The week beginning the 28th of March 2020.
Saturday the 28th
pig rooting

I hate feral pigs!

Here is some lovely grass just starting to grow well and because of the recent little bits of rain, the pigs have been out and dug it up. We're not growing enough grass for the cows, let alone the damned pigs.

trees

A dead Tōtara in the reserve in the Swamp East Right. I couldn't see what might have killed it. It's the near neighbour of the Puriri and perhaps the Puriri has a better root system and out-competed it for water during these many dry months.

pasture

This is what passes for pasture on the Spring paddock hillside.

Everywhere the cows have eaten the green leaves and spat out the tough dry bits of the Kikuyu plants, so that every paddock looks like it could do with a jolly good sweeping to clear all that rubbish away.

pasture

Over in the big sheltered bowl there are green patches. I don't know why the cows haven't eaten the grass there. Something happens to the Kikuyu at this time of year that the cows don't like much, probably some sort of fungal growth when there's moisture and the temperatures are still warm.

cow and calf

When she was very young I thought I wouldn't be able to keep this lovely heifer but like some of her paternal half-siblings and indeed her sire, she started out being very nervous but has calmed down a great deal as she's grown.

Her mother, 749, has also this summer, submitted to my determined taming efforts and at last lets me scratch and stroke her when I'm near.

I'm always looking out for good daughters from my cows and white-faced 749 has produced some stunning calves but they've always been very flighty, so I didn't want to keep them - we're still eating her first daughter, 793.

This calf, 889, could be the one! Her facial markings are good - white faced cows with pink eyelids often develop sun-related cancerous growths but black eyelids do not.

fencing

Stephan had been thumping and digging in posts all day and was now dragging the second of the three fence wires up the hill to the new section's top strainer.

I assisted for a while, helping pull the wire from a point part-way up the slope.

In the evening I went out for a pig hunt. I sat on my folding chair at the Mushroom 2 gateway, downwind, and waited. Waited. I walked along to check that there weren't any in Mushroom 3 over the little hump, then, it having got too dark to see anything much, walked back and drove home.

Sunday the 29th
tree

This is a tropical guava tree in Jane's garden and has been the source of much breakfast pleasure over the last few years. When Jane tires of picking the fruit she invites Stephan to come and harvest some for his jelly-making. This morning I accompanied him, since he wanted to get out to the fence job as soon as possible.

wasp nest

At the top of the tree Stephan fortunately saw before he touched, this large paper-wasp nest, covered in the painfully stinging insects.

I went home for the aerosol fly-spray and as Stephan sprayed them, we could hear the click, click, click of dying wasps dropping into the dry leaves under the tree.

fence

The first section of the new fence has been completed.

gully

Half-way up the slope I could see the green of the grass in the Swamp East Right. Fencing like this makes it much easier to visualise how everything fits together on this hillside. Now there's a definite boundary around the gully, so we can see how big it is.

I have a vague sort of picture of these places in my mind but last year when I was walking down from seeing Stephan working on the boundary fence, I emerged from the trees at the bottom in an entirely unexpected place. With fences around the gullies, their shapes will be far more distinct, both in the paddock and in our minds.

fencing

Stephan was now starting work on the next section, a straight line across the slope.

On the left will be the Swamp East Left and on the right, the Swamp East Right.

stream

The stream's flow continues to lessen. At least it is still flowing.

There are many more stones showing than there were a month ago.

... Three weeks later ...
cattle

I was surprised to find a bit of grass in the Back Barn paddock. The 13 cows and their calves very happily moved from the Spring paddock across the stream to here.

sky

Dark clouds hang over us on some afternoons but other than a few stray spits of water, bring us nothing useful.

cattle

At some stage, when (if?) we eventually get some rain, Stephan will reinstate the drain fences and Flats 1 & 2 will revert to being separate areas. In the mean time the cattle munch whatever grows on the edges and down in the dry bottom of the big drain.

Some things will not return to a former state: the trees along the drain have died. The Tī Kōuka at left probably died of Sudden Decline as well as the drought but the tree ferns, now dead and brown, have died from the heat and the lack of water.

I went out with the rifle again, still didn't see any pigs. They must have been out later, digging more holes in the grass.

Monday the 30th
Rimu seedling

This little Rimu has obviously been munched, then regrown. It has a fairly sturdy little trunk. We dug it out and I brought it home to nurture for a while before we replant it in a safer place. Rimu are not uncommon but nor are they numerous here. We like to protect them when we find them, so move them if they're growing where the cattle graze.

cow and calf

Occasionally I find Eva sitting down on her sore side. I presume that means she's not too sore to do that, nor to get back up again.

She seems to be holding her condition, still gets around at a reasonable pace and I see her here at this end of the paddock at some times and away over by the bush at others. If she were in a lot of pain, I don't imagine she'd be quite so mobile.

poultry

The chicks have reached a most charming stage, having all their feathers but only being half grown.

We have to keep them penned most of the time to protect the gardens but in the later afternoon we let them out and keep watch over their activities.

