The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning 10th of January.
Saturday the 10th
591's face

I think I've figured out what is odd about 591. Look at his eyebrows - on his right side he has wrinkles over his eye, but on the left, his brow is much smoother. I think he has some sort of nerve damage causing muscle paralysis on his left side, affecting his ear and eye movements. His blinking and the control over his eye has been affected as well. Stephan and I watched him as he moved around the paddock and could see that his left ear just flops around as he walks; an ordinary ear is under the control of the animal during movement.

juvenile hedgehog

A juvenile hedgehog which was allowed to wander away on its own business, after being caught in a live-capture trap, just because it was cute. Unbelievable. Stephan's far too soft sometimes.

Hedgehogs, although I and most people I know have always thought them cute and harmless, are vicious little pests. They eat a lot of ground-dwelling creatures as well as bird eggs, and they'll even kill domestic poultry chicks in chicken runs!

They're sort of sweet though, just like weasels.

I inseminated 418 this evening, my lovely cow which possibly had undiscovered twins last year. I hope this year's pregnancy is successful.

Sunday the 11th
Stephan milking Imagen

Some people drive to the shop for milk, we drive to the cow. Imagen is out with the mating mob at the moment, until she comes on heat so I will know when to inseminate her. Every evening I have to manoeuvre her and Bella so I can trick Bella into coming out of the paddock away from her milk supply, so Imagen has some milk for Stephan to harvest in the morning. On most mornings Imagen still walks down to the house, but when she's too far away to hear Stephan calling her, it's easiest to go out to her.

Ruth checking cows

Every morning and last thing at night, I go around all the cows and look under their tails. I'm looking for changes in their vaginal mucous, which sometimes gives useful indications of their oestrus cycles. I make a lot of notes which go into a large document on the computer, which I regularly peruse during the mating season, for patterns in individual cows. Generally the patterns tell me more in retrospect, but I'm hoping that over time I'll begin to see things which enable me to anticipate the changes for which I'm watching. For instance, Abigail appeared to come on heat on Christmas day, but was only active for a short time. From my notes, I recognised that as a familial pattern and something she herself has done a couple of times before. I was therefore not surprised to see her come on heat properly on the second of January, when I inseminated her.

Demelza's daughter

Demelza's daughter, with a look not dissimilar to that of her brother, (who's also her paternal uncle) a couple of years ago.

a small beetle

This fascinating beetle flew in and landed near me this afternoon, so I followed it and got it to pose for a few photos. It's the cutest thing I've seen in a long time. What a gorgeous nose and that 'beetle green' sheen is fantastic.

It is standing on my thumb in this picture, so it wasn't a very big insect, but its shape was peculiar enough to attract my attention as it flew past.

I believe it may be Scolopterus penicillatus, a Black or Four Spined Weevil, a native nectar eater.

Stephan on the tractor, in the rain

Stephan built a wooden sun-roof over the top of the tractor a few days ago. He has been enjoying driving around in the shade and I bet he was glad of it at this moment too.

He was out putting a couple of posts in around Damian's grave, to hold the railings which will protect the little Pohutukawa tree we planted.

It didn't rain for long, but every little bit helps at this time of the year, especially when it's this wet.

During my 11pm check tonight #539 came on heat. She is a first-calf two-year-old and had retained birth membranes back in October, which we treated then with antibiotics. I thought at the time that she would quite likely have a delayed return to fertility, so I am very pleased to find the treatment was successful and that she's cycling right on time with everyone else.

Monday the 12th
Isla in the shade with her son

Queen Isla in the shade, while the others sit out in the sun. Her son is allowed in there with her, of course, but nobody else.

I had to move the mob mid-morning, to a paddock with trees for shade. Cows which get too hot won't show very active signs of being on heat and there's evidence that a cow which gets too hot on the days after insemination, is less likely to become pregnant.

cows on heat cows on heat

478 was in standing heat already and Imagen (33) appeared to be coming on. When they do this nose-to-tail circling, it's often quite hard to see which one is standing, or if both may be. Usually when there's so much activity, they are both properly on heat, but sometimes a cow will be very active in the day or two before her heat and so I need to be sure of who's doing what. It turned out that Imagen wasn't actually coming on, so while she continued to ride 478, she would not stand for 478 to ride her.

rubbed patches on a cow

349 (you can tell from her ear-tag, can't you?) was on heat yesterday and not only did her indicator get knocked off, but she lost patches of hair! This happens frequently in dairy herds, but not so often in a smaller mob. There was one other cow on heat at the same time and with 478 and Imagen also feeling frisky, there would have been a lot of riding activity.

