The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 27th of February 2010.
Saturday the 27th
A&P show cattle yards

Kaitaia A&P Show day today, and we were in there early so I could help with the beef cattle competition. Every year there's some less-than-subtle pressure applied to get me to take cattle to the show, but my reasons for not doing so remain the same: it's just too hot for black cattle to stand around in unshaded yards in early pregnancy! There is shade-cloth over the top now, which has improved the situation a little, but in full February sunshine, the heat is still intense.

A&P show cattle judging

There were a good number of entries in some of the classes, including this, the cow with calf at foot class.

A&P show spectators

Various people came and went during the judging. These kids were funny to listen to, as they made astonished noises about the usual biological processes cattle continue to perform regardless of their location.

Even in a small rural town, children can grow up without much exposure to the agricultural world which surrounds and supports them.

In the hall, the apples from our little tree had won first prize, in a class of about six entries; Stephan's bowl was alone and had a first; and here are the photos I entered, below. (The competition requires 6x4" format, so composition may differ slightly between the printed version and those which I'd prepared for the website previously and present here - you'll have seen them all before. The Tui on the flax flowers was composed differently, but I wanted to squash it into this format.)

photos photos photos photos photos photos photos photos photos

There was also a picture of the lovely orchid (not a great picture, but I thought it would be interesting to see if there were any other orchid people around who would recognise it for what it is) and two pictures I like because of the Rata in flower in the background, both from this page.

The classes available didn't entirely suit my pictures, there being no Candid section and the portrait options insisted upon only one subject, so these ended up in Family, Animal Portrait, Landscape and Open.

The ones which received commendation from the judge (a first and a second) were the two with Jude and the children. There were some pictures entered which I liked as much, but a couple of the judge's choices seemed quite inexplicable from a photographic point of view. No matter, it was fun to have finally had some photos done and if we can get to the Broadwood show next year, I'll take them there as well. In the mean time I won a couple of vouchers for some printing of more digital photos.

Sunday the 28th

Turning on the radio this morning to listen to a documentary, the usual weekday Morning Report person's voice came as a surprise, until we fathomed the size of the catastrophe in Chilé, with the huge earthquake having happened some hours earlier. The news here was all about the Tsunami threat to the Pacific coast of this country, rather than providing very much detail about the areas affected in Chilé, where my lovely Uncle Paul lives in Antofagasta. The Tsunami threat here came to very little, but I spent a lot longer waiting anxiously to hear that I still had a living relative on the other side of the ocean. Antofagasta is a long way from the epicentre of this quake, but because there was so little real news coming through, it was hard to gauge the possibility of damage in other parts of Chilé.

Late in the day I brought the insemination mob to the yards to put some new heat detector patches on the backs of those which I still suspect will require a last, late round of insemination.

Monday the 1st of March
dry grass

Grass is getting a bit short around the place now. I'm having to control intake quite carefully for my late mating mob.

Ruth with Beggar's Tick plants

I brought Stephan some flowers, so he took my picture. What I'd really been doing was pulling out Beggar's Tick plants in the Back Barn paddock.

Tuesday the 2nd
Imagen, Irene and calves

Irene (at rear) is still feeding Isla's son along with her own, and maintaining good condition. I've been slowly weighing my thoughts on Irene's future, bearing in mind her Neospora infection, the state of her feet, the previously valued excellence of her genetic contribution (rather diminished now by the appearance of the foot problem) and her age (11 - not old, but getting on).

The other pair are Imagen and Zella.

There was a public meeting for farmers in Kaitaia today on Bovine Tuberculosis (TB). Northland has for a long time been TB free, but in the last few months infected cows have been found on two local dairy farms. Infected cattle had been brought in from other parts of the country and in both cases all legally required processes of testing and documentation were followed. The infections were picked up by routine herd testing and monitoring at the meat works when cattle were killed.

