Stephan has been in Auckland for a few days, visiting his mother, who is in hospital there. Today he came home, bringing my English cousin, Chris, with him. Chris works for a large international company and had meetings in Australia at either end of the next fortnight, so arranged to take a few days off and come to Aotearoa for a break! I am the tour itinerary organiser, so I have arranged for him to stay here for most of the time - and I'll let my sisters have him for the last couple of days of his stay.
They arrived late this afternoon and then we all went into town to meet our recent-immigrant friends, Mike and Chantelle, for a significant birthday celebration for Mike, who is now as old as I, although he made some rude-sounding enquiry about my age, as if to say he thought I was vastly older than he. The cheek of it!
We took Chris for a "walk around the estate" this afternoon. This year it seems that the Totara trees are the ones with all the berries. Usually it is the Kahikatea trees which suddenly seem to change colour, as they become suddenly thickly covered with small red berries.
We've spent some rather pleasant time with Chris, sitting in the deckchairs on the deck, drinking wine, relaxing ... The Pukeko wanders around under our feet and chairs, investigating things, annoying the cats. As you may observe, its feet have changed colour and as its bill grows longer, the initial little white tip appears smaller and smaller.
Stephan and Chris brought one of the chicken cages up to the house, so I may safely restrain the Pukeko when necessary. Otherwise, if I want to get out around the farm on foot without it following me, I have to be very, very quiet - if it hears my voice, it follows, and on legs that long, it can walk a long way! Away from around the house, it may not be able to find cover should a hawk spot it and fancy it for a snack and the cows aren't awfully keen on small squawking black things around my feet when I'm with them, so I don't really want it coming out with me if it can't look after itself.
When I went to collect it from the cage this afternoon, I discovered it had spent most of the time stepping up against the wire, trying to get out to the wider world, and had grated the skin off the bottoms of its feet and there was blood everywhere! I hadn't realised it would simply continue to do that, assuming it would work out where it couldn't go, then settle down. So much for that idea.
Chris and I went on a bus trip up to Cape Reinga. I haven't been up there for several years - all the pictures on this site of that area were taken by other people with my camera.
The weather was alright, but a bit blustery, and the air wasn't clear enough to have really crystalline views of far-away sights; at least it was warm and sunny for most of the time.
The bus-driver provided the usual mix of entertainment and commentary on the area and its history - as well as that old one: "oh yeah, did I forget to mention I only just got my licence back?". Te Kao store is the current "best place in Northland" for ice-cream in a cone - they were huge! Chris and I sat in the front seats, so were first off the bus at every stop and first in the ice-cream queue!
We had eaten lunch at Tapotupotu Bay just south of the Cape, then stopped for the short walk to the Lighthouse at the Cape, and afterwards headed down to Te Paki stream and its huge sand dunes. Most of the passengers gleefully took the offered plastic toboggans and headed up the mountain of sand, then swiftly descended on their little sleds. That's Chris in the photo, heading for the stream.
Then it was back on the bus for the trip down the rest of Te Paki stream. Once you're moving, you don't stop in the stream-bed: because of the moving water and the fineness of the sand, if you stop, your vehicle gets stuck and over a number of hours, will gradually sink into the sand.
Out onto Te Oneroa a Tohe (Ninety Mile Beach) and away down the sand. We stopped a couple of times, once for everyone to gather a few Tuatua (bi-valve shellfish) - I wonder how many of them actually ate them when they got home? - and again to wander onto the Bluff and take in some very fresh sea air.
Chris went off with Stephan this morning on the Top Milk run around the North Hokianga. He took the two pictures below from the jetty at Kohukohu.
Stephan and Chris went for a walk up the hills behind the farm, to give Chris a taste of some real native bush. Early in the afternoon, I took Stephan down to the main road to join his sister Elizabeth, to drive to Auckland to visit their mother again.
Having finished with the semen storage bank, I'd still not returned the straws and the bank to Greg's place, so Chris and I took it back. Mike (he and Chantelle and their family immigrated from England early last year) has asked me to go and talk to one of his year eleven classes at the College about cattle breeding and insemination, and Greg has said I may borrow the empty bank for demonstration purposes.
After unloading the bank we stopped in at Okahu Estate vineyard to do some wine tasting. We bought some more of a wine we tried for dinner the other night, and Chris bought some very expensive bottles to take home with him - I tried quite hard to convince him he had far too much luggage and that we'd have to lighten his load, to no avail.
In the evening, I did something I rarely do: cooked Fillet Bēarnaise for Chris and I. It was a most delicious dinner!
Today we went south, over the Mangamuka Gorge road, then up over the hills past and around the Puketi Kauri forest. The picture below (the only one I managed to take today, due to a technical glitch) is of part of the Puketi forest. The Kauri canopy is quite a distinctive colour and the appearance of the trees is different from all other native bush in this area.
Around the other side, closer to the east coast, there is a really lovely boardwalk down through a glade of Kauri trees. I've been there only once before, when I took Stephan's mother, Muriel, and her guests Elisabeth and Nora, on a similar guided tour. We walked down and around the path, trying to gain some distance from some very loud people who arrived just after us. On the way back up to the carpark, a Kukupa (native wood pigeon, otherwise named Kereru) flew into a Nikau palm beside the track to eat the ripe berries. It was not much beyond arm's reach and stayed for some time, before flying off, almost brushing my head with its wings. Magic!
