I've been working hard on getting the two anxious calves to calm down. Most mornings and evenings I go out to the paddock and put a dribble of molasses into each blue bin and call the calves to come. A few of the calves are now hooked on molasses and come galloping toward me as soon as I enter the paddock. The mad white-faced calf and the grey one often stay well out of the way, so I quietly walk around behind them and make them walk toward the bins, talking to them all the time. When they get to the bins, I back off, still talking to them, and they're becoming used to associating my movements and voice with something tasty and sweet.
Ella, our donor daughter, came to stay for a few days, flying in on this afternoon's plane.
A little later in the afternoon Lynn and Kees joined us and Lynn, Ella and I went walking to look at the cattle.
This is Imagen's son, now 204 days (6¾ months) old. Two weeks ago he weighed 336kg.
He could well be weaned, except it gives Stephan some flexibility with milking Imagen if her son is still with her to do the job on the mornings he chooses not to - like those days on which he goes out early for trapping walks.
654, daughter of 539, with her slightly skewed face. It's not strikingly noticeable and I don't expect it'll cause any problems for her. I think I've seen it once before, but my note collation isn't good enough for me to easily find when or in which family it might have occurred. One day I'll sit down with all the notebooks and get that sort of information into the computer so I can find such things easily.
Ella went out early with Stephan to milk Imagen. Stephan is trying to train Imagen to come down to the little milking shed he built, so that when the weather turns wet she's accustomed to coming to the sheltered milking area.
I often see Foxton drinking from the little pool by the deck. It's lovely fresh water, probably vastly preferable to the container in the kitchen, which may or may not have been recently freshened.
This little cat is getting on a bit. She's showing signs of discomfort in her hind quarters, which we presume is an indication of arthritis. But she still regularly displays kittenish behaviour when something attracts her attention and looks like it needs to be chased - lumps of mud, bits of plastic, the missing end of her tail, etc.
This is Ida 75, daughter of Ida 18, one of Ivy's twin daughters. She's not a tame sort of animal, unfortunately, and she's also an AM carrier. Her daughter however, has tested AMF, free of the gene, so she's going off with five other heifers to become a breeding cow on a small farm south of Whangarei.
I'm selling all but three of the heifers this year. It's been a hard job picking the lucky ones! With so many very good first calvers this season (ten 2-year and five 3-year olds), I won't really need a lot of youngsters joining the herd over the next couple of years.
It has also been a strange season for me this year, with a sense of distance from things. Without Isla in the herd any more, I haven't felt nearly as excited as I usually do about the calving season. But there's probably more to it than that. The genetic defect mess AM & NH took a big toll on my plans with three quarters of the 2006 and 2007 season's bulls being carriers of defects. We castrated all the bull calves of 2008 because all were sired by defect carriers, before the defect news came out. With only one bull left to use, whose own growth figures weren't particularly impressive, most of 2009 and 2010's calves were by insemination with a couple of bulls which made nice calves for beef, but none of the calves has impressed me enough to want to keep many heifers for breeding. There are still three cows/heifers in the herd which have been tested as carriers of one or the other defect. I was really lucky that bull #43, sire of most of the first-calf heifers this season, tested free of both defects, being the son of CA Future Direction, carrier of both. It's hard to watch a great calf growing well, whose mother is a carrier of a defect, knowing there's a 50% chance I won't want to keep the calf. Perhaps next year I'll test the calves from the carrier cows much earlier, so that I know whether they're worthy of my interest as they grow.
The bulls of 2009 are the lovely young fellows I used for mating this year, so I'm looking forward to this spring with much more enthusiasm and interest. The bulls are the best I've bred here, so I hope they'll pass on all those traits which have made them so good - excellent growth, early maturity, good temperament. Their half-sisters have been very good-looking animals. I used one semen straw in Abigail this year, and have two left; I don't think I can get any more.
These are the two heifers, 611 and 613, who were such close friends when they were young. I hadn't noticed them being particularly affectionate of late, but I still generally find them not far from each other.
