Lots of people got up before dawn to stand at the ends of their driveways to acknowledge ANZAC Day, since nobody could go to the usual dawn services that are held on this day every year. I don't know whether anyone around here made the effort or not, since I didn't, and couldn't have seen anyone else in any case.
The concrete path is complete. What a treat it will be to be able to get to and from the aviary without tripping over boxing or having to wade through water after rain.
In the afternoon we brought some of the cattle in to the yards to weigh them. This is only the second time for some of the calves, which is unusual here. I kept anticipating the ease of using the new yards, so going to the old yards seemed more difficult. The drought and my not yet being back to 100% fitness also led to some things being left in the too-hard (or the can't-be-bothered) basket. I figure the good calves are obviously good and those who aren't doing well are also obvious, all two of them.
The cows were difficult in the yards. We've only put a few of them through the race before for weighing. I'm not sure if it's the unfamiliarity of the new set-up, or that things are working around the opposite way to the old yards.
The cows kept turning around and around in the small pen leading to the race. We'll have to block off the corner Stephan is climbing into as we planned and see if that makes it better.
The calves went through very smoothly.
We used the head-bail for the first time, set it up ready for 896 who'd torn his NAIT tag out a couple of days after we'd put it in his ear. It needed to be replaced with some precision, to make sure it goes into the larger part of the ripped ear, so it safely stays there. The calf walked straight to the set gap in the front panels, put his head through to push through and thus was caught. Brilliant.
I forgot to be ready to take a picture.
I went ahead of the mob when we finished, to set the gates for them to go to the Swamp East Right; I did not anticipate this barrier. But there's enough room to go around it on the left, so it shouldn't be a problem.
As Stephan sent the cattle up the alleyway I watched them to see what they'd do when they reached the tree: nearly every one of them pushed their way through it instead of going around it.
They'll only be up here for 24 hours, until I begin weaning tomorrow.
Then we got the other mob from the earlier photo, from the Bush Flat and they were much the same as the others, nearly every cow needing to be physically pushed into the race and then along into the weighing crate. The calves were fine, which was reassuring. At least the youngsters move well and one day they'll be the mature animals who hopefully won't need to be pushed everywhere.
I watch the antics of these two, Dushi and 200, with great amusement. The bull calves have no respect for their mothers, pushing them out of the way when they want what is on offer.
We decided to do the rest of the weighing tomorrow and because there was still some time before dark, Stephan reinstated the drain fence along the Windmill lane.
Zella and Glia on their way in to be weighed. They haven't been here before, although the calves came exploring one day when they were excluded only by a tape, pushing their way underneath to see a bit more of their world.
Here are Zella's hind feet. The improvement in their shape is astonishing.
Back in January both feet developed cracks in the outer, too-long toes and since those bits broke off, she's been able to walk better and so her feet have worn into a much more reasonable shape.
Time will tell if this is a permanent improvement.
I thought I'd better take a picture of a cow in the crush. Here I'd opened the left-side door for 792 to step out but she'd not noticed yet.
It's so much easier weighing the cattle in this enclosed area, where it doesn't matter if they move their feet around since the whole thing is on the load bars and once they've stepped in beyond the sliding gate, they really can't get out.
792 weighed 564kg. The heifers' and steers' average weights were 243 and 241kg respectively, the bulls 265kg. Jet's calf weighed 272kg, the heaviest of all the heifers, topped only by the oldest calf, 119's bull at 275kg, and enormous Andrew who weighed 318kg. I'm pleased, considering the shortage of feed in the drought. The average daily gain of all the calves was 833g, about 75% of their usual growth rate. Interestingly they all look well fed, except the youngest calf but that may be because he's several days younger than everyone else.
Because they were all born in October, they are a more uniform group than if their births were spread out over a longer period.
I'd planned the weaning groups based on the ages of the calves and which mobs they were in. This is the rest of the 26-mob, now 18, after I drafted 607, 613, 710 and 746 into a small strip of Flat 5d and their four big steer calves into Mushroom 1.
There are still five pairs in this mob to be weaned in a few days.
