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The week beginning the 10th of February 2007.


Saturday the 10th

Ruth's Aunt Joy

This is my Aunt Joy, sister of my mother, Jill, visiting for a month from England (Teignmouth, Devon).  This is her third visit to this country and our farm!  Jill and Bruce brought Joy up for a visit today and she will return in a couple of weeks to stay for a few days.

We went out for a walk through the stand of very old trees near the house, which Joy remembered enjoying so much during her last visit and Stephan noticed the Northern Rata vine below, twisting its way down the tree in which it is growing.

Rata vine

I like catching up with the English part of my family.  I first met them when I was eleven, when I was sent off around to the other side of the world on my own for three months!  Much of that visit is dream-like in my memory in that I'm not sure which bits are real any more.  I remember very clearly things like on the plane trip over, opening a series of letters my father had written for me, telling me all sorts of things about the countries I would be flying over at the times he'd calculated; I very clearly remember a number of the songs on the "popular" music menu, most of which I'd never heard before and knew almost by heart by the time we arrived in London, after the loop had played dozens of times!  It was an interesting experience for a child and I really enjoyed much of it.  It seems like madness, looking back, to send a child on her own so far away to people she had never met, not from a physical safety perspective in particular, but emotionally it could have been a disaster!

...Later...

Bull #42 has a large wart at the corner of his eye.  I noticed it a couple of weeks ago and it has continued to grow.  I'm not particularly worried about it, since they generally go away on their own.  I'll keep an eye on it, in case he bumps it, but he should be right.

a wart on a bull's eye

Sunday the 11th

fallen Puriri tree
fallen Puriri tree
the rotten trunk of a fallen Puriri tree

The only known casualty of the recent torrential rain, fell down late this morning with a terrible crash!  I could smell it but didn't discover which tree it was until later in the day when the sun caught the leaves where it lay, in a way which caught my eye.  Freshly fallen trees have the most amazing smell - sort of lush and alive and wonderful, probably from all that suddenly crushed fresh vegetation.  It fades after two or three hours.
The photo at left above is taken from near the bridge and the other from around behind the trunk of the tree.  At left is a close-up of some of the inside of the fallen trunk - there's good wood on the outside, but within it is all spongy and rotten.  The lighter coloured material is soft and the darker part is the soft stuff completely waterlogged.

There are the remains of an electric fence under the tree - at least one of the posts is smashed and we've had to disconnect the electric feed to the wires, since it's now shorted to the ground.  Damian and Bendy were both in the paddock, but are quite safe.

Grey 367, daughter of old grey 16, and her calf, 529.
367 is always the scatty, scared one when there are strangers in the paddock, but she has been getting much quieter lately.  She even lets me scratch her a little around the base of her tail now!

529 is an automatic "keeper" since she'll hardly match any of the other heifers in a sale ring!  I'm also conducting a long-term experiment: seeing how "pure" I can make these grey calves in terms of their percentage of Angus blood.  It would appear that they either have the grey gene or they don't, so as long as I have grey animals, I'll be able to keep breeding more of them.  I'm not trying to do anything odd to the breed, but it's rather fun to have these not-black herd members.

367 and 529, the greys

There's been some suspicious activity in the air today: a little plane spent ages doing small circles around over the bush-covered hills at the back of the farm.  This happens sometimes at this time of the year: it's the police drug-squad doing a Marijuana patrol.  Apparently the (illegal) plantation sites are really easy to see from the air in the midst of the bush, and where it is growing in remote locations, the plane "spotters" simply call in the helicopter with the spray equipment and they deal to it immediately.

drug-hunting plane
drug-spraying helicopter

Monday the 12th

yearling heifers

I separated the yearling heifers from their yearling bull companion today, many days after I had intended to, but I hadn't counted on the leg injury when I made my plans!

The reduced mob of cows with bull #26, on their way from the front of the farm to the back.

Before moving these cows from near the front of the farm, I suddenly realised I needed to think about when the last of the calves were due for their vaccination booster shot - and then realised I'd let too much time pass!  Trying to farm on one leg has created some problems!  Had I not been disabled over the last week, I'd have had the calves in and done them.  Never mind; I shall simply have to restart the vaccination programme for the seven or so calves, again.

cows heading to the back of the farm

The three river-crossings I rode through on my way out to set up gates for the cows going to the back of the farm today, have all been thoroughly scoured by last week's rushing flood waters, far more than is usual in this small stream.  Everything looks very pristine, with much of the usual silt having been washed away.

You may notice in some of the photographs, the brown dead gorse plants: they're the source of much joy for Stephan at present, as he's been able to get around and kill the dreaded weed.  It means we're using far more herbicidal spray than we ever wanted to, but we either kill it or give in to the stuff and keep less cows.


Tuesday the 13th

Isla, her son #51 and bull #26

A little earlier than I expected, Isla is of interest to the bull.  (He's the sire of her current calf.)
Isla's previous two heats were almost undetectable - on the first I guessed the timing and inseminated her and when she came on heat again I didn't even see it!  I decided the bull would have to do the detection this time.  Isla, of all the cows, has to be pregnant, otherwise how can we have an annual competition?

