Counting calves and waiting for puppies!


We arrived home late yesterday afternoon from our busy weekend of auctioning and visiting family and friends in Johannesburg. After unpacking the car we immediately put on our walking shoes and hurried down to the fields below our house to see if any new calves were born while we were away. It was a beautiful crisp evening with the bright almost-full moon already high in the sky. We could see smoke from a far-away veld fire, probably somewhere beyond Ladybrand, billowing in the distance. First stop was to check on the builders’ progress with our new cattle facility. We only have one month to get everything finished before our auction so it’s crunch time! Things seem to be on track though, which is exciting. Alongside our new cattle crush is a new loading platform and a shed with toilet facilities, a store room and a laboratory/kitchen which will be used for our embryo programme and for the lunch preparation for our auction. We have recycled a lot of material that was left over from our house renovation, in particular the large steel windows that we replaced with wooden double glazed windows.

2013-07-22_0001Next we moved on to the field of green feed where there is a group of receiver (surrogate) cows pregnant with pure Boran embryo calves and three Boran cows that have given birth to their own natural calves out of season. One of the receivers has also given birth to her own natural calf (the white-faced one in the photo) so there is a real mixture of genetics in the group! Over the next few weeks this group will be visited every day to see if any new calves have been born. It is much warmer this year than last so we will hopefully not run into as much trouble with little calves freezing in the snow and being attacked by jackals! On the way, we bumped into our two horses, Sonny and Beauty. They were slightly wary of us as we were carrying a leash for Paris and they probably thought we were trying to catch them. In our rush to leave the house I also forgot to take along some treats for them! The sun was setting quickly as we made our way home and the moon shone brighter and brighter. I tried to take some photos without a tripod, which is not the best thing, but the next best option was to lean on a skew gate! Coco came home carrying a stolen egg in her mouth. We estimate that she is seven weeks pregnant, so the puppies are imminent. Her appetite is ferocious and I have been unsure whether to feed her constantly or worry about her weight. Today I read that I should feed her as much as she demands to build up her strength so I’m off to town to buy some treats and puppy food. I will also start preparing her nesting box soon. A big adventure lies ahead for her and us!


Contrasting Contours


I felt a bit bad about saying in my last post that our winter landscape here in the Free State is drab. In some ways that’s accurate, but if you look a little closer there is beauty in the starkness. You just need to look at these photos that my step-mother Barbara took at the start of winter to appreciate what I mean. The farm looks a little different now, with all the sunflowers and most of the maize harvested, but in essence it’s the same. No matter what time of year, standing on the mountain behind our house – as my father John and Quentin’s father Bill were doing that day – what stands out is the contrasting patterns made by the contours on our cultivated lands. It may be a little browner now than in summer, but no less striking and definitely not drab! In fact, I love the contrast of the bright green fields of oats (used as green feed for the cattle and sheep in winter) with the brown landscape.

Tomorrow we’re off to the National Boran auction in Parys. It’s always a very busy time with lots of socialising and interacting with other breeders. Of course the animals are important too, but this year we are only taking one cow and some semen from our top stud bull Rustin MHB 06-30 so it’s not as stressful for Quentin as last year. The big annual sale of our animals happens in a month’s time here at Vastrap so we will be very busy preparing for that on our return next week! Last year my post on the National Auction was entitled “How life has changed: weekends at cattle auctions“. Back then auctions were still quite a novelty, but apparently not anymore!


Hashing with the Harriers

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We took full advantage of the spring-like weather on Sunday and joined the Maseru branch of the Hash Harriers for a walk in Ladybrand. It was our first time on the Hash, but we thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people and exploring the hills around town, a nice change from our usual farm walks. The 6.5km walk was followed by a delicious lunch at the ever-charming Living Life Station Cafe which opened especially for the occasion. The sky was blue and the sun shone brightly, but unfortunately the winter landscape in this part of the country is pretty drab. The lifeless overgrazed veld crunched underfoot and the views of town were scarred by fire damage. The route was carefully marked out with white dots of flour and maize meal and occasional resting points along the way were indicated by three white parallel lines on the ground. The sandstone cliffs around Ladybrand are actively quarried by locals and along the way we saw piles of bricks ready to be sold and a carving which looked like the start of a bird bath. There were also big herds of cattle grazing on communal land and some make-shift cattle kraals hidden in the hills. We walked through a very old community grave yard, which boasted some elaborate grave stones, but it was touching that most of the graves were simply marked with a stone. The home stretch was along the now disused railway line that serviced the town decades ago leading to the Station Cafe. One can see just how long ago it was used by the large trees growing between the tracks! We enjoyed a fabulous lunch in the sun with some very pleasant background music on steel drums beautifully performed by the organiser of the walk’s daughter. We are now thinking of hosting a Hash at Vastrap later in the year to show off some of the beautiful walks on our doorstep!


Pottering around


I’ve been offline for the past week having a generally frustrating time setting up new computers for Quentin and myself in line with my new job description. Today I finally unpacked my shiny new toy – a beautiful iMac! Since I’ve been so bad at blogging over the past few weeks I couldn’t resist getting right to it and seeing how the machine performs. So far so good, although I still have a lot to learn. Sitting inside fiddling with computers is hardly conducive to exciting blogging so I decided to spend some time outside with my camera this morning. So far we’ve had an incredibly mild July especially compared to this time last year when it had already snowed twice. The heat has dried everything up even more than usual and Quentin is worried that he won’t be able to get his wheat crop planted. A little bit of rain would go a very long way right now.

There was not much to photograph in the garden as everything is looking pretty dead, except the odd spring bulb that is starting to sprout. Instead of gardening I’ve been shopping for some new garden furniture. I found some charming benches at the “antique” shop in Ladybrand, which are made out of old cast iron beds. I think they have lots of character and should find a happy resting place in the Vastrap garden.


After taking photos of the benches I started spying on Poepsie cat who was sunning herself in her usual spot on the windowsill outside the front veranda. She looked like she didn’t have a care in the world and I was thrilled to see her munching on some catmint that I planted for her last week. Her peace was interrupted by her nemesis, curious Coco who also wanted to inspect the catmint. I’m happy to report that Coco seems to be heavily pregnant. Her waistline has completely disappeared and she is moaning and groaning more than ever while she sleeps. And hungry – I can’t keep up with her demands for treats! Hopefully this is not all fake and we will be delivering some puppies in early August. A very exciting prospect, although I’m sure one that Poepsie cat can do without!