Watching the best of the two-year-old heifers develop gives me great pleasure.
Dushi 170 looked like a yearling right up until calving; but since then she has seemed to mature at a great rate.
Gina 168 gets lovelier by the month. She was not sufficiently well-grown last season to put her in calf as a yearling, so I delayed that until this year and she will calve as a three-year-old.
A hot-cow huddle.
It was a busy morning in the insemination mob, yearlings 874 and 877, and Eva all being on heat.
Eva had appeared nearly recovered from her leg/hip injury so I had not been too worried about her coming on heat but after mounting the hot heifers she's limping again. I should have taken her right away from the mob.
In the hottest part of the early afternoon bull 178 was sitting quietly under some trees with some of the cows, the others scattered around nearby, mostly under the trees.
Fence and lane rearrangement has meant some of the electric fence feed cables and switches have also had to be changed. With a digger, you can easily dig a cable trench!
One of the Pukeko eggs in the island nest has hatched. The tiny chick sat quietly still as I approached to take a photo.
Its early life was unfortunately not undisturbed, with the later arrival of a crowd of people for an impromptu barbecue, and swimming for many children.
The sitting Pukeko deserted the nest and when I saw Corbin around the side of the island, carefully cradling something small in his hand, I guessed the chick had fallen into the pond.
I replaced the chick in the nest and suggested the children all get out of the water for dinner and stay away from that side of the pond for the rest of the evening. I suspect the chick had been too chilled for survival but do not have time to rescue and rear it by hand at this busy time.
Many of our guests came out for a walk up to inspect the new yards, then returned to the pond while Stephan and I got young 874 in for her insemination, with one scientifically-interested observer present. The insemination was nice and easy, the heifer lovely and quiet, and three weeks later I discovered it didn't work.
Just on dark we got Eva in; her insemination did work but may still not result in a live birth this year because something much sadder may yet have to happen. Eva's injury subsequently appeared worse and it may not be something that will adequately heal.
When we returned to the house I found one of our guests on the telephone and presumed he'd had a work emergency. But it was my friend Liz, who'd phoned to ask me how to get hold of a local doctor for a health issue that had arisen in her daughter, who was staying out at Ahipara. It just so happened that the person passing the telephone as it rang, who fortunately answered it on our behalf, was a local pharmacist who was able to provide material advice and assistance! Of course we know all the best people.
The evening's final entertainment was a short walk up to the glow-worms as everyone made their way out the front gate to go home. Apparently they were still glowing nicely, despite the dust and the hot and dry weather.
This morning I was scratching newly-tame yearling 874 (last night's insemination candidate), and as I scratched down in the direction of a tick on the back of her hind leg, she lifted her leg in a way that startled me. I jumped, so did she, stamping her foot quickly back down in a move to get away from me, planting it directly on my toes! I lay and writhed on the ground for a few minutes until I could stand the pain enough to limp away. Fortunately nothing was broken. They do that funny thing when I scratch them and sometimes it takes me by surprise.
Jackie and Alan came round to pick blackberries and have morning tea by the pond. Stephan joined them to harvest a container or two for us too.
The following day I received an email from Andrew back in Auckland, with a photo of blackberries for sale in a supermarket, packed in tiny plastic containers, marked $7.99 for 125g! Good grief.
No, we would not sell blackberries: there is too much pain involved and one has to have the promise of the delight of eating them to put up with the danger in picking them. Or the promise of someone else's delight, something that could not be captured by a monetary value.
The Kōtare chicks, now with feathers just starting to appear.
One of the Cabbage Trees, Tī Kōuka , along the edge of the drain between Flats 1 & 2 is looking very stressed. I thought perhaps it was just getting too dry but all the others look green and lush despite the hot, dry conditions, so I think stress has tipped it over the edge into Sudden Decline. It will probably die.
During the gathering last evening, Jonny said he'd come back and talk Stephan through what he needed to do next for our bees. Early this evening he did just that and we all went out to our hive in the Back Barn paddock.
The bees seem to be very happy.
It's so dry, we had to be careful with the smoker. A fire could be so easily started at the moment.
We moved the bull's mob and the last calf out of the paddock was a very slow-moving 197. I watched him for a while to try and work out if he was sick, or what else might be ailing him. I decided he was definitely off-colour but he was eating, didn't have a shitty bum, just looked a bit hunched and uncomfortable. Both of us thought he was possibly very slightly lame on his right front leg.
As we walked back together I looked up and noticed the Northern Rātā by the first crossing in bloom. (The flowers are crimson and while they're a bit tricky to see in this photo, they're definitely there.) This is exceptionally late in the season; very strange.
The drain coming out of the Pines wetland is dry. It does stop running in very dry summers, so this isn't particularly surprising but adds to our general concern about this hot, dry summer.
We went up into the Big Back South to pick Ragwort. The Taraire tree at the top of the southern ridge is showing even more dry-stress than usual. Many of its leaves have turned silvery-grey, dead.
It has appeared prone since the drought of summer 2010/11. It still has many green leaves so I hope it will recover again.
