The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 5th of December 2009.
Saturday the 5th
native bees

By the side of the road there are clay banks in the sunshine, which are a popular nesting area for little native bees.

On the left is a flying bee, and toward the top right, the back end of a bee busily burrowing into the bank, creating a pile of freshly excavated clay and sand below her new home.
I watched her from the start - she decided upon the spot, then started to dig her way into the bank. As I watched, she burrowed further and further in, pushing the soil out behind her as she went, until she disappeared altogether.

There were hundreds of bees buzzing around the bank in the sunshine.

Onion Orchid

A little further along I started keeping an eye out for orchids. Kevin Matthews tells me I'm likely to find them flowering on the roadsides at this time of year. I didn't find any of the type he'd specifically mentioned, but I did find a large number of these Onion Orchids, of the same type we have growing on the Puriri log with the lovely Sun Orchid at home.

Road Flat paddock

Around the corner the heifers were all sitting in the sunshine, but happily got up and followed me across the paddock to the river crossing. The paddock isn't properly tidied up, but this is as good as it's going to get with a mob of youngsters. When it has greened up again, I'll put some animals back in for another go.

Sunday the 6th

We spent most of the day at Takahue Hall, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Far North Organic Growers Inc. Some of the founding members are still active in the group and a few of the others attended the occasion. There was much reminiscing and later a discussion on future plans for the organisation and its membership.

Wild Carrot Wild Carrot

A plant most local people call Carrot Weed is prolific at this time of year - that white stuff I've been trying to keep under control in our paddocks. This afternoon I noticed a similar, but in many respects quite distinct, plant growing near one of our gateways: on the left, real Wild Carrot, with its hairy stems. I must have seen this plant regularly in my childhood, it seems so familiar. On the right is the common plant which grows in all the pastures, Dropwort Parsley, smooth stemmed, with smaller flowers and slightly different leaf structure.


Zella's first night out of the paddock. We've not been getting much milk from Imagen and Zella is getting too fat for her little Jersey frame.

Imagen, Isla and calf, watch from the House Paddock.

Monday the 7th
Zella in the lane

I erected some tape last evening to keep Zella up the other end of the lane, hoping Imagen would stand over near her and bellow, rather than down by the gate near the house. I think it worked reasonably well, although they both mooed for each other for much of the night, while I slept with ear-plugs.


Early this morning Spice brought a friend home for breakfast, but then changed her mind.

During the day I saw the little rabbit coming out to nibble the lawn from under one of the chicken cages, but next morning, there was rabbit all over the kitchen floor.

a large frog

Neither of us have seen such a large frog for some time. It was sitting in the bottom of the little pond Stephan is repairing. It made its way out and away, but from the noises emanating from under the deck a few minutes later, Finan helped it to a different destination than we would support. Damned cat.

Frog screams are a very distinctive sound. I once discovered a frog on the ground screaming at the cat which obviously wanted to eat it, before the cat had even touched it. The delay saved its life in that case, because I was able to rescue it. But anything Finan drags under the deck is beyond our help. We intend blocking it off because one day I foresee it could be Finan himself who needs help and we won't be able to get to him.

We despatched the last two Muscovy Ducks this morning, because they have an inconvenient habit of suddenly flying very low over the driveway, which has caused some dangerous situations with the cattle. Being about to bring 58 animals through the flight zone, it seemed sensible to deal with that issue first. I've enjoyed the lives and times of those ducks, but when their activities begin to endanger my life and safety, a balance has been tipped.

mustering the cattle

I called and Stephan herded the cows and calves from behind and the whole mob followed from Flat 2, across the bottom of Flat 1 (guided by an electric tape) and on down to the yards, where we tagged and vaccinated all of the calves, and castrated the few whose identity was obvious. I'm pretty sure we got all the tags in the right ears this year, but an incorrect tagging is not nearly as serious as an incorrect castration band application. We'll do the rest of the castrations on another day, when I've confirmed everyone's identities.


This moth-eaten animal has ringworm, something I haven't seen here for years. I don't know why it has shown up now. Perhaps it's another outcome of the early warmth in August. It is mostly likely my animals have caught it from cattle on neighbouring properties, but as there's rarely any chance of their getting very close to each other, I can't think of when or how that might have happened recently.

She'll get better in time and in the mean time it affects them no more than anything else living on their skin at this time of year - ticks, for instance, are probably the reason for any neck-rubbing on trees, which probably coincidentally makes some of the ringworm patches a bit raw.

We did a bit of paddock switching, so that after we'd done all big mob of the calves, they and their mothers went to the House Paddock to graze it down harder than Imagen and Isla have been doing and those two cows came to the yards for their calves to be vaccinated, and somewhere along the line we brought Irene and Abigail in as well. We didn't tag Zella because there's no particular need to - she'll stand out quite well enough because of her physical differences and it is not our plan that she ever go anywhere else.

Stephan clearing the crush pen

When all that work was finished, Stephan grabbed a spade and cleared all the grass from around the edges of the crush pen, because Irene has to spend the night in there without any feed at all, in preparation for her pedicure tomorrow morning.