Mr Ram was quite busy this morning, with the young tagged ewe. Ella and I went out for a closer look. Her verdict was that it was "disgusting!" I told her that was how we got lambs and that it was therefore necessary.
It rained from late morning, so we did inside things. Stephan and Ella sat reading books.
Foxton took advantage.
On the 3.15pm bus, two more girls arrived: Stella and Matariki - and a couple of large teddy-bears. The bus driver was obviously amused by them all.
When the three of us arrived home, the three girls all got into their togs and into the pond.
Ella, Stella and Matariki all went out for a walk with Stephan, to have a look at the shelters the birthday-visit party built in January. They climbed trees, explored a section of bush and had a lovely time together.
During the rainy part of the day, we had to amuse ourselves inside with stories and drawing, and late in the afternoon Ella and Stephan went to the airport so Ella could go home. Since the rain had stopped, the other two girls came walking with me to check on the cows.
The girls like to have notebooks to write things down. They've had so many notebooks in the last couple of years, but as I buy them on special at about five cents each, I figure it's not too great an expense.
They took notes of the cows they saw - the tricky ones were those without whole tags. 545 in the picture, is one of those with the numbered tag only on the back of her ear.
The calls of a female Putangitangi - Paradise Duck - this morning caused me to look up to wherever she was, which turned out to be in the branches of the big Northern Rata which is most readily visible from the driveway.
The duck, with her copper breast and white head, is just to the right of the centre of the photograph. Paradise Ducks regularly nest in trees, so it is not unusual to see them roosting on high.
This afternoon there was a Beef + Lamb Field Day over at Owhata, near Herekino, which is at the other end of Diggers Valley. I told the girls they would need their notebooks and that they could take Stephan's camera and we'd take the GPS unit with us as well.
We'd only travelled a few kilometres up the road when we had to stop while the operator of this digger cleared most of the large mound of clay from a bank he was reshaping, out of our way. He still left an impressive sized speed bump for us to drive over, which we'd not have managed in an ordinary car!
It's a pretty road to travel, with grass growing in the middle in some places. I've gone all the way through from our end on only a few occasions, and I'd never gone right out to the Herekino Harbour on the other side before. Years ago two of us drove through the valley, looking for the water at the other end, but never found it. It seemed a very long way.
I told the girls they were to be my "Junior Rural Reporters", were to take notes and there'd be a test at the end of the day.
Stella in this picture was not caught mid-blink, she's just giving me the usual "what are you doing taking my picture?" face. They were intent on writing everything down from the screen at the front of the room (the farm's woolshed, where the sheep are shorn, a common venue for such gatherings) and any time I made a note of my own, I saw them furiously scribbling in their notebooks, presumably thinking I'd noted a question to ask them later. It wasn't until I noticed what they were doing that I realised I'd better write some questions for them as I listened to the speakers!
The girls sat on the shearing board - there's a shearing hand-piece behind Stella and the open hatch is where the shorn sheep go down a slide to the pen beneath the shed.
Russell Priest, national cattle genetics guru was present to talk about EBVs, and then led the group through an assessment of a pen of bulls, with reference to a list of their figures.
I'd expected a greater emphasis on reproductive diseases than there was during the theoretical part of the day, so it wasn't quite all I'd hoped, but it was a worthwhile afternoon.
When the business of the day was finished, a drive to the hills was proposed. Stella said she just wanted to go home, but I urged the two of them to wait for a while and come for the ride. I knew they'd enjoy it.
We'd started down on the flats (I didn't manage to take pictures on either the up or downhill ride, needing to hold on rather tightly to the back of the ute on which we were riding!), and went up to around 280 metres. Unfortunately my battery charger must have malfunctioned so the GPS unit wasn't working in the afternoon!
The water in the picture above, and in the zoomed in one to the left, is the Herekino Harbour, with the Herekino Range in the background.
