The weeks beginning the 25th of March and the 1st of April 2006
Saturday the 25th

Stephan went out fishing today with Mike, for a bit more of his 40th birthday celebration. They caught a nice number of fish, including some good-sized schnapper and some Kahawai, which are excellent for smoking. The fish were killed as soon as they were caught, then immersed in an ice slurry, where they will stay for a day or two, before they're even gutted. That is not a method with which we're familiar, so it will be interesting to see how the fish taste when we get them!

I often have quite practically productive days in Stephan's absence. Today, despite some rather wetting drizzle, I turned one large paddock back into four, simply by replacing the tape gates in the middle of the large paddock where the subdividing fences meet. Our tape gate system is very handy, but when they're open and disconnected from the power source, the calves have a nasty habit of chewing the tapes, which isn't at all good for gate set-up! I'm not so sure it's good for the calves either, but they'll chew anything they find.

The bulls have had an extended stay with some of the cows this year but today an opportunity presented itself to put them back together as their own little mob of two. Arran was keeping grey 443 and the strange-uddered calf company - three cattle together are much happier than only two, it seems; and #26 was still with the stud cows and bull calves. I put them back together and they had a quick sniff, then got on with grazing: brilliant!

This evening I weighed the Pukeko and it has reached 494g.

Sunday the 26th

Lots of rain overnight: 66mm, so hopefully now the grass really will get on with a growth spurt, since the temperatures are still very warm.

This morning, while the rain was still falling lightly, but steadily, Stephan and I brought the weaned calves in to the yards, to separate out three little steers, which were about to go off on a truck to their new home about 10km down the road. While we were doing that, I noticed with alarm that one of the steers, now he was wet, appeared to have a well-formed little set of horns! Angus cattle don't have horns, ever. They are homozygously polled and the polled gene, of which they carry two copies, is always dominant to the horned gene which might be provided by anything they're mated with. There are some African-extraction cattle where this rule may not apply, but in all European and British breeds, you'll always get polled calves when one of the parents is pure Angus.


Because the weather was so foul, we didn't actually get the calves back into the yards again until late in the day, when we were able to put the calf in the head-bail and I had a feel of his head. The little horn-like protuberances turned out to be scurs, which are horn-like growths which are part of the skin structure, rather than of the skeleton. The difference on examination, is that the scurs wobble. I understand that horns can sometimes also feel quite loose, but by this age, would definitely be solid. The inheritance of scurs is different and separate from the inheritance of horns - the horned/polled allele appearing on a different chromosome from that for scurs. A basic description of the inheritance of scurs, written by B. C. Allison, was previously available on-line. If you are interested, please contact me for some saved material.
In the picture, my hand is laying on the steer's forehead, his 'eyebrow' at the bottom of the picture.

As I understand it thus far, male cattle are more likely to have scurs than female cattle, since a bull calf requires only one copy of the scurred gene to have scurs, but a heifer must be homozygously scurred to actually possess them. There is some suggestion in some of the material I've read, that a male animal which is homozygously polled might carry a scur gene without necessarily having them. There is quite a bit of reference to early Angus cattle having scurs, but purebred cattle are not registerable if they have them and I have not seen them in any of my bulls.

The mother of this steer is heterozygously polled/horned, since her mother had horns (which means she had two copies of the gene for horns). It is quite possible that the calf inherited both the horned gene and a scur gene from his mother. Certainly the only scurs I've seen in recent years here (there is one other steer calf this year on which I've felt a very small button pair of scurs) have been on calves whose mothers have horns in their background. Some of the calves of our first bull, Albert, had scurs - even one of the heifers, which would indicate that he carried a copy of the gene, but I don't remember if he had them himself.

(For a later picture of this same steer, see October 2006.)

Tuesday the 28th

We went down to Hikurangi (just north of Whangarei) today to attend a Northland Beef Council Field-Day, introducing the work of the Australian Beef Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) for Beef Genetics Technologies, to which Meat & Wool NZ is a funding contributor. John Bertram of CRC spoke on bull soundness, specifically related to sexual function and sperm production. Some people really do still just buy bulls because they look nice; some assess obvious physical structure and genetic predictions, using EBVs; beyond that is the assessment of the 'genetic delivery mechanism', which can involve mating tests, examination of the sperm produced by a bull and beyond even that these days is gene testing for particular markers for things like meat tenderness. Some of the current research is working on discovering genetic markers for feed efficiency, so we are able to breed those animals which most efficiently turn pasture into muscle.

