All my farm assistants came out this morning to help re-run some electric tapes for the weaned cows and to change where some of the other cattle were grazing.
These weaned calves from Mushroom 1 have had three nights separated from their mothers. We had walked up through Flat 5 and opened gates so their mothers could move from Flat 5d to my right, to 5b, diagonally opposite, as the calves walked down the lane.
The cows were then taped in to part of the paddock to graze adjacent to the lane, with the calves across the other side in Flat 3, so they're still reasonably close to each other.
Emma walked ahead of the calves to ensure they turned right (rather than left to go and make friends with Zoom and Spot), and Ella and I walked down the lane behind them.
Meanwhile Stephan and Stella moved the tape in Flat 5d, ready for the next lot of weaned cows to use the paddock, when their calves are in Mushroom 1.
Then we continued our walk to the back of the farm.
In the stream reserve between the Back Barn paddock (where we went to check the cows, calves and yearlings) and the Spring, I found several Akeake saplings, Dodonaea viscosa. The seeds are either coming downstream during floods, or are being dropped by birds from the surrounding forest. I have not yet found any mature Akeake on the farm, although that does not necessarily mean there aren't any.
The girls spent time exploring the stream, Emma and Stella primarily searching for the small, coloured clay stones that can be used like crayons.
Ella went flower-picking.
Then I opened the gate for the cows and calves to move to the neighbouring Swamp paddock. Grey 807 opted for stroking in preference to an immediate move to new grazing.
In the showery afternoon, we were joined by Elizabeth, William, son Simon and Anna, with Evelyn, for a firewood gathering expedition. As Stephan, William and Simon were preparing to go out with the tractor and trailer, two smiling people walked up the driveway. I thought they must have been friends who'd come with the others and they all thought I knew who they were and I eventually realised none of us had met them but I did know who they probably were: some more new neighbours from up the road, Annina and Pascal, who contacted me a few months ago and again last week. I had invited them to come but we hadn't specified when that might be; now was just fine - except for the rain, that is.
Elizabeth, Anna with Evelyn and I with the two guests, walked out along the tracks as the firewood-collectors passed us on the tractor. It rained but we found sufficient shelter beneath a tree by the track, then continued on. I thought it might be nice for Annina and Pascal to get a sense of the lie of the land in relation to their property over the other side of the road, some parts of which we can probably see.
Then dinner for ten, William primarily in the kitchen, directing Ella on the deck supervising the barbecue, her first time doing such a task. Then the cooked food came in and we all ate together in the warmth of the fire.
I've been teaching the girls (again) to knit, so they watched Elizabeth's very fast technique with great interest. We knit anywhere, everywhere.
This morning we moved the weaned cows from the bottom of the Windmill paddock along to join the other weaned mob.
I was interested to find the owner of a very deep moo: 710, whom I'd frequently heard from the house over the past couple of days.
After the cows had gone along the lane and in with the others, Stephan and one of the girls let the calves out of the House paddock to come along to Flat 2, where there's lovely fresh grass after the paddock was mowed a while ago.
Then we walked out the back to get the rest of the cows and calves. I did some tricky drafting at the gateway into the little riverbank area this side of the first crossing, to divide the cattle into more manageable numbers. (I wasn't quite as tricky as I wanted to be, having to let some cows I didn't want go through the gate with those I did.)
I sent those who weren't being weaned today on down the Windmill lane and then Stephan brought the rest out of the side area back into the lane and up to me at the gateway at the top of the flats. There I drafted eight cows into 5d and their calves into Mushroom 1 and the others went on down the lane to join the rest of the mob, now 33 in number.
I cut across the Windmill to call them while the others followed behind and we took them across the stream to the Tank paddock for a few days.
After lunch Stella requested use of my mortar and pestle and set about crushing up the coloured clay stones they'd collected, creating palettes of colour. I thought they were going to use them to paint artistic works on paper but it was their faces they adorned.
After Stella had painted Emma, she let Emma do the same.
I expressed a little concern about the lip painting, since we have no idea what elements may be in those clays and perhaps they ought not to be eaten.
