The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 19th of September 2009.
Saturday the 19th

We drove for an hour and a quarter to the Pakaraka Hall, near where State Highway 1 and 10 (from the Bay of Islands and East Coast) meet, for the Biodiversity Northland Seminar.

John Innes presented a session entitled Restoring Resilience of Indigenous Forest Remnants, which I found particularly interesting, comparing the recovery or maintenance of various sized forest remnants under differing management - fenced or not, pest-controlled or not. Numbers of seedlings, saplings, invertebrates and pests were counted and reported, leaf-litter was weighed and the decomposition measured in various different types of forest and forest remnants and bird nesting success was monitored with varying levels of pest control.

Most of the speakers were very good, presenting really interesting material and it was good to meet up with some people we hadn't seen in a while and meet some others we only knew before by name. We met up with Geof who used to live in Kohukohu and ran the best burger bar in the north, and provided regular early-morning coffees for Stephan when he used to do the North Hokianga Topmilk delivery run. Geof now publishes Town and Country, a mid-north local paper. Crispin Caldicott introduced himself, which was a very nice surprise, since I've been enjoying occasionally reading his articles in Rurual Living, a monthly paper which comes to our mailbox.

Steve Allan demonstrating his pest traps

During the lunch break, Steve Allan, whose name I first heard when Stephan brought home some traps he'd designed and produced, demonstrated his latest trap design - the latest version of the one we saw early this year at the FNOG AGM.

I picked up a flier after a presentation from a woman who runs which asks: Have you seen a Kākā today? Apparently Kākā, Nestor meridionalis, a large native parrot, are regularly seen around the Auckland region and occasionally around Northland and Coromandel as well. If you see Kākā, please email, who "would like to know your name and contact details, the date of your Kākā sighting, the time, accurate location, number of Kākā, as well as their activity and behaviour (flying, foraging, roosting etc.)". She'd also like to know "the tree species where the Kākā was active (e.g. feeding in Puriri), direction of arrival/departure, how long you observed and the weather at the time."

Sunday the 20th
rabbit remains

I'm fairly sure Spice (the cat) is responsible for this: the fur of a rabbit and a tail, which I spotted in the middle of the track this morning. We find these left-overs on the kitchen floor very regularly, after Spice has been out for a couple of nights, presumably sitting next to a newly discovered rabbit hole. She eats a rabbit, then doesn't eat anything for the next 24 hours and sits around looking very fat.


517, a formerly shy individual who let me brush and scratch all the way down her neck today because she's covered in ticks.

That odd-looking patch on the left side of her tail-head is bald, where the hair came out as I scratched and pulled at it. Both her sisters have a similar skin problem there. On lots of the cows the hair comes off in the same way in the little dip between tail and pin bones. It is as if there's some sort of fungal activity which makes the skin damp and the hair matted and it then pulls out very easily. I'm not worried about it, but it means some of them have bald bits at this time of the year.

female Putangitangi on the river bank

Every time I go through the Windmill Paddock the male Putangitangi starts dashing about and I hear his mate down in the river calling her alarm cry to her chicks. When I look for her, she's usually standing on this little point on the bank and the chicks are in the stream. There are lots of spots out of the water where they obviously spend some time - ducks of all varieties leave quite a bit of messy evidence of their presence!

Stephan brushing Imagen

Stephan came with me for my nightly wander over to Isla, Imagen and Irene, to give them their magnesium and we both took grooming brushes. It's time Stephan resumed his acquaintance with Imagen, since within a few short weeks he'll be crouching at her udder with a bucket every day.

This evening there was light rain, and it was a very warm night, so when I sat in my office with the bright light on, there were repeated soft-sounding bumps on the window, as Puriri moths, Aenetus virescens, threw themselves at the glass. I recently saw a close-up picture of a wing taken by Ruud Kleinpaste, the "bugman" of NZ television fame, who now also writes in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine, so thought I'd have a go at a bit of close photography myself.

Puriri Moth Puriri Moth
Puriri Moth

(That little © sign at the bottom of the photo is a reminder to anyone who likes the look of any of my pictures, that if you wish to copy them for anything other than your own personal use, you must ask me first! I make this note having recently had an unpleasant encounter with a very pugnacious photographer who argued that she could copy something from my site and use it on hers because I didn't state that it was copyright. As the creator of the material herein, under NZ law I do not have to assert my copyright: it is a given. However, I began this site and continue it because I am willing to share information, so please feel free to ask.)

