Daddy’s farm girl!

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Livia absolutely loves going farming with her daddy. She might feel differently when she’s older, but for now it’s their thing. Their special bonding time. There’s going to be a big fight ahead when Myles decides he wants to go too! Last Sunday we all went as a family to check up on some cows that were close to calving and to kraal the sheep for the night. Livvi helped to chase the sheep into their enclosure and then spent some time watching cattle with Quent. They could do this for hours together! It’s like a meditation, especially on a mild and golden autumn afternoon. Myles and I hung back and tried to capture the moment. Too sweet how our babies are growing up!

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Little cow girl!

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Livia had her first close-up encounter with our Boran cows today. Sure she’s seen them from the safety of the bakkie before and we often pass them on our daily walks, but today she got up close with her daddy. Boy did she love it! Some of our best Boran cows were in the cattle press for our annual IVF programme, which is a way to get more offspring from our top animals. We couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity for Livia to meet our herd matriarch Hope MHB 04-11 and her beautiful little heifer calf by our former stud sire Rustin MHB 06-30, who sadly was sold this year. If her shrieks were anything to go by, Livia thought it was all very impressive and entertaining, much to her daddy’s delight!

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What a difference some rain makes!

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The past few weeks have been unbearably hot, windy and dry on the farm. The little bit of rain we had at the end of October quickly dried up and things started to look pretty desperate again. The sky all around us was thick with dust churned up by the wind and tractors hard at work preparing fields for the summer planting season. My heart really went out to all the tractor drivers sitting on open vehicles covered in clouds of dust. Being a tractor driver holds a certain amount of status and prestige amongst farm workers, but at times like this it really cannot be a nice job!

2013-11-17_0001The rain finally came on Friday and carried on all through Saturday. Soft, beautiful, drenching rain! Many other parts of the country experienced heavy flooding, but we had just enough to be satisfied. As luck would have it, we had important work to do on Friday with the start of our first IVF programme for our Boran cattle. Fortunately our new cattle facilities provided enough shelter for the vets to carry on with their work and everything went off smoothly. Many cattle breeders rely on embryo technology to reproduce top quality cows at a faster rate than would normally be possible using donor cows and surrogates. One way to produce and retrieve embryos is to stimulate the donor cow to produce more than one egg and then to artificially inseminate her so that the eggs are fertilised internally before being “flushed” out. Another way is to extract the unfertilised eggs or oocytes directly from the cow’s ovaries and to fertilise them externally in a semen culture. The resulting embryos are left to incubate for seven days before being implanted back into the receiver cows. This latter method is a new development in cattle reproductive technology and we are very excited to see the results. It should be less invasive to the cows since they don’t have to receive extensive hormone stimulation and it’s easier to synchronise the programme with our normal breeding season so that calves aren’t born at odd times throughout the year.

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2013-11-17_0004After two days of gorgeous rain, the sky was crisp and clear today and everything looked brighter and fresher. We took the dogs for a long run this afternoon and along the way checked some of the newly planted maize fields to see whether the seeds have germinated. Some of the fields look very patchy in places, but hopefully this rain will help to get things going nicely. Once the lands have dried up a bit the planting season will begin in earnest. In our area, we can only really plant maize until the first week of December so there is still much work to do! Fortunately the cattle won’t be as labour intensive now that there’s some water in the dams and newly growing grass. How quickly the mood can change after a beautiful gift of rain!

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Happy Visitors

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We’ve been so busy entertaining visitors over the past week that there’s been little time for blogging. These were no ordinary visitors. No, they came from very far away in the Cape which is about 11 hours’ drive away so we had to pull out all the stops to show them the best that Vastrap has to offer! I can’t write about everything at the same time so I’ll start with Quentin’s cousin Pierre and his girlfriend Anneke who were with us for a night last week. Pierre often visited the farm as a child with his three brothers, but has not been here for over two decades. It was great to welcome them into our home and show off all the changes we’ve made. We love having visitors because it forces us to leave our usual routine and get out and enjoy the farm whilst spending quality time with friends.

The weather was unseasonably hot for most of May and Pierre and Anneke struck it lucky with the most perfect windless and clear day. In the late afternoon we took them to meet our herd of Boran cows before heading off for a short walk up the koppie for sundowners. Our Boran are a hit with everyone who meets them. It really is a special experience interacting with these beautiful beasts and they seem to only get friendlier! The sundowner spot was awesome too requiring a bit of scrambling up the rocks to get the best view. As usual the dogs were in their element exploring in the veld. Coco is under close watch at the moment because she has come on heat and is ready to have puppies. She is hating being under lock and key, but this week we’ll take her to visit her friend Roger, the handsome Beagle in town for a bit of fun!

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Motherly Affection

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The Boran 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

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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 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 heifer cows who was close to giving birth. When young cows calve 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).

Hanging with Hope

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You have probably gathered by now that we love our Boran cattle. They are so beautiful and serene. Having them on our farm has really added another dimension from a business perspective, but also for the pure enjoyment of them (see Boran: God’s Gift to Cattlemen and How life has changed: weekends at cattle auctions. Our Boran stud was significantly expanded late last year when Vastrap Boran (VST) acquired the whole of Mollshoop Boran (MHB), one of the most well-known Boran studs in the country.

Quentin loves cattle farming above all other farming, because cows and bulls have personalities. Each one is an individual. A character. But that doesn’t mean that they like us. No, a cow will usually run away if you try to get close to her out in the open veld. Unless they are being worked in a cattle crush, most cows and bulls tend to mind their own business and stay clear of people. One has to be careful though, because cows can get quite aggressive when they are protecting their young calves. I avoid walking between cattle and their calves when our blind dog Paris is with me (see How Paris “Sees” the World). Even our little beagle Coco can be a liability because she is so curious and likes to bark at the cows!

The Boran tend to be a bit more friendly than other breeds of cattle and some of them are very tame. At Vastrap, there is no bigger character than Hope (MHB 04-11). She is one of the top cows in our stud herd – a polled cow (no horns) with a strong head that has already bred three stud sires – but she is also the most friendly. She loves a good tickle and scratch especially if you bring her a treat of lucern pellets.

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A little tickle and scratch to say hello.

Can’t get enough of them pellets!

We love taking people to meet Hope and she especially loves kids, because they give her more food and they are a whole lot cuter than us!

Ashley meeting Hope for the first time.

Dylan saying hello to Hope.

Wait-up! I haven’t finished eating yet!

When we had visitors a few weekends ago we took the kids out to feed Hope again. It was a freezing cold morning and the kids were all bundled up in their winter kit. But the cows were happy because they had just been put into a newly harvested maize field, which tastes delicious and nutritious compared to the dead winter grass.

Cold cows enjoying the left-over maize.

Some pellets for you Hope?

Haven’t had enough yet?

She looks hungry Quentin.

Here Hope, try some delicious lucern pellets.

She likes a good pat and a rub while she is eating.

Thank you Alexander… munch, munch, munch.

And then last Sunday after Quentin’s birthday lunch we took another ride out to see Hope (see A Whiff of Spring!). Thankfully it was MUCH warmer. But Hope liked the pellets and attention just as much as ever. She can’t get enough of those pellets and we can’t seem to get enough of her… the things we do for amusement on a farm!

I’m not leaving this bucket until the last pellet is finished!