Irene's foot

This is the foot which mostly requires work, with a hole in the top of the horn on her right claw. It is the foot Nathan treated eighteen months ago, when he stuck a plastic slipper on the other claw to allow her to carry this part of her foot off the ground while it healed. Now both feet have grown in this misshapen manner. The curled up toes cause her to walk back on her heels, which is no good for the comfort of her legs and higher joints, nor is it a satisfactory way to use a hoof, since there's less protection from sharp objects when walking on the softer heel, rather than on the hard front of the foot. It is possible the cause is genetic, but I think it is quite reasonable to suspect it has been caused by the misfortunes her feet have suffered, which have caused her to walk oddly for some time. Whatever the truth of it, she's uncomfortable and needs relief, which we intend to provide.

572 and her lovely daughter

This is my favourite discovery of the day: this fabulous looking calf belongs to my favourite two-year-old heifer, 572. 572 is in great condition, and is obviously also milking very well to grow her calf so beautifully.

Without tags, I'd not really noticed 572 with her calf for a while, so hadn't seen how well they were doing.

Tuesday the 8th

We put hungry Irene up the race this morning and Nathan jabbed her with a syringe full of sedative and we let her out into the wider grassy area, where she immediately put her head down and ate. She gradually slowed down and Nathan put a bit more of the drug into the vein under her tail, since she wasn't actually going off to sleep yet, and then it happened quite quickly.

Irene Irene

Her head gradually lowered, and her breathing sounded like she was already asleep, and then she staggered and went down...

Irene Irene

... and gradually adjusted herself into a sort of sleeping pose...

Irene Irene
Irene's foot

... at which point Nathan put a halter over her head and tied it to her back leg. If she woke up, he didn't want her suddenly staggering to her feet. With her head restrained in that position, the worst she could do is wave her legs about a bit.

We propped the first leg up for easy access, Nathan washed her foot off and then began the process of scraping, paring away and cutting the overgrown parts of Irene's foot.

Stephan, Irene and Nathan

I asked Stephan to be the head nurse, so I could take photographs and get a good look at the job while it was being done.

Irene gently snored.

Irene's foot

The left foot, finished. A little blood is inevitable, and Irene will be sore for a few days, but hopefully all in the name of a more comfortable future.

Irene's teeth

While she was at our mercy, I had a closer look at her teeth than I've been able to before. They don't look that great! She keeps in surprisingly good condition most of the time though, despite all those gaps. The teeth are all still there, but I wonder how long that will be the case?

The right foot is the messier one, with the hole in the top of the outer claw (on the bottom in these pictures). In the very centre of the left picture, you may be able to see an area of overgrown tissue, which corresponds to the injured and infected area in the foot when we last treated it. Beneath the extra tissue though was not, as I feared, a lot of live flesh, so it could be reshaped fairly easily.

Irene Irene

Nathan had to pare away some of the front of Irene's hoof to get to the source of the problem where the hole has been evident. There was no obvious infection present, just lots of dead tissue which does no good when enclosed in a hoof. He finished tidying that foot and then for some reason let Irene attempt to get up on her own, but she was not nearly awake enough - I'd wanted to avoid having her stagger about, for fear she'd hurt herself.

injecting into the jugular vein

When she collapsed to the ground again, he retied her and fetched his syringe of reversal drug and injected it into her jugular vein...

Irene, recovering

... after which she quite quickly got to her feet and stood for a while before moving off again to graze quietly.
We kept her around the yards for the next four hours, checking on her regularly, in case she dropped off into a deep sleep again. Cows need to sit up most of the time, or the gases produced by the fermentation in the rumen cannot be belched out, pressure builds and the cow will eventually suffocate because she can no longer breathe. They'll lie flat out on their sides for short periods, but cows which can't for some reason keep themselves upright periodically, won't survive for long. If Irene went into too deep a sedated sleep after having all these drugs, she might flop over and need to be propped up.

In the afternoon I weighed the young mob and nearly all of them are now over my 320kg minimum mating weight, with three a little under it, but close enough to make it by the end of December.

In the evening we brought all the cows and calves back to the yards and weighed them. Stephan did as I prefer when putting the calves over the scales in their early lives, and stroked and scratched each one for as long as it took them to check out the weighing platform and walk up onto it - some had a nice long interaction. It slows things down now, but I believe it potentially makes future handling so much easier - particularly since their last experience here was yesterday's painful piercing time, of necks with needle and ears with tags.

Wednesday the 9th
Clematis seedheads

Clematis seed heads high up in a Totara tree. If I could reach them, I'd try to grow some.

Turkeys on the lawn

The little turkeys' feed has run out, so I let them out for part of the day onto the lawn and they peeped their way around, exploring everything. In the afternoon a visitor brought relief, in the shape of a new bag of feed.

Thursday the 10th

My lovely Godfather, Hack, came for lunch today with friend Marilyn and we took them out for a short walk to look at the cattle, then Stephan cooked a quiche and there were Lemon Ricotta Cakes for afters. All very nice!

big water spider

After Hack and Marilyn left, we wandered around the pond for a while, checking on the trees and looking at the various residents of the pond. This rather large water spider and some very bright-blue-bottomed damselflies. Whether or not the one on the left had a blue bottom was not something I could determine; there was quite a lot of tandem flying going on!

Damselflies mating Damselfly
Friday the 11th
stunned spider

Mason wasps (we always called them Mason bees when I was a child) are busy all around us again now and I've twice found paralysed spiders on the floor where the wasps have either dropped them by accident, or left them momentarily while they prepare the nest space ready to store them.

We went out for a pre-Christmas sort of gathering this evening, at the home of Elizabeth (Stephan's sister) and William with various members of their family. As usual there was much delightful food, even more delightful company and we enjoyed it all very much.