The week beginning 24th of January, 2004
Saturday the 24th

Walking out to the swamp was a different experience this morning from that of all the other times!  It has become a virtual stroll in the park...

new track new track

This was where we previously had to ... go up around the corner and the lumpy slippery bit ... push through the trees ... duck to avoid the gorse above ...

And on it went, Stephan spending the day on the tractor, pushing the track further and further through the bush, until the final slope down to where the steer lay waiting.

The track in to the "campsite" where the steer was stuck
preparing to lift the steer with the tractor

The steer had moved himself around a little, but was much the same as yesterday.  We kept him covered for some of the time, particularly as the air cooled down in the afternoon and partly because it reduced the number of flies which could land on his skin, which he was finding very annoying.  I had sacrificed a good thick blanket from the house, since he really needed to be kept warm and I figured I'd just have to wash it several times at the end of all of this.  It has a vast population of fly eggs now attached.

We needed to get the tractor into position to lift the steer in the cow-sling.  The ground where we needed to park the tractor to do that, was still very soft, so everyone grabbed bits of felled Manuka and stacked them up in front of the tractor, to give it a more stable mat beneath the front wheels.

the steer, in the sling

The sling had to be slid under one side of the steer while he sat, then we rolled him over a bit to bring it out from under him on the other side.  A flap comes up under the brisket and straps continue from there, up over the shoulders and back to the hooks above.  Two straps go between the back legs and out around the rump to the back hooks.

It was then just a case of lifting very slowly so that the steer's weight was taken off his legs.  In the picture to the left, Graham is just adjusting one of the back legs which was caught in the mud, before we raised the machinery to lift the steer to a standing position.  His back legs had been fairly mobile, but he was unable, or unwilling, to take any weight on his front legs, so we had to just straighten them out and try to mobilise his joints and massage the surrounding muscles.

We lifted him three times during the afternoon and into the early evening and by the third time he was taking his own weight on his back legs and beginning to take a little more of his own weight on the front.

Sunday the 25th

This morning some bright spark suddenly suggested that we could actually use the scrub-bar to cut grass much more quickly than picking by hand!  It's funny how when you're in the middle of a job and you just have to get it done, you can lose perspective and any ability to see that you're just banging your head against the wall.  In minutes there were bags of grass ready to be taken out to the steer.  Laurence set out with one on his back and was away across the field, a mere white speck by the time I got the camera out to record all this frenetic activity, but there were grass carriers of all sorts ...

Erika on the quad, carrying bags of grass and a number of small children Neil on his mini-bike, carrying a bag of grass

The steer, when we arrived, looked like he may have been up on his feet, since he had moved some distance and there were some hoof marks, rather than sliding body marks in the mud.  He had moved further down the clearing toward the swamp, though, so we decided to try to get him up on his own feet again, rather than having to spend ages doing a lot of ground work with the tractor so we could again use the sling.

With a bit more waving of the yellow electric prod - he had started to react to the mere sight of it, without needing me to apply it at all, even though I had been most judicious in its use - he staggered to his feet, with Graham and Stephan on one side to provide a bit of support.  We tried getting him moving back up toward the tractor, but he kept falling down.  At least, we consoled ourselves, every time he gets up on his legs, things must be getting stronger and the blood circulating to the places which have been too long squashed beneath him.

He kept on eating and drinking and began to move toward new grass when it was offered, so the situation was looking more and more positive.

Erika holding the steer's feedbag, while Stephan supplies support

At some stage Erika and the little children went home and I went back to the house to do some other farm-type things - Onix was coming on heat, for instance and needed checking so I could decide when to inseminate her.

Around 3 o'clock I rode back out on the quad with cups of tea and drinks for Graham, Dane and Stephan and suddenly, there they were...

#356 having a rest along the track

The steer had stood, walked and managed to get up the slope and over the first hill, and was now having his second or third rest stop since beginning.

Stephan and Graham, supporting #356 on the track

We kept him moving, a bit at a time - he was able to hobble along for about 70 metres before painfully lying down again for half an hour or so, and we then pulled fresh swamp-grass for him to eat while he rested.  We carried his water container along with us for the whole distance.

He looked cleaner and cleaner the further he went, since every time he sat down, somebody would give him a bit more brushing, to get more of the mud out of his coat.

