Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Against All Odds

In the five years we have been on our new farm the winters of 2007 and 2008 have been the worst we've experienced so far. A wet autumn led into an even wetter winter and conditions for both man and beast were horrendous. At one stage the other half sat up in bed and cried out, "@#%&* all I can see is a sea of mud." He was still asleep!

After a particularly difficult day out on the farm he exclaimed, "Every one of those big hoofprints must hold a litre of water and there is probably now three million litres of water all over the farm."   This led to my 'tongue-in-cheek' remark, "Perhaps we should look at running some Miniature Herefords and see how they and the farm cope."   A long silence greeted this audacious uttering followed by, "That's not such a silly idea."   Thus began my investigation into what Miniature Herefords really were.

Miniature Hereford hoofprint                                             Regular Hereford hoofprint

We have since found that the minis have less impact with their hooves on soft or muddy ground thus causing less pasture damage.   During the wettest times we have fenced off particularly susceptible areas then once conditions improve the minis go into these paddocks first to eat the pasture down.   By the time the ground has dried somewhat and the grass has freshened the bigger cattle can go into these areas without sinking to their bellies as they used to do.

During the 2008 winter we had several sets of twins born on the farm, among them heifer/bull combinations which usually means the female is a sterile "freemartin".   On August 19th we discovered a cow with a very small calf beside her and wondered whether there was another calf somewhere.   We were on top of a steep, slippery hill leading down to a swamp area and it was sheer chance that we noticed movement in the mud below.   Slithering down we discovered another even smaller calf which was so young and deeply buried in the quagmire it could not extricate itself.   A long, hard pull up the hill and we had one hypothermic little bull snuggled into hay on the trailer.   The mother was not interested in him and we then realised the calf with her was a heifer so thought, here's another passenger!

The little heifer grew up with mum while we hand reared her twin bull brother.   Even though we knew the odds were against her being fertile we always give our freemartin heifers a chance to get in calf by running them with a bull alongside their peer group.   Apparently if the placental membranes of the twins are not co-joined in utero within the first month from conception it is likely the heifer will be fertile.   If they are then the blood travelling to both twins carries male hormones which affects the sexual development of the female twin.   A theory is also posed that if the heifer is heavier than the bull then she could be fertile.   It is about a 10 percent chance either way.   In this case the heifer was 26 kgs while her brother was 24 kgs so fingers were crossed.   The following photo was taken of how a bovine chromosomal freemartin is produced in utero where both bull and heifer calves are sharing the placental membranes connecting them with their mother.

Photo reprinted with permission from Dr Robert A. Foster, Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Canada.

The following year the heifer fell victim to a particularly bad attack of facial eczema.   She had been out the back of the farm with the rest of the yearling heifers and we had not been able to get near them for weeks owing to the atrocious conditions which had washed out some crossings.   When they were accessible it was only because this heifer failed to come out of the trees that we realised something was amiss.   Unfortunately it was several more days before we could get her up to our yards and by then she was a mess.   A zinc bolus and a balling gun for administering it was obtained from the local vet and the heifer treated.   It took a long time for her to recover and she ended up with a bald nose which wasn't the best situation for our summers.   Then she started to grow hair over the patches and eventually developed a moustache which covered part of her nose.   We had no idea what internal damage the eczema might have done but kept an eye on her over the following months.   She was always on the small side but already came from a small line of Herefords so we were a bit dubious about running her with a bull at two years of age although we doubted she would either cycle or get in calf.

                                                Riverlands Princess with moustache.

At the beginning of winter, 2011 to our amazement we noticed "Freebie", as we called her, was looking quite rotund and developing a noticeable udder.   On September 15th she calved with no trouble producing a 34 kg bull.   A reprieve for her and relief for us as we don't really like sending young heifers to the Works.   The little guy is doing well as mum has quite a good udder for a heifer and she certainly loves her little boy.

                                                          Princess' little prince.
She will now join the little herd of conventional but small polled Herefords which will be mated to a Miniature Hereford bull as one of the foundation 'matrons' for a polled Miniature Hereford stud.   Hats off to you Riverlands Princess 979 for your courage and determination to make it against all odds.

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