The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 23rd of February 2008.
Saturday the 23rd

Another weekend of rain, this time enough to force the cancellation of the Kaitaia A&P Show for the second time in five years. The river came up and over our bridge, of course.

Sunday the 24th

Ingrid and bull #43 went off on a truck early this morning. I booked them to go to the works a couple of weeks ago when things were beginning to look pretty dry and the grass growth had slowed.
#43 has done two years of breeding and most of the cows should be in calf to him this year. I'm not intending to use him again, so he might as well go now - the newer and better version of bull is always pushing out the older one.
Ingrid produced twins - Ingrette and her dead sister - in September. Ingrette, as you will know if you're a regular reader, had to be shot after seven weeks of very involved care from me. Ingrid has therefore never produced a live calf at weaning, and having produced twins at her second calving, it's likely she would have done so again. If these two had survived, I'd be quite willing to continue with her, but three dead calves from two calvings is too much. As the celebrated first twin calf of Ivy, it's hard to say goodbye to Ingrid. But as one of the stud cows, she had to prove herself as a productive and fertile cow, or I'd be irresponsibly breeding a lot of potential problems into the herd. Sentimentality and farming business are not supposed to coexist, but ... I do as I ought eventually, as soon as I am able to resign myself to the inevitable.


We went to the AGM of the Far North Organic Growers group, held this year on an ostrich and emu farm. We joined the group as "support members" a few months ago, so we could take part in some of their workshops which are of interest to us.

After the meeting and lunch, we were taken on a tour around the small property, firstly viewing and standing amongst the Emus.

I found it quite strange to stand and look at a bird at my own eye level.


And what marvellous eyes they are!


The ostriches, while being terribly impressive, are not a type of livestock I would ever want to farm! If I had bulls that aggressive, they'd be on the first truck out of here - or shot in the paddock for the safety of anyone nearby! I suppose if you like them and learn how to manage them it's a different story, but I'll stick to watching them from afar!

This male challenges the farmer whenever he goes near the enclosure. We were warned to stand clear of the fence in case the bird kicked out with his feet. They're fast, very strong and, in my opinion, downright nasty!


The annual dope-extermination hunt is obviously in progress again.

A very slow-flying plane was closely inspecting the hills to the south of us this afternoon and I was sure I could hear a helicopter's throbbing noise as well. Eventually it came into view over the hills, where it was obviously spraying the illegal crops of those who grow Cannabis in the bush, usually on property which doesn't belong to them. I understand they spray with a herbicide which also contains a dye which makes it obvious the plants have been poisoned and thus cannot be consumed. Northland is such a good growing area for the plants that this method of control has been used for some years, to enable the Police to manage the problem at the "grass roots" level.

Monday the 25th

The mob of 100 cows, calves and yearlings had become 102 by this morning, with two of the five unmated yearlings somehow having got through a fence. I decided to mix the other three in as well, because then I have only one large mob to manage and an extra paddock available in the round if it's no longer occupied by five animals on their own.

Kiwi Zone sign

We do know dogs can't read. Stephan was given this sign a few weeks ago and we finally got around to putting it up.

I last heard a Kiwi last on the last night of last year. I hope that's just a seasonal change, not an indication that the last local bird has been killed by a dog.

Mustelids (ferrets, stoats and weasels) and other small animals kill a large proportion of the chicks, but it is dogs which kill huge numbers of adult birds. Often they're deserted pig-hunting dogs, sometimes they're just the family dog off on an uncontrolled wander, when its owner probably assumes it's asleep all night outside the house.

last calf

Jane's paddocks are getting long with the Kikuyu growing so fast at the moment, so I asked her if she'd like 105 animals to come and mow it down. I'm shifting them around quite quickly because they're such a big mob and very quickly eat up a paddock. I called them to the Camp Paddock gate and wrote their numbers down as they dashed past - there were too many of them moving too fast to check them off the lists - and then worked out whether or not everyone was there. We both went into Jane's place to see if we could find the one calf I thought I hadn't seen, and then heard a lonely moo from somewhere back out on the flats.
On his own he was very nervous and unsure about which direction to go. He's a fairly quiet animal in temperament, but when they get separated from the herd, cattle can get quite distressed. His inclination was to dash past me as I followed him and go back to where he'd come from, so it took some careful working to get him to where he could hear the others and head in their direction.

sheep in the triangle area

The little paddock beside the driveway which Stephan recently fenced off, is proving a very handy space for sheep. I moved them in here this evening to tidy it up.

Tuesday the 26th
finished baby's shawl

I've finished the shawl! I cast off the last stitches this morning, then lightly pressed the pieces before putting it all together. About 100 hours of my life is stitched into this work.

shawl detail

I took great pleasure in throwing its weight around on the bed to spread it out nicely. After being so careful with its pieces for so long, it's good to get the feel of it in its finished form. With all the loops and holes, it needs some care, but as a whole work it is probably reasonably robust.