Dane brushes #356 while he has a rest and a feed

Eventually he walked out of the PWHS (Paddock With the Hole which the Steer fell in).  He was very tired, but we thought it best to keep pushing him along as far as we could toward the flats at the front of the farm, for his safety and for our convenience.  After five days of concentrating on his welfare, we thought that was fair enough!

#356 standing, resting, out of the danger paddock

Erika returned from a trip into Kaitaia, bringing some "takeaway" dinner for us all.  It became a moveable feast, as we ate while keeping the steer going in the right direction.  Stephan stayed with him the whole time, not wanting him to suddenly go off in the wrong direction, since that would mean more time spent getting him going back where we wanted him to go.  Kendra played waiting staff, refilling Stephan's plate whenever necessary.  No, we were not eating beef.

dinner time for all the helpers dinner time for all the helpers

We had started our dinner next to the huge blackberry patch, thinking that would make a lovely dessert, but by the time we finished our main course, we were quite some distance away from the berries.

another rest stop

It was getting pretty late in the day, so we needed to keep going.  We were carrying the electric prod back toward home so it could be returned to the vet in the morning, so we were able to use it a couple of times when #356 just wouldn't walk.  I was a bit worried that we might have been pushing him a bit hard, but just as concerned that if we left him somewhere out in "the wilds" he might just disappear into another inaccessible spot and be much worse off.

keeping the steer moving with "the carrot and the stick"

We got him to within about five metres (15 feet) of the last gate and he sat down and wouldn't move.  It was dark and we were all very tired, so we put some electric tape across the lane behind him and went home.  Erika went out on the quad an hour or so later and moved him through the last gate for the night.

Monday the 26th

What a relief, to be able to just look out from the house - albeit with binoculars - and see the steer and to have only a quick walk across the flats to check on him.

Jill and Joy, Stephan and Bruce

My mother's sister, Joy, is visiting from England, and they had made a very short and then aborted visit to us last Wednesday, when we were suddenly so busy with the steer.  Today Jill, Bruce and Joy came back for lunch and most of the afternoon.  We took them out to see the new "road" and to visit the scene of the last week's excitement.
Naturally everybody has to taste the blackberries as they pass!

picking blackberries

#356 is looking very uncomfortable, still being harassed by flies, but is up and eating.

My darling Cattin has been getting very weak over the last few days and by this afternoon had virtually collapsed.  I spent several hours holding him quietly and have not put him down this evening, except into someone else's arms while I went to shower and prepare for bed.  He has failing kidneys so this is not unexpected, but I am finding it very upsetting.

Tuesday the 27th
Cattin Catulus at the end of 2001

Cattin died at 3.45am this morning.  I held him next to me as we both slept, and things were a little unpleasant at the end, but his dying was reasonably peaceful.  Kidney failure leaves the brain quite addled, so he would not have been much aware of the discomforts at the end, but I hope that he was on some level aware of where he was.

The Puriri tree planted for Cattin's burial

During the day, Stephan built a corner fence into the first flat paddock and in that "reserve" this evening, Erika, Neil, Stephan and I buried Cattin and planted one of the lovely Puriri seedlings I have grown.

Sometime around August or September in 1990, my then partner, Diann and I decided we'd like to have a cat.  We were told of someone in Kaukapakapa, North-west of Auckland, who had some kittens ready to go to new homes.  We were determined upon getting a female cat until we saw the kittens, amongst which was that most strikingly unusual brown spotted wee thing and we had to have him.  Off we went with our new baby, Diann carrying him around in her ample cleavage, to the inaugural Women's Book Festival at the Aotea Centre in Auckland, which we had planned to attend, where we met a number of our friends and introduced them to our kitten.

Kitten grew into Cattin (since I've always been quite pathetic in my ability to select names) and Diann left us and Cattin and I spent quite a lot of the next five years living together without others permanently in the house.  Whatever I did, Cattin would be somewhere near me, including the day I was fixing rattles in the car door and drove out over the top of him for a test-drive, not realising he was sleeping on the warm concrete on the other side of the car.  I spent a night with only a handful of fur from under the tyre and no idea how badly I'd hurt him, until late the next day he reappeared, with a very bald strip down his tail.  He would wait at the bottom of the garden path when I was due to come home, from work or university, would often walk with me some distance along our small street to the park at the end, or lie in the road as I worked in the garden - it wasn't a very busy street, but I worried that he might well not be quick enough out of the way of some hoon coming around the corner!

