The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 26th of April 2008.
Saturday the 26th

Stella has come to stay with us for a week. Jude and Roger put her on the plane in Auckland and she flew as an Unaccompanied Minor to Kaitaia, where she calmly emerged from the plane and came home with us - after we'd produced acceptable photo-i.d. and signed the requisite forms.

She said the bumps were scary, but that she was alright.

I had been a little concerned about her trip because the weather forecast wasn't looking particularly nice and the cloud was closing in as her arrival time approached. If the planes can't land here, they send them back to Auckland (because of flight crew flying times, apparently) rather than over to Kerikeri, or even Whangarei, which would be a better option for their passengers. In the end there were a few spots of rain, but nothing very significant.

Sunday the 27th

Stella, Stephan and I took the four R2 bulls to the yards this afternoon for viewing by a prospective buyer. Because I have been listing one of them on trademe (equivalent ebay NZ site) and the reserve price I had on him had been reached, I couldn't withdraw him from there. I suggested to my local buyers that they could, if they wished to buy that particular bull of the two available, place a bid on-line.

During the evening we watched in some surprise as the first bidder, who had been bookmarking the auction for a while but had not bid when the start price was a little higher, outbid the local people to eventually win the auction.

Monday the 28th
going on a stoat hunt

Mathew, Stephan's nephew, arrived with his elder two sons Dylan and Liam, to join Stephan on the trap-line walk which begins around our south and west boundaries. Stella and I walked out with them because I wanted to move some cattle.

I moved the cattle as I had planned but Stella didn't want to go home yet, so we carried on walking with the others.

Mathew is carrying a DOC 200 trap which Stephan set up in one of the bush reserve areas. It has a couple of spring-loaded traps inside and some carefully designed mesh screens to prevent Kiwi getting inside.

sad, muddy girl

It wasn't until Stella tried to run over the top of a very boggy bit of swamp that she came a cropper, fell over in the mud and decided that she wasn't having such a good time any more. Liam was lovely and gave her a well-timed sweetie to make her feel better and she and I waved the boys off on the rest of the walk up into the bush, while she and I headed down from the back boundary towards home.

I left her sitting here at the top of the Back Barn paddock while I went down the hill to open the gate through to the Middle Back paddock. Then we strolled down the hill, washed Stella's boots in the stream and spent some time with Isla and the other cattle, before wandering home for a warm shower.

Tuesday the 29th
Stella and Stephan mustering the weaner calves

The one thing remaining to be done to the weaners before they can leave the property, is their secondary ear-tagging. Stephan and Stella walked across the bottom of the flats to start pushing the cattle up the paddock and I went along the lane to open the gate at the top.

All the steers (except Stupid, who will have to remain here, being too stupidly wild to sell to anyone) and two of the heifers need the button tag, with our herd number printed on it, inserted in the opposite ear from the one which sports the primary, individual number tag.

Stella and a heifer calf

One of the heifer calves was more interested in investigating Stella than in moving up the paddock as required. For Stella's own safety we told her to hold her stick up in the air to give her the appearance of greater height, and to advance on the heifer and that would make her move, which it did.

While we were doing the tagging, Mathew arrived with his middle two sons, Liam and Ryan, to go out and collect some firewood.

Liam, Stella and the calves

While Stephan got the tractor and trailer ready, some of us walked the weaners back out to their paddock.

We may have solved our farm succession problem! Other people breed their own children to take over their farms when they get old; we're always on the lookout for some we can steal.

going on a tractor ride

Then Liam, Stella, Ryan and Mathew all hopped on the trailer and went with Stephan out to collect wood.

The boys' mother, Raewyn, had by then also arrived with youngest son Sean, so she and I sat on the deck and enjoyed the sunshine.


Some time later the children arrived back at the house with a tale of disorder out on the farm: the trailer had slipped off the track and flipped, dumping all the wood and, fortunately, breaking the tow-ball off the tractor so the whole lot didn't end up being dragged or flipped into some horrid disaster.