The paint was washed off and we returned to knitting practice, playing cards and generally having a fun holiday time.
In the late afternoon, Emma's mother Christina, and elder sister Rebecca, came out for a visit and to join us for dinner.
Ella and Stephan had baked a cake and after our main course, Stella and Emma iced and decorated it. The rest of us waited at the table for a very long time, in mounting anticipation of this artistic effort.
Today we went on an adventure!
To our South-West, we can see Taumatamahoe, the highest peak in the Herekino range. Its height is 558m according to the topographic map. A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that it would be fun to walk up there while our young holiday visitors are with us.
With five of us to transport, we assessed the risk of travel on our currently-closed road (there is bridge re-decking in progress just beyond the point from which we intended to walk) and with two young women on the back of the ute, we drove slowly up the valley.
The first part of the walk is quite flat, alongside the last farmland before the bush starts. It's not always an easy walk though because there are deep, muddy holes nobody ever comes to fill in, presumably worsened by four-wheel-drive vehicles or wallowing feral pigs. We managed to skirt most of them but had to negotiate big bushes of cutty grass (pampas) to do so, leaving Ella with sore pink graze marks on her legs. We all had bare leg skin, so I'm not sure what she was doing differently from the rest of us as she pushed through.
After 1½ km the track divides: up the mountain to the peak is part of "Te Araroa - New Zealand's Trail" and continuing along the same level for a while is the Kaitāia Walkway, which comes out at the top end of Larmer Road, above the Quarry where the blue rock comes from.
This Kauri Dieback wash-station was pointless, being entirely empty.
The beginning of the track was pretty much how it continued for a while: steeply up. The altitude at the beginning of this part of the track was around 220m, so we had about 330m to climb.
Then it got steeper, but only for a little while and a knotted rope made it simple to negotiate the trickiest bit.
Otherwise it was a relatively easy walk, apart from the pig wallows that would have left us with wet or heavily muddy feet if we'd not been able to find ways around them. Stella had forgotten to bring walking boots, so I'd lent her a pair of the sandals I often wear on the farm and I wore another pair, in which we were both very comfortable.
This tree broom was a plant I've not seen before.
This and a couple of other unfamiliar specimens will have to go on the Nature Watch website for help in identification.
The hunt for Ramarama was on after Stella noticed one and asked what it was.
Ramarama is the species most often in the news at present wherever the Myrtle Rust fungal disease is discovered, so we checked the plants we found very carefully for any sign of infection, fortunately finding none.
Ramarama is a very distinctive plant when looking down on the leaves, but when looking up into the foliage, the colour and bobbly form of the leaves is not nearly as noticeable. I couldn't find a big tree to familiarise myself with its appearance but it may be that I just didn't recognise them.
Pig damage from the edge of the track and away down into the bush. The pigs essentially plough the ground, destroying all the seedlings, killing native invertebrates. We found numerous pieces of the huge Kauri Snail, crunched up by pigs. The snails could easily disappear from the environment under this sort of relentless predation.
I had anticipated being absolutely thrilled by our walk up this beautiful mountain, but felt dismayed and deflated by the widespread evidence of damage. We'd also followed the tracks of at least one very large dog along the early part of the track. Was that dog a stray or with a hunter? Had that hunter subjected his dog to Kiwi-aversion training?
These trees became the highlight of my walk: huge, towering Rimu, two of them quite close to each other on either side of the track.
I've never walked beneath such enormous Rimu before. They were stunning, although our glimpses of them were brief through the rest of the canopy as we walked.
There were murmurs of tiredness and hunger, so we found a spot to sit and eat our lunch together, before anyone collapsed and had to be carried anywhere.
As we sat, I realised we were not terribly well prepared for anything untoward: all of us were in light clothing so we weren't weighed down by having to carry much, sharing one small bag between us with sandwiches, nuts and water. The air temperature was surprisingly cool, which we soon felt when we stopped moving for a while. The day's maximum temperature at home was only 16½°C, cooler than it has usually been lately.
When we set out again Ella declared she was feeling too ill to go on. I wasn't convinced but Stephan and I decided he would quietly walk back down with her while I caught up with the other two and continued to the top. Stephan and I can easily come again if he wants to.
