The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning 21st of February.
Saturday the 21st

No good deed goes unpunished. Having agreed to inseminate someone else's two cows a few miles down the road, I took delivery of some semen straws to the bank I have here. When we pulled one out this morning and thawed it, the name printed on the straw wasn't of the bull we expected. At 6am I don't think terribly clearly, so we (cow owner and I) discussed it for a moment and decided to go ahead with the insemination on the assumption that someone had sent us the wrong bull, but that it was likely to be of the right breed. We didn't want to miss this heat and have to wait another three weeks, as well as having wasted a straw.

And so I committed the cardinal sin of the inseminator: put a straw not properly identified into a cow.

I put the name of the bull into an internet search engine when I came home and it wasn't the right breed at all. It was definitely a very wrong breed for the cow it was in. The cow owner and I then discussed what next and have decided that the cow, if pregnant, will need to be injected by the vet to dislodge that pregnancy so she can be inseminated with the correct bull.

This afternoon we took the semen bank back to its usual home and with the help of Brian who has the liquid nitrogen reserve, we carefully lifted the canisters of straws from the bank into a container of nitrogen, then swilled the liquid from the bottom of the bank out into a large polystyrene box, to discover a number of loose straws. Four of them were the straws I'd put into the bank for the cows down the road and there were also a lot of Greg's straws (it's Greg's bank) as well.

The straws I'd mislaid had come in a "vapour shipper" bank, in which they're kept cold by immersion in a very little liquid Nitrogen, but mostly maintained in its vapour. I had transferred the plastic sleeve containing the straws very carefully into my bank, but had not anticipated that because the sleeve wasn't full of liquid Nitrogen when it went in, it might float out of the canister as I lowered it back into the body of the bank, which is apparently what happened. Unfortunately there was another insert with the right colour and number of straws in the canister and I mistakenly thought they were the ones I'd newly placed there.

The straws need to be kept immersed in the liquid Nitrogen to ensure no thawing. It is permissible to quickly transfer straws from one place to another through the air, but there's always the risk of thermal shock to the semen within and if one fumbles or drops something, the sperm cells may be damaged or killed. This afternoon I was able to get hold of single straws and read their printing by holding them just below the surface of the liquid Nitrogen in the wide polystyrene box, thus identifying them and being able to put them back into the correct coloured plastic sleeves without lifting them out into the warm air.

Sunday the 22nd

The Two-spined Spider, Poecilopachys australasiae. I keep finding them around the garden and there are half a dozen of the egg sacs suspended under the leaves of various plants.

Two-spined spider Two-spined spider
Two-spined spider Two-spined spider
Two-spined spider Two-spined spider

These two pictures are of a hatched egg sac, with some of the tiny spiders still clustered together nearby. I think they were a couple of days old at this stage. When first hatched they all hung together in a bundle beside the sac.

Tuesday the 24th

Yesterday we went to collect an expected guest from the bus, but he wasn't there. Today he arrived in town. This guest is not one I wish to dwell on very much because his stay proved to be an exceptionally annoying and expensive experience. We were asked to host him while someone else sorted out his visa status, which turned out to be far more longstandingly illegal than we first thought. The young man, 21-going-on-14, arrived without luggage, without, as it turned out, much honesty or initiative but with an excess of manipulative charm. His name, for later reference, is Mauro.

The rather more satisfying happening today was the long-awaited completion of our roof. Some years ago we employed a man to replace the leaking tiles we'd first used on our house when recycled materials were all we could afford. The guy came and did about two thirds of a day's work, then suddenly announced he had to go off and finish another job and that was the last we ever saw of him. This afternoon we have a finished job, well done, by someone who obviously took pride in doing a good job. If you're in need of a plumber or roofer in the Far North, I'm happy to pass on his details.

Wednesday the 25th
506 530

These two went off to Auckland today. On the left is 506, first daughter of 418 and Arran 20. She calved as a two-year-old but then didn't get pregnant again and has taken a very long time to regain condition. I've liked her as a personality always, but she's not up to the job required of her here.
On the right is Bella's mother, 530, who was the last cow to calve this season and then tried to kill Bella as soon as she was born. 530 was a cheeky, bouncy yearling and I really liked her, but her behaviour at calving was completely unacceptable and I don't consider it worth the risk to give her another chance.

seeding ragwort

I am an occasional trespasser. I took this photo just before I cut and bagged the ragwort seeds in the foreground, to prevent any more of them being blown over the fence in the background, which is the boundary between us and our upwind, upstream neighbours who don't bother to control their weeds!
The law requires people to control weeds like ragwort and gorse, but the Regional Council which is the body capable of enforcing it, doesn't. Our neighbours have not responded positively to our requests that they eliminate their ragwort, so when I see it, I do it myself.

Thursday the 26th
truck spreading lime

Ryan came today with a couple of truckloads of lime. Rain is forecast in a couple of days, so it's good to get some on the paddocks, ready to be washed off the grass and into the ground.

lime dust in the distance

The lime is very fine this year, but fortunately the conditions were near-perfect, with very little wind to blow the light stuff away.

truck spreading river metal

Then we had a couple of truckloads of river metal (gravel) spread along the lane at the bottom of the Windmill paddock.

This is a job we've told ourselves we'd do "one day if we win Lotto". But after last winter's hideous wetness and the huge effort of getting around the place through the boggy mud, I calculated that we could afford to have a few loads of metal spread on the tracks to make our lives easier. This feels a bit like an investment in farm antidepressant treatments: many people were quite traumatised by the awfulness of last winter and this is one way to reduce some of the stress should the rains come early and continue again this year.

Richard's birthday party

Stephan's eldest brother Richard, seated at the front, turned 60 this week, so the family who are in the area gathered this evening to celebrate the milestone with him.

Gathered behind Richard from left to right are: cousin Christina, Stephan, Ruth, Dan (Christina's partner), Elizabeth and William, and Rachel. Edwin and Andrew are the other two brothers not present. Their order of birth was Richard, Elizabeth, Stephan, Edwin, Rachel and Andrew.

Friday the 27th
newly-metalled track

Ryan came with more Lime this morning in such still air that when he spread it, he had to keep stopping to wait until the dust cleared so he could see where he was going.

Soon after he'd begun his work, a metal truck arrived and continued spreading the tracks and by the end of the day we'd gone all the way up here (the same track I photographed the other day to show the recent Kikuyu growth) and on down to the first river crossing!

a warty face

561 has a striking case of warts. I hope they'll be self-limiting or she'll end up looking like 363 did years ago, with a golf-ball sized wart hanging under her chin. They are of no great consequence, as far as I know, and generally go away on their own, although sometimes I've used a bit of iodine to help them on their way.

Rain stopped our metal spreading job this afternoon and we won't be able to start again until the tracks dry out again afterwards. Now we've started, I've become greedy for more, so the trucks will be back.