Wednesday the 29th

Some days waiting for things is unbearable and at other times it can be an enjoyable break from everything else. Today, fortunately for me, was the latter sort of day, as I spent a good portion of it in the outpatients' waiting room at the Hospital. Something had gone awry in the booking system - a couple of patients needing slightly more time than anticipated perhaps - and by the end of the morning's clinic, they were running an hour and a half behind schedule! I took the opportunity to pop down and visit Muriel, Stephan's mother, who is now in residence in Kaitaia Hospital, having been gradually brought back from Auckland. I also did a great deal of knitting on that now-overdue shawl for my newest nephew.

Having had a Melanoma removed from my skin (this is my ongoing public-service personal disclosure) I now have to have periodic checks on my nearby lymph nodes and internal organs, in case the original cancer wandered off to somewhere else. Also, I discovered today, if I'm at all suspicious about changing freckles, they'll whip them off quite quickly, since it is I who will notice changes, not the doctors. I'm due for a second Molemap in the next few weeks, so we shall see if they spot (pardon the pun) any changes as a result of that examination. In the mean time, there are a couple of innocuous-looking freckles on my thighs which I shall have biopsied, since they are not dissimilar to the original Melanoma freckle! I really will have to give up my pretensions to a glamorous modelling career now! What a pity.

Friday the 31st

We spent a whole lot of money today, suddenly realising what time of the month it was - having sold lots of the calves at both ends of this financial year, I had to throw some of the income back into the farm in the same period. We are now the owners (although we haven't yet collected them) of a number of new troughs and gates!

Having recently rejoined the local Veterinary club, we went to their annual dinner tonight. Pio Terei was the guest speaker/entertainer and there was a Powhiri (can you have a mini-Powhiri? - Maori welcome ceremony) at the start of the dinner, particularly because Pio comes from the Hokianga, so is a 'local lad'. Whilst there were some surprisingly unpleasant racist comments in our vicinity, both of us enjoyed the evening. I still haven't quite figured out how you can live in this community, where Pakeha are actually in the minority (at least the high-school roll has 55% Maori students), and complain about Maori protocol being observed in your presence. In fact, how can you live in a country where the indigenous protocol is only occasionally observed, and then complain when it is?

One of the more amusing aspects of the evening for us was that someone he didn't particularly know approached Stephan and said, "you're the bloke from the website, aren't you?" I was interviewed for a local thrice-yearly magazine a few weeks ago (back when the Pukeko was tiny) and it was delivered to mailboxes in the area this week. It has been really quite good fun being "world famous, in Kaitaia!"

Saturday the 1st of April

This morning we took seven of the weaned calves up the road to William and Lisa's place, where they will now live, permanently! For just-weaned calves, they moved beautifully, possibly as a result of the number of times I've shifted them from paddock to yards over the last few days - I might have to make that a future regular practice, since weaners can be really scatty and unpredictable animals and a pain to work with!

On our way up the road with the calves, all the cows and calves in our hill paddock over the road, thundered down to the corner gate. All but two of the cows were there, so since we had Jane with us (our neighbour, who'd come to help with the calves) we brought them out that gate and walked them back along the road to the yards, finding the other two cows waiting along at that end of the paddock, opposite our yards.

cows and calves

While the cattle were there, I grabbed orphan 493 out of the mob and gave him his second pour-on drench. The other calves haven't been drenched at all yet, but since the orphan calf doesn't have the gut-protective effect of ingesting his mother's milk, he needs the assistance of a drench to keep his internal parasites from getting him down. Young calves may have quite high levels of intestinal parasites, but milk reduces some of the damage those parasites do to them.

3 - 7 April

Stephan's mother, Muriel Mathew (née Brown), died in the early hours of Wednesday morning, with many of her extended family gathered around. The funeral service was held at St Saviour's Anglican Church in Kaitaia on Friday, led by the Reverends Jill Renner and Michael Withiel, followed by cremation.

Muriel was born in 1921 in Liverpool, England, the eldest of three girls. She became a Land Girl during the second world war, that 'army' of young women who went onto the farms which had been left without workers as all the young men went off to war. It was while working on a farm near Brecon, in Wales, that she met Patrick, married him and began the family which eventually numbered six children, of which Stephan is third. The family moved to New Zealand in 1959 for Patrick to continue Veterinary practice in the South Island, but shortly afterwards moved to Gisborne, where they spent many years. When Patrick retired, he and Stephan picked out this farm as the perfect place for Patrick and Muriel's retirement and a place for Stephan to farm.

For several years now, Muriel has lived nearer Kaitaia, but was often our visitor here in Diggers Valley, most recently only a few weeks ago, when she spent the night in a room which looks out across the farm, then enjoyed a trip around the farm in the ute, since the weather was dry and much of the farm driveable. She was always an appreciative admirer of what we were doing here.

These are only some of the stories I know of the life of Muriel and they are only a tiny fraction of the whole, as known to all the others, and she herself. I shall miss my Mother-out-law!