We went on from there to Kerikeri, stopping next door to the Stone Store for a very nice lunch. From there we went to Waitangi and the Treaty grounds. The picture is taken from Paihia (on the following Sunday), looking across to the vast green lawn of the Treaty grounds, with the huge flagpole evident just below the tallest tree.
The entry fee to the Treaty grounds is a fairly steep $12 per person (aimed primarily at the tourist market?), but we noticed that two people could jointly purchase a ten-year pass for $30! The pass is for the use only of its nominated holders, but the guy on the desk let Chris and I in for the $30 and the pass will be sent out for Stephan and I to use for our visits for the foreseeable future.
We wandered around the grounds, listening to some of the Waitangi guides and those from other guided bus-tours, as they told assembled crowds about the history of the area, the great waka (a ceremonial war canoe) Ngatokimatawhaorua, Te Whare Runanga (the ornately decorated and carved meeting house), and the Treaty House, the original British residence built on the site. Then we sat for a while on a bench looking out over the bay, just enjoying the afternoon and surroundings.
We had brought our swimming gear with us, planning to call in at Ngawha on the way home. Since Chris had difficulty with this one, I will attempt a pronunciation explanation: Ng (as in sing) a (as in ah) wh (as in f but not quite as hard) a (as in ah - the vowel sound, rather than the length of uttering ah!). I have never before been to the Ngawha hot springs, so decided this would be a good occasion to do so. We soaked in variety of amazing coloured pools, in murky shades of green and brown, some far too hot to stay in for very long.
On our arrival home, I was very pleased to find the Pukeko still safely wandering around outside the house, having spent the entire day alone for the first time!
We moved some cattle this morning, then headed for the east coast. First stop was the famous Mangonui Fish Shop and Takeaways for fresh fish and chips and a cold beer. (Chris points out that it is only in Britain, Australia and here that we call chips chips. Apparently elsewhere they're fries.) Chris had some very good squid rings and fish and I delighted in a number of scallops. Delicious!
Afterwards we wandered through the village, looking in a couple of galleries. One of them is in the original Mangonui Courthouse. The main feature of that building for me is the 1912 map of the district on the wall of one of the back rooms. I took some pictures of it so I could peruse parts of it at leisure.
The picture is of the Mangonui wharf, as seen from the balcony of the fish shop where we sat and ate our lunch. It was in that wharf shed that my parents built the Mangonui Sea Lab and Aquarium in the early 1970s. It no longer exists there, but I have many distinct memories of long hours spent on the wharf with my Father, as he conducted people through the aquarium and in quiet times painted pictures of tall ships inside sea shells.
From Mangonui we went out to the Karikari Peninsula, and specifically to Maitai Bay, where we swam and walked on the beach. There were a few people around, but there were acres of clean, bright sand and clear aqua coloured water. The water was a lovely temperature for a long swim, although my English cousin, accustomed to swimming in the Aegean and other more temperate waters, found it cool.
In the evening we went to the Beachcomber Restaurant in Kaitaia, for dinner. When we had finished, Mary Jane treated us to a special opening of Finders gallery, just across the Plaza from the Restaurant. There is some spectacular artwork within.
Today's plan was to take Chris to Whangarei, to spend a couple of nights with his Aunt Jill and Bruce. We decided that it would be rather nice to go back over to the Bay of Islands and catch a ferry to Russell, since we'd not had time to do so the other day and it wasn't too much out of our way on the trip south.
The picture at right is of the northern heads of the bay and somewhere in there is the Wiwiki Passage, through which we used to sail on my Father's yacht when I was young.
We sat and had lunch at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, since it meant we could sit and look out through the trees at the water. The setting was nicer in many ways, but the food was not a patch on our Mangonui water-front meal yesterday!
We went south to Whangarei and afternoon tea with Jill and Bruce and soon after we arrived, so did Stephan and Elizabeth, on their way back from Auckland. Elizabeth and Stephan continued travelling together and I followed them home in the ute.
Over the last couple of days, the Pukeko's shield skin has darkened and the blue feathers on its breast have begun to show. The skin around its eyes is quite blue as well.
This afternoon, Pukeko demonstrated that it is a determined carnivore! Foxton (the black and white cat) had caught a very small mouse, so I pulled it out of her paws for a closer look, only to have it snatched by the Pukeko. The bird dispatched the poor creature very much more quickly than the cats ever do and proceeded to tear it apart, before downing most of it in one piece!
Despite a really good dump of rain a couple of weeks ago, the grass just hasn't grown! I have been surprised, since generally Kikuyu will just get up and move as soon as there's a bit of water on it. I suspect the sudden cool change in the air temperature in the days following the rain, knocked it back - Kikuyu is perhaps sensitive to the change as much as the actual temperature.