I was working quietly at my computer this afternoon, when the internet connection dropped out. We've been having trouble with the telephone line for some time, caused, I thought, by the fact that our cable comes up out of the ground in the open air and gets wet whenever it rains. When things get really bad, I go over and re-do the connections and things improve for a while, but my recent attempts hadn't made much difference and I'd resigned myself to acceptance of a noisy telephone line and slow internet speeds.

I set out with my tools when the line failed this afternoon, but even at the shed there was no dial-tone. Over on the road and in the driveway of the empty house on the corner, I could see and hear some activity. Wandering around the corner I discovered a trio of men had dug great holes in the road and one was sitting in a hole making repairs to the telephone cable. Apparently there has been a fault in the cable for some time, and someone else up the road had been having as much trouble as we have lately and had eventually complained to the telephone company.

Two hours later not only was the main cable reinstated under the ground in a better state than it had been in for some time, but I'd had a bloke come to our shed and water-proof our bit of cable and extend it into the inside of the shed, so we won't have our own little problem any more either. I feel a bit like I've received a fabulous present! The scratchy, noisy line and slow internet speeds have been annoying me for so many weeks, that it's like Christmas all over again, having it all working properly!

While I was out messing around watching men working, Isla had been doing interesting things. When I got back to have a look at the cows, she was being aggressive, grunting at a couple of other hot cows as she followed them around, although there was no way she'd allow the others to attempt to mount her! I've seen her do this before: the last time I had her in the insemination mob, before I gave up and left her to the bulls for the last couple of years. She doesn't have an easy-to-spot heat, in that sometimes the only signs are this increased aggression toward the other animals. This time though she was producing loads of clear mucous when riding the others, so even though she's not standing for them, it's pretty clear she's on heat.

Ruth brushing Irene

Sometimes it is necessary to polish the cows.

I've just written a magazine article on taming cattle and we went out to take some pictures to send in with it.

Irene has a lovely smooth coat, and her tail switch is long and silky when brushed out.

I spend a lot of time brushing and stroking cows at this time of the year, while I watch the mob for signs of heat. Heat detection in a mob should generally take at least half an hour at a time, while one watches for signs of particular interest amongst the cattle. Grooming the cows is a nice way to spend that time and watch what's going on.

At 9pm when I went out for a last check before it got too dark to see, Isla's heat indicator on her back had gone red, so she must have stood for somebody sometime. We took the cows to the yards and inseminated 478 who was on heat earlier and active with Imagen. That's 24 cows inseminated so far.

By 11pm Isla had quietened down so we took her in and just after midnight I inseminated her. I hope I've got the timing right.

Tuesday the 13th

An early start this morning to inseminate the other cow which was hot yesterday evening, but which was still standing at midnight.

I went back to bed for the rest of the morning. All this intensive cow-watching gets very tiring. While I was sleeping, Demelza was up to something, but I couldn't decide if the signs I could see were significant. A partly-red indicator in a quiet cow with very little mucous isn't quite enough to say "must be inseminated now".

Tutu seedling on the stream bank

Tutu, Coriaria arborea. I keep finding small plants growing on the river banks. I used to think it washed down the stream as bits of tree which took root in the banks, but I suspect it's actually seed which travels down the streams and germinates. I pull them out and take them away with the ragwort when I find them, being a toxic plant for cattle.

Puriri seedlings

The little seedlings on the right are Puriri. (The fern growing in the container grew by itself - there must be a lot of spores floating around in my greenhouse and I find them growing all over the place when the potting mix has been kept damp.)
To the right of the little fern there are two fully emerged plants and at their base, a third from the same fruit is on its way out. Puriri fruit contain three seeds and quite often all three germinate. The other fruit, to their right, has produced only two seedlings so far.

There are Puriri on the farm growing in very close pairs and I wonder if they have grown from the same fruit and both survived to maturity. I'll separate these ones and pot them singly to grow them up until they're ready to plant out.

an evening skyline

I had a call from the trucking company to say they'd take a couple of the heifers away tomorrow, so I went out the back, found them in the Big Back paddock, and brought them and three companions to the yards. It was while I was setting up an overnight water supply that I took this picture of the skyline over the peninsula. The star is, I think, Venus.

