Back in February, I booked some fairly cheap air tickets to go down to Palmerston North, which is about 500 miles south of here, 100 miles north of Wellington at the bottom of the North Island, for a few days to attend the annual Meat New Zealand Beef Expo. I went to the event in 1998 on my own, so was interested to see how much change there has been in Angus breeding during the last seven years. Stephan had never been to the Expo and we haven't had a holiday for a while, so we've been very much looking forward to the trip.
We've been busily organizing ourselves and the farm for a few days' absence. A woman called Sophie, who we've never met, will come and live in our house while we're not here! Sophie is a sheep pregnancy scanner and her partner asked if she could come and stay with us while she's up here working, but since we won't be here, we thought she might as well stay anyway - and feed the chickens and ducks and fend off the burglars.
A last check on the animals before we leave this afternoon ...
#356 continues healing, his wound is gradually closing inwards, the hole being very much smaller than it was a few weeks ago. The most noticeable difference is in the surrounding skin, the healing process of which has been most interesting to observe. He seems in very good spirits, although his injured leg is obviously still quite weak. He has developed an interesting lump of muscle around his hip on the other side, which I presume is a result of his unusual way of getting up from lying down. Cattle usually rock forwards onto the front knees before moving the back legs into a standing position and then getting up; 356 can't do that, presumably because he either can't bend the right leg, or hasn't the strength to use it in the normal way, so he just levers himself up using the left leg, which must use a different set of muscles than is usual.
He shows no sign of being in any discomfort at all, despite part of the inside of his body being open to the elements for all this time. Every few days I've been giving it a bit of a saline wash and spreading Manuka honey in and around the area and it has remained very clean. 356 has taken to knocking me with his head, as he did from time to time before his "accident", so he's well on the way to being his old self. He's never been dangerously rough, but I had to be a bit careful with him at times, since his playing could cause me some injury!
I moved the cows and heifer calves out to some lovely grass, now that we've finally had some decent growth.
The afternoon was beautifully clear, so the views from the plane were fantastic, as we flew into Auckland at the end of the first leg of our journey. Rangitoto, that wonderful volcanic island, is in the middle of the picture below.
Because there's only one flight in and out of Kaitaia each day, we then had to wait around the Auckland airport for two and a half hours for the next connecting flight to Palmerston North. We wandered over to the International Terminal and watched people and had a look around the complex, having not been there for some time. We had a picnic and ate our sandwiches (two coffees and a filled roll cost $14 when we were last there, so we took our own food with us this time). Eventually we climbed onto what seemed like an enormous plane - it seated 34 passengers, which made it appear huge since we're now used to Kaitaia's "flying cigar", with its 19 seats.
We made an early start, walking to Arena Manawatu where the Beef Expo was being held. We wandered around the bull pens with our catalogue, making notes on their structural soundness until we were ushered out of the central aisle so the judges could use it to watch the bulls walk around.
When the judges had finished looking at the penned unled bulls, they judged the led class, in which there were only four animals. The last time I went to the Expo, there were a great many more Angus bulls and the majority were trained to lead.
At that point we were approached by a woman who turned out to be Sue, who lives near Levin and breeds Murray Grey cattle, with whom I've corresponded by email for some time, since she first found our website. We sat together and compared our opinions on the bulls.
The National show is often described as a "feeding competition" because the bulls have to be fed exceptionally well (and usually on things other than grass) to get them to this sort of size before they're even two years old. I've often thought that if we bought a bull from such a sale, we'd bring him home and he'd collapse on our Kikuyu pasture. I wonder how long they last on ordinary farms.
The Angus sale was held after the judging, the top two bulls fetching $35,000 and $36,000.
We dashed off for lunch with Liz, another of my internet/email acquaintances, who had kindly met us at the airport the night before, then returned to the Expo for ...
... the Simmental Show.
I was quickly being overtaken by a cold - someone sneezed behind me in the plane on the way down, I bet it was all their fault!!! I felt worse and worse as we sat there watching the bulls go by, so we left before the Simmental Sale and went and found a pharmacy to buy something to help me stay on my feet during our holiday.
Walking past the first entrance to Arena Manawatu, we spotted the Hereford parade in full swing. The Hereford Association's organization of their part of the Expo was very impressive.
Inside the Stadium the Shorthorns, Highlands and Murray Grey cattle were being judged and then sold. Stephan seems to have decided that he should have some Highland cattle on the farm, so was very interested to see these bulls.
I personally prefer a great deal less horn. Imagine being gently nudged by one of these heads!
After lunch, the Hereford final judging was done in the arena, after all of the bulls had been led in and stood together in a very impressive array.
