The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 2nd of August 2008.
Saturday the 2nd

Another day, another holiday... At the Fieldays in Dargaville earlier this year I popped a letter I'd been sent by Enterprise Northland into the appropriate box at their display stand. A couple of weeks later I received a phone call to tell me I'd won the prize: a night for two at the Copthorne Hotel at either Ōmāpere or Waitangi, including dinner for two, a bottle of wine and breakfast in the morning! Because I went to Ōmāpere for the vet club conference, we decided on Waitangi for our prize.

Te Waimate Church

We set out as early as we could manage it this morning, after moving cattle and feeding the various small animals and birds in our menagerie. I took lots of photographs along the way, of anything which looked like it could serve a useful purpose for article-writing later, so we were travelling in a very pleasant and leisurely manner.

This is the Church of St John the Baptist at Waimate North, which stands next to Te Waimate Mission Station. I've travelled along this road numerous times, always thinking that one day I shall call in and visit this site. We went in to the Church for a little while, but will return for a visit to the Mission Station on another trip.

We dropped our gear off at the Copthorne and then drove along to Paihia. We had lunch (good food, warm coffee, poor service) and then wandered around and looked at what is on offer in the local shops in this highly tourist-oriented area. Some of it was the usual fare of dinky little bits and bobs, of which one suspects not much is made locally. We spent quite a bit of time in The Cabbage Tree looking at a large range of mostly locally-made art and craft where the staff were extremely personable. Service in this country, and particularly in our part of it, is often the area in which businesses really let down and disappoint their (potential) customers; it was encouraging to find a good example.

the view from our room

The weather is again horrible, with yet another northerly storm predicted. From our room we could see the sea - Russell is somewhere across the water in the gloom.

Dinner in the hotel's Waitangi Restaurant was very good, although Stephan's Duo of Lamb dish was far superior to my choice of chicken. He made the better choice of dessert as well - so I had to help him eat it: a fabulous cheesecake which was better the more one ate! We almost ordered another to share, but decided that would be gluttonous.

Sunday the 3rd
a sunnier view

Motumaire Island through the Palm trees outside the hotel, on a nicer day than when we arrived yesterday.

We took a leisurely trip home via Kerikeri where we went looking at more crafts and had a very nice lunch at Café Blue.

bedraggled sheep

Our sheep are in a dreadful state - although I suspect they're not as badly off as some of them currently appear. Lamb in particular (just heading through the gateway), is in the process of shedding a whole lot of wool from her sides, making her look particularly awful.

The people who own the dogs which last year chased our sheep into the river have fortunately moved out of the district, so we are able to use the Pig paddock again for sheep grazing. It has always been a convenient sheep paddock, being reasonably small and sheltered. With only a small flock, it is the small paddocks which are most useful for their grazing.

wet and muddly cattle

I've started break-feeding the young cattle. I am still learning things about my animals and this year's lesson is that while the cows will quietly graze a large area and the pregnant heifers will behave with almost equivalent decorum, the yearlings will run around for as much time as they'll spend eating and so they trample more than they ingest. I have therefore begun to restrict them more than I did earlier in the season.

Any running around in these conditions quickly makes muddy soup of the paddocks.

Monday the 4th
muddy heifers

So dirty! With every step it seems a spurt of muddy water shoots up the front of these poor heifers, so they're almost the same colour as the mud they're sloshing through.


I hadn't seen Isla for a couple of days, so I was pleased when she appeared today. As my "monitor cow" she's in good condition still.


The heifers, with a tape to "back-fence" them out of the already-grazed area in Flat 2.

The more mess the cattle make of the ground, the less quickly the grass will recover for the next grazing. But we can't not put the cattle on the pastures, for they have to eat and this is our grazing system.

Back-fencing stops the animals going back and making more mess as they search for grass which isn't there.

male Putangitangi

I imagine it is quite unusual to have a wild Putangitangi on one's deck, but around here it has become a regular occurrence. I don't think he recognised Mary duck's dinner (in the bowl) as a tempting treat.

Tuesday the 5th
muddy heifers

After a few hours without rain and some sunshine to warm things up a bit, the heifers started looking even worse than before. When the mud on their coats is wet it is dark, so mostly unnoticeable, but as soon as it dries and lightens in colour, I can see how absolutely covered many of them are. Throughout the day they looked dirtier and dirtier, then it rained again and the mud darkened and they only looked half as bad.

