The week beginning the 13th of December 2008
Saturday the 13th
bantam, nesting

This is a little black bantam hen sitting on a nest under an old bit of machinery. All those white downy feathers did not come from anywhere on her body! A few minutes after the hen settled down (she'd been off the nest for a while when I fed them all some grain), her companion, a large white Muscovy duck waddled in and shoved her way in to sit on the eggs with her. We have a number of very cooperative bird species around here!

Imagen meeting the pigs

Imagen followed me up to the chicken and pig area this morning, thinking I'd left the gate open for her to graze in there - which would have been fine, as it happened. She wandered around and then discovered Porky and Porky, for whose blooming good health she is partly responsible. I've been wondering how the Angus Association might calculate her EBVs with the knowledge that she will this year have raised a calf, two pigs and kept a household in milk and cream?


Another day, probably the same Tui.

I spent much of the day potting plants in my greenhouse. I've grown a large number of Cyclamen plants from some seeds from another of my plants and they were looking rather cramped in the seed trays they'd started in. Now they're all in individual pots and will hopefully do better from now on.

This afternoon I was visited by a couple who live about 8km away on the main road, whom we've met through the Far North Organic Growers Group. We went for a walk out to the Mushroom paddock where the cows are currently grazing and then continued on to the new bush reserve area in the Bush Flat paddock.

Rewarewa in flower

I looked up and saw in the sunshine this Rewarewa, Knightia excelsa. It's quite thrilling to look up into the trees and see a tree in brilliant flower.

I will attempt a better close-up if I can find a shorter tree!

Rewarewa flowers
ferns on a riverbank

I think these are Shining spleenwort, Asplenium oblogifolium and the common maidenhair fern, Adiantum cunninghamii.

There is also a Towai or Kamahi seedling (lighter green, bottom right, very common along the riverbanks in this area) and a Cabbage Tree seedling (right, just above centre), among other things.

Cabbage Tree shoots

This appears to be the base of an old Cabbage Tree. Now that the cattle are not grazing here, the formerly apparently-dead tree base is shooting up new growth.

trapped and dead stoat

Looking down into a DOC 200 trap, which has caught another stoat. Stephan set this trap in here after finishing the fencing for the reserve, and it is checked and reset regularly as part of his Kiwi Foundation trap-line work.

I received a message the other week after displaying a dessicated weasel. The writer expressed some dismay that I had shown a dead creature which had been deliberately killed, arguing essentially that all creatures have a right to live, and that it is humans which have moved into their environment, so we should leave them be.

I thought I had better provide a little more explanation with this entry. Mustelids (stoats, weasels and ferrets) are major pest species in this country, introduced initially to control rabbits (also introduced) and they now live very successfully in native bush areas and kill Kiwi and other native species. All over the country trappers work to eliminate them, or maintain their populations at very low levels, to assist the survival of our remaining native birds. The DOC 200 traps are set in pairs inside these specially constructed wooden boxes. You may be able to see the door-way holes cut in the two mesh squares, offset so that a curious Kiwi would be deterred from investigating. Accidentally catching a Kiwi, when one is working so hard to protect them, must be heartbreaking. All traps have to be set with protection of non-target species in mind. The bait in this trap is impaled on a nail on the wooden divider between the two traps.

Sunday the 14th
native bush

Between our house and where the chickens and pigs live there's a tongue of land surrounded by the river. Like many such areas along the streams, it has never been cleared of its trees and there are some huge specimens in there. The one of which we're most fond is the Northern Rata which flowered so stunningly last summer.

There are several huge Puriri trees and some of them are leaning at alarming angles, which I attempted to capture in photos, but it's hard to get a good shot through the trees. Because the river winds around so sharply, it often floods across this area, which has presumably contributed to the gradual undermining and toppling of the trees. Some are leaning at such precarious angles I'm not sure how they're still standing. Many are propping each other up.

Puriri trunk

This Puriri interested me, in having so many caterpillar holes. Some trees are heavily populated and others hardly at all.

Monday the 15th
four bulls in the rain

It was a bit rainy this morning, but with occasional fine periods there was time to do a few quick jobs. I brought the bulls in because they hadn't yet had their copper injections and ought to before mating time, and I also need to pull their tail hairs to send away for testing for Arthrogryposis Multiplex (AM), since their sires have both been tested as carriers of the disorder. It seems unlikely that we'll get results back before the end of the mating period, but I need to know which of them will be heading off on a truck sooner than I would otherwise have intended. Just after I finished working with them, it started raining again.

Dotty and her lambs

Dotty is still feeding her huge lambs. The other ewe in the picture is one of last year's triplets.

Tuesday the 16th
greenhouse deck

Here are some of my current native seedlings. After germination and early growth in small pots inside the greenhouse, I put them outside on the little deck to become accustomed to being outside, before they're planted somewhere permanently.

These are mostly flax, Puriri and Pohutukawa, with a couple of exotic interlopers which got thrown outside because of crowding within.


Some of this year's calves in the House paddock. I'm particularly fond of that rather nice-looking heifer looking at the camera. She's Demelza's daughter, sired by AM-carrier Ardrossan Connection X15, and was born on the 12th of October. When the dust settles and the AM testing processes are all sorted out, we'll get her and the other suspect heifers tested. I'd quite happily keep a carrier heifer if she were good enough, but would have to test all her offspring and could not sell any carriers for breeding. AM is only problematic for an animal if both parents contribute the gene, in which case it's born dead. Carriers with only one copy of the defect are perfectly normal.

