The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 17th of April 2010.
Saturday the 17th
cadets at rest

The ATC cadets didn't make quite the arrival we expected, because one of their party twisted an ankle.  Instead of coming down the ridge through the pines to our back boundary, they had to continue to the end of the Kiwani track and be picked up in vehicles and driven down the road.

Mathew in flight

After they'd all had a rest and something to eat, they attempted to empty the pond by launching themselves into it with enormous splashes!  Some of their bomb dives were very impressive.  Their esteemed leader, Mathew, got in on the act and showed them how it should be done!

swimming cadets

Some people spent as much time in the air as in the water.  They were great fun to watch.

After a while they all got dressed and hiked out to their planned camping spot for a night under bivouacs made out of cut scrub and convenient trees.

Ramarama leaves

I went walking to check on the little bulls in the Road Flat paddock and while wandering along looking at the river bank, noticed these striking leaves.  I don't think I've seen them "in the flesh" before, but they are very familiar to me from my tree book, where their particularity jumps out at me every time I flip through it looking for something.  They are of a small tree called Ramarama.  Sadly this single tree is lying down, having been pushed over by flood waters.  I'll have to go back and see if there's anything I might do to help secure its survival, or if it currently has fruit from which I might harvest seeds.

I drafted Isla's son out of the paddock he'd been sharing with Zella, back in with Imagen, to keep her company, and the large young mob from Flat 2 joined Zella in Flat 3.

Sunday the 18th
crossing the stream

Stephan and I went out to see what the cadets were up to this morning.  Half of them had gone with Mathew for a run up the track through the pines, since they didn't use it yesterday and the other half were working out how to get across a flooded river!  They had to use their imaginations for the flood, since the river level is as low as it's ever been.

They were allowed one person on the other side and eventually got a rope across and set up a sliding loop in which they sat while they pulled themselves across.

crossing the stream

The two groups swapped activities when the first group returned, and the second group slung two ropes and walked across them to the other side.  This certainly appeared to be the more efficient method.

youngsters in the sunshine

From my shady position down in the stream bed, these two on the bank looked angelic in the sunshine.

cadets walking out

At the end of their activities the cadets all packed up and walked back to the front of the farm.  They very nicely thanked us for having them, and we were alone with our farm again.

Monday the 19th
young cattle walking up the lane

The young mob now numbers forty.  There are 13 yearlings (including Squiggles, who's actually a year older) and 27 weaners, including Zella.

I sent them on their way to the Big Back paddock where there is grass to be eaten.  I gave a passing thought to phoning my stock agent, Anthony, to check when the supplementary weaner fair is at Kaikohe, but then forgot about it again.

Eva 81 was on heat.  How disappointing.  I really hoped I'd have got her in calf with that one late insemination.  However I continue to be grateful that she's alive at all!

Taraire tree

This is another picture of the Taraire I commented on back at the end of February.  Its yellowed leaves have now turned brown.


I spent the later hours of light this evening riding round opening gates all over the flats, because I have arranged with Ryan that he'll come early tomorrow morning to spread six tonnes of RPR (reactive phosphate rock) on the flats, hopefully before the wind gets up.

Anthony the stock agent phoned me this evening and said the Kaikohe weaner fair is on Wednesday.  Why, oh why didn't I remember to phone him before sending all those animals right out to the back of the farm?  I did some double-check calculations with my feed budget and rang him back to say I'd send 20 animals to the sale.

Tuesday the 20th
spreading fertilizer

At 6.30 this morning I went out and opened the front gate ready for Ryan.  He rang just before 7am to say the wind was blowing hard at his place and did I still want him to come?  It was very still here.  Ten minutes later the wind was blowing everything sideways and it was raining!  I rang Ryan, and we decided we'd better leave it.  Within the next twenty minutes all was quiet again and it looked like perhaps that would be the day's pattern: still periods interrupted by squally rain; so we decided we'd go ahead.