From the 21-mob I drafted the four oldest calves and their mothers which fortunately included Zoom, who needs to be relieved of her maternal responsibilities so she can put some weight back on again before winter.
This is the newly configured top end of the House paddock. I shut the four mothers in a strip of grass in the yards area, so they'd share the drinking trough with their calves for the first night. As you may see, any non-electric fence section has higher, electric barriers to discourage any risky jumping ideas on either side.
Now that grass is growing again in the paddocks, we can shut off all the emergency grazing places.
The four weaners at the other end of the paddock will venture down here at some point so Stephan reinstated the fence between the House paddock and our native tree area at the bottom of the garden.
Dushi now comes quickly toward me whenever I appear in her paddock, expecting the next blue bin of deliciousness. Sadly for her, on this occasion I was only collecting the empty bins for later in the day when I'll bring them back with something in them.
Death in the wilderness: an Eastern Rosella, dead amongst the rocks in the stream bed.
Over the last few weeks I've been amusing myself by photographing feathers I find. Can't really say this kills two birds with one stone though...
I heard some strange flapping amongst some of the tall trees at the bottom of the Pines paddock. This Kukupa then flew to another tree and again made far more noise than usual.
When I looked, I saw it hanging from a branch, rather than sitting on it.
It was able to fly well enough to travel to another tree but again didn't seem able to perch normally on a branch.
Perhaps it had vertigo and its world was spinning! When it flew again into a tree that looked like it had more perching possibilities, I quietly walked away.
We looked around under the trees a few days later and there was no evidence of a dead bird. Goodness knows what was wrong with it.
Today was a public holiday for ANZAC Day since it fell in the weekend. This is a relatively new thing, this "Mondayisation" of ANZAC. Annoyingly several radio announcers kept referring to it as ANZAC Day, which it is not, that is always commemorated on the 25th.
Not that a day off makes the slightest bit of difference for most people this year, since most people are at home in "lock down" anyway.
But there seemed to be a lot more movement around the place today, more noise from traffic on the road. Neighbour Sandi went supermarket shopping and bought sugar and cheese for us. We're planning to stay out of the shops for as long as possible.
We are fortunate people. In this extraordinary time our lives have gone on much as normal. We don't have to worry about losing our jobs or income - the drought and the reduced export demand for beef may well have a serious impact later but farm incomes are never stable anyway and we're used to being paid little for what we do. We're not stuck in a small house with very little to do; our physical "bubble" is huge, with many meaningful and necessary jobs to continue filling our days. We have ample food and other resources, and sufficiently advanced technology to remain in touch with the outside world.
All these things didn't stop me feeling extremely anxious at times, when I was spending too much time watching, reading and listening to news reports, so that I had to reduce my exposure to it all and sometimes had to talk myself through some calming deep breathing! I am thankful to live in this country, where the governmental response to the Covid-19 crisis has been so sensible. It frightens me that some people who talk of harm to the economy are suggesting that people should have been allowed to die for the sake of it, that we'd all have been better off that way. How did they think that would play out if people were sick, dying, frightened to go to work, to go out of their houses? We'd have been as badly affected but for longer and there'd have been a lot of new graves.
Overall I have found the time of the Level 4 restrictions has suited me well. I liked that the world seemed more still, that people weren't constantly on the move, always buying things, making noise. It must have been hell for some, if home wasn't safe, if debt and job-loss created unbearable worry, and for those in other countries, there were and are worse things to worry about.
I like having mothers and daughters and this sense of continuity in the herd. In the other mob is Grey 607, Jet's mother.
I'm very pleased with this season's calves.
Jet's daughter, 888, is on the right at the back and I'm in two minds about her. She's going with the sale calves but I keep wondering if I ought to keep her. But with seven bull calves to keep, I have to be very choosy about the heifers and there are a couple of others I want, who don't already have sisters in the herd.
Looking at the udders of the weaned cows is informative. A productive udder becomes tight and uncomfortable for two or three days before the cow's body adjusts to the absence of a feeding calf.
