We attended the funeral this morning, of our neighbour Arthur Taylor. Arthur and Sandra have been Stephan's neighbours for the whole of his nearly-forty years here, having come to the valley in 1952. Funerals are such interesting events, when done well, telling stories of lives we haven't really known well before. Arthur's one previous mention in these pages was when we joined a search and rescue exercise to find him when he'd gone for a longer walk than he'd intended, around his bush reserve.
The day was very hot and fine. We think Piggy enjoys a cool shower in the middle of the day, so she's getting one whenever we think about it at the moment, the weather being so hot.
The cows, to my surprise, spent a lot of the hottest part of the day lying around in the sunshine. They had access to some lovely shade but obviously preferred the warmth. There was a fairly steady, cooling breeze across the flats which must have kept them quite comfortable.
This grass, which I've yet to identify, is growing everywhere in the lanes where they were earlier sprayed and it's obviously delicious! The cattle always like it when it starts growing well and this year it has no competition. It looks like it must taste really sweet.
These are bull 87 (in the distance), 135, 146 and their two calves, on their way from the Back Barn to the Mushroom.
807 was itching her face against her mother's leg, as 607 had a long drink.
What a gorgeous pair.
A close shot, just for fun.
This is a fairly well-resourced calf, with obvious fat under her skin.
11.11am: two chrysalises about to hatch - you can tell because they have air inside the clear cases.
1.58pm: both hatched, expanding their wings, doing what butterflies do when they've just emerged.
Curly's daughter, 812, itching her nose against her mother's tail. This is the calf who repeatedly removed her mother's heat indicators. She's a curious nibbler.
I took Floss for an outing on the bike. We had a quick look at the cows and bull in the Spring paddock and on the way back I stopped by one of the crossings to see what Floss would do if I tried to make her come to me through the water: she stalked off toward the bank and I had to go and retrieve her. She does whatever she wants, that bird.
Then we rode up the road-like Route 356 to see how Stephan was getting on. He was at the far end, thumping posts for the long-awaited fence to stop the cattle accessing the swampy water-course to the right. I've wanted to see this happen for years and years, so this is a great thrill.
The mixed colours of the senescent Parsley Dropwort flowers caught my eye as I stopped to do something. Against the green of the Kikuyu, the mix of pinks, creams, browns was really pretty. These are plants which have not been grazed by the cattle in one of the reserve areas, so they're a range of ages, from early to later season flowers.
For the last couple of days there's been a tremendous noise from somewhere up the valley, cows and calves all yelling continuously. It seems early for weaning but with the drought, someone who calved in August might well do so now, before the weaner fairs begin next month. It's a distressing sort of noise, in the warm dark of my late checks on the insemination cows.
This is the first Putangitangi I've seen this year, about a week later than they usually return from the annual moult.
Woohoo! Wires being run on Route 356.
And an hour and a half later, a finished fence!
This is a hugely satisfying sight. For so long I've wanted to get the cattle out of the watercourse at the bottom of this hillside.
We talk of this work all being for the mud fish, those apparently-rare species that live in places like this. I know they're here because I once held one, when digging out steer 356.
The breeze was, very unusually, coming from the North East this morning, bringing with it the acrid aroma of the triboard mill in town. I am extremely grateful we are so infrequently down-wind from its poisonous emissions. Our prevailing winds are from the South West and in the summer, often from the North and North East.
We went to town this morning, I to a meeting and Stephan to purchase various supplies and to drop off, on my behalf, the very late 2015/16 farm accounts to the accountant. There were, I am told, a number of hilarious comments (good-naturedly at my expense), exchanged between Stephan, the accountant and the reception staff. Doing the annual accounts is essentially a simple collation job but one I always manage to leave for far too long, so that by the time I get around to it, there's little chance of remembering details I might helpfully include. Every year I promise I'll go home and get the next lot done as soon as our financial year ends in February... The accountant just raises a cynical eyebrow; obviously thinking to herself, yeah, right.
Extravagantly I also went shopping. I tried a near-new pair of Levi jeans on at the Hospice Shop and then, discovering they fit perfectly and were being sold for $1 each, bought the identical other pair there too. It took me some time, in past years, to get over a sense of distaste in buying other people's cast-off clothes but having done that, it gives me great satisfaction to buy very good garments so cheaply, save money and resources in doing so and be rewarded for becoming a thin person: I get to buy the stuff other people bought thinking they'd fit into it if they just lost a bit of weight. Remaining a thin person does not come naturally to my metabolism, requiring significant exercise of self control - not in an uncomfortable sense of ongoing self-denial but in becoming aware of how little I actually need to eat and how even the addition of an extra piece of toast for breakfast or lunch, would quite soon have me returning those clothes to the Hospice Shop for resale.
