The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 12th of January 2008.
Saturday the 12th

The rather worried sitting parent of the penultimate Pukeko chick to hatch in the nest I've been watching, had been disturbed by the insemination mob of cattle in the adjacent paddock. There was at least one other chick near the nest, hiding in the grassy drain beside it. The older chicks, of which there should be three, must be off with one or two of the other parent birds of the group.

Worried Pukeko newly-hatched Pukeko chick

I don't know why cattle get all excited about the Pukeko nests, since they must come across them with some regularity at this time of the year, but they make an awful lot of fuss. I watched them all rushing up to the fence and then running away with tails in the air several times before deciding that such a paddock wasn't going to be a particularly good setting for heat detection in the cattle, so moved them along to the House paddock, leaving the Pukeko in peace. (That's Pukeko plural: in Te Reo there is no s and plurality is indicated by the definitive, thus one would say te Pukeko if speaking of one or the group and nga Pukeko if there were many - or perhaps tetahi Pukeko for one Pukeko and etahi Pukeko for some.

three cattle

These three are Demelza's calf, three months old today; 545, one of the 15-month heifers; and Delilah 36, who's a year older than 545 and has a calf at foot. Delilah is still a fairly small animal.

Puriri caterpillar hole

I spotted this Puriri Moth caterpillar hole when I was hunting for them, in the tree outside our house. A couple of nights ago I tore the silk covering off and watched the caterpillar inside - the hole inside is only the width of a pencil, so it's a fairly young one. By the next morning, the hole was covered with a finely woven silk again. I'm not sure how the bits of bark have been stuck to the outside of the silk - perhaps the caterpillar does that as it weaves the first layer. There are bits of discarded old skins visible as well. The dark stain around the lower edge of the silk is the sap which seeps out of the tissue the caterpillar is feeding on inside. The outside hole, as covered by the silk, is about 25mm (1 inch) across.

Ivy and the Squiglet

Ivy and the Squiglet out in the Bush Flat paddock late this evening.

Ivy's looking a little less angular at the moment and I think the calf is looking better too, although not nearly enough.

Sunday the 13th

A few days ago, when wandering around our native tree plantation, I stopped to examine the broken-off branchlet of one of the (1.5m high) Puriri trees. It was apparent that the break had occurred as a result of the damage done to the tree by some insect. To see what it might have been, I broke the rest of the dead bit off and out wriggled a very fast-moving caterpillar, around 20mm long and 4mm thick (less than an inch in length). It dropped to the ground before I could catch it, but I'm pretty sure it was a Puriri Moth caterpillar. Its tunnel was only the size of its own body, as far as I could tell.

Today I went looking to see if I could find anything more. Nearly all of the Puriri seedlings have significant damage on their trunks and smaller branches, so much so that in some cases the main leader dies and they sprout again lower down the trunk. I've presumed this is quite normal for Puriri in this area and they're such incredible survivors against all sorts of challenges, that they just go on growing. I hadn't thought much about what sort of insect would have caused the damage, suspecting perhaps that cicadas could have been responsible as they laid their eggs.

I found a likely-looking leaf junction on a branch of one of the trees and broke it off at the point of obvious damage. There on the piece I held was a tiny grub, which I took inside to examine under the binocular microscope I happen to keep handy for such moments.

The little grub, which turned out to be a minute caterpillar, appeared to be having convulsions, for which I thought I was responsible, having torn its home from around it. As I watched, I realised that what it was doing was working its way out of its old skin! The process probably took about two minutes, after which the discarded skin shrivelled up to almost nothing and the caterpillar then dropped off its black head covering and scuttled off to what remained of the partly silk-encased groove in which it appeared to have been living. It was about 3mm long. I've kept the discarded skin for donation to the Museum, as one of its smallest exhibits. Unless a fly eats it first.

Puriri Moth hole Puriri Moth hole

This is the hatched pupa case of a Puriri Moth. The web is that of a spider which has moved in after the moth left. I pulled the bits of debris away (the pupa cases are very fragile when dry, so it broke apart despite my care) and could clearly see the area of the tree upon which the caterpillar had been feeding throughout its life. I don't know how long ago the moth might have emerged from the hole, but the tree's response to the caterpillar's feeding appears reasonably fresh.

