The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 10th of July 2010.
Saturday the 10th

It was a lovely fine day today and the forecast was for it to remain so. I had forgotten to drench Imagen when she was in or near the yards, so measured out the required amount of pour-on for her, and after lulling her with some gentle grooming for a while, poured it along her spine as she stood in the sunshine in her paddock. She's in such good condition that if we had no liver fluke here, I would not drench her. The drench has a 91 day withholding period, so we will not be able to drink her milk until after the 9th of October.

The pregnant heifers have been in the neighbouring paddock with a view to drafting 572 out of that mob to put her in with Imagen, until the other empty cows are near enough to put with her. Imagen came growling across the paddock as soon as she realised she had new company, but a small young cow knows well enough to keep out of the way of a huge fierce one.

weed wiping

We went out for a farm walk, carrying the weed wipers and the ragwort plonking stick and hunted down some weeds to kill. We also went and checked on the cows out the back.

Ella in an ATC bivouac

One of the Air Training Corps bivouacs is still standing and there is evidence of the cows using it for shelter when they were here in the Swamp paddock. Perhaps we should build some more of them.

heifers, Ella and Stephan in the House lane

Now there are only 13 in the pregnant heifer mob and it's time for them to cross the road again to the big hill paddock.

572 seemed quite settled with Imagen and the steer as we took her friends away.

The flecks in the photo are little flying insect wings catching the sunlight.

Sunday the 11th

Frog parking? I'm not sure if this is part of a specific intimate act or not. The mornings have been very cold and the frogs very slow. Ella discovered three or four of them out on the jetty in the sunshine.

cows in the Pines paddock

The Pines Paddock, having been shut for a while until an old barbed wire fence was removed, has been growing some nice grass. This morning I brought the 26 cows from the Back Barn paddock and managed to successfully draft the two empty cows, 478 and Demelza, off at the gate. They spent the next couple of hours near the others grazing in the lane, before I moved them away. Cows can get noticeably disturbed by the sudden removal of some of their friends. Leaving them to notice they're now on different sides of a fence makes things easier.

Now that Imagen has 572 as cow company, I drafted the little steer out into the lane, then went and fetched the nine young heifers and walked them all - steer before me, heifers behind, so they'd not fight in the lane - down to the Flat 4 paddock. I think the little steer will be much happier with his same-age companions than he was with Imagen, who didn't seem to like him much.

Monday the 12th
native orchid

Walking under some trees by the bridge this morning, I picked up a bit of Totara branch which had fallen out of a tree and there were three orchids growing on it. I lodged it on top of an old gate which is blocking a gap by the river, so I can see it easily.

heifers in a stand of trees

Ella and I went for a walk up the road and then into the Over-the-Road hill paddock to check on the pregnant heifers. I didn't see any of them from down on the flats all day yesterday. We followed some fresh-looking tracks, found a bit of warm wet evidence that they must have been not too far away, then looked up and saw them all standing quietly under the trees.

Trees for shelter are great. It's always much warmer, and the ground generally drier in places like this in the winter. I suspect that the amount of grass one might grow by clearing away a patch of trees like this would not provide as much energy for the animals as that which is saved by their being able to shelter here.


We came back across the road into the Road Flat paddock for a look around and Ella found a sort of bridge across the stream. She had a great time bouncing up and down on it, while I waited, quite sure she'd fall in. She didn't.

In the summer time we ought to come and clear out these sorts of blockages, if they haven't already been moved on by flood waters. It's not a job for the middle of winter!

Ella and 572

Ella attempting to make friends with 572.

I don't think she used it very much, but I suggested to Ella that she did as I always do on walks, and tie her camera (a Christmas present from her mums last year) around her middle, so that if she saw something interesting she'd have it ready.

bulls munching on Puriri prunings

We walked the bulls in to the little triangle paddock by the driveway, where they had a pruned Puriri branch ready as a treat.

Then we went to get the young cattle and brought them to the Pig Paddock. Nathan the vet is coming in the morning to castrate bull #88 and while he's here, I'll get him to check Zella for pregnancy, since she spent an extended time with two bull calves and because calves with Jersey in their parentage are often very early to reach puberty. I haven't seen any sign of Zella being on heat yet, but that may not be a good thing. Better safe than sorry!

Tuesday the 13th
castrating a bull

Nathan arrived at 9am and confirmed that Zella is safely not pregnant. I had not seen anything to make me suspicious, but it was sensible to have him check her while we had him on the farm.

Then it was the little bull's turn for attention, some of which he didn't like much. Castration of a bull older than six months requires by law the use of pain relief, so Nathan first injected him around the top of his scrotum, before applying the strong rubber band. This is a rather larger mass for removal than the little scrota to which we apply the small rubber rings when the calves are only a few weeks old.

If you're eating or squeamish or male, click here to pass the next picture.

dead scrotum

I mentioned to Nathan that the little steer, castrated nine weeks ago still had his dried scrotum attached, so we put him in the race for a look. But Nathan didn't just look, he grabbed hold of it and gave it a firm twist and pull!

I think it's valuable for the vets to see the results of their earlier treatments, especially when things haven't resolved quite as they should. We sprayed some iodine onto the now slightly bleeding wound on the steer. I expect he'll be fine, but I'll watch him for a couple of days.

In the picture, in the left background can be seen the dried, shrunken scrotum, and to the right, part of the rubber band.

cattle on the boundary

I left the young stock to wander quietly back out to where they'd been yesterday, then followed to check the steer was looking alright (you'll have to go back to the nasty picture if you want to find out why) and to shut the gate behind them.