There are lots of little pockets where we know Ragwort plants appear every year, usually because we don't get there early enough to ensure no seeding occurs - or because there's still a significant seed bank in the soil from earlier years. We do gradually reduce their number over time, where we attend to them regularly.
This is a fungal condition (I'm reasonably sure), afflicting some of the cows. It usually shows up in winter when their coats are wet for long periods. This is Jet 777's rump and weirdly the spots have become more prominent after I sprayed the area with Iodine a couple of times in the last week. I thought it might help resolve the problem. Maybe this is a stage in resolution; we shall see.
Stephan, with the help of a borrowed staple gun (a huge thank you to Kaeja and Gerard!), has finished stapling the boundary between Jane and our new neighbours, Hera and Hugh's, properties.
The former resident contracted Stephan to do the work when her dodgy grandson decamped but then paid only half the agreed sum for the work. 'Handshake' agreements appear not to count any more, even with some members of the older generation. That was disappointing but a sound fence is what remains and is the most important outcome. Had the grandson done the work, I suspect we'd have had to rebuild it anyway, which would have been even more involved. (He had replaced a short section of fence along the driveway that looked good enough at a glance but within weeks the wires had gone slack, so presumably the strainers and posts were inexpertly installed. What a mess he could have made of a 450m stretch!)
Still not looking quite right, but 197 is definitely feeding, just seems a bit wavery when walking. He didn't feel hot, his colour looks good where I can see it, his digestive function appears normal still.
The young Puka in the dying Kahikatea at the bottom of Flat 2 looks in a very precarious state. I wonder if the state of its host tree is contributing to its inability to survive the dry weather?
It's Karaka berry (drupe) time. I don't always notice them in the bush around here but this looks like a year of lots of fruit. They go orange when ripe. Karaka is a te reo Māori word for the colour orange.
The aviary is at last to have its promised renovation. It is not old but there have been leak problems along the southern wall where the prevailing wet winds hit during winter. Another problem I wanted to address is that on brightly moonlit nights, the birds are frightened by Ruru, Moreporks, the little native owls, of which there are many here. I suspect that the shadow of a predator flying over the translucent roof material frightens the birds into flight and that alerts the Ruru to their presence, when they'd otherwise not be aware the budgies were there.
I've chased many Ruru away from the cage in the middle of the night when they've sat on the predator traps outside, or on the rain gauge, sometimes even on the ground and on one occasion I watched one fly up and hang onto the wire front of the aviary.
They're beautiful birds but I do not want them causing so much upset to my caged birds, who are safe but do not know it.
The bull is in with Zella and Glia still and he's prone to bad behaviour around the plastic troughs. He's shifted this one on several occasions and it is only our good fortune that it hasn't been cracked or smashed. Therefore the plastic trough is out of bounds for the five animals and they have to go to the top of the paddock to the big concrete trough to drink.
But it was hot this morning and Zella obviously wanted a drink, so I opened the tape and let her drink her fill, before replacing the tape again. No point making her walk all the way up the paddock when that energy will better go into making milk.
Out in the Pines paddock Ellie 171 was on heat. I hadn't been sure if she'd been served previously by the bull or not; this answers that question and gives me a clear mating date for calving date calculations.
After checking that everyone was there, I let the cattle out of the Pines and across the stream to the little fenced area between the track and the stream.
I continued to watch bull calf 197, here in the picture having to walk along while feeding as his mother was intent on finding the next mouthful. He still looks a bit off.
Three hours later I moved the mob again but kept Henrietta and her son back here while the others went along the lanes to the Big Back South. When they were all settled, I came back for a now-nervous (they don't like being separated like that) cow and calf and walked them quietly up to the Windmill paddock, where they can be near the insemination mob and the yards, while I see what might develop with the calf.
We spent an entertaining half hour moving this lot from the big aviary into the old free-standing one in the garden. I had moved all the birds into one half of the big aviary while Stephan worked on the other half this morning but we decided they'd all be far too alarmed by the planned water-blasting so would have to be shifted out altogether.
There are forty birds. I had thought there were a few more than that but there have been occasional deaths, mostly from presumed old age and some from illness and subsequent euthanasia.
I'll have to be careful to watch feed and water levels with them all in together in a small space.
I've seen this intent ground-sniffing and licking going on a couple of times this week.
The object of interest has in both cases been a shrivelled scrotum that has just dropped off a steer calf. They smell pretty interesting, particularly after a curious cow has made things all wet with a lot of drooling saliva. I think they actually pick them up in their mouths.
Walking anywhere is very pleasant from the point of view of the treats available along the way. There are many blackberry bushes growing along the fencelines and they have ripe, delicious, juicy berries on them right now.
I never know where I might find Stephan.
Here he was poking around in the culvert pipe under the track, pushing or pulling an electric cable through, to feed the fence on the other side.
After watching Dushi 170 with some frustration all morning - she showed about as much sign of being on heat as her sister, Gertrude 162, did when I missed hers - I brought her in just after noon to inseminate her. Hopefully my timing will be ok. It was all a bit of educated guess-work.