Conditions in the end were good enough to get the job done, and I'm very pleased to have the expensive stuff on the ground.

bulls on the road again

One of the bulls crossed the river the other day, so I popped him through the gate and in with Imagen and #92, so there were only four left in the Road Paddock today when we went down to walk them back to the yards.  They quietly ambled up the road with me ahead and Stephan following them.  We try very hard to plan our road movements for when we think there won't be much traffic, and generally we get lucky and nothing comes through - the odd car will sometimes appear and mostly the drivers are prepared to wait quietly while we get the cattle to whichever gate we're going to, or while we coax the cattle past the vehicle if we're going in opposite directions.  It's only a 400 metre stretch of road along which we walk them, but with some sharp corners, it's easiest without vehicles in the way.

I wanted to bring the bulls back today because then I can weigh them on the same day as the rest of the calves and submit their weights for the 200-day EBV data to the Angus Association.


Here's another Taraire I've been noticing turning brown, up the hill in the Big Back paddock.  Taraire are apparently very shallow rooted trees, which is causing their fragility during the drought this year.

Stephan I went out to the back and rounded up all the young stock again, so I could draft off the weaners ready to go to the sale tomorrow.  It took ages to find a couple of the little steers - one of them is in the picture, running down the track after I'd flushed him out of the bush on the side of one of the hills.

Zella was the only weaner calf in the Middle Back paddock with some of the older heifers - the gate was open for the cattle to make their way right out as far as they could go!  She seems to have joined the mob quite happily, after being reared mostly on her own with Imagen.

We hadn't got around to secondary tagging the weaners yet, so that was a job which needed doing this afternoon, along with getting their final weights before they go off on a truck tomorrow.  Both jobs were achieved very quietly.

I've been giving serious thought to resigning my membership of the NZ Angus Association - who've now (no doubt at great expense) rebranded themselves as Angus New Zealand - so I wanted to tidy up the data submission for the calves which are currently in the system.

When the calves were all weighed and the sale weaners drafted off, I sent the others back out to the Big Back Paddock, a mob now halved to twenty animals.

Today was the first during which I felt like eating normally, after a week of discomfort from my gastric bug.  It has been most unpleasant!

Wednesday the 21st
weaners at the gate

The sale weaners all standing at the gate at the bottom of the drive this morning.  I left them out by the yards so they'd have grass and good access to water overnight, before they commence their stressful day.

fixing the loading ramp

Stephan continued some important renovation work he began yesterday, to alter and repair the loading ramp.  Part of the problem with the loading of the last lot of cows, was that the fill in the ramp area had been worn away over time and there was a large step over which the cattle had to pass, which always caused them to hesitate before stepping down onto the deck of the truck.  Changes in the driveway level over time had also contributed to the problem, causing the truck decks to be lower in relation to the ramp than they'd originally been.  Hopefully this will make things work better now.

loading the weaners onto the truck

The calves all went onto the truck very calmly, with Stephan pushing them from behind.

I've been very impressed with their temperament this year, all but a couple of them are quite calm in close proximity to us, so moving them around has been really easy.

Kaikohe saleyards

We thought we'd have an outing, so headed down to Kaikohe, a bit over an hour's drive south, to see the sale.

It was a mistake I hope I never have occasion to repeat.

Kaikohe saleyards

We walked in and up along the main catwalk toward the sale barn and I watched in astonishment as a couple of agents from the company with which I primarily deal, drafted a pen of mixed aged stock - some weaners and some slightly larger animals.  The two men had a long stick each and instead of using their bodies and the natural movement of the cattle to draft them in the directions they wanted, they simply smacked them either across their backs, or across their faces to make them move forward or stop moving.  It was appalling to watch and utterly savage.  I watched some of the other yard workers over the next half hour and concluded that if this is typical, New Zealand agriculture is not clean and green, it's dirty and brutal.

penned steers

We watched the steers sold near the beginning of the sale, in exactly the same way they were the last time we attended a Kaikohe Sale in 2004.  Almost all the people this week were the same as the ones in that 2004 picture, the only real difference being that the guys on the rostrum now all have pink shirts.