The tallest tree at the left of the picture is the Northern Rata of which I'm so fond. It is such an obviously ancient tree.

Wednesday the 14th

The two heifers went off without any fuss. One was #52, who'd had that flurry of attention from four amorous bulls a couple of weeks ago and the other was #544, a favourite last year, but who'd failed to get in calf when she had the chance and because she was in a good-looking state to go to the works and I need to cut numbers, I decided she could just go. These two went all the way to South Auckland as 'retail', so they'll end up on supermarket shelves in the coming days.

children, running

My sister Jude and the three children arrived for a few days' stay this afternoon. Stella and Jasper were full of energy, so we sent them out to race back and forth from the garden gate to the trough across the paddock.


591 appears to have regained control of his ear!

It was a bit of a gamble to leave him to come right on his own, since I couldn't be absolutely sure of my diagnosis, but my guess seemed the most likely cause of his problem and the calf appears to be almost fully recovered.

Friends Allie and Bloo came over for dinner from their block around in the other valley and apart from the ongoing fuss made by some naughty children who wouldn't settle to sleep, we had a very nice social evening. At just after 10pm I entertained our visitors by letting them watch while I inseminated Ranu 31. We lay it all on for our guests, I can tell you.

Thursday the 15th
Louie, Jasper and Stella

Swimming time, but first you have to have a look to see if there are any monsters lurking in the water. Stella told us she'd seen tampons swimming in the pond, but we're pretty sure she actually meant tadpoles.

It took a while, but we eventually had all the children in the water, firstly riding in the laps of Mummy and Aunty, and then Louie, who's just three, launched himself off into the water and floated away in one of the tires on his own. Stella got brave enough to jump off the jetty as long as she could catch my feet as soon as she hit the water, but I gradually floated a little further away, so she had to do a bit of swimming on her own. It was fun to watch her confidence building with each jump.

picking blackberries

Stephan and the children set out to pick blackberries in the warm evening. Being late in the day, little Louie was pretty tired and so he just stopped where he was. I went off to do my work, so didn't see whether he finally got up and walked, or if he just waited to be collected. Stephan was carrying a lot of blackberries as I passed, so Louie's chances didn't look particularly good. The gate is back down by the black trough, toward which Jasper was walking, Stella having already walked home.

Friday the 16th
stroking Squiggles

This is Squiglet, Ivy's small daughter. Because she was starved as a calf because Ivy was past being able to raise her well, she was too small to sell at weaning. And because she spent most of her calf-hood as a single calf with her mother, she became very unapproachable and since she will have to stay here for some time, I have been working to reverse that tendency.

I started by getting her hooked on calf mooslie a few weeks ago when I was trying to teach Bella to eat it. When Squiggles had her head down in the container, I scratched and stroked her neck, until she didn't flinch when I touched her. I can now touch her in the paddock without her moving away.

The one thing I'm supposed to be training myself away from is sentimentality in farming! That's what I'm told and mostly I'm getting better at it. Not because I don't want to be fond of my animals, but if I want to breed a good herd, I have to be prepared to let go those which are not going to make a positive contribution to the improvement of the farm's population. I don't know whether Squigles is up to the mark or not and I don't know if, even if she is, she'll ever actually look like it, having had such a poor start, but because I am still a sentimental farmer, I shall probably keep her for long enough to find out. I have chosen not to keep some other of Ivy's daughters, but Squigles is the last there'll ever be and she's also a combination of Ivy and Irene's genetics, and I'd like to see if that might mean something good.

One of the reasons I culled her elder sister was for her temperament and if Squiglet wasn't capable of becoming rather more tame than she has been until now, I wasn't actually going to keep her around for long either. However, she does seem to be responding to my attentions, so having seized the chance offered to her in that way, she may stay.

I drafted another ten cows out of the insemination mob today and put them with the other yearling bull, Abigail's son #63.

Stephan making Blackberry Jelly

Stephan has been making jelly from the blackberries he picked yesterday.

He and I have a couple of sort of competitions going on, although you might think they're rather one-sided. He has to make enough jelly that I don't run out of it before he makes more the next season - and this year he almost won, in that I ate the last bit of blackberry jelly on Boxing Day and the berries were nearly ripe again on the bushes. The other race is to the end of the firewood each winter. The problem is that if I "win" it means there wasn't enough, so if I lose, we both win, because then there was enough and we stay warm.

We don't have much entertainment out here; we make our own. We think we're funny, which is sufficient for our own amusement, so it works.