Afterwards we let them into the House paddock through the new gateway.
At 7pm I took Stephan to the top of the Big Back North hill and he worked his way down the gullies eliminating Ragwort. I was too sore to join him in the work this evening so found a nice place to sit just over the ridge in the top of the Small Hill and looked at everything I could see around me.
There's still a bit of green Kikuyu over on the hill Over the Road.
The many and varied hues of the native bush always please my eye.
The shapes of the trees are also quite distinctive. There are the sharply conical Kahikatea, the clumpy Tōtara, the rounded tops of Puriri. There are some Kānuka in there too - the dark brown bits - and presumably all the other species we see, although many of those do not appear in the higher canopy.
I took this picture because the bull and his mob all looked so lovely and healthy, shiny and smooth.
They were a bit fed up with the Big Back South, so as soon as I saw Stephan coming down the hill, I moved them ...
... into the Big Back North.
Stephan had, as he often does, worked for a bit too long. It's like that out here, with so much to do and so once you're doing something, you often just keep on going until it's finished, or you really can't do it any more. If we could adopt some supremely useful young people who would be reliable, respectful and appreciate such a life, we would.
I looked into the Kingfisher nest this evening and saw the two babies there on their own. The parent bird appears only to warm the chicks in the first few days of their lives.
Harriet 860 started calling sharply this evening. She would appear to be coming back on heat. It was her insemination I had so much trouble with at the beginning of the season, so this is not a surprise but still disappointing: there was always the slightest chance she'd be pregnant despite my ineptitude.
Wiping an outside surface with a light-coloured cloth this morning, I discovered a dark smudge of what must be soot from Australia still. The sky is often still oddly coloured and apparently the temperatures are lower because of the atmospheric shading.
Wandering around checking the insem mob this morning I discovered this stray cricket ball from the Boxing Day event. Lucky nobody tried to eat it.
Cattle can choke and die on things like this, if they think they might be edible and they go down the wrong way. Apples and oranges are occasionally responsible for cattle deaths, where the animals graze in or near orchards. One of our calves died at her new home within her first year, after inhaling some sort of citrus fruit.
In the background Imogen 155 is mounting on-heat heifer 860.
Harriet 860 looking deranged, with 190 about to mount her.
190 and her hairy sisters are all still looking shabby. I am hopeful they'll turn into better animals than they look right now.
It's fascinating watching these chicks grow - and growing is something they do at an astonishing rate, from tiny chicks to the same size as their parents, in about five and a half weeks, before leaving the nest.
At three o-clock, the hottest part of the day, half the insem mob were out in the sun.
There was quite a lot going on, with three-year-old 811 almost on heat, Emergency's daughter 183 and Henrietta 860 in standing heat and many others in on the act.
In their excitement, sometimes they get it wrong and mount from the wrong end.
The off-colour calf appears to have made a full recovery now. Yesterday we both commented that he was no longer limping at all, although that had been a very minor thing.
Thinking about his enthusiasm for his future employment in the herd, I eventually worked out what probably ailed him. Bulls can be very rough with each other and an adult bull may well take exception to any other animal mounting a hot cow in his mob. I suspect the little bull was mounting a hot cow and the bull very likely threw him off.
Up, almost vertical on his hind legs, he'd have been sent flying if the bull gave him a good bash with his head. Thus I suspect he was badly bruised and probably had both a sore shoulder and back, hence his slight limp and hunched appearance the other day.
Heavy clouds appear from time to time but there's never any rain in them.
Drought has not been officially declared but we're drier than we were the last time the authorities made such a declaration. I declare we're in drought.
I inseminated Jet's daughter, 811, this morning, having presumably missed her first heat three weeks ago, if indeed it happened. I had noted only the tiniest bit of mucous on the 4th. She was very jumpy as I gently threaded the inseminator through her cervix. It doesn't bother most cows but some are quite sensitive to that crucial part of the insemination process.
Later in the day I opened the two halves of the Windmill paddock so that Henrietta 141 and the now-recovered bull calf could rejoin the insemination mob. The calf could probably do with staying away from bigger competition.
When I know they're not dead or sick, I like seeing flat-out cows. They look so relaxed, no longer having to resist gravity with any part of their bodies.
Even with her eyes open, 812 was probably fast asleep. She certainly didn't notice me for a while, as I moved around the others.
The cows were all looking intently at something when I went to check them this afternoon. They knew this cat was there before I saw it dash away to a better hiding place. There's a live-capture trap just to the right of the photo but it has only caught possums since Stephan set it there a few weeks ago.
We had two visitations today, the first from lovely young Jorja from next door, who has long wanted to come and see the pigs, which she did with Stephan before I came back from somewhere else.
Then Elizabeth came with son Mathew and grandchildren Maihi (here lying in the shade because he didn't want to pick blackberries with everyone else in the hot sunshine) and Sean and a friend, Scott.
Swimming was a more favoured activity afterwards.
Eva has been looking less lame again over the last few days.