Stephan and Mathew walked back for the tools necessary to effect a repair and then restacked the wood and brought it in.

Liam and Stella

Liam and Stella during one of their quiet moments.

I'm not sure this picture works very well, since all the chairs look the same size!


The first chair has been made at 60% of the full-sized one, and the middle one at 80%. It has been fun putting different-sized people in them.

a loose gudgeon

This morning when we were tagging the cattle, the vet gate which I'd had trouble with the other day because of this loose gudgeon, gave way and we only just managed to hold the animals which were in the race at the time. Stephan therefore experienced the urgency of a repair and got on with it this afternoon, to my great relief.

Generally the cattle move pretty slowly through the race and we rarely put any pressure on the gate, except when doing things to a number of calves all at once. My difficulty with the gate this week was mainly that it wasn't swinging easily and my concern that it was going to fall out of its hinges at any moment. I'd had to thump it back around to some semblance of stability several times while I was weighing the cattle the other day. Sometimes getting these things fixed in a timely manner is a little difficult.

vet-gate in the race

It might be suggested that I could have got onto the job and fixed it myself, but having watched the amount of effort Stephan put into wielding the brace and drill bit to put a new hole through the post, I'm glad I left it to the tall strong guy, even though I had to wait for it to happen!

The whole arrangement has been a bit dicey ever since bull #42 went over the top of the vet gate, knocking it out of the hinges, which presumably loosened the gudgeon in the post and it has progressively worsened since then, to the point of failure.

Now it's all lovely and tight again, the latch works better as it used to, and the gate swings back into the open space tidily so my big-hipped cows will be able to leave the race without banging themselves about.

When the visiting boys were getting ready to go late this afternoon, Ryan, who's five, looked up at me and said, "Sometimes I don't like coming here, but this time it's been really good."

Wednesday the 30th

I think the ewes have had enough time with the ram, so I took them to the yards and removed him from their company. The ram has gone back to graze with Damian and Bendy and two of last year's lambs which are next on the butchery list. We've managed the ram and young ewes well this year and there have been no unfortunate incidents leading to possible unplanned pregnancies. We have ear-tagged the best of Dotty's two ewe lambs as a replacement to join the ewe flock next year, as Babette and Yvette are now nearly nine years old and won't last forever. The other lambs will gradually go into the freezer.

Stella and I went for another long walk out to the back of the farm to check the animals again. She's a good walker, that girl.

Thursday the 1st of May

Fourteen little weaner steers went off on a truck to their new home this morning, about ten kilometres down the road. When we were finished and the truck was leaving, a whole lot of people arrived at our gate, including a neighbour from down the road whom we've heard of, but had not met - who is, just as we've finally met her, moving away to the other side of Kaitaia. She came in for a cuppa and a chat, which was very pleasant, since it's not something I get the opportunity to do very often.

Late in the afternoon Stella and I went for yet another long walk out around the back of the farm, coming home when it was getting quite dark.

Friday the 2nd
Jill, Stella and Isla

Jill and Bruce came to stay for a night and tomorrow they'll take Stella home with them and will put her on another plane in Whangarei, to return home to Auckland.

We all went out to see a new fence and the cows, while some occasional showers fell on us.

Stella worked out which of the cows was Isla and repeatedly took her bits of Puriri to eat. While I was watching her with some concern, being so little amongst the large animals, I was nearly run over by a cow which had been shoved by another. So much for worrying about Stella's safety!

I hope that Stella will continue this delightful animal interaction without harm while she's so small. There is of course risk to her amongst the cattle, but she'll be in less danger in the long term if she learns to be confident around them and is relaxed enough with them to notice the subtle signs of movement which require reaction. She seems to like the cows and has picked out her favourite amongst the calves: Fuzzy's daughter who looks just like Fuzzy. Stella has decided she shall be called Curly.