The bull (#26) is still quite under-weight.  I'm not at all concerned about him, his health or his genetics, since I know the level of feed he's had available throughout his busy time of mating, but he would look rather more impressive if I'd ever been able to feed him to his potential!

Bloo and Stephan appeared in the middle of the day today, so I got them to accompany me up the road and move the cows and calves out of our most inconvenient paddock and back along the road.  I would have been rather more cautious of doing this particular move with only Stephan and I and three legs between us.

cattle in the Road Flat paddock, about to be moved
cows and calves coming along the road

At left, Bloo and some of the cows and calves.

I had called the cattle out of the paddock, then driven along the 400m to our driveway and waited for Stephan and Bloo to walk them along the road.  They were obviously not in a hurry!  The road is not particularly busy and we usually manage to do such shifts without inconveniencing, or being inconvenienced by, traffic.  The cows are unsettled by vehicles and the road is narrow, so we prefer to stop any traffic until the cows are off the road - after all, it's not a great distance to travel, nor to wait for them.  We've had the occasional problem with impatient and rude people, in both cases they were fellow farmers, which really surprised us.  Chasing someone else's cattle away down the road at a run is not a friendly act!

As soon as I'd double-checked they were all there, we let them make their way out along the lane to their next paddock, which was actually just across the river from the one they'd just left, up the road.

cattle heading along the House lane

Wednesday the 14th

an aerial photo of the farm with the lane route shown
cattle in the lanes

Lanes really are marvellous!

At left is an aerial photo of part of the farm (taken on two different days, hence the line down the middle) showing the route the cows took; they went out of the paddock at the lower left of the picture and all the way to the bottom of the Big Back paddock.

The photo above is taken where the lanes go under a couple of trees two thirds of the way up the long straight section between the first left turn and the second.  The cows are turning left at the point closest to the colour-change line in the aerial photo.

Beef farms don't generally have a lot of lanes, it being more a feature of dairy farms where cattle move to and fro more frequently, but I find them invaluable.

There's a great deal less stress in moving cattle along a predetermined path than having to chase them through the paddocks you don't want them grazing, on the way to somewhere else.  They also allow far more flexibility in my grazing programme, since the cattle are not confined to moving from one paddock to its near-neighbour.  If necessary, they can go from one corner of the farm to the other, if the grass calls for such a move, which it sometimes does with Kikuyu!  There can be marked differences in the growth patterns of the grass in different paddocks.  That may be a result of differences in soil fertility, rainfall (microclimatic conditions are such that it may rain at one end of the farm and not the other), temperature - depending on wind direction and sunshine hours - and any combination of those factors.  Presumably some people manage to do pasture budgeting on Kikuyu, but I've found it very tricky.  When your grass might grow two inches in a day in some conditions and not at all in others it's difficult to make useful predictions.  This summer when it's been wet enough for Kikuyu to take off, it's been too cold and when it's been warm enough, it's been too dry.

Out on the other side of the farm, things were hotting up for Isla!  Her son is this year's active bull calf - there's always at least one which seems to start following the hot cows around from an early age.  Two years ago, I recall, it was #26 himself!

Isla, her son, and her suitor

Thursday the 15th

During yesterday's cow move, I sneakily removed #359 and her calf from the company of Bull #43, while he was looking the other way!  They've now rejoined the large mob of cattle and the bull spent the night on his own in the Flat 3 paddock.  He behaved very nicely, but this morning I went up to get him out and bring him back to the other bulls, before he got too lonely and started misbehaving.


Friday the 16th

a dead Kukupa

A dead pigeon again!  This is the third time this has happened in the same small area.  The other two occasions were in October 2004 and January 2005.  The birds are such excellent, fast fliers, that it's surprising such a mistake would be made, but not that it would prove deadly when it did.

The white feathers stuck to the fence-wire are where this bird hit, cutting through its neck just above the breast-bone.  There are feathers all over the ground.

I shall try and get some of the pink plastic ribbon used by the Department of Conservation pest trappers and wrap it around the fence in the hope of making it more visible to the birds!  One dead Kukupa would be too many; three is awful.

The birds are so strictly protected that I am not permitted to remove the dead bird, nor any part of it.

Now that Isla has had her time with the bull, I brought the mob back in this evening and drafted the bull out as they came down the lane.  It wasn't until I went to put the cows into their new paddock that I noticed Isla wasn't there.  I have the most awful sense of dread sometimes when any of the cows are missing, particularly when, as on this occasion, I thought it was Isla, alone, missing.  As it turned out, she and three calves were around the side of the Back Barn paddock by the culvert to the Middle Back, just standing around.  Presumably they were slowly making their way down to join the others, or maybe they'd not heard my calls, nor the movement of the others.

Isla and three calves

I finally arrived home, changed clothes and the three of us went over to Pukepoto to join the rest of Stephan's family at Miriam's going-away party.  Miriam, like many of us who grew up here, is off to Auckland to pursue further study, in her case at the University of Auckland.


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