Northern Rata in flower

Stephan and I were walking down the hill he cleared in the PWHS and I looked up to see this beautiful sight. Another Northern Rata in flower and again one I've not seen flower before. The bottom of the Puriri in which it lives looks like this - the prop has been removed and the tree still stands at its improbable angle.

In the low light of the late evening, the photograph unfortunately doesn't do justice to the beauty of the view. The red was quite startling in its dull green surroundings.

Monday the 14th
a heifer in a hurry

539 came back on heat this morning, meaning I was unsuccessful in inseminating her three weeks ago on that troublesome occasion when all the heifers were more interested in watching the people playing cricket than going to the yards.

Because I had some trouble with that insemination, I decided it would be best to let the bull do the job this time around, so drafted 539 and a few of the other heifers out of the insemination mob and after a little encouragement, she headed off at great speed up the lane, to where the bull was waiting.

My old friend Jim arrived on the plane this morning, for a three day visit from London. Stephan and I had been trying to work out how long it has been since he was last here and what has happened in the mean time. It was on Jim's last visit that he brought me the first digital camera, which makes it seven years ago, dated by the fact that I began this website in the following July. How time flies!

Tuesday the 15th
TB testing

About a month ago I received a letter advising that my herd's TB testing would be done this week. I attempted to have it delayed by a couple of weeks, since they'd already brought it forward by a fortnight from the expected end-of-the-month date. My concern was that with five mobs of cattle to deal with, it would be rather easier to wait until I'd reduced those groupings in a couple of weeks, closer to the end of mating. However, Martin, who wrote the letter and is the testing officer, told me he'd have all afternoon and it wouldn't matter how long it took.

We know we're fortunate to be tested only three-yearly, since it's a real pain in the organisational neck! In some parts of the country tests are annual and also required within 60 days of the movement of cattle from their home farm and in many cases the tests are done on all cattle three months and older. Here we're only required to present all breeding animals over two years of age, which is far less onerous.

The cattle go into the race, the technician injects them in the caudal fold (beside the tail) and they're let out again. In three days time, they all have to come back again for the test site to be examined.

All this in the middle of an extremely hot day!

Northern Rata

The Rata flowers in bright sunlight are beautiful.
The dark leaves are Rata and the light green ones below are those of the host Puriri tree.

Wednesday the 16th

Underneath one of the flax leaves in the native tree plantation I spotted the egg case of a Two-spined spider, Poecilopachys australasiae. I recognised it because I had had reason to look it up the other day, having seen one of the spiders on a Pohutukawa tree.

Two-spined Spider Two-spined Spider

The calves are due to have their booster vaccinations during this week, so we brought the biggest mob back to the yards again and vaccinated them. The six calves in that mob which hadn't been tagged now also have numbers.

Thursday the 17th
Ingrid catching some shade

In some pictures you might spot the rather ugly structure in the Flat 5a paddock. This is why it's there. Like some sort of royalty, Ingrid is sitting in the shade of the old truck canopy. There are no trees in or around the paddock yet, so shade and shelter must be provided in some other way. It's a well-used neck-scratching area as well.


Mathew (Stephan's nephew) and his three eldest sons came out to cut firewood today. Jim and I drove out in the ute to see how they were getting on and while I was harvesting a few stray ragwort plants, Ryan picked his own flowers.

Our friends and relations are gradually responding to our training in firewood preparation these days, now coming during the dry part of the year when they can get vehicles to where the wood is growing or cut. Those who attempt to gather wood when they run out in the middle of winter, are really out of luck, the ground being so wet.

There's rather a lot of it still. If you need some, let us know! Bring your own chainsaw and safety gear.

I took Jim up to the airport late this afternoon and he caught the plane back to Auckland to continue his holiday in other parts of the country.

Friday the 18th
TB test reading

TB test reading day today, so all the cattle who had the injection on Tuesday had to be brought back to the yards to have the injection site felt by Martin. As is usual here there were no reactors.

We brought one of the mobs in early and vaccinated the calves and tagged the last of them.