The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning 17th of January.
Saturday the 17th

Along the banks of the streams the Taurepo, Rhabdothamnus solandri are in flower. They flower throughout the year, but there seem to be a few more flowers blooming than usual, at the moment.

They're quite small, less than an inch in width.

I was in the Back Barn paddock crossing the stream when I found the flower, looking for some of the cows and heifers out with #60 bull. I eventually found the last of them, yearling heifer #561, sitting with the bull, with quite clear evidence of having had an exciting night! She was the heifer I first inseminated at the end of December, and as I thought would be the case, that insemination was not successful and the bull has done the job this time around.

a ride on the trailer

We took the children and Jude out to the Bush Flat paddock for some dam unbuilding, for the sake of an adventure. There are lots of corners in the streams where bits of driftwood, and in some cases whole trees, get caught up with each other and form partial dams, which need to be cleared out of the way so the water can flow freely.

While the children clambered around, Stephan cut big bits into small bits with the chainsaw, then we hauled them out of the river, sometimes by hand and sometimes using a chain pulled by the tractor, which was greatly entertaining for the children.


A leaf-veined slug (Athoracophorus bitentaculatus?) we found on one of the bits of wet wood.

After we'd cleared a corner of the stream, it was time to unpack the picnic and have some lunch. Then we went for a wander to check the stoat trap and have a look around in the bush for other interesting things.

Sunday the 18th
Stephan milking Imagen

Stephan started work with the help, perhaps, of two small boys, on the fence which was squashed a couple of years ago by the gradual collapse of the Puriri tree in the Pig Paddock. That involved some careful pruning of the tree where it has regrown and some cutting away of the dead bits, some of which were in the way of the fence being reinstated.

Ruth checking cows

The live bits of the tree were brought, on the tractor, to the House Paddock, where the children and I spread them out for the cows, who came rushing over for one of their favourite treats.

picking blackberries

Late in the afternoon Jude, the children and I went to the Camp paddock so they could pick blackberries and I could check the cows with bull #63.

One can never be sure what proportion of the picked blackberries ends up in the children. The containers rarely have much in them.

Isla and Jude

On our way back we stopped for a moment for the children to stroke Isla and for Jude to take some pictures.

Jasper eating blackberries

Jasper, still eating blackberries.

Monday the 19th

We swapped Jude, Stella, Jasper and Louie for Jill this morning. Jill's been looking after Jude's minute Chihuahua (dog?) while Jude has been visiting us, and she brought Cecil (the Chihuahua) up with her from Whangarei and put him straight into Jude's car to go home to Auckland again.

We don't welcome dogs here any more, mostly for the sake of the cats, who, while they took some time to even notice tiny Cecil, didn't like his presence at all when they did.

Imagen was on heat today and still standing firmly at midnight, so I'll inseminate her early in the morning.

Tuesday the 20th

Before six this morning we were out in the yards with Imagen. I used to do most of the inseminations on my own, but this year, since Stephan no longer has to be away anywhere working, he's been present at every one. Because I generally only do one or two inseminations at a time, and because the little shed at the yards gets extremely hot during the summer, I keep the semen bank in a cool shady place back near the house and carry each straw across to the yards when the time comes - generally on the bike, with the thawing jar in my shirt pocket. Meanwhile Stephan opens the shed so I can get in and prepare the straw and insemination gear, and drafts the cow up into the race ready for me to do the job, and keeps her calm if she's at all unsettled.

Imagen's straw for this insemination is unlike any other I've used in my cows: it came from an ugly great Jersey dairy bull. Sacrilege!!! A Jersey straw in a pedigree Angus cow? There are three reasons for this extraordinary choice: firstly, we want a good house cow and really Imagen shouldn't be one in the long term, but as she's an easy-milker (nice teats, fast flow, good temperament), she was the obvious choice for the mother of a deliberately-bred house cow prospect; secondly, I've not particularly liked either of Imagen's daughters because they've been lanky, rather scatty individuals, so she's not turned out to be the best Angus breeding cow in the world, and losing a year of her contribution to Angus breeding is therefore bearable; thirdly, our semen order was delayed and when I was chatting to Jess who was packing the straws, I asked, just for fun, if they had any sexed Jersey semen and they did.

The insemination felt good, so let's hope it worked, since that $90 straw was Stephan's Christmas present.

young turkeys

Someone must have left the gate open. There are young turkeys all over the place!

Actually I know who didn't latch the gate - it was the semen express! I time myself from putting the straw in to the water jar until I finish the insemination, just to ensure I get it all done in good enough time, so sometimes I don't stop to fiddle with the gate.

