The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 25th of July 2009.
Saturday the 25th
R3 529

Skinny heifer 529. 529 is an R3 pregnant (I hope, still) second calver. Her mother is further down the page, an equally thin sort of animal. They're really good-looking animals as calves and yearlings, and the steers finish really well for beef, but as soon as they start their productive breeding life, they get thin.

I'd rather have cows which easily remain in better condition, but this family continues to get in calf, produce good calves and give me little cause for any worry other than their general appearance, so they stay.

Dotty and a lamb

Dotty, in the foreground, and one of her last year's lambs, both have some sort of fleece-rot over their backs. Dotty's part-Suffolk, and Suffolk wool is very dense and crinkly, compared with the looser, longer, more open Romney wool of her flock-mates. Being so dense, the wool doesn't dry as well as on the other sheep and is a nice home for whatever fungi like to grow in warm wet wool.


When our fire is very hot and burning slowly, sometimes we see this - where the only bright flames are where the air is coming in through the almost-closed inlet holes. It's fascinating to watch.

We're very fortunate in having acres of Kanuka (Tea tree) growing on our hillsides and the clearing of those areas to restore them to grass-growing also yields the benefit of piles of excellent firewood.

Sunday the 26th

Jane phoned us in great excitement this morning to say there were some little pigs in her paddock. We unlocked the rifles - the .22 for me and the .303 for Stephan (in case there were some larger adults with the piglets) and off we went. There were four of them, little wee things which ought still to have been with their mother - I wonder if their mother was the pig caught by the boys last week?

I shot and killed one of them, but the others trotted quickly off into the bush and it's not possible to stalk things very quietly in that bush, so we left them to it. They'll come out again sometime.

pine pollen

After lunch, we took the rifles with us for a walk around the back of the farm, but didn't see any pigs.

What we did see, in great clouds, was pollen coming out of the pines behind the farm. There's pine pollen sitting on everything at the moment - all over the ute, the roof, the water in the troughs ...

488, mother of 513

This is 488, mother of 613, whose photo I took last week. They both have facial hair which grows up their foreheads to a very high, upright fringe. They are currently the only family in the herd with that feature.

Ruth weed-wiping rushes

After our unsuccessful pig-hunting walk, Stephan went off to clear a fenceline up the Big Back boundary and I took the weed-wand and went off in pursuit of rushes, sedge and rat-tail weed.

I was listening to an interview on the radio with a photographic biographer who commented that while pictures tell a lot of stories of people's lives, it is often interesting to "see" what isn't in the photographs - the things the subjects are looking at, the events they're obviously involved in which aren't pictured, and so on. She also commented that in most families there is a "camera nut" who takes the majority of the family photos, so that person is generally missing from the family's pictorial record. I promptly put the camera on the ground and made it take a picture of what I was doing right then.

Monday the 27th
frond spores

Out on the road where I walked this morning, I found a tree-fern frond which must have fallen in the big wind in the weekend. The brown powder under the frond is the spores it has released since it fell. On my way back home past this spot, I collected some of the spores on a leaf and took them back to my greenhouse. They're now on some moist seed-raising mix in a container.

little pigs

I went out weed-wiping again this afternoon and as I wandered around the Camp paddock, I became aware of some movement under the big Puriri trees by the river. The little piglet family we saw and tried to eliminate yesterday, had come out into the open again. What you see when you don't have a gun!
I crept closer to the piglets and while they occasionally heard my movement and one pricked up its ears and looked like it would like to run away, they were so intent on their rooting in the grass that my presence hardly disturbed them.

I walked home and got out the rifle and was back in about ten minutes and snuck up on them again, from the other side, so that my shooting would have a hill back-drop, rather than the heifers which are over in the Windmill paddock.

If you'd rather not see the next picture of them, click here to skip down the page.

dead pigs

I discovered there were three piglets, the smallest of which was right under the trees, rooting around in the loose leaf matter.

I doubt that the smallest piglet would have survived for very much longer without his mother (they were all boars), being already very thin. The other two were a little fatter, but didn't look like they were thriving on their own.

Even tiny pigs like these make a significant mess of the pasture and it doesn't take them very long to grow up and become increasingly destructive.

If you're scrolling up and would rather not look at dead piglets, click here to skip up the page.

view from Honeymoon Valley trig

After some months without any paid NZ Kiwi Foundation trapping work, two of Stephan's runs have been reinstated. Stephan was a bit nervous of the nine hour walk around the Honeymoon Valley block, which involves some significant climbs, having not done it for so long, but came back feeling reasonably fit and comfortable. The picture above is one he took from the trig somewhere in the middle of the walk. The sea is Doubtless Bay on the east coast and the headland is Knuckle Point at the eastern end of the Karikari Peninsula.

I came in at 6.10pm this evening, with still just enough light to ride the bike without the light on. I really enjoy this aspect of this part of the year - every day's evening is just a little bit longer than the last.

Tuesday the 28th

Sniff and Darren came for a hunt this evening and decided the ground was dry enough to drive beyond the end of the metal. Then there was a little rain and when they tried to leave, they got their ute stuck. I spotted them in the dusk, walking back down the track to ask Stephan to take the tractor out and pull them out of their sticky spot. By the time they all drove back in, it was really very dark.

We're really enjoying the relatively firm ground conditions in this winter which is far drier than last. The rainfall for the month has been only 80% of the long-term average so far (166mm to date). But it's still not quite dry enough to go everywhere!

Wednesday the 29th
the wet track

Last night's 12.5mm of rain wet things again and filled up all the hollows in the track. When I'm quietly following cattle along the tracks, or feel so inclined, I do a little road building - gathering the rocks which have been scattered to the edges of the track and filling up the soft holes in the road-way.