This is our boundary with our 10-acre neighbours. The electric tape is there to ensure there's no nose-to-nose contact between our cattle and theirs.

Obviously the neighbouring stock were quite excited to see mine back in the paddock again!

I let the little bulls meander quietly back to their paddock. #88 will need to stay with his bull mates for about a month, to ensure he's no longer capable of sperm delivery, after which I'll put him in with the young heifers and other steer, or sell the two steers.

Ella and Stephan

As we were walking around today, I thought about Ella, her developing personality and her ongoing relationship with Stephan. When we said yes to Stephan being a donor to Ella's mothers, I knew there would be emotional bumps in the road for me, and that we/I would have to deal with them as they arose. But I hadn't ever thought of Ella in her life beyond early childhood, and because we see her only once or twice a year, I forget how fast children grow up at this stage. Now she's eight and a half and turning into a 'real person', it occurs to me that I've committed to a life-long loan of my partner to someone else!
Fortunately there's probably enough of him to share.

Stephan and Ella in the river bed

We went out with Stephan to do some pest control and trap checking this afternoon. I wrote "Ella" on a rock while she wasn't looking, and then she and Stephan amused themselves for a while pretending they'd found other named rocks in the stream. There are tiny hard-clay pebbles of many colours which can be used to write on rocks - and even paper when I've gone walking without a pen for my notebook.

native orchid

Guess what? Another orchid - or two, growing high up on a tree.

On our way home we moved the 24 cows to Mushroom 2 so they can spend a night next to Imagen and tomorrow I'll complete the cow rearrangements.

plane leaving Kaitaia

Ella went home this evening, on the plane.

The week seems to have flashed past!

Wednesday the 14th
no tail fantail

What do you call a Fantail with no tail?
The bird seemed unhindered by the lack of its long tail feathers, flitting around catching insects with ease, but it looked quite strange.

Standing in the sunshine stroking Imagen for a while this morning, I felt and saw movements of her calf. I am relieved, having wondered if we might have put too much stress on her over the last week.

I quietly walked young 572 out of the paddock she's been sharing with Imagen and in to join Demelza and 478, who didn't seem bothered by her arrival in their midst - they've been neighbours for about three days.

Then I let the main cow mob into the paddock with Imagen. There's still feed in Imagen's paddock, and because she's been in here for a week, I figured the other cows would smell her everywhere, so perhaps wouldn't take as much notice of her. I was concerned that introducing her back into the herd on her own could have exposed her to bullying.

Imagen and 571

I needn't have worried. That great big 700kg growling lump of beef has been threatening all the others for months, whenever they pass her paddock, and has spent the last 24 hours along their shared fenceline reinforcing her message. When the other cows came into the paddock, it was Imagen who went around doing the sniffing and anyone she challenged, moved smartly out of her way!

Here she's communicating her superiority to R3 heifer 571, who quickly decided there was better grass somewhere further away from Imagen.

I am relieved. I've been worrying about what to do with Imagen, thinking she might need to remain separate from the others so she didn't have to fight her way into her position in the cow hierarchy, but also knowing she's been not particularly happy away from the rest of the cow herd. For management of the winter grazing it's much easier to have her with the rest of the cows.

I thought Abigail had assumed top position as senior cow, but it seems that's Imagen's place and like her sister Isla, she need do no more than tilt her head or look at another cow to enforce that authority.

Zella and Eva

The light today was difficult for photos, so I've had to over-lighten this one to show the animals.

Zella looked like she was coming on heat, just after I'd spent the money to have her pregnancy tested yesterday! Why didn't she do this two days ago? Pesky animals.

The lovely Eva, behind her, was doing quite a bit of the characteristic chin-resting which indicates the rested-upon animal is probably coming on.

Thursday the 15th

The max/min thermometer on the Puriri tree trunk read 1°C this morning, but at ground level everything was white. The lack of water flowing into the house suggested it had been cold for many hours, freezing everything solid. Stephan found a bucket of water with ice half a centimetre thick on top of it. That's unusual around here.

Dylan and Liam helping Stephan

Great-nephews Liam and Dylan came out to help with some more farm work, and to stay for the night. Stephan took them to the Pines paddock again, this time to help by piling up trees and prunings as he cut them down with the chainsaw.

pruned totara

Pruned Totara still provide rain shelter without their lower ground-brushing branches, and it is much easier to see where the cattle are when they can't disappear into quite so many trees.


This Tomtit spent the day flitting around as they worked. There are several areas around the farm where we see them regularly.

My mother Jill came up for a couple of days, so we had a full house for the night, with the two boys sleeping on mattresses in front of the fire in the lounge.

Friday the 16th

I was too slow with the camera late this morning to get a picture of two very wet boys on the back of the ute as it sped down the lane to the house. There had been showers during the morning, but when the rain really started, Stephan and his helpers came home to dry out.

cows enjoying the sunshine

Then out came the sunshine and the cows in the House Paddock all sat down to enjoy it. They're nearly due to be moved, but didn't even get to their feet as Jill and I walked through them to go for a stroll. Usually they'll all follow me up to the gate if they think it's time to go.

floating things

On top of one of the water troughs was this raft of little pink insects. I often see such collections, but haven't really looked closely at them before.

floating things

In close-up they look like pink slaters. I wonder what they are?

Stephan, Liam and Dylan

As Jill and I were leading the heifers to a new paddock, the ute came up the track, stopped and its three occupants posed for a picture, on their way back out to carry on with some work.

The boys' mother, Raewyn, came out to collect them just before dark.