The week beginning the 20th of December 2008.
Saturday the 20th

I left the cows and calves in their two mobs in neighbouring paddocks last night, so they spent some time posturing and making threatening noises at each other. Today when I mixed them together there was a bit of chasing and fighting, but they settled down quite quickly again. I also mixed in two of the empty cows, Irene 698 and 418, neither of which I wish to cull. Irene has Neospora and lost her calf as a result last year and 418 may have had premature twins, although I've never found anything - it was her appearance with an early udder and the timing of the event which caused me to wonder. She calved or aborted when I was tied up in Whangarei supporting Jill while Bruce was dying, so I wasn't watching her very closely.

Sunday the 21st
Paradise ducks

On our way out to fetch the cows this morning, I saw this gathering of Paradise Ducks and ducklings (the young females have only partially white heads). Presumably they're preparing to fly away for the annual moult.

cattle coming down the lane

I liked this picture (right) because the details are so much clearer with the new camera.
Every now and then I come across old photos of the herd in years past when it was much more colourful. However, there are many shades of black!

The cattle are in the lane along the top of Flat 2 & 3, just coming through the gate to where it runs between the top of Flat 1 and the Windmill Paddock, for those of you who've studied the maps or been here. There's an aerial picture here (they're at the point the line sharply turns at the bottom of the path shown), and a couple of mapped pictures here and here, over which you can hover your mouse pointer to see the paddock names.

cattle coming down the lane

Two pictures of the same mob in lanes? I like the way they move in such an orderly fashion - when they do. This is the lane down between Flat 1 and the House Paddock.

Just after I took this picture everything went haywire, the cattle getting a whiff of some smoke from a fire Stephan had lit earlier to burn some rubbish. That sent them stampeding back up the lane again in an alarming fashion, looking rather like they'd be minced beef at the end when they all collided with the gate.

Eventually, after extinguishing the fire, we got them to the yards and weighed the calves.

The bull calf which was tagged as a heifer turns out to have been castrated to the same extent as a heifer; i.e. not. So we have one bull calf, which will remain as a bull until at least weaning time. If his sire (#45) tests negative for AM, then he may, if he looks good enough, remain as a bull; if not, we'll get the vet to castrate him, as we did last year with some five-month-old bull calves.

Squiglet and Damian

Damian's health has been going down-hill lately. Stephan found him lying down looking pretty sad a few days ago, so we gave him some drench to help pick him up a bit and walked him back to the house paddock where we can keep a close eye on him. We have been checking him daily, because he's prone to flystrike with his horrible skin lumps and because he spends more time sitting around than he used to, but here I'll see him several times a day.

He seems content enough with Imagen, Bella and the Squiglet for company - and there's a breeze in this paddock which keeps the fly levels lower than in the warm shelter of the chicken paddock from which he came.

Monday the 22nd
swamp flower

I believe this is the native Bur-reed, Sparganium subglobosum. I found it when crossing a swamp to arrest the growth of a ragwort plant on the other side. It's quite small and very pretty. The New Zealand Plant Conservation Network website has more information.

I weighed the young stock today, looking to see which yearling heifers would qualify for mating. My minimum weight requirement is 320kg, although if they look good enough I'll let them pass at a slightly lighter weight, since they're gaining quickly at this time of the year. Imagen's first daughter, #53, is now two and was also on my list to join the herd, but after she jumped around in the race, I decided against her. She's a daughter of C A Future Direction, so she may be a carrier of the newly-disclosed Arthrogryposis Multiplex (AM) anyway. She'll make good beef.

Later in the day I brought the bulls in to drench them, had trouble getting the elder two across the bridge, so weighed and drenched only the two yearlings. I was discombobulated by the difficulty at the bridge and when I then went to let the heifers, which had been grazing by the yards, in to the Pig Paddock for the night, I forgot I'd left a couple of gates open - either one shut would have been ok. #52 had been on heat all afternoon (very exciting for the bulls while they were in the race near her) and she spotted her chance, ran straight through the gates and off down to the bridge to the four bulls, who obviously thought Christmas had arrived and were not slow in taking advantage of the situation.