Puriri Moth

I rather liked this one - like some sort of all-terrain-vehicle, making its way across an alien plain, with the moon in the sky above. The moon is the reflection of the camera flash in the office window behind. I was very pleased to discover that I could use the flash so successfully, while also using the manual focus at very close range.

Tuesday the 22nd
dog prints

Since I moved the heifers yesterday evening, an uncontrolled dog has come through our farm. I am not happy.

I was walking out to draft a few of the cows out of the main mob, so they can graze on the flats where I can keep a closer eye on them and begin their magnesium supplementation.

I brought five cows in, much to their dissatisfaction in being separated from the others. Because I inseminated most of the cows and because when we did the pregnancy testing we also aged the foetuses, I am able to predict with some accuracy when the calves will arrive. I have a spreadsheet I use from year to year, with all the cows listed with mating dates, usual gestation lengths and the calculated birth dates for this year. While the average gestation for my cows is 279.3 days for heifers and 280.8 days for bulls, some of the cows have shorter gestation averages than others - a range of 275 to 287 in the cows which have had more than a couple of calves with that data collected. Thus grey 529, whose own first calf last year was born at 273 days and whose mother's gestation average is 277, will join the early maternity mob sooner than the average gestation would indicate she might.

Wednesday the 23rd
cows having molasses and magnesium

The molasses and magnesium routine begins. The cows get approximately 20g of Magnesium Oxide (MgO) each day, which I first mix into a little water, then mix into molasses. I used to stir the powder straight into the molasses, but that took ages and was a tedious way to get the job done.

heifers having molasses and magnesium

The heifers get theirs at the same time, at the other end of the paddock - they're electric-taped into separate halves. I put out enough separate containers for the number of cows in each mob, but they can take a while to figure that out - and then there are sometimes bullies who try to get more than their share!

Thursday the 24th
hen turkey

Madam Turkey has a nest somewhere on the river bank and comes out mid-morning for a feed and walk around. She flies up onto the chicken coops outside my office window for a stretch, I think.

Paradise Ducklings

There was a flood overnight after some very heavy rain yesterday afternoon, so I was pleased to see that the ducklings were still all together on the river.

Manuka flower

The Manuka is in flower. Some of the trees have flowers of this delicate pink.

Manuka flowers

But most are white.

regrowth of undergrowth in a reserve area

This is the area under the fenced Puriri trees in Flat 4, which has now been fenced off from the cattle for ... some years - I can't find any reference to when we did it, although I'm quite sure I took photos, so presumably wrote about it in here.

Today was the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Kaitāia Veterinary Services Incorporated (KVS), on whose board I sit. As is the case with many (most?) Incorporated Society AGMs, the number of member attendees was not sufficient for the quorum, and people had to be phoned and asked to attend so the meeting could proceed. It's a real pain that most people don't think to come, bearing in mind that for the KVS to operate as a vet club, with its attendant membership benefits, its membership must meet once a year to approve the annual accounts, elect its board representatives and make sure things are going as they should. We don't even require anyone to volunteer to do anything, because nominations for board members must be put forward in advance, so there's no danger that you'll suddenly have a job! The meeting is generally done and dusted within a little over half an hour and there's usually a cuppa and biscuits to follow, so it's not really a big ask to have people come along. We're going to have to come up with a plan to motivate the rest of the membership to actually fulfil some of their responsibilities. Lots of them come to the free annual dinner ... maybe we'll have to hold the two events together.

As we left the meeting, the rain started to fall again, becoming very heavy as I was driving home. For about an hour it simply fell out of the sky, at about 25mm/hour, which is pretty heavy rain. Within an hour of the heavy rain easing, the river out the front began to come up through the field drain and then over the next few minutes, it steadily increased its flow, until the river was flowing into our pond and then on and out the other side down the driveway! We had to rescue the tyre tubes (swimming floats), the bridge to the island (a length of 10x2 timber) and various other bits of environmental paraphernalia which were about to float off down the driveway and into the flooded river.

flooding flooding

In this picture Stephan had just opened the gate into Jane's place so the water wouldn't break it open.

We haven't seen this big a flood for a long time - it was a little higher than this in 2007 when we got stuck in Whangarei, evidenced by the mud in the trough over the other side of the river, which in this flood didn't go under.

Friday the 25th
Ella carrying molasses to the heifers

Ella came in on the plane this morning, to stay for a few days and have "Daddy time".

She came out with me this afternoon to give the cows and heifers their molasses and magnesium. She's pretty good with the stock - I can see she's a little intimidated by them at times, but she's calm and holds still when I tell her to.

The ninth annual Isla's Calving Date Competition is now OPEN. Click on the link to enter.

Isla Isla

These photos were taken on Thursday.