When we moved up here, he settled into the two-person tent in the Camp paddock, beside the river with Stephan and me and made himself completely at home in his new surroundings.  He learnt about the river by apparently trying to jump across at some time and missing, coming into the tent one evening dripping from his back end and tail.  If I'd any doubt about his devotion, he proved it utterly on the night of a large flood, when he was trapped on the other side of the river after a day's sleeping in the cattle-yard shed and I left him calling and unreachable and came home to shower ready for bed, and on emerging from the shower, heard the cat door, through which appeared a completely sodden Cattin, having obviously swum across the fast-flowing, very wide flooded river!  He hadn't come for dinner, he'd come to be with me.

I shall miss my beautiful cat very much.

Wednesday the 28th
Patrick, asleep on Ruth

I spent a quiet day, feeling rather subdued, but relieved to be able to rest.  At one point I even became someone else's resting place ...

Erika prepares to drive the bus out of our place

Erika and Graham's bus has been in our driveway for nearly a week, with the family staying in it most nights, although sometimes they went down the road to their house.
Erika decided it was time for it to go home, so away she went.  It makes our bridge look small, taking the whole width and length when crossing.

Thursday the 29th
cattle waiting in the yard

Seven cattle, off to the works.  There are:

After the truck had been to collect the cattle, we went out and mustered the sheep, since I had yesterday spotted a lamb with fly-strike.

sheep running in for lamb-shearing

The lambs need to be shorn, but we need to keep five or six back for two occasions in the next month - firstly for a sheep-care demonstration to the Women in Agribusiness fieldday here on the 16th of February, then for the shearing demonstrations at the A&P show at the end of the month.  We drafted off the smallest lambs for those two days, then from those remaining we took out any we thought we might keep for breeding, then Stephan began to shear the rest, which we hope to send off to the works in the next couple of weeks.

Leaving Stephan shearing, and Erika watching with a glass of wine, for which she had recently arrived, I went out to check on the cattle - to see who had been with the bull in the last 24 hours and whether any of the insemination mob were coming on heat and how #356 was looking.

#356 swollen and sore, but grazing

#356 seemed to be very sore, and still had flies around him.  The swellings around the tops of his legs were worse, so I decided to walk him in closer to the house, so I could see him more often and easily.

By the time I got back to see how Stephan was doing, the light had faded too much for him to do the last two lambs...

Stephan shearing the last lamb, while Erika holds a light

... so Erika had found a light for him and then held it at the right angle for him to see what he was doing.

Friday the 30th

It's been raining, then raining, then raining some more.  The river came up and over the bridge this morning, then went down again by around lunch-time, at which stage Erika came up for a quick visit, saying she'd just seen Stephan in town, so he wouldn't be far behind her, which I was pleased to hear, it having been pouring with rain again for the past hour, which I knew would reflood the bridge quite soon and if Stephan wasn't quick, he wouldn't get in.  I suggested to Erika that she had better not stay too long or she'd be stuck here too!

Stephan came home, so I stopped worrying about the river and Erika relaxed because she thought I was just being alarmist and then when she went to leave, she couldn't!

She had the two youngest children with her and had used the last of Patrick's nappies and things were getting more and more smelly as the afternoon progressed.  We had pulled out a couple of old towels, in case we needed to do some emergency nappy-creation, but then we got hold of Graham by telephone, who walked up through a couple of the neighbouring farms with some supplies, well wrapped in plastic bags.

Neil with Graham, preparing to throw a bag of nappies over the flooded river

We gathered on either side of the narrowest part of the river and Graham tied a long piece of string to the nappy-bag - in case it fell in the water and needed to be retrieved - and then hurled it across to us.

Then we all went back to the bridge and Stephan brought Oliver and Patrick out to see their Dad and Neil.

Patrick and Oliver waving to their Dad and Neil, across the flood Neil and Graham on the other side of the flooded river
our new young pigeons

Here, finally, is a picture of the newest members of our menagerie, two young pigeons.