Jill heading off to hunt ragwort

Jill asked what she could do to help around the place, so we sent her off with a sack and some secateurs to hunt ragwort.

a restored wooden gate

There are a number of falling-down gates around the farm, so Stephan spent some time today doing general maintenance, beginning with rebuilding this one into the Pig Paddock over at the cattle yards. In its former state it wouldn't swing properly and had a broken top rail, after Bella's mother went over it last year. Stephan rebuilt it so it is higher and will thus discourage future attempts to leap over it. It also now swings around properly, which will make quite a difference to my ability to use it for drafting.

Stephan carrying out yard repairs

While he was in the yards, he got stuck into another problem area. The rails between one of the top two yards and the wider gathering yard at the bottom had rotted in places and the soil from the top yard had built up around the bottom edge, making a nastily boggy mess in the winter. He took all the old rails off, did some earth works to realign the ground and then replaced the rails with new timber.
We're giving serious thought to rebuilding the yards in a new, more convenient location, so don't want to do anything major to them at the moment. We'll always need some facilities here for loading cattle onto trucks and some veterinary visits, but it would be handy for many jobs to have yards nearer the middle of the main grazing areas.

Wednesday the 21st
Mary the annoying Paradise Duck

Mary appears to have replaced most of her body feathers, although her flight feathers are still ragged.

Thursday the 22nd

This Variegated Longhorn, Coptomma variegatum, was frantically moving around trying to free itself from a spider-web entanglement. I helped it by removing some web fragments from its back legs and it then set off across our living room floor toward the doors, where it flew up onto the glass, before we helped it to the open air.

a beetle a beetle

Spice had to go to the vet today, a visit we've been meaning to arrange for some time. She has something wrong with the pads on her feet, which initially looked like she'd burned them and then looked more like she had a fungal infection. She has been quite uncomfortable, so we need to get her fixed, or at least relieved of the discomfort. The vet couldn't identify the problem, so she's on antibiotics and steroids. Stephan, having pricked his band-sawed finger with a dead hedgehog's spine yesterday while trapping, making it swell to twice its normal size, is also on antibiotics. What a household.

I inseminated young Curly, Stella's favourite heifer, today. I used a really old bull's semen, an animal named Exclaim of Kaharau, which was born in 1976. I used him last year on Abigail, resulting in the birth of a heifer calf this year and to register the calves nowadays one must provide a sample of genetic material, usually tail hair follicles, of the sire. (Contemporary semen sires' samples are already held by the Angus Association, so I don't need to do anything about them.) To register Abigail's calf I needed to send a semen sample in, and the only way to do that was to thaw a straw. I chose Curly as the lucky recipient of that bull's semen this year and before inseminating her I put a little of the semen on a sample tab, so I can send it off in the mail.

Taurikura Irene would appear to be pregnant (hasn't come back on heat again since I inseminated her) so I have begun giving her a homeopathic remedy which might help her keep the calf alive this year. For four days I'll spray her twice a day (the spray has to go on mucous membranes, so either nose, or more conveniently in the paddock, vulva) and then she'll get it once a week for the next four months. I'll do the same for her daughters, when I know they're successfully pregnant too.

Will it work? I won't care either way if there's a healthy calf born in the spring. It's worth a try, particularly since the veterinary options don't guarantee success at higher than about 50%.

Friday the 23rd
470 in the shade

While looking for the cows with #60 bull today, I picked and pulled quite a bit of ragwort. It just keeps on appearing at this time of the year. However there's far less of it than there once was, with our determined efforts to eliminate it.

The weather is very hot, so these paddocks are lovely for the cows, with their large trees and patches of deeply cool shade beneath. It took me ages to spot 470 and some of the others, silently relaxing in the relative dark.

All sorts of newly-released news, some previously known, some not, has been coming out in the Angus world today, where I watch it on a US discussion forum. Nearly two and a half years ago a condition named Fawn Calf Syndrome was disclosed and before some quick editing was done on some discussion posts online, it was possible to work out which animals were being implicated as the carriers of the disorder, with the "most recent common ancestor" being a cow now publicly named as Freestate Barbara 871 of KAF, born in 1978. She appears, as does one of her named carrier sons, in the pedigree of Queenly 486 of Taurikura, my favourite cow purchase of 1999.

The disorder, named for the frail appearance of the calves born with the condition, which is also referred to as Heritable Muscle Contractures, affects the hind legs, preventing calves from standing or walking normally at birth. Many of the affected calves, if assisted as necessary at that stage, recover sufficiently to grow into reasonably normal-looking adults. The condition will affect their muscularity, so is a very undesirable problem in beef animals, and there is reported to be some indication that the affected animals may be predisposed to the premature onset of degenerative arthritis.

Late in the evening a post appeared from one of the scientists involved in all these recent disclosures, announcing the discovery of yet another problem! This one is in cattle of the same pedigrees as the AM disorder my bulls are currently being tested for, but has appeared in the progeny of animals which have been tested clear of AM and produces calves with hydrocephalus (water on the brain) along with a number of associated cranial abnormalities. It is another lethal recessive genetic disorder, as far as can be determined at this stage.