Simon and Anna came today to help Stephan clear up as he cut scrub on the north side of the swamp. They're a great couple of workers and their presence is always a lift for Stephan, because it advances the work considerably.
Look at that horrible Sedge! I'll have to come out and get it with herbicide.
I remembered to go and have a look at the epiphyte orchid plants I had noticed during their non-flowering times and then found another, the best of them, but too high in a tree for any close-up photography.
This is Earina autumnalis, Raupeka, the Easter Orchid and I have been waiting to see it for some time. Some of the plants have obviously flowered before, but the timing of my observations must have been out. There are also a number of quite mature-looking plants which show no evidence of ever having flowered (the dried seed capsules remain for a long time afterwards) and are still not flowering this season. Maybe they're not growing in quite the right locations.
Bull 116 (Abigail's last son), will be going off on a truck on Tuesday morning to his new home, where he will sire the calves of a number of heifers (from an unrelated herd) and a couple of cows I sold last year. He's a nervous little guy, presumably because I haven't ever spent a lot of time around him, but he should calm down if his new owner wanders amongst the cattle regularly. It's late (or early if you wanted to calve in Autumn) to begin mating, but the buyers hope to be able to bring their calving back into the spring over the next couple of years.
About a week or ten days ago when I rode up the south side of the swamp to look back toward Stephan working, a huge bird flapped up from the hill beside me. I was close enough to see the colouring of its face, although I couldn't recall the shape of its bill, and also had a very strong impression of its large size. Its colouring and size were quite similar to a turkey, but it flew as ably as a hawk.
This morning Stephan, Anna and Simon saw it again and they described long legs, a longer neck than a hawk and the similar very easy flight.
I emailed to ask an ornithological acquaintance what it might be and he suggested it was probably an Australasian Bittern. I went back out to the swamp this evening to have another look, this time down in the swamp itself, now I knew it could be a wetland bird and there, right in the middle, standing out like ... like a very large bird in the middle of a very green and short-grassed swamp, was the Bittern.
I'm thrilled! Bitterns are quite rare now, their natural habitat having been reduced severely by farmers draining wetlands and swamps to gain more land for production. There are apparently only around 1000 birds left, although I'm uncertain whether that's their New Zealand or Australasian number.
Stephan made concrete today, for the bit of the race where the scales go.
Some proper reinforcing steel this time, not just some old bits of pipe!
Mix it, pour it, spread and screed it flat. Job done.
We went over to check it after lunch and there were foot-prints down the whole length; little rabbity foot-prints.
Having read Temple Grandin's recommendations on yards (I gave him Humane Livestock Handling for his birthday a few years ago), Stephan made a tool to groove the concrete. A small hand-held tool was suitable for this job, although if you wanted to do a big area a different arrangement would be necessary, given how easy it is to divert from a straight line.
Cattle with their hard hooves can slide on concrete, so grooves are a good idea. We had some discussion on which way the grooves should go and at which angles. It's funny how differently people's minds can work.
There are some flat patches at the sides for the scales to sit. Holes will be drilled in the pad when it's properly cured, for the bolts which hold the scales' load bars in place.
The Puriri tree at the top of the hill is half dead; but the half which is alive is quite healthy. Yet another tree we need to build a fence around.
I walked down the Big Back hill to see Stephan, tracking one of the tributaries. This is a section which will end up in one of the reserve "islands" which end at the two culverts which Stephan is putting in along the edge of the swamp.
I took the picture from the bottom edge of this little clearing. The cows come here and eat the grass, but sink up to their knees in the soft ground, which is no good for the water quality heading down hill.
Stephan had the tractor perched on one of the culverts, banging in a post to create a solid edge for the track going over the pipe.
When he ran out of half-round posts, which make the best sides of culverts, we went together along the road and up the hill to pull out the rest of the posts from the old fenceline, which used to form our Eastern boundary, when it was in the wrong place.
I drove and pulled after Stephan wrapped a chain around each post, then I lowered the bucket so he could shovel soil into each hole.
When I wasn't fast enough, the smartie carried on alone.
Here's a slightly closer view of the lovely Earina autumnalis.
I'd really like to get up there, but the tree is over the stream, without anywhere solid to perch a ladder. Maybe I'll have to be hoisted (in a life-threatening and dangerously foolhardy way, contrary to all the warning stickers on the tractor) in the tractor bucket, to get some closer photographs.
(I must get some pictures of those stickers; some of them are very funny and others akin to those on coffee cups warning "may contain hot liquid".)
Stephan carried on working in the yards this morning while waiting for a truck to come and collect young bull 116, off to his new home, where he will be named Ferdinand. I left Stephan to do the loading with the driver, which all went very quietly. I don't like being there when stock go onto trucks, no matter where they're going.
