The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 14th of June 2008.
Saturday the 14th
Stella and Louie

Stephan made these chairs (at 80% and 60% of adult size, although they appear much smaller) and we bought some paint last week, according to the colour preferences of our small relatives and here they are at last, delivered and occupied in Auckland.

Stella and Louie had the chairs out on the foot-path while their Dad was selling plants to passers-by.

We packed up and got out of Auckland a little later than we'd planned, after picking up some bits and pieces for some friends who wanted them brought north. On our way home we called in to Ransom Wines, near Warkworth, did a little wine tasting, bought a little wine. Further north, just south of Whangarei is Longview Estate where we did a little more wine tasting, bought a little more wine ...

We arrived home just after 4.30pm and Stephan went almost immediately off to a play rehearsal in town, while I dashed out to the back of the farm to check the cattle. I managed to see about half the cows on my way out, and fortunately all of the pregnant heifers were together in the Middle Back paddock awaiting my inspection. I came back in the nearly-dark, moved the R2 bulls who'd failed to spot a gate I opened on the way out to allow them to join the yearling bulls, then opened some more gates for the young mob. It occurred to me that moving bulls in low light isn't the most sensible idea in the world, but they're pretty well behaved and I really wanted them shifted.

Sunday the 15th

Out again this morning to find the rest of the cattle, all of which were safe and in a contented state.

ferry crossing from Kohukohu

This afternoon I caught a ride with another of the Directors of Kaitaia Veterinary Services Inc. and together we went down to Omapere, for the Association of Rural Veterinary Practices Conference. The Northland groups have been responsible for hosting this year's conference, much of the work being done by a couple from the Dargaville area.

The ferry ride from Kohukohu to Rawene was rather grey and cold! Omapere is about a twenty minute drive further on down the Hokianga Harbour.

The conference was held at the Copthorne Hotel and began with drinks in the bar and then a very nice dinner.

My overnight accommodation was not particularly satisfactory, with a chilling lack of hot water for a shower and the appearance of a couple of very large cockroaches - although on doing a little research, I suspect the ones I saw were not the disease-carrying drain-dwellers seen in other parts of the country and world, but had perhaps come in from outside because of the rain. I was not very welcoming, all the same: big cockroaches give me the creeps!

Monday the 16th

A staff-member at breakfast enquired after my comfort and on hearing my report of my room's failings, arranged for my removal to a new room. Their determination to ensure my contentment was comforting.

The day's conference programme was very interesting with speakers on subjects ranging from Mastitis in dairy cows, to weather forecasting, to animal welfare and our need as farmers and vets to police animal neglect and maltreatment in our communities. As a country with a not-always-deserved clean, green reputation, which carries with it an assumption of good animal farming practices, we must ensure that the majority of us who are doing things properly protect ourselves from the damage those who care less could do to the industry by doing things badly. We are also, as farmers or vets, the people who get to see what goes on in areas away from the main roads, so we are sometimes the only hope of rescue for animals which are suffering under the bad management of people who ought not to be farming.

conference delegates on the jetty

At the end of the formal part of the day, the organisers had arranged for a couple of boats to take us around part of the Hokianga harbour. The rain held off for half of the trip, but by the time we returned many of us were rather damp! However, it was a great trip and the guys running the boats were fantastic guides.

The picture is of the delegates making their way along the jetty to the pontoon where the boats were tied.

Hokianga headland

Niua, the Northern headland of the Hokianga.

In the summer time, the sandhills are bright and light in colour, but at this time of the year, when there has been rain, they appear much darker. The colours are beautiful.

It was possible (when I first wrote this page) to find online a number of the stories about the two taniwha, Niua and Arai te Uru, which form the Hokianga headlands.

A general history of the area, written by the Hokianga Historical Society can be found here.

The Conference's official dinner was held this evening, and the food was, again, delicious. The speaker was a surveyor who has worked in Antarctica, Pitcairn Island and Tonga on some interesting projects, and spoke very well about all three.

Tuesday the 17th

The light this morning was fantastic, so I dashed out between breakfast and the start of the day's proceedings, to take some photos of the harbour.

The temperatures during the last couple of days have been almost balmy; those from the south must really believe we live in the winterless north!


This was one I took from the ferry on our way home. I believe this is The Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Assumption at Motukaraka and that the hills in the mist are those behind Panguru.

The five cull cows are due to go early tomorrow so Stephan and I took them from the House paddock and down to the bridge. Again they refused to go across, so we left them there, hoping they'd go after dark. The cows don't usually refuse. I think the problem is that they've heard a lot of barking from the big dogs next door, which unsettled them on Sunday when I tried to get them across and now there's been water over the bridge, so it looks and smells different. The river is still too high to get them across over the ford just downstream of the bridge, so we'll have to get up very early tomorrow and hope it doesn't continue raining in the mean time.

Then we went up the road to give William a hand in getting his few cattle down the road to our yards ready to go on the same truck. William's cattle are the only other animals I'll voluntarily allow onto the property, because since he moved there he has only bought cattle from us, so the risks associated with allowing them back here are low. Unfortunately they were in a large paddock and he hadn't thought to set up any tapes to guide them towards the gates, so we had to leave them and hope he can get them sorted out later on or in the morning.