I stuck a new heat detector on Endberly on the 2nd, in anticipation of her possible return to oestrus on the 5th and was pleased that although she had a tiny bit of mucous, she didn't come on heat at that time. But this morning her indicator is red! I had a very close look at it and noted that the material is still quite clean, so the dye capsule must have been activated by some pressure other than another cow's body. I strongly suspect the teeth of a brown calf with 812 on her tags! She's Endberly's sister, so it's conceivable that Endberly would allow her to be nuzzling around her body if she were quietly resting. There were no other signs of heat as I closely watched her during the day.
The paddock we forgot to check for Ragwort.
We have been congratulating ourselves on our Ragwort control this year, Stephan having gone out back-pack spraying early in the season, but as ever, there are places we didn't get to.
Nearly all 19 calves from the 47-head main mob were trailing along behind their mothers and the other adults as they moved along the lane this afternoon. I think they're a pretty good-looking lot.
This will explain all the caterpillars. Monarch mating must obviously be successful but it looks a bit complicated and dangerous in some cases: I keep seeing joined butterflies in what look like deathly struggles for control over their shared direction.
Today there seemed to be butterflies all around the garden. We counted more than ten on the swan plants in the middle of the day.
The swans are splitting, dispersing their floating seeds on the breezes, although lots of them fall straight down into the garden. I'm not sure they should be allowed to float away too widely so I've collected quite a few of the pods already; although the more places they grow, the more likely the caterpillars will out-do the awful wasps, perhaps?
Stephan seems to have collected a bit of firewood. That's a lot of trees which are no longer growing on the hillsides and shading areas which might grow grass.
It's also a huge amount of energy for people's winter warmth! Because it doesn't get burnt until it is properly dried, it's a lovely clean fuel for fires. Stephan mutters about selling some of it but I suspect it'll end up going mostly to friends and acquaintances who need it.
A lot of Pukeko squawking drew me to the window this morning, to see we had extras in the hen house: an adult and some of the chicks. All but one chick eventually found their own way back out through the gap under one side and Stephan had to lift the side of the cage while I went in, to get the last one to leave.
The hens had all retreated to their upstairs accommodation in the light rain.
Jonny, whose hives these are, tells me this is called bearding and is probably due to the heat and humidity today: the bees are cooling themselves and the hive.
Everyone's a bit weird when it rains after a long dry spell. The cows and bull in the Spring obviously thought I should move them, so I did.
Because there was a bit of rock salt just there and because 613 was nice and wet, I rubbed some on one side of her rump to see if it makes any difference to the fungal skin condition she (and several of the other cows) has. A few days later, I was sure it looked a bit better than the other side. Trials continue.
The rain set in and was falling quite steadily by evening, when Stephan brought the house cows in.
It's great rain, falling gently and steadily, hardly pooling or running off anywhere, so it's all soaking in to the extremely thirsty ground.
I tipped a fabulous 76mm out of the rain gauge at 9am.
Mid-morning we went out in the ute together (since it was still raining) to move the big mob from the Swamp East, across the stream to the Blackberry. Two calves went silly and got left behind and simply wouldn't go through the gate and across the stream, so we left them there with the gates open so they could find their own way.
The Insemination mob stood and watched us as we walked across Flat 1, until they suddenly realised that we were going to open the gate into Flat 2 and started running. There's not a lot of tree shelter from rain in Flat 1 and Flat 2 has big trees at the bottom end, where they can all gather if they wish to, should it get stormy.
At 4pm we went out in the ute again, drove through the first crossing with great care, noting that the water was just up to the door sills, then as the rain got a bit heavier, I became concerned that we'd be stuck out there (or at least the ute would be) if we didn't go back again quite quickly, so we ended up leaving the cows and calves as they were this morning, with the gates open back to the Swamp East.
Between 4 and 9pm the rain was very heavy at times and at 9pm I emptied another 76mm out of the gauge.
Before checking the insemination cows, I walked down the driveway to see if the water was up over the bridge and found these three little birds sitting huddled on the top of the gate. The stream was well up and over the bridge and I suspect these three fledgling Swallows were fortunately big enough to evacuate their nest before the water under the bridge carried it away.
