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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Contrasting Contours

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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!

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Boys and their Toys

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There is something about a farm that completely captures the imagination of little boys. The open space, the animals, and especially the equipment. Tractors, trucks, front-end loaders, combine harvesters and excavators! Their little eyes light up and they cannot help but get completely over-excited at the prospect of leaving their plastic toys at home and getting a ride on the real thing with their hero, farmer Quentin. Three-year old Dylan, one of Quentin’s little worshipper’s came to visit us this weekend. Apart from following Coco around the whole time, his one mission was to ride on the digger. And ride he did.

Happy as can be – Dylan on the excavator with Quentin.

Fixing the dam wall.

This is fun!

The digger has a mesmerising, therapeutic quality. Quentin says an hour in the cockpit moving soil is like three hours in therapy, only better. In stressful times on the farm he will sometimes disappear for an hour to go and dig. I think he loves it just as much as the little boys!

Quentin in therapy.

Big boys can hitch a ride too – James learning the ropes.

Another little admirer is our nephew Alexander (4.5). He visited the farm in August and only had eyes for his hero, Quentin. Much to his glee he got to ride in the combine harvester while the maize was being harvested. One has to visit Vastrap during harvest season to have this special privilege.

Alexander climbing up the combine harvester.

The face says it all.

Striking a pose on the tractor.

Little girls also like hitching a ride, but their excitement is not nearly as complete as the boys. They don’t eat, sleep and dream about big machines. If pressed, I’m sure they would rather be home playing make-believe games about princesses and faeries. At least that’s what the little girls we know like to do!

Ashley and Emma on the tractor with Alexander.

Sophia looking cool on the excavator.

Farming is a muddy business!