The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 17th of May 2008.
Saturday the 17th
weaned calves

Eighteen weaned calves on their way from the first Mushroom paddock to the Small Hill, since there's some fresh grass there. I'd like to get rid of a few more of these, but need to wean the last of the calves first so they can all go together.

That's Stella's favourite, Curly, down the back.

grazing Kikuyu

Kikuyu management in action: the paddock on the right had been grazed by the mob of 34 weaned cows for about 40 hours, taking the level right down. This sort of hard grazing (hard in the sense of pushing the cows to sniff out every last bit of grass) is something I do with big mobs, so they don't get stuck with nothing to eat for too long at any time.

The same thing is possible with smaller numbers if one uses electric tapes, but I prefer doing it this way, so the cows can get under the trees if it's wet or cold.

I'd not push young stock this hard by choice, ever, and must actually draft out the R3 one-time-calved heifers so they can have a better level of feed over the winter than the mature cows.

Looking at how quickly the mob of cows, calves and yearlings were eating their allotted pasture, I realised I couldn't really wait until tomorrow to wean them as I'd planned.

I took the lot of them to the yards, drafted the yearlings out of the mob, then put the cows and calves over the scales again and then drafted them from each other.

weaning the last heifers

There are always a few cows who are really unwilling to go away from the yards when I've kept their calves there and on this occasion one of them was Isla. Isla won't move very well in any direction she doesn't want to, so getting her over the bridge and out along the lane took some concentrated work, having to cut off her attempts to double back to the yards wherever there was room to attempt it. She's probably more of a handful than any of the others because I expect her to be, and have always treated her as if she has far more personality than everyone else. Then again, maybe she does.
There she is, waiting in the corner of her paddock to find out what I'd done with her calf.

Isla's and Imagen's daughters are just coming up to six months, but at 250 and 240kg they're quite big enough. I always feel mean weaning them before they've hit the six months mark, but sometimes some of the calves have been up to six weeks younger than this, so they're not that hard done-by.

R2 heifers

Stephan let the older heifers out when he saw I'd dealt with the calves, saving me a walk back to the yards. I put them in with the previously-weaned calves, for the time being.

Very soon I'm going to have to decide how many cattle I can really feed over the winter. My expected tally is 76, but the departure of some of them to their new owners has, as usual, been enormously delayed by our inability to get either of the local trucking firms to collect them.

quarantine paddock

Because I was taking animals up and down the lane, I put a hot-tape out from the fence to stop the bulls from being able to lick and sniff anyone else through the fence or the gates at either end of the paddock. Talking to one of the vets later in the week, I suspect I may still be being overly cautious, but better that than sorry later.

Sunday the 18th
new fence and rails

The nice new bit of fence with nice new rails and a renovated gate in place of the old Taranaki gate arrangement. The top and third wires on this bit of fence are electric, which will foil the attempts of 426 and Abigail to graze the grass on the other side and stretch these wires all out of shape, as they had done on the old fence. Stephan decided against battens because the river can get this high and if there's too much of a fence to catch the debris, the whole lot will be dragged into disarray. The electrification of some of it should keep any wandering stock from getting over or through the fence.

the weaning mobs

The weaning mob, even though it includes very-loud Isla, hasn't been particularly disturbing. I've been putting homeopathic Ignatia in their troughs for a few days, which is supposed to reduce their distress at being parted.

new rails on Jane's place

The last gap to be filled with new rails, to thwart any wandering cattle. These are on Jane's driveway, just on this side of her large culvert over the stream and will prevent any cattle which have made their way onto her place from wandering into our tree reserve areas along the riverbank. It is a job we've meant to do for a while and it's good to have it finished.

The flax plants on the left are along our riverbank boundary with Jane and we're planting our side of the line as well as encouraging any natives which have self-seeded along the other side, around the mature Totara and Kahikatea there.

Monday the 19th
the weaning mob and the weaned cows meet

On the left in this picture are the eight just-weaned cows and in the paddock next to them are the mob of 34, which I had just moved into the paddock from further out on the farm. I want to combine the two mobs tomorrow, and putting them next to each other overnight will reduce the amount of fighting they'll do then.

The cow rubbing her head on the ground indicates a high level of excitement and a demonstration of bravado. There was also a great deal of running up and down and bellowing going on!

Tuesday the 20th
little calves in the bush

I went out to move the 39 young cattle out of the Big Back paddock, but only 34 of them came to the gate. I walked up and around the whole 20-acre paddock, calling and listening, then back up the first side and down again. I still couldn't find them. I next went in along the face of the hill above the big swamp and heard nothing at all.

It has been my experience on too many occasions to ignore, that if I follow my 'instinct', if you like, rather than a deliberate thought to go in some particular direction, I'll find the animals for which I'm searching. On this occasion I was going to head off down the slope I was on and follow the swamp back around to the bottom of the paddock, but something made me cut back up the hill a little ... and there they were.

little calves in the bush

Calves are often silent in the bush and therefore quite difficult to find. They were just standing there, completely still, looking at me as I came through the scrub.

I got them moving and followed them on the paths they chose back down to the bottom of the paddock.

Funny animals.

Wednesday the 21st

One of the uncomfortable days: sending some cows to the works.

This is Fuzzy, who's 7½ years old. She's been a favourite because until recently, on delivery of her calf (Curly, at the top of the page), she was unique in the cow herd, with her odd hair and tail. She's a nice, personable animal. I've never quite worked out her place in the herd - somewhere in the middle of the bottom rungs of power - mostly pushed around, but about four or five cows up from the bottom. She's had five calves, three of which have had similar hair, the last being her only heifer with it, and the other two were straight black haired heifers. She's been on the list to go for a couple of years and my discovery of a gap in her teeth earlier this year has clinched it.

The others in the group are Fluffy 423, because her calves have never been particularly good; Dot 30, because her calves are mad (Stupid is this year's contribution to general disorder); Flora 15, because she deserted her calf last year and I don't want to risk it again; 390, because she's ¼ Friesian and I'm gradually getting rid of the earlier cross-bred cows.

I shall miss them, but the gradual improvement of the herd and the fact that we're not intending to be an old cows' home, means that at some point nearly all of them will go up the ramp onto a truck and away to the works.

Thursday the 22nd
cows on the move

The weaned cow mob, now 37 in number, had access to the two eastern parts of Flat 5 as well as Flat 3, because rain was expected and I wanted them to have some shelter. This morning I called them all down to the gate into Flat 2 and closed all the other gates.

They galloped across the paddock, eager for a new bit of grass. They get quite frisky and youthful again after they've been weaned and their udders have decreased in bulk. It's their most physically active time of year, before the calves they're carrying start getting big enough to slow them down again.

Friday the 23rd

We had a telephone message this afternoon from Susan Murray, who visited us several weeks ago, saying that the Country Life radio piece would play this evening and again in the morning.

By 9pm we were both more nervous than when we do plays on stage! However, as is usual on Country Life, Susan had done a lovely job of putting it all together.

You can find a link to the audio on the Radio New Zealand National page. Please don't scroll down to the picture, just click on the audio link! The link will work for six weeks, then it will presumably stop.

I felt a bit overwhelmed by media exposure during the evening, having received in today's mail the June issue of Growing Today with my lastest published article, complete with some rather full-on pictures, having written about sending cattle to the works and having them home-killed.