I love the shape of the range, which we can see from our place up behind the Pines. The slopes are so steep and the peaks so craggy. In some places there are stands of Kauri, some of which can be seen from down on the road. And I know that forest is full of orchids!
We were quite a gathering of people. James Parsons, our local Beef + Lamb director/farmer representative, took the opportunity to speak to the assembled crowd at one of the stops to see the gorgeous views.
It's a stunning piece of country but I'd not choose to farm there! It looks like hard work, with so much exposure to the winds from the Tasman Sea.
Stella and Matariki posed nicely for a picture.
Nathan, our favourite vet, offered to take my picture, recognising that I'd probably not often appear on that side of my camera's lens.
Some roadblocks won't move. This bull just didn't care who or how many of us there were, he was going to keep standing right there!
Back at home the girls wanted to get on with their test, so I asked them twenty questions, on everything from cattle diseases to the specifics of EBVs. It was great fun asking them some ridiculously technical questions, and, knowing how fast they'd been writing, I had every expectation that they'd have the answers, even if they didn't entirely understand them. I decided not to ask them to list all the possible deformities of bull penises; it was probably quite enough that they'd been exposed to the information once in the day! They fortunately both scored 14½ points (without any rigging), and happily ate a piece of chocolate each as their prize.
The girls and I went around rescuing things from the pond and garden, ready for the forecast rain. In the event it wasn't quite as bad as we were expecting, but it was great fun for the girls to see how quickly and how far the water came up.
Stella, having walked around without an umbrella for some time getting quite wet, stayed out with me while I caught the chickens from their cages and put them safely in the shed for the night, in case there was more rain and flooding after dark.
Refugee chickens. I thought of all those poor people we've seen in emergency shelters in the last couple of months after the earthquakes and flooding around our country and the world. These chickens are far less disturbed by their emergency move, and returned to their homes directly after the photo.
We went for a drive and then a walk to check on and move the bull calves and their mothers out the back. Then Stephan took the girls a little way into the bush to check on a couple of bait stations where he expected to find some dead possums. I love going out with the kids and seeing how adventurous they are and how much fun they can have in our ordinary environment - who'd have thought it would be so entertaining to find sticks to beat up thistle plants?
We tried hiding behind some trees, but our young companions were not at all perturbed at being left alone in the wilderness.
Since the orchid plants in the old Puriri log at home have been growing, I expected I might find some out where I'd spotted them last summer, at the base of our bush reserve. They're quite hard to see in the grass when they're little, but that didn't stop me finding a whole lot more which must have been eaten before I found them last year.
Several plants were growing amongst the grass which forms part of the Mushroom 3 paddock, so I rescued a couple of clumps and their surrounding soil and took them home to the safety of my greenhouse. I'll try and work out some method of protecting the others where they grow. It has been suggested that pointed sticks around the plants might deter the sensitive noses of browsing cattle.
I wasn't quite quick enough to capture some strange rendition of the Ministry of Funny Walks down the driveway as Stephan and the girls went out to get the mail.
We had a roast dinner, and when I finally remembered sometime just before 8 o'clock that I'd meant to make a rice pudding, I decided there was still time to do so and have it eaten about the time Catherine Middleton and Prince William met in Westminster Cathedral. Before the television coverage started in earnest, we played Monopoly. I was winning by a frightening margin when we had to stop, probably fortunately or there could have been tears!
The girls spent the rest of the evening on the couch with their bears, blankets and pillows. They stayed awake until quite late and managed to make their own way to bed, when the festivities and the parades of silly hats were finished.
I don't know that I particularly care about the antics of the British Royal Family, but the pomp and ceremony of such events is entertaining to watch. I remember, as a sixth former in 1981, watching the Royal Wedding of that year on an Auckland television set, although I can't remember why I was there - a school trip, I think. Jude and I decided that in the same way we could remember the 1981 event (even though Jude actually missed it, nobody remembering to wake her to watch it) this was one the girls would want to have seen, even though it was all happening very late in our evening, long past their usual bed time.