Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Twins Grow Up

December 3rd, 2009.   A day after the due date and Grovenorth Abby calved.   She was in the same paddock as her friend who had produced an attractive heifer three days earlier.   When I saw first one calf and then the other all seemed well until - OH MY GOSH, there's a THIRD calf!   I discovered later that these were the first recorded Miniature Hereford twins in the Southern Hemisphere.   Apparently there had been another set earlier in New Zealand but they had not been registered.   The new little 'un with its mother was a bull so I hoped the other would be as well although I really wanted all heifers.   Out of luck - it was a heifer and probably a "freemartin" meaning it would be sterile (see article about this in the earlier story "Against All Odds").  In this case I found two separate placentas in the paddock so am hoping for the best.

TWO not one and mum makes three.                                           Tea, with milk, for two.

I like to name my calves in some way after their mothers so the bull became Riverlets Abbot (yes, I know  there should only be one 't') and the heifer Riverlets Abbess.   These names were shortened to Abe and Bess.   Abe weighed 22 kg and Bess 23.6 kg which was within the normal range for Miniature Hereford calves in my herd.   Abby was a good mum with plenty of milk so no supplementary feed was necessary nor did we need to take one calf from her to hand rear unlike the bigger Herefords.   Beef cows are really only designed to raise one calf at a time successfully but there are exceptions.   We were already at the beginning of a drought which lasted seven months but Abby cared for her babies all through this without any setbacks to them although by the time they were weaned, at around eight months, she had lost some condition and took longer to get in calf again.

When the calves were a couple of months old I had them dehorned.   Unfortunately this was summertime so we had to watch them carefully for any infection or flystrike with the hotter weather.   Abe did suffer a bit with one side of his head but was easy to handle so came right after a while.   It was simply a matter of keeping the wound clean, applying Wound Powder (a charcoal-based compound available from vets or stock firms) and topping off with Flystrike Powder.   Bess had no such problems.   Abe was very friendly and enjoyed a good scratch or rub but Bess was quite shy.   When scampering by their mother, especially in the evening light, they looked like a couple of rabbits with their bobbing, white-tipped tails.   They thrived then by May started to grow their winter coats, probably anticipating the wet, cold, muddy conditions to come.   With the severe drought there was no grass on which to wean any of the calves so it wasn't until July that the twins could leave Mum for a "greener pasture".   By then they looked like 'woolly little mammoths' according to a not very complimentary friend whereas I thought them round, cute and cuddly!
   Hoppity, skippity off we go with mum.                        Weaned and in their winter woollies.

Eventually there came a parting of the ways with Abe going off to join the bigger weaned Hereford bull calves and Bess into the heifer calf mob.   They mingled very well with their peers, getting used to a different part of the farm and continuing to grow well.   The following October (2010) saw the arrival of two more Miniature Hereford bulls purchased from Ruzak Park Stud, Oamaru, in the South Island.   These lads were a couple of months older than the twins and a bit bigger but that didn't faze Abe in the least.   He proceeded to try and assert domination over Digger but soon gave up and decided they were no threat to him!   I kept the three young bulls together for a while before taking them out to mix with the yearling mob again.   The little guys stuck up for themselves and before long they were all grazing happily together.   All the Herefords, great and small, get virtually the same management on our farm except during the mating or calving seasons when the Miniatures have separate paddocks.   The only difference is that the earlier-maturing minis are calved as two-year-olds while the bigger Herefords wait until they are better matured at three years of age.   This works well.   

        Riverlets Abbott v. Ruzak Park Digger.                                         Three is not a crowd.
It was interesting to contrast the growth of the Miniature Hereford calves with those of their same age group among the conventional Herefords.   The shorter legs and necks of the minis meant that they became more compact while the bigger animals went through a leggy stage before filling out from about eighteen months.   This applied to both heifers and bulls.   Although I prefer not to use my bulls until they are around two years of age one of them went out with a group of cows at seventeen months and got all of them in calf.   He is now running with another group and I am looking forward to seeing what his progeny are like.   The heifers are left until they are about fifteen months old and they calve with little trouble at two years.   The twin heifer was an exception.   She was very small as a yearling so I left her for another year.  

Abe and big Hereford - yearlings.                            Bess and big Herefords - yearlings.  
A puzzling problem with the minis is their tendency to have very dirty tails and hind quarters.   We don't have this to the same extent with the bigger Herefords and are thinking it may be the richness of the grass on our farm.   Herefords are able to forage anywhere but maybe they, the minis in particular, do better with more roughage.   Our farm is high in ryegrass and clover - very few weeds, no kikuyu or rough pasture and the soil tests have shown it to be well nourished.   The answer could be to restrict the minis' access to fresh pasture and feed more hay but that is easier said than done on a farm of this size.   They certainly came through both the drought and the horrible winters in better shape than the bigger cattle and what condition they did lose was recovered in a very short space of time.

 Rich pasture.                                                                  No pasture.                      

Two years have now passed and the twins are moving towards their next adventures.   Bess is with the herd running with Ruzak Park Digger in the hope that she will actually have a calf next Spring.   The two-year-old bulls Abe was with have all been sold so he has been "demoted" to the next mob of yearlings but he is still smaller than they are!   He is possibly going to take a trip to the Deep South to stand as a service bull at aother Miniature Hereford Stud for a couple of years.   He won't be sold as his genetics will be needed back home some time in the future.   Before that he will be tested for BVD (bovine viral diaorrhea) and vaccinated.   His TB clearance is C10 and he has had all other necessary vaccinations.   My cattle will only come from or go to herds which have the same protections as I cannot put either my minis or our larger Herefords at risk. 

Riverlets Abbott aged two.                                                   Riverlets Abbess aged two.