We followed the path where we shouldn't have at one point - not a serious error and not far from the better crossing of a small waterway, which we remedied on our way back down - but it required fighting our way through a tangle of thick and challenging Supplejack vines to avoid getting wet and muddy.
Supplejack or Kareao, Ripogonum scandens, is interesting: the vines are smooth and pleasant to the touch but springy and completely unforgiving (not at all supple!) and if you get tangled amongst them, they're surprisingly hard to get out of again. You can't push through them, have to lift legs over and hope not to end up more tangled than you'd been.
The summit was reasonably obvious, in that everywhere from there was down but there was no view out through the trees, which was a disappointment. I'd hoped for at least a glimpse of something beyond.
The trig point on the maps was marked by this metal pole, now lacking the usual wooden marker, which had fallen down beside it, rotting in the damp.
I set the camera on the metal marker to take this picture of the three of us.
Then we rested for a little while, shared some nuts and water, before setting off down the track again.
I noticed quite a bit of this going on, but Emma is also an attentive photographer of interesting things on their own, so I suppose the occasional contextual "selfie" might be forgiven. Ferns are of particular interest to her.
As we descended, I noticed my legs becoming increasingly trembly, so that I had to take great care not to slip.
My companions appeared entirely unconcerned as I gradually fell behind, marching off without me along the flat part of the track when we came down out of the bush. They were pleased to see the ute in the distance, that Stephan and Ella had not gone off home without us.
This bit of the hillside had slipped some time ago and the track was renewed around its centre, slipped trees cut to clear a new path.
In the evening there was knitting and art. Stella has a project to complete for school and Emma wanted some pointers for her own artistic practice. We set up a separate table for them to work on together. Ella and I continued working with a piece of practice knitting, she knitting a few rows, I helping sort out what had gone wrong along the way. It was a very companionable and pleasant evening.
Demelza doesn't always come down to the milking shed in the morning, but that means she misses out on her molasses treat because when Spot is let out, she eats it all up ...
... before setting off to find her mother for breakfast.
Stephan lets Spot out as Zella is in the milking bail and the calves quickly learnt that only Spot would be allowed around the end of the gate as it opened for her, so now only she moves to come out. It took her a week or two, if Demelza wasn't there waiting, to work out where to go to find her mother for breakfast, but she has it all sorted now.
Stella came down this morning to have a go at milking. Oddly I can find no evidence of her ever having done this before. Perhaps she never has.
Christina came out to assist with transporting people, and the girls and Stephan all went off for a day of Olive harvesting for William.
Ella and Stella arrived home, proudly carrying their payment for the day: a bottle of lovely Olive Oil from last year's harvest.
Emma went home for the night in preparation for her appearance as a St John's Cadet, at tomorrow's dawn ANZAC Day service.
I watch weaned cows' udders quite carefully after they've been separated from their calves, always alert to the possibility of mastitis. It's not usually a problem but last year Meg suffered an infection, which resolved itself without treatment but required careful monitoring of her condition until the soreness passed. I worried about her as she approached calving this year but while the affected quarter was enlarged then, it gave no trouble and looks entirely normal now that she's weaned again.
714 has an oddly reduced front left quarter, indicating that it was not producing much milk for some reason. She may have suffered an infection that wasn't apparent to me and the quarter subsequently produced less milk, so has dried off very quickly now; or perhaps the calf preferred not to drink from this teat and it stopped producing earlier in lactation. I'll have to wait to see what her udder looks like before next calving, to know whether there's any permanent lack of production there. Her calf weighed 264kg at weaning, so clearly didn't suffer any lack of milk.
Stella cooked a delicious dinner. Stephan watched her throwing all manner of things into it with some concern, but she was quite conservative with her quantities, so the flavours were subtle and most enjoyable.
The cows and calves need to go out the back to graze, but I'd prefer to keep the next lot for weaning closer, so I can separate them tomorrow. I had planned to do them tonight but Roger is driving up to collect Stella and I don't want to create a tired driver by keeping him awake; separation can wait another day.
