The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 18th of December 2010.
Saturday the 18th

Today we vaccinated most of the calves - three of the four youngest aren't quite old enough yet and we didn't do the sick calf, who could do with a few more days of recovery before we load his immune system with another burden.

In a terribly disorganised fashion I failed to realise that I didn't have enough ear tags for this year's calves. But there being only a small number of bull calves, I had enough to tag the male calves and enough of the Virago stud numbered tags to do all of them. This year the numbered tags all have to go in the left ears of the calves, because for the new NAIT tags the right ear is the right ear. This will create significant confusion for me for some time, because for many years my heifers have all had right ear tags and the steers and bulls have had them in their left ears. It made working out who's who from a distance a little bit easier that way.

I am told that if I order the new tags on Monday, they will arrive by Friday, before everybody closes down for the Christmas holiday period.


Lynn and Kees came over for drinks and dinner and we wandered around the cattle for a while with drinks in hand, then settled by the pond for a while in the last of the daylight. It was very pleasant.

Imagine sitting on someone else's hat! How rude.

lovely view

This was the view from my chair by the pond.

Sunday the 19th
Ranu 31's foot

We had rain again overnight, bringing our total over the last six days to just over 117mm. That quantity spread so nicely over such an extended period will have done significant good in most places around the district. With the warmth, we'll have so much grass we won't know what to do!

This is Ranu's foot, the one pictured during treatment a couple of weeks ago. There's rather a lot of extra flesh between her toes, but she's no longer lame.

identifying newly-tagged calves

Calf identification: tag them, then see which cow each one goes back to. This is two-year-old 611 and her son.

Making sure we get the stud bull calves right is a bit of a nerve-wracking task sometimes, although this year it was reasonably easy because there were only four of them. I was pretty sure I'd identified Athena's calf correctly, but nervously waited for an opportunity like this, to see him with his mother. Taking an elastrator ring off a bull calf after it was applied by mistake wouldn't really be an option.

The uncertainty arises when we take the whole mob to the yards, then wait for the cows and calves to pair up again, as they generally do to some extent. Some of the earlier born calves have faces I recognise, but by the end of calving, it all gets a bit confusing. The cows are never confused, but I don't remember all of the dark-haired faces quite as well as their mothers know them. It would take too long to wait for every calf to find its mother for a feed, so often I work out which animals belong together by some of the other communicative signals, but they're subtle, and one is never completely sure until the calf feeds, that the identification was correctly made. A couple of years ago I got it wrong!

bulls and cows

We had to check that the electric fence between these two paddocks was working well! The wind is mostly northerly at present, so the cows will be wafted with fertile bull scent, in preparation for mating to begin in a week's time.

There's bull #89 again, turning to come and look at me.

Monday the 20th

I took our neighbour, Jane, up to the airport this morning to catch a plane to see her family for Christmas. The clouds were too low for the plane from Auckland to land, so she and the other passengers were loaded into a small van and driven south instead. That has happened to Jane on several occasions; I shall try never to book a ticket on the same flight as her!

Tuesday the 21st
607 and her son

I brought the cows and calves into the House paddock this morning, so that when my Godfather Hack came for lunch, they would be nearby. It's nice to see them just outside the house.

I think cows can't help but lick their calves.

Cows and calves on the hill

Later on we moved the cattle from the House Paddock, over the road to the big hill paddock.

We walked up to the boundary to put a hot tape along a short stretch of the old fence, to stop them going through into the new slice of paddock we have always owned, but previously not had access to. Meanwhile most of the cattle had climbed the hill and found their favourite grazing spots. There have been no cattle in here since before calving began.

Kikuyu grass

This is the grass in that other bit of land: seriously out-of-control Kikuyu. What I don't know, and would like to find out, is how long the eggs and larvae of cattle intestinal parasites can survive in this sort of grass. I think that when conditions are right the eggs hatch, and then the larvae hang around going through a couple of moults before they're ready to be eaten by cattle. If they're not eaten, they eventually run out of energy and die, but I'm not sure how long the whole cycle takes if the conditions are warm and moist, as they generally are around here. I'm going to wait until they're all dead, before opening this bit up for grazing by my cattle.

Getting Kikuyu back under control when it has been let go, takes a bit of time, a reasonable number of mature cattle, and some electric tape is generally a good thing to use. You can't do the job in one hit, because underneath that nice green top, are a lot of ropey stolons, which have very little nutritional value for the cows and can cause problems if fed to them in great quantities, since they're relatively indigestable and very fibrous. So you get the cows to eat off the green bit, and they'll pull up and consume some of the ropey stuff at the same time. A couple of weeks later - or whenever the grass has greened again on top - the cows come back again, take off the top, along with a little more of the understorey. It can take three or four grazings before the grass is mostly returned to good order. It is not a job for young, growing cattle. If you have a mulcher on the back of a tractor, the job can be done in a couple of hours.

Wednesday the 22nd
orchid fruit

These are the fruits of the tiny orchids, Drymoanthus adversus. I am surprised by the size of the fruit, compared with the size of the flowers.

split Puriri tree

This is what 100mm of rain will do to a tree after a long dry spell! This Puriri has looked a bit dodgy for some time, part of it having broken off some years ago, before we fenced it off. It has squashed the fence, which won't be doing much good for the voltage in the rest of the electric fence system.

Mike is in the picture, having come out for a farm wander with some of the family, and an overnight camp with a couple of his boys.

Thursday the 23rd
Mike and rabbits

Mike and his quarry.

Mike's eldest son, Eric, comes out with his rifle whenever they visit, and goes off on his own to stalk and attempt to shoot rabbits. He hasn't had a lot of success yet. His (temporarily) one-eyed father popped three of them during the last few hours.

Friday the 24th

Jill and I went for a walk. I decided that we'd go out and get the heifers in from the PW so I could give them a shot of copper, ready for mating. We got out to the paddock, called for a little while, wandered around and eventually they started thundering down the hill toward us. I began counting as they came into view and got to eight. Checking who was there, I had a very, very nasty feeling, rather similar to one I had only a year and three days ago, because the ninth heifer, who didn't arrive, was Eva.
I asked Jill to walk back and tell Stephan that I was off to search the paddock and would he please come out and help me - I figured that even if I found her in a few minutes, I'd need a hug!

I walked along to the one dangerous gully we haven't managed to fill up with prunings from the surrounding trees yet. I could hardly breathe, kept thinking, I don't want to do this, don't want to go there, don't want to be here ... I felt like I was walking through treacle.

I climbed up the hill, listening, looking with enormous trepidation into the two deep holes which we have yet to fill and found them empty. Then back down through the other gullies, gradually relaxing out of the horror of the things I'd been imagining, but then wondering whether if Eva wasn't stuck, she could be hurt or sick?

Stephan called from somewhere down the hill where he was looking around, and eventually called again from near the front of the paddock that Eva was there. She had meandered out of the scrub, grazing along the hillside ...

Baggage! What a horrible, terrifying half hour.

I started to walk them in, Stephan went back to where he'd left the bike, and we went home.