When they were little I regularly counted nine to ensure they were all present; now I count ten because I can't quickly distinguish the little mother hen from the chicks.

I stayed out for a couple of hours this evening waiting for pigs. I moved my folding chair along the Mushroom lane and sat quietly listening to the radio on ear-plugs, occasionally turning them off so I could listen to the birds - and a very noisy possum waking up and starting to move out of the big Puriri above me. No pigs.

Tuesday the 31st
happy man

A cheery Stephan off up the hill with his bucket of fencing materials.

cattle

I decided, watching the pigs' inexorable progress across this lovely pasture, that I'd bring the mob of 15 cattle here to eat what has grown so far, before more of it is ruined.

fencing

When I went to see how Stephan was doing, I found him about to pull the last wire of this section up the hill to the boundary, but having trouble with the coil of wire as it kept snagging. I climbed the hill with the end of the wire while he ensured it fed out freely from the coil and then I waited up here for him to climb up and tie it to the strainer post.

fencing

The new boundary fence is yet to have all the battens attached. We have pondered not battening the areas where there will be no animals on either side, in which case there will be battens to carry back down the hill again.

fencing

Half way down the slope is a chair where I sit. There isn't any other chair quite like it. (Apologies to A. A. Milne.)

This is the sort of thing that happens when a man is alone in the forest. Bogor, the lone woodsman, probably created similar furniture.

I sat there for several minutes, listening to the Tūī in the trees.

cow and calf

886 isn't very friendly yet but neither was her big sister, 856, until very recently, so I'm hopeful that if I decide to keep her, her attitude will improve.

The two daughters have different sires. As my maternal family numbers have contracted over time, I have tried to maintain some genetic diversity in the sires I've used.

The latest Cow Families page was the one I updated in December.

grass

This is what the pasture looks like in some places, the only green plants being the Kikuyu grass - and even that has dried right out in some cases. There was a patch of brown like this on a little hillock in the Frog paddock, looking entirely dead, then came some little amount of rain and within a couple of days, there was a noticeably green tinge there.

Here the little green Kikuyu plants will soon begin their astonishing autumn expansion, the minute there's some rain.

cattle

Envy!

When I took Eva and Andrew their evening treats, the cows in Mushroom 2 came running to have some too. No such luck.

Wednesday the 1st of April

Stephan went to town for his influenza vaccine, being one of the priority list of people including those with other health conditions and everyone over 65. Although if we all have to keep staying home or keeping distance from each other, perhaps there won't be much 'flu around to catch this season. That everyone has been receiving proper training in hand hygiene and not coughing and sneezing everywhere during the COVID-19 response, might hopefully have a long-term effect on the 'flu and winter colds too.

calf

There were disorderly calves in strange places this morning. The 26 mob were in the Blackberry paddock, with the paddock gate open and some tapes across the lane so they could eat the grass along the track. 723's daughter, 893, was out beyond one of those tapes, so I carefully walked past her (keep your eyes down and they think you're not so scary) to remove the tape and send her back in the direction of her mother.

calves

Two calves were completely out of their area, through two fences, standing in the Swamp East Left. I have no idea how they got there.

Fortunately they both walked quietly to the crossing and back into the paddock to their mothers. (The rest of the mob were to the right of the photo, on the other side of the stream.)

calves

The picture above was taken off to the left of this one, down in the bottom corner of the Blackberry paddock.

I propelled all the cows and calves along to the gateway behind me here to the right and, as often happens in this situation, the slow calves didn't go out the gate but turned back along the fenceline to keep up with their mothers. There was no way I could get them back to the gate.

calves

So we went down to the bottom gate, across the stream and through the Swamp East Left, across the stream again into the Frog paddock and the calves ran across to the gate, which I opened for them to catch up with the rest of the mob in the lane.

Cats, skinning and more than one way to get the job done! (Where did that terrible saying come from?)

calf

This calf is 887, Dreamliner 787's daughter and she has an interesting collection of warts on her chin.

Her mother had a lot of warts earlier this year. I wonder if they're transmissible?

cow

The mob were going across the stream to the Tank paddock and between the yards area and the stream, grow clumps of these ferns and a couple of the cows obviously like them very much, going directly to them whenever they pass through this area. This is 613, having a lovely munch.

rain

As I moved the 15 mob out of Mushroom 2 to go out the back, it rained, although barely enough to register in the rain gauge.

On the hill Over the Road are the 23 mob.

Three days ago when I was despairing over the pig damage to the paddocks I emailed Aaron, who'd come pig hunting with his friends a month ago. I asked if he could come out again, bearing in mind that services to farming, as an "essential services" industry, were presumably allowed during the Level 4 restrictions. Reading the rules he thought not but he fortunately thought to phone the Ministry for Primary Industries and ask the question. Hunting and other dangerous pursuits are forbidden during this time, because rescue would bring too many people into close proximity with each other, not to mention using emergency medical services that may be stretched already; but quietly stalking pigs that come out onto open paddocks is not a particularly dangerous pursuit. The advice he received was that as long as he carried a letter from me stating his name and business for inspection by any police check-point he encountered on his way here, that would be allowed.

