going for a wander down the road, rams close gates with a little bunt or two. Turkey and geese are ‘arse-oles’ because they brass Poppa off.
The chickens and ducks lay eggs for breakfast. Mi Poppa always cooks our bacon and eggs, and makes a cup of tea before work begins.
There’s the dog, Ponte’e, he calls him his warrior, keeping him safe and his feet warm. He’s the look-out fella says Poppa.
Mi Poppa always has a handle on things on the farm. He’s a very hard worker, the best granddad ever and for the record, he’s a fairer kind of Maori, Aotearoa born and bred. We’d love to hear about your property and its animals, your projects, your life’s moments. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you wish to include images, please send high resolution jpegs.