The goose had come across to this Topmilk bin a couple of times this week, so I cleaned it out and refilled it with clean water. It was funny watching her climb into something only just big enough. I thought of Stella and the boys bathing in one of these bins in the bottom of the shower, when they were still small enough.
This sort of development looks horribly untidy for ages after it's done. This is one of the finished culverts - you can see the top of one of the side posts on the right. With only one pipe through, the wider tributary will have to be directed to drain into it, which may require a bit of hand-digging in the winter, to ensure it all works properly.
The culvert pipes are carefully laid so they do not present a physical barrier to the passage of the creatures who live in these areas.
I think I heard the call of a Koekoea this morning, the Long-tailed Cuckoo. The books tell me some of them over-winter here, or perhaps some of them migrate north later than others.
I've been thinking about the remaining conservation jobs we have yet to do. This is a wet area at the boundary of the Middle Back and Back Barn paddocks. Behind the darkened tree in the right foreground, a pointed "headland" slopes down between two tributaries, in the background the one from the bottom of the Middle Back and in the foreground, the water which comes down through the culvert with which I have so much trouble.
We need to fence off that wet area, and the areas through which the water trickles down both paddocks, so the water quality is not constantly degraded by the cows walking into it. The swampy area continues all the way down to the stream where it crosses the track and will also require fencing.
The big problem for us, particularly in the next two years while we're paying off the orange monster (which allows all the jobs to be done with greater ease than ever before) is finding the money to buy the materials! The Big Back swamp job came together nicely, our having bought enough materials last year to do the work which will then be inspected by the Regional Council, prior to their approving payment of the Environment Fund monies for which our application was approved early this year - they fund 50% of such projects.
But funds like that are always being threatened with disestablishment and we've been led to understand there won't be much more of that funding available.
While talking with Simon and Anna the other evening, it occurred to me that lots of people work for businesses which might like to contribute to conservation projects, especially if they're city based and don't really have much opportunity for direct involvement. Such businesses may feel they're not large enough to do so with an organisation like the Department of Conservation; but if they were to get directly involved in funding small projects like ours, their contribution need not be crippling and the good they could do would be great.
Why should anyone else help? Because our long-term intention for this farm is to continue to make it available to other people who wish to visit. Because those of us who "own" land are the caretakers of habitats for species that can live nowhere else and leaving that level of ecological responsibility to individuals is an unreasonable burden.
In any event, we will continue to work on these projects for the wider Conservation good. But if you'd like to get involved in any way, or are involved with an organisation which might, please don't be embarrassed to offer.
If I later decide it was too embarrassing to mention, this whole page might disappear. But it has been proposed by more than one reader, that the long-term provision of this website and its variety of entertainment might entitle me to make such suggestions.
Few come here for the free lunch, so go on, buy a fence and then come and visit it!
I've been turning lists of cows and heifers over in my mind, and on spreadsheets and lists, trying to decide who will go and who will stay. 488 was on my cull list. But she's one of the better-conditioned cows this year, with a great calf and her lovely daughter has a nice calf too. She's one of the few animals in calf to bull 116 and so I think I might just keep her, since I've sold that bull.
On the basis of body condition and calf-production, I've also been having second thoughts about sending white-faced 517 on her way. She's a permanently well-covered cow and raises a lovely calf, although the utter madness of her daughter two years ago caused me to make some very black marks against her name.
A few years ago when I wanted to try and work out the composition of my herd (hard to keep them all in my mind at once), I put all their numbers on bits of card so I could move them around into various groups to work out which families were represented. I did the same in a document this week, to try and "get a handle" on the shape of the herd. If you're interested, you can see that document here.
I feel I really need to do some serious pruning this year, so the remaining animals have an easier winter than they might if they have to share food amongst too many of them.
The Back Barn Paddock, looking all the way back to the hill at the top of the Over the Road paddock (light green in the sunshine, with Pine trees atop it).
The heifer in the foreground is 18-month-old 711, who could do with a bit more grass. I will need to take good care of these first-time-pregnant "teenagers" this winter, after a feed-stressed dry summer.
The cows in the middle distance are in the same paddock.
606 and her daughter, 718. I've not yet kept a daughter of 606 and I ought to. After losing 604 early this year, I have been reminded that nothing is certain about any plan to keep a daughter in a future year.
The mob of 44 cows, calves and heifers, leaving the Camp paddock.
The prominent ribs and hip bones of the skinny cow approaching the gate, belong to Imagen. I didn't realise she was looking so light. Her calf is looking fantastic!
Below are all the names suggested for Queenly 23's daughter, 118. Now you get another turn, this time to consider the suggestions and rank your favourites from one to five. There are lots of them, thank you everyone.
Who is she? Make sure it's something you would happily whisper in her lovely ears.*
*Like the Anglican Diocese in Christchurch, I may reserve the right to do whatever I like, regardless of your votes.
Please enter the numbers 1 (your favourite) to 5 (your lesser preference) in the squares below and send me the form.