There was nothing I could do for them, so withdrew quietly and hoped they'd survive the night.
My insemination mob check was a wet business, sloshing across Flat 2. The contrasts in summer are marvellous, from crunching across crisp, parched grass, to sloshing through running water during torrential downpours.
At about 3am we awoke to the sound of very heavy rain and got up for a cup of tea, so we could keep an eye on the water levels. In the event, I missed the highest water, even though I could hear it, because it didn't occur to me that the hissing noise from the window was the river rather than the heavy rain. I did get up and check with the torch every quarter of an hour or so but the water must have come down the farm stream in a huge wave and was over the bank, past the chickens and through the pond before we realised it. The bottom of the water slide was in the pond and the jetty was entirely submerged.
The two house-cow calves were standing by the shed, the rest of their little area being under water. Stephan opened the milking shed so they could get under cover - Zella's calf ended up sleeping on her lovely new mat for the rest of the night.
In a bit of a panic we went up to muster the sheep. The valley stream wasn't as high as the farm one but we knew it soon would be, but it just takes a little longer for the water to get here down the valley, after such a downpour. Fortunately the sheep came quietly to our call and with some maize, we got them in to the yards, moving the semen bank out of the shearing shed so they could get under cover if they chose to.
We stayed up until the water began going down again at six.
I went out on the bike to check on my cows and calves, finding lots of flood evidence everywhere: that was a lot of water in a hurry!
The water pipe, which Stephan recently dug up to stop it being continually uncovered when the floods come through, would have been empty by the time the big water reached here (because the intake was washed out up in the bush), caught all sorts of passing debris and is now kinked. Hopefully it can be straightened out again.
My cows had obviously had enough of the small Blackberry paddock and many of them had returned to the Swamp East across the stream. When I arrived, most of them crossed back this way again with their calves but there were still a couple of calves who wouldn't. I also couldn't find one calf. I'd been out there for some time and Stephan decided to come and see how I was getting on, just in time to help me start seriously looking for missing 818. We both feared we might be looking for a drowned body, if she'd somehow been in the wrong place at the wrong time when the flood came through.
But after a while Stephan called out that he'd found her and then that she was just fine, grazing quietly on her own up in a clearing in the bush. She came down quite happily, joined the two cows and calves who were still on the wrong side of the stream and we took them an easier way back to join the others.
The flood had made a dreadful mess of this crossing, the water having been so high and fast that it flowed straight across where I stood, rather than around its usual corners. It'll need some tidying with the back blade on the tractor.
The flies are awful after the rain. Actually, they were awful before but now they're even more numerous. These things land on everything everywhere, all the time and drive us to distraction. You don't sit down anywhere without a fly swat. I don't know that they're terribly dangerous to our health, really, bearing in mind that they probably hatched nearby, haven't had access to anything really appalling like other people's dog shit or rubbish. I watched this one gradually devouring a small biscuit crumb on the table in front of me.
The pond is full of the silt which continues to come down the river from the big slip up in the bush. It'll take days for the water to clear, once we get the system running again.
I found two of these today: big, underground wasp nests. This one I spotted in the warm sunshine because large numbers of wasps were coming and going. The other I found in the early evening, when the cicadas had stopped singing and I only found it because I could hear a weird hum and then realised it was coming from the ground and a hole like this. I moved away from the area very quickly.
I had climbed to the top of the ridge between the Pines and the Small Hill, looking for one last calf in the Pines paddock before moving her mob, and could look down on the insemination mob in Flat 2, all quietly grazing.
I'm currently most interested in heifers 150 and 788, due back on heat yesterday and tomorrow and so far showing no sign of coming on.
White-faced 788 was the heifer who showed few of the classical on-heat signs but it looks like I might have judged her timing well anyway.
The big mob spent the day in the Swamp paddock and this evening, we moved them into the PW, through the new Route 356 gate. This is a great deal easier than using the old wooden gateway just around the next corner! There the calves often scoot under the spring gate across the lane or get confused about where their mothers are going, since the cows often turn and walk along the paddock track parallel to this one so the calves won't go through the gate.
Here they went directly up the track and onto the grass, so there was no confusion for anyone.
It is unfortunate that they need to be here right now (it has the only significant grass), now that the track is all wet from the rain. Stephan has done such a lovely job on it so far and it'll get messy again with the cattle walking up and down.