Calf rescue!

This is the story of a little Boran bull calf who fell down an aardvark hole and was very lucky to be rescued by Quentin. We’re not sure if other Boran farmers have experienced this too, but we’ve had quite a few incidents of calves falling down holes that they couldn’t get out of, much more than with our other cattle. We have no idea why!

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On this particular day, Quentin went to visit a herd in one of the furthest camps on our farm. It was a beautiful clear afternoon, perfect for taking photos. When he got out the car he could hear an animal bellowing in the distance away from the main herd. He couldn’t see any animals so he ignored it at first, but when the sounds didn’t stop he went to investigate. Eventually he found a very deep aardvark hole in which a calf had got stuck. He had to pull with all his strength to get the calf out and then tried for half an hour to get it to stand. By then the whole herd, including the calf’s mother was crowding round. It was late afternoon so he couldn’t leave the calf in such a state because the jackals would surely get hold of it in the night. In fact, only a week earlier we had seen a jackal calling on the cliff above that camp in broad daylight!

He drove back to get some help and then loaded the calf onto the bakkie and chased the whole herd and their bull, Zed DLV 10-17, closer to home. The calf and its mother were put in a small camp next to our house, but it took a few hours the next morning to get it to stand again. Fortunately this story has a good ending and the calf is now looking much better and drinking greedily from its mother. But it’s scary to think that if Quentin hadn’t driven out to take photos that afternoon it could’ve all ended very differently. Please let us know if anyone else has had similar experiences with Boran calves.

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The grass is greener!

It’s amazing what a difference rain makes, especially in the usually dull Free State! Earlier this week Quentin did a photo shoot with some of his Boran cows that are being prepared for embryo flushing at Stompie Olivier’s farm about 40km from Vastrap near Hobhouse.  Some of these cows will also be on sale at the Vastrap Auction on 16 August, 2013!

Here are some stunning photos showing the lush veld and gorgeous cows in their full glory. Just look at the contrast with a few months ago!

Winter contrast

Dry winter veld – Ginger MHB 06-48 with calf by Rustin.

Swimming in grass!

Swimming in grass!

Afternoon showers.

Afternoon showers – Hope MHB 04-11

Now where is that pot of gold?

Now where is that pot of gold?

Too cute!

Too cute!

Flush group.

Contented flush group.

Bonding with Cindy MHB

Bonding with Cindy MHB 04-04.

Motherly Affection

Boran cows have extremely strong mothering instincts, which make them very protective of their calves. Perhaps this has something to do with their heritage in Kenya of grazing in the veld alongside wild animals (see The Boran: God’s Gift to Cattlemen). I saw this first hand one day when I was walking the dogs and came across Hope MHB 07-12 who had been separated from her new born calf. Some how the calf had landed up on the other side of the fence from her. She was going crazy and started charging the dogs! I quickly got them out of the way and went to call Quentin to help. It was quite a struggle to get her through the gate without being charged, but all she wanted was to keep her calf out of danger. She was perfectly happy once they were reunited.

Below are some beautiful photos capturing special moments between Boran cows and their calves.

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A farmer’s work is never done

I’ve been trying to write this post since early yesterday morning, but our internet connection was down and somehow I never finished it. I haven’t posted about the farm in ages because we’ve been away so much. It has been raining heavily in most parts of the country except here with us. Every time rain is forecast it is scaled right back down on the day and we end up with nothing. The veld is greener than it was, but there is still very little food for the cattle and the wheat crop has suffered a lot. We had a few light showers over the weekend and yesterday so fortunately Quentin has started planting maize, but it will need to rain again soon for the crops to germinate properly.

Not very lush veld and wheat fields.

Here is a story to show you that a farmer’s work is never done, even on a Sunday. Start out thinking it’s going to be a relaxing day and before you know it a whole lot of work is happening!

We set off on Sunday morning to forage for wild plants that I want to use in a neglected area of the garden. Every time I go for a walk I notice new wild flowers that I would like in the garden, but I never have a spade or a bag handy. My beloved agreed to come along to dig in the hard dry soil.

Dainty white vygie thriving in the hard clay soil.

Pink vygies.

Some type of aloe.

Tired dogs.

A cow skull for our collection.

Shortly after leaving home we noticed that the sheep were grazing in the wheat, which is not a good thing. It would be worse if it was cows, but sheep can do damage too and they were not supposed to be in that field! We raced around trying to herd them back to where they were supposed to be, knowing that there was a gate open somewhere that shouldn’t have been.

Naughty sheep grazing in the wheat.

My beloved chasing sheep on a Sunday.

Back where they should be.