After letting the cows and calves out of the Camp paddock where they'd been overnight, I drafted the weaning mob into Mushroom 1 and the others down the lane beyond.
When I then walked down to take this lot further out, I realised I'd made an error: skinny Deva 135 was in the paddock and her bull calf is out here. I let these into the little square through the white gate in the distance, so they could graze there and wait until Deva was willing to be brought back out of the paddock.
In the mean time, Stella, Ella and I went for another bush adventure: into the Marko Buselich Reserve for a walk where I'd not been before.
Stella was always trailing behind Ella and I as she stopped to take many photographs.
There were some fabulous things to look at!
This is a fern, Schizaea dichotoma. I think I've seen it before but never on our place.
The ground was mostly undisturbed, a thick, spongy mat of fallen leaf debris, with seedlings coming up all around. The species I saw most frequently was, I thought, Mataī, from huge, mature trees to tiny seedlings and many, many intermediate saplings. But rechecking my trees book, I am reminded that it is Mataī that has a very different juvenile leaf form from the adult and that it must have been Miro seedlings and saplings I was seeing. Perhaps the large trees I have formerly identified as Mataī might also be Miro.
We were so hopeful of finding Ramarama that I got all confused when we saw this, a small Titoki, with it's slight similarity in the raised areas on its leaves. Titoki are also very plentiful here but they're usually huge trees, not the semi-mature ones I've seen more regularly, planted on verges in Auckland and Whangarei.
Always it is difficult to identify mature trees, with their foliage so far above and seen only against the brightness of the sky, from the dark depths of the forest. I sensibly took my binoculars with me on this walk, so had a better view than usual. Stupidly I kept putting them to my eyes without first knocking out the bits of bush that had dropped into the eyepieces as I walked with them slung around my side.
This forest of miniature tree ferns took my fancy. I presume they are Blechnum fraseri.
Ella, trying to set up to pose for a photograph, nearly fell out of a tree.
Stella and Ella were making noises about heading back, so I led them along the hill a bit to take a different route home (I had the GPS in hand, so could see where we were tracking). Up through the trees at one point I spotted a couple of enormous Rata, so we climbed up to have a closer look at them.
Rata grow to such gigantic proportions. I want to come back here again!
With warm sunshine filtering through the trees, the walk was absolutely beautiful.
In here we found only minor evidence of the presence of pigs, a track they obviously use down a slope, but none of the major rooting we found up on the mountain. Lack of evidence on a short walk unfortunately doesn't mean they're not in there wrecking things somewhere though. They range far and wide.
I think when I took this I suspected it may be Titoki and zooming in on the photo's original file, the leaves look quite like that. This is another tree I'll have to try and find again.
Stella had driven the ute on our way out, so Ella drove home and we stopped in the lane to go back and draft Deva out of the Mushroom paddock, to rejoin the correct mob and her son.
Then I led and the girls followed the cattle, taking them across the stream and up the short alleyway to the Swamp East paddock for a few days.
Back at home Roger had arrived and he and Stephan were stacking his ute and trailer with lovely firewood for their Auckland fireplace.
Before leaving for Auckland with Stella this morning, Roger gave Stephan an acupuncture session for some shoulder pain. I think we should have captured him and kept him as a resident acupuncturist!
Stephan and Ella went off to take someone some firewood and return the pig trap we've had set, unsuccessfully, out in the Back Barn paddock for a few weeks.
I went out to check the cows and calves, then herded this mob out of Mushroom 1, down the lane to the House and Windmill gates, where I drafted the eight calves into the House paddock and their mothers to the Windmill.
This is the last group for weaning for the time being, the calves being readied for sale and transport at the end of next week.
Jet 777 is not happy about being weaned. She's not the noisiest of the cows (that would be white-faced Dreamliner 787, who is always noisy anyway) but she is the one I keep seeing hanging around down by the gateway nearest the calves.
Her calf is a stunning animal, but her relatively large size at birth looks like it may have been caused by genetic chance, as much as her long gestation: she has a big head, big frame and I concluded she is likely to be a larger animal than I want in my herd. So Heidi will have her in her beef herd and I'll have a look at her when she grows up and see what happened.