The photograph shows less than half of the bulls. It's an amazing sight, so many huge animals all standing together in a group.
I was enormously impressed by the Hereford part of the show: their commentators were clear and had all the necessary information about the bulls and breeders, the herds-people leading the bulls were all very smartly turned out with the numbered waist-coats to match the lot numbers of their bulls and all the animals were led, which meant that the show really was one!
I'll still be breeding Angus cattle though.
A Beef Council Feed Efficiency Field Day was advertised for today, so we found a Beef Council member and asked for a lift (thanks, Tim) out to the Massey University Farm at Taupaka in Aokautere. The trial is looking to identify cattle which are the most efficient converters of feed to body-mass. Breeding cows were sourced from a number of Angus herds around the area and bred to bulls selected by EBVs and then the progeny were monitored throughout their lives and on to slaughter.
Actual feed intake in a pasture system is measured by administering an enzyme (by feed or injection, I can't actually remember) and then measuring how much of it comes out the other end. It all sounded terribly interesting, but my cold-befuddled head didn't retain all the detail!
The second generation are now weaned, so it is hoped to continue the research, if funding becomes available.
Back in Palmerston North, we had a couple of hours to spend as we chose, so wandered around the town centre, having a sort of picnic in The Square with a number of ducks ...
Then, while we warmed up with a cup of coffee in the Library cafe, we spotted a sign for the Taylor Jensen Fine Arts gallery, so went in for a look. It was really my sort of place and had I been feeling just a wee bit more impulsive, I would now be the owner of a very nice print by a local artist, which I particularly liked. Then again, maybe I just didn't want it quite enough.
There was an exquisite book on native birds, bound with wood and leather, with its own website (since disappeared).
Next we found the gallery of Elizabeth Knapp, in which she was working. She was very nice, talking to us for a while about what she was currently working on, while she did so.
Across the road was a very good bookshop in which I found "It's my party and I'll knit if I want to!" by Australian, Sharon Aris, which I promptly bought. I've been secreting my knitting needles in my hand-luggage on the planes, so I can knit while waiting, sitting, flying, which is no longer acceptable to the airline companies, since they suspect someone might use a sharp object to hijack a plane. "Take me to Kaitaia airport, NOW, or I'll poke you with my knitting needle!" As Stephan points out, I'm unlikely to do such a thing and anyone wanting to "borrow" my needles would have to fight me first, or wait at least until I'd finished a row.
The book isn't quite as funny as I thought it might be, but is like my own personal support group, since everywhere I knit, someone will say "oh, one doesn't see that much any more!" What happened to those few film actors in North America, who had begun knitting whilst waiting for their next scene? There were news reports of them at some time in the last couple of years, as if knitting was the new "cool". They're probably still at it, but it's not really exciting enough for the glossy magazines to follow in detail. "This week: Gwyneth's New Jersey! ... Calista starts a new scarf!"
We wandered back to the motel where we'd left our luggage for the day, and caught a taxi to the airport.
Since I'm doing all this advertising, I shall mention that the Palmerston North Motel was very comfortable, reasonably priced and very quiet, which for we country dwellers is an important thing. My usual complaint (well, I have stayed in two motels in the last ten years) is that motel hosts declare that toll-free calls will not be charged for, so I happily connect to the internet and keep in touch with the world while in residence, only to be billed for every call when I leave. Bad business, but by the time we were leaving, I couldn't be bothered arguing the issue.
We flew to Auckland in the huge 34-seat plane, as the light gradually faded. I was able to see the ground for half of the time, looking in awe at the amount of damage still visible along the river-beds, after the huge flood in February. Every hill-side had slips. We could see Ruapehu (and I think I saw Tongariro) as we flew up - marvellous flying past volcanoes! I mention this because I once took a visitor to the top of Maungakiekie (Mt Eden) in Auckland, who became highly alarmed when I pointed out that we were standing atop a volcano. We're used to living amongst such mountains, but many parts of the world don't have them.
We stayed in Auckland with my sister Jude and her growing family and on Thursday morning I took the two children with me when I drove Stephan out to the airport to catch the plane home. Then I illegally parked in a nearby parking area (grossly frowned at by a couple of surly security women, who eventually moved us on) and Stella (my niece who is now 2½) and I watched the planes coming and going, people getting on and off. Small children who can talk are extremely entertaining.
Very early on Friday morning, my hosts caught a flight to see Roger's family in Australia, leaving me in their house, alone apart from a small, excited dog, with my hideously awful cold, for the whole weekend, until I flew home on Sunday afternoon. (They said they were the only tickets they could get, but I'm a bit suspicious of the timing, actually.)