Four bulls and one hot heifer aren't a particularly safe proposition. The bulls will push each other off the heifer, often mid-mount, which can be dangerous to the legs and penis of the bull in the middle of what he's doing. With so much feverish activity, a heifer may be in increased danger of internal injury as well, so I was keen to put a stop to this passionate encounter as quickly as possible, which was of course not an easy thing to do.

The two-year-old bulls were now quite happy to cross the bridge when they were following the heifer, so I took them all back to the yards, then began drafting them through the gates and cutting a single bull off whenever I had the chance. Eventually I had them all separated from her again and left her standing in the yards while I made sure the bulls were well out of the way and back in their paddock.

#52 is due to go to the works quite soon, so there's no problem with her probably being pregnant as a result of this incident. Had I been intending to keep her, I would have to have her aborted because she is another daughter of C A Future Direction and until I know the AM status of any of my suspect cattle, I'm not putting any of them together!

Tuesday the 23rd
yearling heifers

I brought all the cattle back to the yards today and drafted the cull cows and their calves out, then put Kamar heat indicators on the backs of all the cows for mating.

These are the five young heifers I selected to join the mob, heading up the lane to go and join the cows.

There's just one small problem ... I don't have any semen with which to inseminate the cows! I ordered some and it should have been on its way, or here by now, but there's been a hold-up because the company from which I'm buying has not had returned to it its travelling "dry shipper" banks, in which they courier semen to far-flung places.

I do rather a lot of walking cattle in and out of the yards at this time of the year. If it was a harder thing to do - if we had no lanes, for instance - I'd cut down the number of trips and be more efficient in how I work with them, but because all the breeding cattle will all have to come in for insemination over the next few weeks, it does no harm to give them some practice in quietly moving around.

Rachel, my sister, Issa, her son and Jill, our mother, arrived this evening for Christmas.

Wednesday the 24th

Rachel, Issa, and Stephan went to town for some last-minute shopping and while in town collected the semen bank I borrow from Greg. If any of the heifers come on heat before the other semen arrives, I have some I can use for them still stored from past years. The newly-bought straws are now, thankfully, on their way by courier and I should have them on Saturday. The semen I've bought is of bulls not implicated in the whole AM mess (i.e. they have none of the suspect animals in their pedigrees), two for the stud cattle and another couple for the commercial cows.

There's information about AM in a number of places, not including the NZ Angus Association! Even the American Angus Associationhas removed reference to it from its pages.

wrestling a tree

Since we have some family around for Christmas, we needed a Christmas Tree. I spotted a pine growing in, would you believe, the Pines paddock a few weeks ago. It may have been a self-seeded young tree, since it wasn't supposed to be where it was, but when they'd cut it down, Stephan and Issa discovered it was unsuitable, being rather larger than anticipated, and so too sparse in its foliage near the top.

Kanuka trees can be a very nice shape, so after rejecting the pine, Stephan and Issa set out to find a suitable candidate. Jill and I arrived to find them still looking and so were in time to assist in the selection. The chainsaw had broken down, so Stephan wrestled the tree from the ground, threw it on the trailer and we all went home.

weed barge

In some places, including around the edge of the pond, the Kikuyu grass has been growing very quickly. Stephan chose this afternoon to do some tidying up and cut the grass from all around the pond's little island, then dragged it, in a large barge-like mass, to the edge and hauled it out to dry.

Mary (the Paradise Duck) was naturally there to help.

Thursday the 25th
Pukeko in a Kanuka tree

On the first day of Christmas, my true love showed to me,
A Pukeko in a Kanuka tree ...


Damian. I gathered some leaves for him, since he's suddenly a lot weaker than he was, and seemed disinclined to get up and eat.