Middle Back paddock

More mud. It is quite usual around here for the tops of the hills to get as boggy as everywhere else, but it really is far worse than usual this year.

I had found 14 of the pregnant heifers down at the bottom of the Big Back hill and really didn't feel like climbing up the long track to find the missing five, but duty and common sense kept me going until I discovered them all over the other side of the central ridge, in the Middle Back paddock.

soil damage

This is the Bush Flat paddock and at present it's rather drier than it has been, after a couple of days of almost no rain. During the winter there are regular articles in the farming papers urging farmers not to pug their paddocks; what do they think we're to do with our animals? Put snow-shoes on them all, or issue water-wings? This is the sort of mess a few quietly-moving relatively-light cattle will make on soft ground; if it was wetter, the whole lot would very quickly turn to soup. Short of putting animals on concrete or in sheds, at some point in the winter they have to walk on the pastures; so we live with it.

If the soil life is good it gradually repairs itself and evens out again.

I took the pregnant heifers in to the yards for their Lepto vaccinations and then brought the young mob in for theirs as well. It has been lovely having a fine break in which to work and the sunshine makes everything seem far better than it does in the unrelenting rain.

Wednesday the 6th
male Putangitangi and three Muscovy ducks

A committee of ducks? Perhaps they're interviewing to assess the suitability of this potential mate for Mary.

We went to town so I could attend a Kaitaia Veterinary Services meeting. While I was doing that, Stephan arranged to hire a large trailer to transport the tractor and deliver it to a place of repair. We took the trailer home, Stephan emptied the tyres of ballast water and drove the tractor onto the trailer and I forgot to take pictures.

The last of the cattle to have their Lepto shots are the four bulls, so I walked them in from their paddock, all very quietly, put them through the race and jabbed them all without bother, then walked them all equally quietly back to their paddock. Sometimes they're an absolute pleasure to work with.

349 and 426

Heading home again I crossed the river and climbed the fence into the Camp Paddock to check on the cows. Some of them were sitting around enjoying the rare warmth.

These two are 349 (lying, the cow with missing front teeth) and her daughter of 2003, 426.

shearing a pregnant ewe

Because we've had a few mostly-fine days and a whole day today without any rain at all, we took the opportunity late this afternoon to bring the sheep in and tidy up the ewes. Three of them are two to three weeks away from lambing, but Dotty is due in five days, so Stephan was very gentle with them as he pulled them over onto their backs, and careful as he bent over them to take some of the wool off their bellies and from around their rears.
It would have been better to do this job a few weeks ago, but there has been so much rain this winter that the sheep have been too wet and muddy most of the time.

Shearing them like this is partly for my benefit so I can clearly see udder development and signs of imminent lambing, and it also makes it a little easier for the newborn lambs to find the ewes' teats for their first feeds.

While we had them in, I gave the ewes (apart from Dotty who had hers the other week) their 5in1 pre-lamb vaccine.

After they were shorn, we took the four ewes and one hogget daughter of Dotty, who may remain in the flock as a breeding ewe, out to the House paddock where they will now stay throughout lambing. Damian and Bendy both received some foot maintenance and then they, the ram and the remaining three hoggets went out into the Chickens' paddock again.

Thursday the 7th
spreading gravel on the drive

A phone call at 7.15am informed us that we could finally expect a truck with some gravel for our driveway. I ordered some a couple of weeks ago, when we had become thoroughly fed up with getting our feet all wet and muddy any time we went out the front gates, which we now have to keep permanently closed. When we heard that the trucks were all tied up on other jobs for a while, Stephan took a wheelbarrow-load of smaller metal out and created a dry area for stepping onto as one unlatches the gate, which has helped a great deal.
The truck driver expertly spread this AP65 lime rock (that's All Passing through a 65mm sieve), which is quite lumpy at first, but soon rolls down to a lovely flat surface for driving and walking.

heifer mob eating hay

I brought the young stock in to the area we call the Triangle where we'd put out a lot of hay for them to have a good feed. When they were finished, I walked them down to the yards and drafted off the six R2 heifers, yearling heifer #62 (because she's in good condition and I don't like her enough to think I'll breed from her) and Stupid, steer #58 (because I don't want him in with the young heifers continuing to teach them to be scatty and stupid too). I now have a mob of 13 Rising Yearling heifers on their own. I've been concerned that the young cattle have not been getting adequate feed and I suspect the mob of 21 was just too big for quiet grazing, so I'll try this split for a while.