Aaron came out just before dusk and, maintaining a wide distance, I pointed out the pigs' usual feeding areas. I'd left my folding chair out near Mushroom 3, so invited him to use it if he wished.

Throughout the evening I felt enormous relief that we might be doing something about the pigs.

I didn't hear Aaron leave but presume it was sometime in the early hours. He later told me he didn't see any pigs but heard one before as it detected his presence and snorted its way back into the bush.

Thursday the 2nd
fence preparation

Stephan is just visible in the middle of this picture. He was working his way up the hill, cutting trees and scrub in preparation for building the fence that will keep the cattle out of the gully to the left.

There will also need to be a fence 'island' around the Puriri trees to the right.

cow and calf

I picked up an armful of Puriri leaves from a branch Stephan had pruned and took them down to Eva and Andrew.

Eva has more grass than anyone else at the moment so she doesn't need any of these extras; but I love her and I like taking her treats. Sometime too soon I won't be able to do that any more.

Friday the 3rd
native bush

The time of beautiful light has begun. The sun is at an angle that picks colours out in a different way from other seasons.

I looked across the flats this morning and noticed what looks like a shadow on the Bush Hill reserve but it is the colour difference between the Kānuka trees along the fenceline and the conical Kahikatea trees behind them which in turn stand out from the Tōtara behind them.

apples

Stephan went up to the orchard and came back with far more Ballarat apples than I had realised were on the trees this year. Fabulous!

The trees have done very well considering the drought this season.

birds

Half of the mob Over the Road were down by the trough, as is their morning habit, but the others were sitting and grazing over the other side of the hill.

There was the most wonderful concert of Tūī song in the trees. I think there are more birds around. I wonder whether the reduction in human activity has led to the birds coming out from the more remote places in these weeks?

I recorded a bit of video of these two, one bird obviously singing a lot more of the song than any of us could hear.

(The file is just over 20Mb, in case you're on a limited connection.)

digger

Stephan seemed to be a long time out in the Swamp East paddock so I went out to see how he was getting on: on the digger, no wonder he hadn't come home.

Except he wasn't having much fun, one of the big rubber tracks having jumped off its wheel as he turned on the slope. He'd been trying to run it back on but had not been successful. Have to go and look at youtube videos on how to fix it!

calf

Andrew had been trying to get into Eva's molasses in the evenings so I gave him a little of his own. He's hooked, just like the cows.

apples

While Stephan was out on the digger, I was at the kitchen bench peeling and chopping Granny Smith apples ready for Stephan to cook and bottle this evening.

There are so many apples, I thought I'd better join in the processing.

This has been an odd week, as we all got used to the Covid-19 Level 4 restrictions on movement and personal contact. It shouldn't really have had much impact on Stephan and me, since we sometimes don't go out the front gate for weeks at a time, except for occasional supplies. But being restricted is different from choosing a life of isolation.

The absence of the local newspaper, published on Tuesdays and Thursdays and which we access on-line because the paper delivery was so unreliable, has left us with a particular sense of isolation. The paper has in recent times only been a two-minute read but it did keep us in touch with things that were going on out there in our wider neighbourhood, the sort of news never picked up by the national media. With the loss of that news source I went hunting on social media and while that's flagged some newsworthy happenings, I've spent far too many hours reading in appalled astonishment the semi-literate contributions of conspiracists who wish us all to believe idiotic ideas about the current situation. Madness.

It's interesting to contemplate how different things would have been pre-internet. I guess there would have been a lot of letter-writing going on!

I don't think I'm quite a "prepper" (one of those people who prepare for the collapse of civilisation and have their bunkers ready to go) but since SARS a decade ago and the swine 'flu a few years back - and wasn't there a bird 'flu scare in there somewhere too? - I've been aware that there might come a time when we would want to stay out of town for a while.

And since the Christchurch earthquakes, "be prepared" messages have been regularly broadcast, encouraging people to keep sufficient water and basic food and medicinal supplies to enable survival for a few days in case of a major natural disaster. It would be an odd sort of disaster that disrupted our water supplies but we've always kept good supplies of food and household basics.

When the rush on toilet paper became newsworthy, I counted our store and discovered that we were already well supplied. We're in the fortunate position to be able to buy in bulk when things are on special at the supermarket and as I prefer not to go there more than necessary, the shopping trolley is quite full when I make my infrequent visits. Stephan does the regular food shopping and I accompany him only a few times each year.

When this disruption became imminent, we didn't need to shop for very much; a bit more bread for the freezer, was the only thing we were really likely to need in the next weeks.

carrots

But there was a building sense of excitement today because about ten days ago, the women up the road asked if we needed anything they could add to their "click and collect" supermarket order - some of them are in the over-70 higher Covid-19 risk group. The only thing we'd not thought about was carrots. I've never felt such excited anticipation about carrots in my life as I did today. Jade sent me the picture as she put them in the mailbox this afternoon.

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