746's quarters look reasonably even. These apparently insignificant udders produce a lot of milk over each 24-hour period.
613's udder is very uneven. The front right quarter is soft and empty, so cannot have been producing milk this season and nor did it last season. I know that 613 had mastitis in her left side a couple of years ago and now I suspect she must have had other infections too. Her calf this year is lighter than earlier ones, when she must have been producing more milk.
607's udder is even. That's her calf sitting on the other side of the fence.
607 and 613 were both born in 2008 and both have produced ten calves.
We move from Covid-19 Level 4 to Level 3 at 11.59pm tonight and the news media seemed ridiculously focused on what sort of takeaway food everyone wanted to go out and buy. Extraordinary.
First on the news this morning, reports of people lining up ready to buy takeaways in the early hours. People are mad.
Last week we managed to organise the purchase of new rubber tracks for the digger. I was pleasantly surprised that it was possible with so many businesses currently not working but in the end, the hopeful emails from the supplier came to nought, as the tracks he'd dispatched got caught up in other companies' freight forwarding systems and we didn't hear about their arrival in town until today. Stephan went in after lunch to pick them up.
Our te reo Māori classes are about to recommence via Zoom meetings, that computer programme now present in so many people's conversation as it has been used by all manner of groups, from our government caucus, to people isolated in their homes enjoying after-work social drinking. Stephan and I therefore spent some hours this morning revisiting our study materials, since we've rather let it slide during the weeks we were busy with everything else and not having contact with our class or teacher.
We sat down in front of my computer and the camera at three o'clock for our first on-line class. It was a strange experience; I've only attended a couple of meetings before in this way and the delay caused by our satellite broadband connection is disconcerting. But I felt much more enthusiastic about recommencing our study than I had done during our isolation without classes.
When the class finished at 4.30, I went out to check the cattle I hadn't already seen earlier in the afternoon.
I'm providing a narrow strip of new grass for the weaning mothers while their bodies adjust to not producing milk for their calves.
I'm doing the same for the mothers of the calves in the House paddock, expanding their access into the Windmill paddock by degrees.
They're all more settled now, after two very noisy nights calling to each other.
I climbed the PW, looking for the 18 animals I'd put in here yesterday evening.
Coming down the hill I found 787 (in the picture lower left) and Ellie 119 (not visible against the dark area under the trees to the right).
I haven't been up here for a while, so enjoyed the climb and the views.
It is not as clear in the photo as I hoped but directly below the green patch on the opposite hill (that's the top of the Swamp East Right and, over the ridge, the Tank paddock) there is a cleared piece diagonally below the bright green of a Puriri tree. In there, there is a tiny white dot, the electric tape reel I used to exclude the cattle from the twin trees at the bottom of the paddock. I stood for some time, trying to adjust my orientation: on this farm we often find that our sense of where things are in relation to other places is mistaken. With hills and gullies, twisting streams and lots of tree cover, you can end up facing in a different direction than you think.
There is a break in the Kānuka canopy going uphill to the left from the open space, and that presumably marks the line of the new fence between the Swamp East Right and Left.
It's entertaining to feel like pioneers in this landscape, still trying to map our own space in our minds.
I liked his shiny nose, so took his picture.
189 is Ellie 171's son and her milk must be lovely and creamy.
After three nights the weaners and their mothers are relaxed. One more night and then I'll move them a little further away from each other.
Our new arrangement here has worked very well. During weaning we used to have to move the cows out of the way to drive around this corner in the lane but now they're kept out of the roadway and can come and go to the rails to see their calves whenever they wish.
These big rubber and steel tracks are heavy! Stephan lifted one from its pallet on the back of the ute and took it to the tractor's transport tray, then attached the tray to the back of the tractor.
He used to heave great weights like this around by hand but that sort of silliness hurts these days.
Then we went out to the Middle Back to put the new track on the digger.
Stephan had laid the broken track out flat when he was looking for the markings indicating its size. We decided to work where it was, so we had a partly flat area underneath.