I've been puffing the dreadfully-poisonous flystrike powder onto his wool to keep the flies at bay - and into his feet, after I discovered some maggots in one hoof, which must have been very uncomfortable.


I'm now doing regular cow/heifer checks for signs of heat, so if the heifers come on I can inseminate them with the semen I already have and if the cows don't come on, I'll know I haven't missed anything.

building a jetty

Stephan let a lot of water out of the pond so he could build the jetty we decided was necessary for pleasant swimming - it's not so nice having to get your feet all sticky with mud when getting out from a refreshing dip. This is the sort of thing we end up doing on Christmas Day, since it's fun, not work. Actually, we do this sort of thing any time.

Dragon Fly nymph

This is presumably a Dragonfly nymph Stephan spotted in the pond while he was working. All sorts of insects begin their lives in the water, before setting off into the air for their adulthood.

I checked on Damian again late this afternoon and he could hardly walk. He has weakened very quickly and if left, the next stage would be a collapse onto his side where he would struggle and be unable to get up again into a comfortable position. The time has sadly come to do what is necessary. I looked up humane killing in the Animal Welfare guidelines (to ensure exactly the right spot was aimed for) and asked Stephan to take the rifle and go and quietly shoot him. I couldn't do it and I couldn't watch.

Damian has been part of almost all my time here, and while he's not been an active part of my every day in recent years, he's always around, and for the last couple of years has been thought of at least daily as we ensured that he didn't get into difficulty as he became more frail.

Having never raised a lamb as a child, as so many of my school contemporaries on farms did, I seized upon the opportunity with great enthusiasm when I found Damian swimming valiantly in the river, after falling in within 24 hours of his birth. (The early part of his life is documented on the Damian page.)
While I was raising him, he went everywhere with me and received the best of care and attention. Because we lived in a falling-down barn at the time, and as it was still winter, I let Damian live mostly inside - he even had his own room for sleeping at night. When we headed off to have showers, we'd say, "go to your room Damian" and he'd trot off along the corridor and settle down on the cushion on the floor and we'd shut the door and there he'd quietly stay. (Letting him have the run of the house at night meant he did exactly that, with lots of prancing about on the wooden floor with his hard little hooves. He was only allowed that freedom once.) Raising him was a delightful experience and even though some people around me occasionally commented that I may have been going a bit far, I didn't have to listen to them and simply enjoyed what was happening.

When I finally weaned him from his regular bottle-feeding, he gradually joined the sheep mob again and has spent the rest of his life living normally out in the fields. He was a lovely creature and I shall miss him.

Friday the 26th
pergola construction

As has become a bit of a tradition around here, Boxing Day is time to build a pergola on the lawn, so we can sit out on the deck and lawn in the heat of the day, without being fried. Every year the structure is improved a little, this year it has had some extra bracing added to its back "wall".

digging a grave

This morning we buried Damian. I spent some time considering where it would be useful to have a new tree and settled upon a spot along the House Paddock fence, in line with some other trees which already obscure my view of the flats. It's a very suitable place for him to lie.

a big spider

I think this spider probably came with the Kanuka which now forms the roof of the pergola. It's reasonably large - enough to alarm a few of our afternoon visitors!

Sarah and Kerehoma

This is lovely Sarah and her son Kerehoma, for whom I knitted the latest shawl this time last year.

We went for walk out in the House paddock to introduce Kerehoma to cows. He was fascinated by them, although they took very little notice of him.

family gathering

Sarah, Karl and Kerehoma had come to visit with William and Elizabeth, Simon, Miriam, friend Anna and Liam, one of Elizabeth and William's grandsons. Lots of people swam and then we prepared to eat. In the picture below are my nephew Issa (who used to be the boy-who-owned-a-cow), Miriam, Karl, Simon, Stephan and William, who had taken control of cooking the evening's meat on the barbecue. (Elizabeth, not in the picture, is Stephan's eldest sister.)