Making sure the gate is firmly closed.

Whilst herding the sheep we drove past a herd of our Boran cattle and stopped to check if everything was okay. They looked happy and content except for this little baby who was obviously standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and got shat on by his mother!

Wrong place at the wrong time!

Phew! Something stinks around here!

Then we were starting to get tired and the dogs were hot, so they went for a swim in the not-so-deep dam.

Refreshed Coco.

Then we noticed that the sheep had escaped again and the Boran bulls were in the wrong place too! So we drove all the way round the valley to find the open gate and chase the bulls back to where they were supposed to be, which is far away from the cows!

Act confident and pretend to know what you’re doing Marisa!

Chasing the bulls back through the open gate.

Then, just because we were already in work mode, we went to check on one of our Boran heifer cows who was close to giving birth. When young cows give birth for the first time they can experience problems so it is important to monitor them closely when the time is near. As it turned out she hadn’t calved yet, but there were a whole lot of other cute babies around. Visiting the Boran never feels like work and Quentin’s face lights up and relaxes the moment he sees his Boran beauties  – unlike when he sees sheep grazing in the wheat!

Rose (MHB-06-05) with her new calf sired by Griffen (MHB 06-27).

A Calf is Born

Quentin arrived home in a very big hurry one afternoon in late May shouting for Ashley and me to come with him. There was a cow in distress and she needed help with the delivery of her calf, which was in a breach position. This was the first I had ever heard about “pulling a calf” so I was naturally intrigued. The calf would not have survived without help and Quentin really wanted to make sure that he/she was not harmed, because it was the first embryo calf from his prize Boran cow Jackie MHB 05-08. We prayed that he/she had not been in distress for too long.

Francis is the hero of this story. He is one of the chief mechanics and drivers on the farm, but he also happens to be an expert at pulling calves (go figure?). He kept his cool throughout and took such care to make sure that everything went smoothly. Notice too that Ashley was in her favourite farm gear – her flower girl dress from our wedding that she did not take off all summer while she was visiting us! I just love this series of photos and I hope you appreciate them too.

Two hooves peeking out…

Francis is the expert at pulling so he takes the lead.

The strength of five men…

… pulling hard on the rope tied to the calf’s legs!

It’s a girl and she is breathing!

Francis checks to see if she is okay.

Mom says hello with a lick.

Say hello to Jackie VST 12-04!

Ashley takes a closer look.

Hip, hip hooray for a job well done!

R.I.P. Little Calf

It’s been a sad few days here at Vastrap. Ashley arrived at the farm on Sunday for her monthly 10 day visit. On Monday an extremely severe cold front swept through the country causing snow fall in all nine provinces. I was in Johannesburg for a night on Monday and when I drove back to the farm on Tuesday it was starting to snow quite heavily in the city. The last time I saw snow like that in Joburg was in 1981 when I was six! Anyway, I got back to the farm and everything was covered in white.

The rose garden.

The mountain.

Ashley and Quentin with their snowman.

As beautiful as it was, and as much as the kids enjoyed the snow, it was not a good time for the new born little calves that I wrote about in my last post, “Calving Season has Begun!”. Quentin was extremely busy on Monday and Tuesday with the hoof smith who was checking all the bulls and cows for hoof problems and genetic faults. He didn’t have time to check on the calves until late Tuesday afternoon just after I arrived home.

He came home in a state, because the little calf that we had found in an aardvark hole on Saturday had almost frozen to death. Its tail had been eaten off by a jackal and its one eye looked like it had gone blind. He was too weak to stand and drink milk from his mother. In addition, Quentin could not find one of the calves that had been perfectly healthy on Sunday (the one with the black cow mother in the previous post) and another had died during child-birth.

Quentin brought the sopping wet calf without a tail home. We immediately put the little thing in front of the Aga stove and spent ages blow-drying it. We also tried to feed him a mixture of ideal milk, egg and milk, but he did not eat much and looked very weak and traumatised.

Drying the baby calf.

Ashley saying hello.

With Sibella and the dogs.

Trying very hard to get it to drink.

He looked okay the next day, but still wouldn’t eat much and struggled to stand.

Lying in front of the warm stove with Paris.

We took him outside for a walk and a wee. The dogs were quite puzzled by this new arrival in the house and kept sniffing the wound on his tail.

Resting on the grass with Coco.

Then Quentin arrived home with another little one whose feet had frozen during the night. She couldn’t stand or walk and would’ve died left like that. We immediately got the blow dryer out to thaw her feet so that she could go back to her mom as soon as possible. It was obvious that she was much stronger than the other little one.

And then there were two!