Tonight was the opening night of Sisters, a play by Lucy Schmidt and Alison Quigan, in which Stephan plays a character named Richard, husband of one of the three sisters of the title.

Wednesday the 18th

Up before dawn this morning and as soon as there was a hint of increasing light in the sky, we went and set up the yards and Stephan, with longer boots than mine, took a tape and some standards down into the river on Jane's place, where we normally cross the cattle to her paddocks. It is the point where two streams join and if we turn the cattle to the right, they come up and out into the area on the other side of our bridge. The streams are normally no more than ankle height (in flood they can rise more than eight feet), but are this morning running only a couple of inches higher than normal and the cows went down and around without much trouble.

The truck turned up at 7.29 for the expected 7.30am pick-up. William and his animals appeared around the corner just after the truck had backed in to the loading ramp and we put his four (in fantastic condition!) up onto the truck and then ours went on quietly as well. All done and dusted in about ten minutes; excellent.

So ends the story of Onix. In 1999 I was looking for an investor to help me buy a couple of stud cows from the upcoming dispersal sale of Eric Jagger's Taurikura Angus Stud - back then our balance of income versus fertilizer and development expenses was always heavier on the expense side of the ledger. Issa (at nine years old) said his grandmother had a fund in his name which was intended for his education and perhaps she'd be willing to put it into a different sort of growth fund for a few years, with the prospect of increasing its returns and providing him with an interesting experience along the way. He and I put together a funding proposal for his grandmother, but it was turned down. I made some other arrangements to buy the cows and the Issa-cow scheme was abandoned.
Later in the year, as we approached Issa's tenth birthday, I was searching for inspiration and decided we could give him one of the two commercial heifer calves born that season as a result of AI mating, which Issa then named Onix. Onix has had six calves, one of which remains in the herd here (456). Over the years Onix's expenses have been offset against her calf-sales income and when the payment comes through from the meat company, Issa will receive the balance.

The other four cows were:

Mary in the pond

I let Mary out of her cage for the first time late this morning - just opened the door so she could make her own way out. She flew around the house a couple of times and then down onto the pond for a lovely long bath.

A little later I went for a walk and she followed, in flying 'hops', all the way to the bottom of the hills at the back, then flew off in the direction of home. The three resident pairs on our way out all challenged her presence.

Irene's foot

Irene's foot, with the elevating plastic slipper still glued to the non-injured claw. The other side looks pretty normal now, although it's hard to see through all that mud. She appears to be walking quite normally again, so must be feeling greatly more comfortable than she was before the foot was attended to.

hot heifers

Hot (on heat) heifers. At right is #557 with the typical mucous in a string between vulva and tail - she had just mounted the smaller heifer and expelled a lot of mucous as she did so. 561 is the heifer being ridden by 580 and so it is 561 of that pair who is on heat, being willing to stand still and be mounted. 580 is likely to be coming on heat, herself.

There's a lot of fast movement when this is going on and it pays to watch what's happening, because the animals will often shove each other around and won't care that you're in the way!

Thursday the 19th
Irene's hoof-print

Irene's rather distinctive footprint. I was wandering along watching the ground - as I often do, partly because the ground is so slippery at present, and partly because I like tracking the animals - and thought I'd come across a strange gumboot print, until I realised it was half a hoof-print.


I presume this is the Stinkhorn fungus, Aseroe rubra. It seems quite dry and I couldn't detect its smell which would presumably have been strong when it was freshly emerged. It was out in the open on a slope where I happened to walk on my way to check the cows.

a pair of Putangitangi

Mary had disappeared after yesterday's walk and I wondered if that was the last we'd see of her; but this morning she flew in with a great lot of calling, for breakfast. As I returned from my cattle walk, she came out and joined me on the flats, to the great consternation of the resident Flat 1 pair.

These two are the parents of our late Ms Duck and are quite used to our close proximity and when another of their species is accompanying us into their territory, they become even more daring and will come quite close.

Mary on the roof

Mary, on our roof. We are delighted to have her here; there's such a thrill in having a flying friend - particularly because these ducks, when raised by people, are so extraordinarily interactive.

I noticed today that a lot of the cows are producing varying amounts of thick mucous - they're currently still three or four months away from calving. I mention it because people often ask, on farming discussion boards, about the production of such mucous and what it means. In this case it's just a normal part of pregnancy. Some produce more, earlier, than others and some none at all until very close to calving. Some is clear, some thick yellow or white. I used to worry about it, but in all the cases I noted over the years, healthy calves were later born.

Friday the 20th
bulls eating hay

I gave the bulls some hay, since I'm trying to eek out the feed in their paddock for as long as possible. It'll be easier when there are four, not six, of them.

These three are the 20-month-old bulls, 49, 55 and 45. The younger three were dining separately, just out of the picture to my right.

Kaitaia Dramatic Society production

Sisters in full swing.

On Wednesday night I was just heading up to the lighting box to say hello to Adrienne, resident lighting specialist, and caught the end of her telephone conversation with the person who was to do the lights on Thursday night, but would now be unable to do so. Since I was there, I offered to have Adrienne teach me what was needed and so I, for the first time ever, operated the system on Thursday.
Hang around a theatre and someone will always give you something to do!

Tomorrow is the last night and we'll have our normal lives back again!