The cattle were not the quiet little animals I'd seen go onto the truck - unsurprising if they'd been subjected to the sort of treatment we'd just seen - being frightened by all the noise and unfamiliarity.  We watched our steers being sold, watched as one of them was startled by something and ran headlong into one of the steel barred gates and then left; I could stand no more.

I came away trying to work out how to rationalise all this.  I have to somehow work with this system if I'm to continue farming, or I have to change how I farm so I don't have to directly subject the animals I am responsible for to such brutality.  Is it alright for an animal to suffer a day's terror in an otherwise pleasant life?  How do you balance the need to move a lot of animals of differing natures through a system quickly so the sale can work efficiently, with the need to ensure the animals are treated humanely - no, there's no need for any question of balance there, the welfare question is always paramount.  Except it is apparently not uppermost in the minds and intentions of some of the people who work in this saleyard.  I sometimes wish I were someone who could turn a blind eye; life would be so much easier.
Another battle to fight ...

Kaikohe's main street

In an attempt to displace the horror of the sale in my mind, we went into the town and wandered around for a while.  Stephan had a long and very nice conversation with a woman in the computer shop, we received some unsolicited financial advice from a woman at the Kiwibank counter, discovered some really interesting books in the library - but I didn't have my library card with me, so couldn't bring them home.  Kaikohe is part of the same library system as ours in Kaitaia, so I have a few titles to look for in the online system and we can borrow them through our own branch.

dry hills

Dry hills with no stock.  Green is certainly better than brown, but there's no significant feed there for any grazing animals.  Green areas are generally Kikuyu at present, and even that has hardly grown.

the stream on the south side of Maungataniwha

Coming through the Mangamuka Gorge, we stopped in several places we'd often passed and wondered about.  The gorge road provides a marvellous opportunity to see a vast range of native plants without having to get your feet dirty!

This is the stream from one of the first bridges at the south end of the gorge.

Kauri trees

Lovely Kauri trees.

Thursday the 22nd
calling the heifers up the hill

Nine of the heifers had gone up through the Big Back paddock and over into the Middle Back, which was where I wanted them to be.  The other eleven were still hanging around down at the bottom of the Big Back, having either not ventured up the hill, or having gone all the way around, but past the Middle Back gate.  Together we moved them up the hill and into the right paddock - it's lovely having cattle which will willingly follow my call - although admittedly not without a bit of encouragement from behind in these sorts of situations.  But at least they will move sensibly along the tracks and wherever I lead them.

renovated fence

The work Stephan was doing before I interrupted him to come and help with the cattle, was the renovation of this fence, which had fallen into disrepair.  There were lots of insulators missing from the posts, so the wire was all over the place in height - almost on the ground in some places, and swinging high in the breeze over hollow areas.  The gate between the PW paddock on the left and the Pines on the right, had completely disintegrated and the bits had all gone home by tractor some time ago, so now it has a new electric tape gate there instead.

I've had to operate the two paddocks as one for some time, because as well as this part of the fence being insecure, part of the old post and batten fence further down the hill was in an even more dilapidated state.  With both sections rebuilt, I can now use the paddocks separately, which is far better for winter management.

looking down on the flats

From a little further down the ridge, the flats are visible.  You may be able to see the wheel marks of the fertilizer truck, particularly in the left paddock, Flat 1.

There are small patches of green over the road, where the Kikuyu is growing, but there's not much grass anywhere else!

a signal from the hill

I left Stephan up on the hill finishing off electric fence connections and rode all the way home to turn on the main switch for him.  He tested the fence to check all was well, and I was to turn it off again when he waved his shirt at me, so he could go on and do some other work.  I don't generally notice that we can see that hill from the garden gate, but I could stand at the switch and see him over the top of the pergola in the garden.

a leak in the waterline

I rode out to shut gates around the other side of the farm, which I had left open for the fert truck, and discovered a leak Stephan was in the process of investigating.  He thinks the ground has dried so much that the pipe has been stretched or a connection pulled apart as the ground has moved.  It's not quite so dry in this little bit now.