Because I'm now effectively running out of grass for the cattle to eat, I have decided to wean as many of the cows and calves as I can. I brought the whole mob of 75 animals into the yards and weighed all the young ones, as well as the mothers of those being weaned, so I may calculate the percentage weight of weaned calf from each cow.
The data analysis gets a bit tricky from here on in, since I've removed the worst performing heifer calves from the herd, but using the best data I have available I have extrapolated out to 200 days (the usual weaning date figure used by the NZ beef breed associations for comparisons) for weight and weaning percentage comparisons within the herd. The growth per day figures are up to 8 March, the last date when all the calves were weighed.
The steers grew at an average 1.24kg/day (not including the orphaned calf, whose growth has only been .76kg/day).
The commercial heifers grew at an average 1.13kg/day.
The stud heifers (all three of them) averaged 1.27kg/day (as measured today, since they didn't all get weighed last time).
The stud bulls averaged just over 1.4kg/day.
Growth rates have mostly slowed a little in the last couple of weeks as the feed levels have dropped, although some of the cows obviously continue to milk really well regardless and the average calf growth remains not too much altered.
Doing the extrapolation to 200 days (I've used 85% of the average daily gain for the whole of their lives to now, so as not to be overly optimistic):
Using the projected 200 day calf weights and the cows' weights from 8 March, the weaning percentages calculate out as follows:
That means, for instance, that a 500kg cow is raising a steer calf to 265kg. The percentage weaned figures give me a useful comparison of the efficiency of my cows, since a huge cow takes more feed to raise a calf of the same size as a smaller cow (and she continues to require more feed than the other throughout the whole year, not just while that calf is being raised).
The season has been pretty good, with good grass growth most of the way through, the cows were in good condition going into and coming out of winter, so the growth-rates have been better than some years. There may also be some effect from the change of bull, from Quadrille to Arran as the main sire in use. The two bulls have similar EBVs but Arran's indicate slightly more growth potential and he is a larger-framed bull.
So, a noisy few nights and days to come, as the calves and cows mournfully call to each other through the fence! There are also frequent times when at least some of them are quite quiet and simply grazing.
This year (determined partly by where there's some grass) I'm weaning on either side of an electric fence with the cows in the Flat 3 paddock and the calves having Flat 2 and access to the lane, so that they will spend much of their time standing near, and sharing a trough through the fence with, their mothers. That ensures they all continue to drink often, as well as providing a couple of non-electrified nose-touching areas, over the trough and through the nearby gate.
Stephan was given some more Mullet by Hazel from Pungaru, so cleaned them ready for smoking, this afternoon. The cats took to the tails and the Pukeko, carniverous nature to the fore again, nabbed bits of gut.
This afternoon I signed in to the Kaitaia College visitors' book as "visiting lecturer"! Mike thought my fee might be better with that title than if I'd just written "speaker". Somehow I suspect that the fee will be much the same.
I ended up saying that cringe-inducing thing I swore I'd never say to a group of young people in a school setting - you know, that bit about "I sat where you are now, so I know what it's like". It was nerves, I tell you. It was true though, in those very seats - or at least at the same benches in the same room, learning about Chemistry probably, with Mr Tailby, now the head of the College and my favourite brother-out-law.
I set about my lesson on the simple inheritance of horns (or the lack of them in particular)in cattle, getting the students to draw the Punnett squares to determine the proportions of the various genetic variations from different crosses. I used photos of my own cattle, a bull I've use semen from, as well as some impressive looking wide-horned Texas Longhorn cattle, since I suspected that the bigger the horns, the more likely the students might think horned calves would be (which they wouldn't, polled being dominant to horned).
Then I drew a cow (of sorts) on the board, accompanied by a commentary on which bits of her anatomy were of particular interest to the inseminator and showed them the semen storage bank and how the straws are stored inside. Then I brought out the inseminating gear from my bag - to quite a bit of gasping and leg-crossing from some - and inseminated my cow.
I talked to them for most of the 55 minute lesson and Mike seemed to think the whole thing went very well - we were both surprised that there were moments when I held the rapt attention of the whole class, since they're apparently not the best behaved bunch at times.
Stella came north from Auckland, to Whangarei, to visit her grandmother, but this morning both Jill and Bruce had to do priestly things in church and there was no-one to look after their young charge. So yesterday afternoon I nipped over the gorge and down to Ohaeawai (an hour from here and half-way to Whangarei) and collected Stella from Jill and Bruce, for a one-night stay on the farm.
We had a fun time together, walking out to see the cows and then going to town to select a pair of gumboots for Stella, after her shoes broke during our walk! The new ones have tractors on them and she thinks her young brother, Jasper, will probably want them.
Stephan started smoking the fish last evening, so I kept the fire stoked during this morning, while Stella fed the birds - the turkeys looked pretty threatening since they're about as tall as Stella, so she decided she'd feed them from on high.
Once Stella had her new gumboots on, we went on a hunt for "Toetoe Tickle Sticks" (that may possibly be toi toi - my native plants book is missing). Toetoe are a native pampas type grass and the flowers are tall sticks with feathery tops. They're actually rather large for a small child to use for tickling anyone, but it was a fun walk and I found Stella a small Toetoe flower to carry home.