Then I folded it up, wrote a note to go with it and we took it to town and consigned it to the postal service, by Registered mail. I hope Sarah, Karl and new baby Kerehoma are pleased with it.

I spent a couple of hours this evening wandering around amongst the cattle with my grooming brush. By the time I'd finished there were a lot of very beautifully combed tails in the mob!

At 10.30pm I heard a worrying amount of noise from over at Jane's place, with cattle calling and growling in an odd manner, then the thunder of hooves as they all stampeded around the paddock. We took our torch (with its unfortunately nearly discharged battery) and went to see what was going on. There didn't seem to be anything seriously amiss. There are a number of feral cats and kittens around the place at present and I know from their reaction to our three cats that the cows are not very comfortable about them being amongst them, so I suspect that may have been the cause of the disturbance.

Moving around a paddock with a failing torch while 105 large and nervous animals breathe down your neck, is not a comfortable experience!

Because of the fencing arrangements over there, I decided it would not be prudent to leave a lot of disturbed cattle there with not quite enough feed left to keep them entirely content, so we led them off the property, across the river and into the driveway and Pig Paddock for the night.

Wednesday the 27th

What is wrong with these cows? I was woken with a start by the noise of 420 hooves thundering up the driveway to the gate near the house. I don't know what spooked them this morning - dog, cat, flying duck? I let them go off out to the flats for the day, which they did quite happily and calmly.

Stephan leading the sheep

We had also been woken in the night by a lamb coughing, sounding like it was at death's door. I think I know which one it is, so we took them to the yards to put them over the cattle scales, so we'd know how much drench to give them. I hope we got the right one.

Stephan and the ewes

So many friends. The ewes will follow anyone with a container of maize.

But you can see they really love Stephan.

Yvette is closest to him and has been known to attempt to jump up on people for closer access to the maize they're holding; also looking up is Babette, Lamb is picking maize up from the ground and Dotty is standing looking back. The lambs were all off to the side eating grass, having not yet developed a maize addiction.

A few days ago we received a phone call from Susan Murray, who is one of the presenters of the weekend radio programme Country Life. We've enjoyed it for years, so were quite thrilled to be asked if we'd be happy to be interviewed. Apparently someone from the UK (come on, tell us who you are!!!) had emailed "Radio New Zealand, National (sounds like us)" and suggested they come and talk to us about the website.

Susan arrived in the early evening and we took her walking for a while, then fed her roast beef, followed by Crème Brûlée.

Thursday the 28th
being recorded

A little more recording this morning and then Susan went on her way to talk to some other northland people, before she headed down to the Dargaville Field Days.

We were both ridiculously nervous with those great big microphones in front of us and both felt we'd not really come across as we would wish. Hopefully Susan can edit it into something worthwhile.

The confusing thing for me was that I spend so much time describing what we do here, and suddenly had to focus on describing the description of it all, in the creation of this website. It was a mental shift I fear I didn't quite manage to make.

fast-moving cattle

We then went out to move the cattle to a paddock with enough food, water and shelter to keep them safe for a couple of days while we sneak off on a mini-break.

The cattle all left in a rush and then so did we, off to Whangarei for a 1.30pm appointment to have my freckles photographed again. I had my last Molemap examination a couple of years ago and figured it would be sensible to have it done again, hoping to get the dermatologist's report back before I have my routine Melanoma check-up in a couple of weeks.

There doesn't appear to be anything to worry about.
The photos were quite fun to watch, as the technician re-did the whole-body shots and then had to refer back to the old ones to re-plot the spots of interest: it was like looking at those before and after weight-loss advertisement photos. If you spread a half-inch layer of fat over all your surfaces under your skin, including presumably your organ surfaces, it will weigh several kilograms! Fortunately the before and after photos are in the order one would generally prefer.

We spent the evening with Jill and Bruce in Tikipunga, Whangarei. We had boozy old rooster for dinner - Coq au vin, actually - and we'd taken the rest of the Crème Brûlée with us in the Chilly-bin for dessert, since there were four spare to share.

Friday the 29th
Northland Field Days

This morning the four of us set out for Dargaville and spent some hours walking around the Field Days. Jill and Bruce spent several months living at Dargaville last year, while Jill worked as the relief Anglican vicar, before a permanent appointment was made. So we all saw people we knew there, which was very nice. I picked up a lot of new research material on Kikuyu grass and biological weed control insects and we chatted to the rest of the Kiwi Foundation crew.
We managed to acquire some tickets for lunch in the PGG Wrightson tent which had the Northland Angus members cooking and serving Angus steak burgers to those who purchased them or had the tickets.

It was a lovely day for wandering, with a breeze to keep things cool enough while the sun beat down. I continue to be alarmed at the number of young women in particular, who wear clothing which allows their shoulders to burn in the sun. They cannot continue to pretend that they do not know of the danger they court. Hats, sleeves and collars are cool!