Fortunately she got up quite quickly and started stumbling around the kitchen island. After a few rounds she was walking more confidently and ready to go back to her mom. We checked on her this morning and although she looks quite weak she is drinking. Phew!

Eeck! There’s a calf in my kitchen!

Curious Coco.

We carried on trying with the first calf, but he really was not looking good. He just wouldn’t drink from the bottle so eventually Quentin had to pour the milk down his throat just to get some sustenance in him.

It just wouldn’t drink from the bottle.

That night we knew that things were not going to turn out well. He was not getting up and his breath became more and more laboured. All we could do was put him in front of a warm fire and stroke him.

Sleeping in front of the warm fire.

This morning he was gone. Hopefully a more peaceful death than he would have had out in the cold night. The kids were sad, but all along we had said that he might not survive. We all agreed that the best thing to do would be to put him back with the elements and let nature take its course. Perhaps we shouldn’t have interfered in the first place.

My father-in-law says this is the coldest weather he has experienced on the farm in his 60 years of farming. I think the main difference is that we usually have dry cold, which the animals can handle, but as soon as it is wet and cold they really struggle. In total, Quentin lost five calves in the past few days – one disappeared before anyone saw it, two disappeared after birth (suspected jackal), one died during birth, and one died on our kitchen floor in front of the Aga. R.I.P. little calves. Hope you enjoy it up there in calf heaven.

Calving season has begun!

It’s calving seasons at Vastrap! Since the end of July little babies have been arriving all over the place keeping Quentin, Abraham, Tshidiso and Molantwa very busy recording each birth and checking to see that there aren’t any problems.

We have three different types of calves at Vastrap. The naturally bred Angus and Boran calves and the Boran embryo calves born to surrogate mothers. For the natural breeding season the cows are with the bulls for about three months between December and February – about 3 bulls to every 100 cows. A cow’s gestation period is the same as a woman so the calves are born between the end of July and October. The timing of the breeding season is determined by the fact that we are a summer rainfall area so the grazing is better from October through to March. Also, our winters are very severe so a cow cannot raise a calf in the harsh months of May to July. While food is still scarce in August and September, the newly harvested maize fields provide an extra source of sustenance.

This was the first Angus calf born this season. Its mother had bottle teats so it could not suckle properly. The mother had to be milked by hand to reduce the swelling so that the calf could get his mouth around the teats.

Angus cow with “bottle teats”.

Just born Angus calf with her mother.

Embryo calves are born throughout the year depending on when the surrogate mother is implanted with an embryo. Using embryos allows us to increase the size of the Boran herd more quickly, but we only use cows with the best genetics to ensure that the quality of the herd improves over time (see The Boran: God’s Gift to Cattlemen). In the past one could only multiply the best genetics through the sire by using artificial insemination (AI), however advances in embryo technology now allow dam genetics to be propagated too. Embryo technology is a lot more complicated and expensive so it is used only with really top genetics.

This weekend I helped Quentin to check on the embryo calves being born and to document them. For each new calf we take down its mother’s number, date of birth, sex, colour and weight. The new babies are so cute and soft! It is quite funny how they look so different from their mothers. Some of the calves are full brother and sister because the embryos came from the same sire and dam.

Surrogate mother and her new Boran calf.

A cute little white one.

Surrogate mothers do a great job with their little ones.

A group of full brothers and sisters from Jackie MHB 05-08 & Co-Jack CI 08-030.

Things don’t always go according to plan. On Saturday evening we found a little calf that had fallen into an aardvark hole. The poor little thing would have died if we hadn’t been there and hadn’t got out of the car to look around. It was getting dark so the photos aren’t that good, but he was really squashed in there!

Stuck in a hole.

Helping him stand on his numb legs.

His mother also had an injury to her leg, but she ran away when we had saved the calf. We spent about half an hour trying to herd her back to the calf so that she would bond with him and feed him, but she kept running away on her funny leg. In total frustration Quentin said this is where the saying “stupid cow” comes from!

Early on Sunday morning we went back to check on the calf and took a bottle of milk with in case it had been abandoned. He seemed fine and warm, but his mother was nowhere to be seen. We tried to chase her back towards the calf, but she didn’t want anything to do with him. Just in case we fed him the milk and tried again to get her to go to him. We’ll only know tomorrow whether this mission succeeded. At least she was standing close to him when we left, but she still didn’t seem that interested and we hadn’t actually seen him drink from her. These things sometimes happen when heifers calf for the first time. They just need a little bit of help to learn how to be good mothers.

Feeding the little calf a mixture of milk and egg.

Lapping it up!

Too cute!

Stupid cow ignoring her little calf.