The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 2nd of February 2008.
Saturday the 2nd
Roger and sons in the pond

Roger, father of these lovely children, arrived late last night. It was this Saturday a year ago that Jude and Roger were married at Mōkau, so Stephan and I suggested that if Roger came up for the weekend, we'd look after the children while the two of them went away for a night on their own. It being such a hot morning, everyone (except the author with the nasty cold) got into the pond for a cooling swim. The children floated around on their mother for a while and then had a go on the father-boat.

Roger and Jude then drove away, leaving us alone with their children!

Stephan took Jasper out with him this afternoon to help with hay-making at Kees and Lynn's place. Louie went to sleep for a couple of hours and Stella and I read stories and had a quiet time, since I was still feeling pretty off-colour.

Stephan and Jasper were quite late home and I really needed to draft some cattle, so we fed the children, bundled them into the ute and went out to do the drafting just before dark. How do people manage with small children on farms? Maybe they get far more organised than we ever manage.

I wanted to get most of the cows off and away from the bulls, leaving just a few with #49 - there are one or two I'm pretty sure are pregnant, but I want to make sure I don't end up with them not in calf, even if I have to have them calving a little later than the others. Irene, for one. Irene's return date will be the 20th, so the other few can stay out with her and the bull until then and that will be the end of mating.

The cows which were until yesterday with #43 went into one paddock, the cows from #49's mob went into the adjacent one and the bull and his few went off in another direction. I'll mix the two cow mobs together tomorrow.

Sunday the 3rd
sheep small boy feeding ewe
girl feeding ewe

We managed to keep the three children safe and entertained all day long and in the late afternoon we all brought the sheep in ready to shear the lambs.

The children fed the ewes with maize - it took them a few attempts before they were brave enough to actually hold the maize for long enough for the sheep to nibble it from their hands, so the poultry had a snack as well.

Then Stephan got on with the shearing while the children sometimes watched.

Stella and Jasper helped with the wool, although rather a lot of it seemed to end up on the table back at the house! The wool has a lovely lustre and crimp when straight off the lambs, so I can see its attraction.

Jude and Roger finally came home when the shearing was nearly finished and we gratefully handed back all child-care responsibilities.

shearing children watching shearing
cows in long grass

Earlier in the day I'd mixed the two mobs of cattle, but left them grazing in a safe flat paddock, in case there were any arguments. After saying goodbye to Roger, who was heading back to Auckland, I went out and moved the cows and calves to the Big Back paddock, which hasn't been grazed for the weeks during mating. The Kikuyu has really taken off in the last two or three weeks.

Monday the 4th

Jude and the three children left this morning, naturally leaving behind all manner of belongings, which will eventually find their way back home.

Our Paradise Duck pair have returned home after moulting.


This evening I took a bag and some secateurs and headed out to the Big Back paddock to check on the cattle and do some more ragwort cutting. The cattle obviously haven't found all the grass yet - this is at the top of the hill, by the gate into the Middle Back paddock.

spring water running

Carrying on around and down the other side, one of the heifers ran past me and disappeared off to the right of the track. I followed to see where she'd gone and saw that they know exactly where to go for water - and this is one of the reasons we feel so very fortunate: after a long period of dry weather, when much of the rest of the country is suffering in drought conditions, we have ever-running water in places like this.

The water is coming out of one of the innumerable springs in the hill and forming pools from which the cattle can drink. We will eventually install a couple of troughs in this paddock, so they don't have to drink from shallow, sometimes muddied, pools but in the mean time they always have water available somewhere.

Tuesday the 5th

Another little wet area out the back, this one just over the fence in the Buselich Reserve. The major plant here is Raupō, a swamp plant known in many places as Bulrush. The plants are currently in flower - the upright brown heads can just be seen.

There is unfortunately also a lot of Mexican Devilweed growing amongst the native plants, a plant which grows well on this side of the farm, mostly in uncleared brush areas. The cattle don't eat it.

When I was little, my brother Bruce showed us how to make little wind-operated propellers with bits of dried Raupō we found on the beach, with a stiff bit of twig poked through the centre, held tightly between thumb and index finger. The Raupō blades dry to a flat or slightly concave shape on one side and a more rounded convex on the outside, often with a slight longitudinal twist. The best bits would spin so fast you could hear them whirr. It was only in the last decade that I found out what the live plant looked like, which produced those wonderful bits of beach entertainment.

Once upon a time, Raupō was used to thatch dwelling walls.

dry hills

The hills to the East are looking a little dry compared to our flats, although I suspect vastly greener than hills further down the country.

Wednesday the 6th
Waitangi Day
Gorse Spider Mite

I spent most of the day writing a Growing Today article, since I'm as tardy in meeting their deadlines as I am my own.

Later on I went out to do a couple of hours of Ragwort hunting and found this very active colony of Gorse Spider Mites. They are now present all over the farm and presumably they're doing some good wherever they inhabit the gorse bushes, but there aren't enough of them to really make much of an impact on the gorse's continual march across the landscape. They will colonise single bushes in the midst of great patches of gorse, rather than spreading over whole areas. They are, perhaps, not entirely suited to our environment.

Thursday the 7th

Another day of writing, with a bit of cattle-checking later in the afternoon. The article I'm writing now will appear in the April issue of Growing Today.