How this col­umn helped to save a lamb

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

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.” ■

“Hey Si­mone,

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 editor@nzlifestyle­block.co.nz, and if you wish to in­clude im­ages, please send high res­o­lu­tion jpegs.

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