There was some machinery noise out on the road, so on my way to check the heifers over on the hill, I walked along the road to see what was going on. I discovered some council contractors who had just finished destroying part of our water system where it goes under the road through one of the culverts. There were two men, one in the digger and one presumably there to help him at ground level, but neither was doing his job in a way which would inspire any respect for their skill! Most of the digging I found was done so poorly that water was still pooling where it shouldn't and if the guy on the ground couldn't spot the presence of pipes running in and out of a culvert, he must have been asleep on the job.

Once upon a time the digger's work would have been finished off tidily with a shovel, probably by the digger driver himself, who would have climbed out of his seat and wielded the tool, to ensure that the job was done well - or the guy in the digger would have been expert enough to have done such a good job that little shovelling would have been necessary. Apparently they have retired the last contractor who was doing the job on our road and our culverts have been left without any maintenance for some time - except for Stephan's unblocking efforts last year.

Why do so many people appear not to obtain any satisfaction or pride from doing their work well? Does everyone simply do the minimum required to appear to have done their job so they can collect their wages? The answer must, of course, be no; but I do wish there were more people who cared about what they do. My Father was a dustman for a while and at another time he was a toilet cleaner: I know about deciding to do your job properly, no matter how near the bottom of the social "heap" it may appear to be, and that who you are and how you do your thing is intrinsically far more important than what that job actually is.

We'll have to buy some more fittings to effect a repair and several metres of alkathene pipe has been wrecked and will need replacement. Because it is winter, the cattle aren't drinking very much from the troughs so the repair job isn't tremendously urgent at this moment. I have expressed my displeasure to the FNDC, but they don't appear to be in a hurry to reply.

The other thing I noted on my walk up the road, was that the Nikau leaf spear I photographed a couple of weeks ago, is still looking much the same as it did then.

muddy track

The feet of the cows later in the day, shifting from the Camp paddock back out to their half of the back of the farm. Walking along here in the mud is entertaining at best and hideous and tiring at worst. There is a point between being very wet and being tacky, when the mud gets really difficult to walk through, and after a few days of very little rain we've almost reached it.

We set out on the last of our mini-breaks for this winter, this time back down to Whangarei to spend a night with Jill and Bruce.

Tree Fuchsia

This is Kotukutuku or Tree Fuchsia, Fuchsia excorticata.
Last year when Stephan was away building fences near Auckland and I had occasion to walk up into the bush to fix our water system, I was surprised to see there what I thought at first was a peach tree, which would have been exceptional in the middle of the native bush. On closer inspection I discovered little purple flowers like the one pictured here. When we were travelling through the Mangamuka Gorge sometime in the last couple of weeks, I spotted a tree which looked a bit like a Peach and noted its general location. There are a lot of corners through the gorge, but we found it again and this time stopped to inspect it more closely. I'll have to stop there again another time and get some pictures of the whole tree.

Jill made Coq au vin for dinner!

Friday the 8th of August

Jill and I went to The Quarry Arts Centre this morning and spent some time talking to a couple of artists, one in her studio there and another on duty at the craft shop. We both enjoyed our visit very much.

Stephan had gone off to learn more about being artistic, having another morning's wood-turning tuition.


I took Jill this Cyclamen because it had so many flower buds simultaneously appearing. It's one of the plants which grew from a stray seed in my greenhouse, after an earlier plant flowered and went to seed sometime last year. I'd be potting something, or move something on the shelf, and there would be a tiny Cyclamen seedling growing in a crack between the shelf boards, which I carefully pricked out and potted. I have a couple of plants now in flower from that source and several more on the way.

We arrived home before dark, in time to check that all the sheep were upright and healthy - I have two basic concerns at this time of the year with regard to the pregnant ewes, one being sleepy sickness and the other that they're prone to getting cast because they're so back-heavy with wet wool and bellies full of lambs. However, so far only Yvette has been over on her back with legs waving in the air and that was for a few seconds one morning, outside the kitchen window.