When we replaced the jumped track on the other side three weeks ago, we worked the other way, with the digger arm facing downhill, pushing the body of the digger into a horizontal plane; I anticipated this angle would cause some difficulty but there wasn't room to turn easily and the terrain is awful.
Eventually (it took us nearly an hour of fiddling around) we got the track onto the big cog on the right and the idler wheel on the left and Stephan pumped grease back in to tension it correctly and we went home to do some other things before our second te reo Zoom class at 5.30.
This morning we went to town. The other day I sent some photos to our doctor of an alien thing growing out of Stephan's cheek. It is some form of sun-related skin cancer but the doctor assured us it's less alarming than it looks. She also said that sort of thing does grow surprisingly quickly, as indeed it has, so it would be good to cut it out.
While Stephan went into the clinic with everyone wearing masks and gloves, I went to pick up some things we'd arranged to buy from the farm supplies store. As an "essential services" supplier, they're able to operate under restrictions requiring customers to order by phone or internet and arrive by appointment to collect their purchases. It's worked well for us thus far.
While I waited back at the clinic for Stephan to reappear, I was able to get a 'flu vaccination. I wasn't sure if the vaccine was yet available to people who are not over 65 or considered otherwise vulnerable. I'm glad to have had it, since I wasn't sure I'd be able to with shortages reported around the country. Mind you, with closed borders, I wonder how this year's influenza will get here?
After four nights' separation, the calves and cows can be moved a little further away from each other, so I took the House paddock four to Flat 3 and then brought the four from Mushroom 1 down the lane to join them. Those already in Flat 3 are in the photo on the right.
So that's a nice mob of eight to start with. We're selling 19, so there are another eleven to separate today.
From the bottom of the PW I managed to draft the five cows and calves I wanted to wean. It was a tricky manoeuvre and I was very pleased to accomplish it, without anyone I didn't want coming out of the paddock. Sometimes my cattle are so easy. They were the 26 mob, then 18, now eight, four cows and their calves.
The ten I'd drafted out went along the lane and then I let the cows into 5d and the calves into Mushroom 1.
And then out to the Back Barn to collect the 13 mob.
It's getting hard to keep track of which animals are in which mobs and how many there are in each! I've had to make a spreadsheet, in case I need to see who's been where later - on-farm contact tracing!
These were the 13-mob and now they're only nine.
Next I drafted 773, 792 and their two calves out of the mob in Flat 4, sent the calves into the House paddock and their mothers into the taped-off bit of the Windmill, then brought the four from the yards, the two calves going to join the two in the House paddock and I kept the two young cows on their own by the yards.
I had been going to put the four mothers together but they haven't been together for ages and won't stay together afterwards anyway, so I kept them separate. Each pair could access a non-electric area to sniff their calves and both had water. We didn't specifically design the area that way but it has worked out brilliantly.
Something's up, thought Glia and her calf!
Usually when Stephan goes in to milk Zella, he lets Glia's calf out to join her; but not today, not ever again: it's weaning time for this group too.
We sent Glia and Zella along the lane to the little river bank area, then their two calves joined the others in the House paddock.
Stephan went back to the digger in the Middle Back and did the job he'd attempted previously with a shovel. At that time the ground was so boggy here he couldn't bring the tractor anywhere near.
But his work to stop water spreading out across the area to the left worked well, and proved that if we dug a bigger drain here, this boggy place would dry out. It's not a proper wetland, just a boggy bit of poorly drained slope. The water runs from the hill behind the farm.
Now there's no water running here at all because of the drought so the digger had reasonably firm, albeit hideously lumpy, ground to traverse. Stephan said he did discover one soft bit and nearly got the digger stuck.
He looked rather like he was having a supremely good time.
The five cows in 5d, enjoying the next little strip of grass I provided this evening. They'll be back to normal again soon, once their bodies have firmly heard the "make no more milk" message.
They are Endberly, 716, 745, 742 and Dreamliner 787.
Stephan got a lot of frozen fruit out of the freezer yesterday to process and didn't notice that one of the containers was of blueberries, not whatever else he thought it was. Tonight he turned it into jam. It was a very pretty colour but the flavour isn't particularly strong.