The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 12th of June 2010.
Saturday the 12th
moving the bulls

The little bulls are still a dream to move! They do a bit of head pushing and play-fighting as they're going, but they all move in the right direction, to whichever gate I've opened. They're lovely this year. Their sires are two I've not used before: GDAR Traveler 044 and Schurrtop Reality X723. The Reality sons have very impressive scrotal size, a must for breeding bulls.

Sunday the 13th

I spent most of the morning getting ready to leave home for a week, and then went out for a last check on some of the cattle. I'd seen from the house that the pregnant heifers had stayed in the lane, rather than going right out to the Big Back paddock, so went to push them out to where I wanted them.

But then I noticed this: 572, my star heifer last season, with bloody, fleshy flecks of muck around her rear. There's only one reason that could appear and it means an aborted calf.

I stopped walking the heifers out along the lane, went back the other way and opened a gate so they could go into the Mushroom 1 paddock, where Stephan can keep a close eye on them while I'm away. It is likely that the loss of a pregnancy at only four months would have resolved without complications, but it would be prudent to watch the heifer for any signs of illness over the next few days. I don't like being away when this sort of thing happens. If I weren't due to catch a plane within a couple of hours, I'd take her in to the yards and do an internal check, just to make sure all is well.

How jolly disappointing! 572's family does not, as far as I have been able to determine from testing, have Neospora, so this will be one of those losses we put down to "one of those things". A sporadic pregnancy loss of one or two percent per year is to be expected, sometimes because of genetic faults in the calf (of the random chance variety), sometimes because something goes wrong in the cow for some reason. Cattle are generally reasonably robust breeders, but things can still go awry.

We arrived ridiculously early at the airport. I spent the first part of my life being late everywhere and these days can no longer stand the strain of lateness, so have become far more organised about getting to places on time.

I flew to Auckland (can't go anywhere else from Kaitaia by air) then Wellington, and the five or six of us who travelled down together caught a shuttle van into the city and checked into our "serviced apartments" opposite the James Cook Hotel where the Association of Rural Veterinary Practices Conference will be held on Monday and Tuesday.

dinner with the family

Shortly afterwards I was collected by Char-Lien and Jonathan and taken to a Japanese Restaurant for dinner, where Simon met us as well (Jonathan and Simon are Stephan's sister Elizabeth's sons).

I had a lovely evening with the three of them, dining where we sat in the picture, then going on to a restaurant in one of the big Hotels for dessert.

Monday the 14th

What a difficult time to be away from home. With my Uncle Paul ill in Chile, I'd been acting as an information go-between amongst the family, including for some of my cousins in England. I had a distressing early morning when I urgently needed to find somewhere to access my email account and could not. For the second time in 24 hours somebody addressed me as Sir (the other was an air steward - perhaps if she'd offered me nuts as part of the snack menu I would have had to say yes).

The Association of Rural Veterinary Practices Annual Conference began this morning with a number of very interesting speakers. They included an ASB Bank economist, the president of the NZ Veterinary Association, the Minister of Agriculture, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, the director of Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines and a representative of the NZ Food Safety Authority.

In the afternoon we went out to the Wallaceville National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Diseases in Upper Hutt. There are both animal and human disease groups there, monitoring and testing for diseases like the various types of influenza. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) emergency hotline is based here - for example where a call would come if a farmer or vet discovered animals with mouth lesions, which might be the first sign of Foot and Mouth Disease in the country.

Back in Wellington, during the "happy hour" we were addressed by the Minister of Trade, Tim Groser. I did not expect much from him, but was particularly impressed by the quietly assertive manner in which he effectively challenged the obvious racism amongst the gathered audience when he was discussing the recently renegotiated Sea Bed and Foreshore agreement. He had been speaking generally on the nature of negotiation and deal making between parties, particularly between different cultures, and used the this local negotiation as an example of working around difficult issues and ensuring each side had their needs met. There was some derogatory laughter at one point, which he arrested with a very respectful description of the Māori negotiating team and the negotiation itself in terms of what the parties brought with them to the table: a great deal of pain on the Māori side because of a long history of land losses, and on the Pakeha side, much fear. It seems to me that most of the "isms" and phobias people suffer and apply to other groups of people, are based in fear of the unknown. In this country the situation is gradually changing, but in many sectors of the community determined ignorance abounds.

He also made some comments about branding and those who attempt to make too much money out of a brand without paying attention to quality, which immediately made me think of the Angus Association, for some reason.

Barry Soper, a political journalist, spoke at the Conference dinner and opened with a stupidly homophobic comment on an animal health banner of one of the Conference sponsors (yes, cows do mount each other when on heat, so what?). Does it not occur to such speakers that they may offend some of the people they have been engaged to entertain? One goes to events like that with an open mind and the expectation of being entertained and amused; disappointing.