Wednesday the 17th
bird nesting holes in a clay bank

I went over the road to check on the cattle there. When I had found them all and had come down to the gate again, I stood quietly doing a bit of cattle-whispering - getting Isla's yearling daughter Athena to let me stroke her. There was a Kingfisher flitting about in the trees near these holes in the clay bank, from which were emanating some curious noises.

Investigating further I found these babies deep inside one of the holes. Faces only a mother could love.

Kotare chicks Kotare chicks

Stephan came home from his trip to Christchurch on the 6 o'clock plane and I took him for a walk out the back to check some cattle.


The Kikuyu is finally starting to show real signs of waking up and growing. The spring has been quite warm, so perhaps it's a hangover from the long wet winter which has slowed it down when it might have been expected to get going a bit earlier this year.

Thursday the 18th
Ruth milking Imagen

This is me, milking the cow for the last time. My right-hand fingers have started to go numb after a few minutes' milking, which indicates a sort of repetitive strain injury I don't want to aggravate any further! Stephan thinks his cut finger is now sufficiently repaired to allow him to resume normal duties. Thank goodness for that!

Friday the 19th
grey calf

367's delightful daughter, modelling the new ear tag we inserted today. We took one mob to the yards this morning, and the other half of the herd this afternoon, to vaccinate (7 in 1 - clostridial diseases and Leptospirosis), tag and as necessary, castrate the calves.

I had originally decided we'd castrate all the bull calves since they all have at least one parent who potentially carries the AM defect and we don't know when we'll get results back for our bulls, nor how quickly we might get the calves tested if necessary. In the end we left one calf uncastrated: son of Irene 35, numbered 83. Walking back through the first mob I spotted Irene 35 feeding a calf tagged as a heifer, numbered 614! She definitely gave birth to, and has continued to raise, the bull calf whose number was supposed to be 83. Two mistakes had occurred: the first was mine in misidentifying the calf which belonged to her and putting one of the commercial bulls up the race because I thought he was hers - she was talking to him as if he was her own son; the second was Stephan's, in somehow determining that a bull calf in the commercial group was a heifer and therefore tagging its right ear with a 600+ tag. Goodness knows how that happened!

I've been waiting for my own part of that error to occur for a while now, because spotting cow-calf pairs when they've been walked in to the yards as a mob, can be quite tricky, unless there's something distinctive about the calf - hard to mistake 607, for instance. Many breeders tag their calves at birth, but we never have. I often take photos of their faces because the hair whorl patterns will be distinctive and I can use those later for confirmation if necessary. The reason for tagging at birth is of course to ensure there's no mix-up in calves at any point, but my own observations suggest that any mix-ups would actually occur before someone gets there to tag a calf, if there is more than one born at a time. Watching so many of the births here, the only time things have gone awry is when two cows have given birth very close together in time and space and they have started licking the same calf and one of the cows attempts to mother the wrong calf. (The other desertion problem has occurred a little differently, when a calving cow for some reason seizes upon an older calf as her newborn and deserts her own before it even gets up.) Usually, as happened this season, a cow will attempt to take over a calf as her own is still on the way out, perhaps then leaving the other cow to adopt the deserted newborn, which, in her hormonal uproar, she may well do. Once they've identified their calf, licked it and smelt it and started feeding it, a strong bond is formed there's very little chance they'll let it go to anyone else and will get quite distressed if any other animal attempts an abduction.

So back to the bull calf which now looks from a distance like a heifer because of the right-ear tag. Because the calf I thought was #83 looked really rather good, we had left him un-castrated - we can always late-castrate with the vet at weaning if we need to. #83's sire is #45 and if he tests negative for AM, then the calf will be negative and we can keep him as a bull for use or sale. But since 83 isn't 83 at all, we had to find him and put him back up the race to put a rubber ring around the top of his scrotum. Looking nice isn't enough: you have to be a pedigree animal around here to retain the wherewithal for breeding. I assumed 614 had been ringed, since all the commercial bull calves in the race should have been done, so we didn't bother getting him back in. His official stud number is 83, even though he will spend his life confusing me by looking like heifer number 614. The calf with 83 in his ear can keep it; in a couple of years it'll end up on a concrete floor somewhere when the animal won't need it any more.

In the early evening I was in the paddock with the cows and calves, matching pairs now that they're numbered and saw Isla doing something a bit odd. She seemed to be grazing with her legs rather far apart. I only vaguely noted this oddity and carried on following a particular calf as I tried to work out who was its mother. When I looked round again, I could tell that Isla was in some significant difficulty, being in the throes of some sort of odd fit. She shook, her muscles convulsed, she nearly lost control and collapsed, although remained on her feet throughout. When she did finally recover, after about two or three minutes, she wandered around in circles a couple of times, with her left ear continually twitching. I suspect she may have been temporarily blind, for she kept calling for her calf which was not far from her and when she was looking in his direction, seemed unable to distinguish him. She was quite weak afterwards, although returned to her normal self in all other obvious ways. I continued to watch for the rest of the evening, both from the paddock and the house and saw no other sign of odd behaviour and she returned, apparently, to normal. I wonder how often such strange things happen when people aren't watching?