It has become obvious since things have been wet and the ground softer, where the problem areas in the tracks are, where the metal was spread too thinly or required more than in other places.

ewe and lamb

We won't have any lambs to delight you with this year, so when I saw some ewes with their babies on our way home from town this afternoon, I took some pictures.

I had been to town to consult my Melanoma surgeon, who told me he feels no need to chop any more of my face out after seeing the results from the bit he removed a few weeks ago. That's great; I'm glad I had him check and even happier that there is no problem.

heifers on the bridge

The yearling heifers, crossing the bridge to go to the Pig Paddock. I grazed the new grass in the Pig Paddock with the sheep the first time and it has come away again very nicely since then. Things are, as usual, getting a bit short on the grass front, but not as early this year, with a better winter and less stock on the farm.

Thursday the 30th

I had taken the bulls to the yards last evening because #49 was to go to the works this morning. I also took Isla and Imagen to spend the night next to them, because I want bull #60 to quietly join them afterwards.

I went over to check they were all alright early this morning, closed a gate to separate #49, since he was standing right where I needed him to be, and was going to return with his paperwork a little later. When I did come back, just after 11am, expecting to wait for a little while for the truck (since they're often up to an hour late), the bull wasn't there! There were the usual wheel marks on the ground where the truck had already been and gone. Usually we hear the trucks and go to the yards to assist with loading - and to take the necessary forms if I've not already left them for the truck driver. Stock are not supposed to be uplifted without the appropriate Animal Status Declaration form, but these guys will still take them. I then had to go and mess around getting a proxy form organised for the bull so it could be faxed down to enable him to go through the works process without any delay.

#60 and Isla

I put #60 in the race and gave him his copper injection, he being the last animal due for one, and let him out with Isla and Imagen. They all seemed pretty quiet together. I've reduced the mobs by one by doing this, as well as giving the young bull some company.

These two are the bull on the left, and Isla, enjoying a snack on some fallen epiphyte leaves under the Puriri Tree in the driveway.

Ruth and Stephan

Kaitaia Vets CEO, Greg, has been inserting a Board Member profile in the monthly practice newsletter and asked if I'd write him something about me, and send him a photo. The heifers were conveniently waiting by the gate while I figured out where to put them next, so they provided an appropriate background.

#72 just behind me is Athena, Isla's daughter. She's one of the not-pregnant R2 heifers - a few of them weren't quite up to weight last year at mating time, so they've spent an extra year growing and will go into the breeding herd this season.

When I'd finished that bit of photography, I took the heifers out to the flats again. Those to the right of this line have already entered the paddock and the rest are still walking along the lane between Flat 5 and Flat 3 paddocks.

view from Flat 5
pig diggings

This rather large bit of digging was presumably done by a pig and probably not very long before I arrived here. I was walking down the Big Back paddock, as I checked on the pregnant heifers. There was some noise which could well have been porcine feet off in the bushes just beyond this point, but there were also three more heifers a little further down the slope, so I can't be sure who or what made the noise.

cleared fenceline

This is one of the fencelines Stephan has been clearing - knocking down the previously-sprayed gorse.

As some of my photography is commented upon by some of my readers (in a constructive and helpful manner, of course) I would like to note that I am inclined to leave the colours in my pictures very much as they are - for instance the light out the back when I took these two photos, was very orangey because it was almost dusk. This is very much how it appeared to me then.

Friday the 31st

Stephan had to go to town today to renew his Firearms Licence, so he picked up the Leptospirosis Vaccine which I need to get into the cattle. We vaccinate them annually for Lepto (after a double shot sensitiser and booster in the first year) partly for their protection because Lepto can cause abortions, but mostly for the protection of ourselves and any other people who have to work closely with our cattle. Leptospirosis is a debilitating illness in humans and there is no human vaccination against it, so we do what we can to reduce our risks of picking it up. Most dairy herds are vaccinated these days and increasing numbers of beef herds are also now covered.


This is 418, the cow which had the abscess in her top lip which we had to have drained by the vet. Her muzzle still looks a little uneven, but she seems fine. I always think she has a very pretty face.


Abigail, Isla's first daughter, in mid-cry. Standing in front of a cow who's yelling like this can be pretty deafening! They'll call usually about half a dozen times, then stop. Goodness knows what they're saying, since in this situation Abigail is still with her mob, coming back the same way they came an hour or so before. Maybe they always know exactly where the other members of the wider population are and need to tell them they're on their way back again. Maybe they just enjoy singing.


Here is 367, mother of skinny 529 at the top of the page. You may see a bit of white-ish stuff on her neck, which is some very thick pus and inflamed tissue coming out of an abscess on her neck. I was about to inject her vaccine and noticed the large lump and mucky stuff in her hair, so stopped and gave it a squeeze to see if I could make it better. I very nearly lost my lunch! Cow pus is extraordinarily thick and squeezing lumps of it into one's hand is not entirely pleasant.


On my third squeeze, a large black thing came out into my hand and on washing it off, I discovered it was a splinter of tree bark. A couple of other little bits came out after it as well. In retrospect I ought to have flushed the wound out with an appropriate fluid, but I sprayed the whole area with iodine, right up into the hair above the wound.

The piece of bark is about an inch and a half long (3.5cm).

The cows very much enjoy itching their necks violently up and down on tree trunks. 367 may have had an itchy reaction to her recent copper injection site and perhaps a bit of tender skin where a splinter could enter, or it was just her bad luck. I'll watch her over the next few days to ensure she's feeling well and that the wound resolves.