Tuesday the 15th

The second day of the conference began with the AGM, followed by a very interesting morning beginning with the NZ Co-operatives Association - all the vet club practices are owned by Incorporated Societies, so we work as cooperatives for the farmer members. Then three speakers on Animal Welfare, from MAF Animal Welfare Division, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, and a vet who had worked on some recent high-profile animal welfare cases.

The afternoon was given over to a training session for directors, while the practice CEOs attended a session of their own.

When the conference was finished I made contact with a woman I met once four years ago when I was in Wellington for Women in Ag meeting, after we'd both been members of the Lifestyle Block website's online forum for some time. We had a lovely dinner at a rather swanky restaurant, the Boulcott Street Bistro, which cost rather less than it might have due to the kind loan of an entertainment discount card by one of my companion's friends.

Wednesday the 16th

I went for a quick stroll around downtown Wellington this morning, before a shuttle van arrived to take me and another of the Kaitaia directors to the airport. This is Mount Taranaki, from the airplane window.

caged children

Jude picked me up from the airport in Auckland and after a spot of lunch, we went over to the school (Richmond Road Primary) and found they have a very good approach to child control: cage them! This is my nephew Louie and a friend behind a child-proof gate.

There were a lot of older ones running around free, though, including some I recognised from Stella's birthday party here in January.

Richmond Road Primary School

I found myself in the middle of a Poroporoaki, the closing ceremonies of a day's gathering of two other local schools at Richmond Road Primary. The school always looks entirely chaotic to me, but then suddenly it becomes apparent what's going on.

Thursday the 17th

As often when in Auckland, I went to visit my dentist. I started seeing Robyn Bennett several years before I left Auckland after my previous dentist, James Bracegirdle (marvellous name) recommended her when he stopped practicing in Auckland. I have rarely needed to do more than see a dentist for an annual check-up, so I've not felt the need to find someone closer to home. I'm always shocked at how much it costs, but comparing prices with some of the women I met at the school later in the day, they're on a par with other dentists around the city.

Across-town buses are almost non-existent, so I walked about two and a half kilometres from where I alighted from a bus in New North Road, down and up Bond Street over the motorway, down to and through Grey Lynn Park, and up the hill to Jude's house.

Jude's Ukulele orchestra

Inside I found a marvellous gathering of children, most of whom were sitting on the floor with a ukulele each, a couple playing marimbas, one playing the piano, a trumpeter, a couple of guitarists and some percussionists. Jude was conducting, and they sounded pretty good!

In the picture Jasper, Stella and Matariki are in the centre foreground, with Georgia sitting on the arm of the couch.

In the evening my old friend Jorja, whom I've not seen since she last came up here, picked me up and took me out to a Japanese restaurant where we ate far too much, and then on to the Sky City Casino, the sort of establishment into which I've never set foot in my life. Jorja is a member of one of the exclusive gaming rooms and it was to that one we went. There was free wine, a marvellous chocolate cheesecake and platters of sliced melon of many kinds were brought out for those of us sitting away from the playing tables. A leather couch at the end of a large warm room was a comfortable place to spend part of our evening.

But I cannot say I found the casino an uplifting place to visit. Where rich people could so carelessly lose so much money without concern - Jorja spoke of sometimes watching people lose amounts equalling the price of a new tractor! Why didn't the government take on the casinos if they were determined they had to be allowed, as a great income redistribution scheme? Downstairs were throngs of people, many of whom probably couldn't really afford to lose any money at all.

Friday the 18th

Auckland does not have an impressive public transport system, but I discovered something marvellous to help me use it better. Into the Auckland Regional Transport website I put Jude's address and the approximate destination I wanted to reach, and it gave me the times buses were due to pass the bus stop just over the road. The other great improvement on times past is a system enabling any bus stop where there is power to have an electronic board showing which buses are due at that stop, and how many minutes it will be until they arrive.

I dashed out the door a couple of minutes before a bus was due, and went down to Queen Street, for old times' sake. I haven't been there for years, so I wandered down and then back up the street, looking in shops, watching people going about their business. On a free bus I caught partway back up the street I was reminded how the city can be quite revolting: a grotty old man on the bus was being abusive and threatening to the women passengers around him. I informed the driver of the problem when the man moved toward me, and I got off the bus. I went directly into a very expensive looking jewellery shop, because I knew they'd be polite and show me pretty things to take away the fright of the last few minutes.

Tonight I took my sister Rachel out to dinner to celebrate her birthday. We went to a little restaurant on Ponsonby Road. The noise level was incredible - in a small space, people talking to each other can't hear each other over the voices of other people nearby, so they get louder and louder. There must be a mathmatical formula for the concentration of people one can fit into an area without that happening, with variables for the amount of alcohol consumed and the time elapsed ... After our main course we went on to a café Rachel knew, which sold wonderful desserts, and took three home to eat in quieter surroundings.