The Animal Health Board (AHB) which is in charge of TB eradication, is now conducting a programme of elimination of all possible vector species (possums, mustelids, feral cats, etc.) on and around the properties in question. There's also a bounty on mature wild pig heads, because they are the scavengers of all dead things, and therefore an excellent indicator of the presence of TB in the non-farmed animal populations.

The meeting was reasonably well attended and the information well presented and it filled in some gaps I'd had in my TB knowledge. For most farmers in this area TB isn't something we bother to know much about, because we're only required to submit our herds to three-yearly testing and there are no movement controls, nor pre-movement test requirements for any cattle. If TB were to get into the possum population locally, all this would change very quickly. Possums are opportunistic meat scavengers and so a dead and infected cattle beast might well become an infective food source for them. Sick possums are generally the only ones ever seen in daylight and it is the tottering gait of a wobbly possum which would be so attractive to curious cattle, by which infection could then be passed back into a herd of cattle. Without infected possums we are still alright, but if it ever gets into that species up here, we're all in big trouble!

dairy cows on drought pasture

I took this photo on the way home from town. I've been watching this herd with interest, to see how they fare - their manager has a large herd and farm and is a very capable young man, so it would be unlikely he'd get into serious trouble, but this is an exceptional season and I expect he, like the rest of us, is having to do some extremely careful management to get his cattle through this period.

Around the corner I took a picture of rain falling on the bush-clad hills of the Maungataniwha Range.


And then, at last, this afternoon some rain fell! We had about 16mm in three quarters of an hour and then later in the evening, another 16mm - all together about an inch and a half, for those still thinking in imperial measurements.

What a relief. It's not a drought breaker, but for those of us with Kikuyu, it could make a significant difference.

Ranu 31 and calf

Ranu 31 and her son. The bull calves are still with the main mob, heifer calves and all. I'll have to separate them soon.

There was a strange sound out the back this afternoon and it took me a while to realise it was the sound of running water in the stream, after the bit of heavy rain.

Wednesday the 3rd
Joy 67 and Ranu 62

Three and a half years ago my Aunt Joy gave me some money to buy a straw of semen. She's a very nice English lady and I think it really tickled her to be buying bull semen. I inseminated Queenly 23 and she produced a heifer I called Joy. I knew there was a risk in doing this: what if the calf turned out to be no good and I had to send Joy to the works?

From the start she's been a scatty, annoying animal and as she's grown taller and more lanky, I've become less and less keen on keeping her in my breeding herd. Young Joy has never let me tame her and she's an idiot in the yards, so I will, in the end, be glad to see the end of her.

She and Ranu 62 are booked to go on a truck tomorrow.

I brought five heifers out of the mob so that when the two had gone away on the truck, there'd be three to go back to their mob out the back. I've worked out that three makes a mob as far as cows are concerned. Four is better, but three is a definite minimum. Two cows generally won't move easily away from the mob from which they came.

Thursday the 4th

I had a great plan for today. We'd yard the heifers, get them all ready, go to the weaner fair over at Peria. Wrong.

We weighed the heifers and while #67 was the right weight, #62 was way over. They needed to be under about 580kg and #62 is 630kg. I did wonder if she was getting a bit big. Joy 67 confirmed my decision to be rid of her by attempting to shove her head through the railings where there's a crack in one of the boards, in an attempt to escape.

I phoned Anthony, my agent, who was over at the Peria saleyards for the sale, and he advised only sending #67.

The truck came right on time and things were looking good. The truckie told us everything he knew, we loaded the heifer, Stephan shut the door and told the guy he hadn't latched it and the driver continued talking for a while. Nice personable fellow. Then he got in the truck and drove out the gate. At the sharp corner outside the front house, there was a bang and a lot of yelling from our neighbour and my heart sank. Another neighbour appeared from down the road in his ute, having just passed the truck with its back door open and the heifer looking out and took Stephan back down the road in (pointlessly slow) pursuit. Meanwhile I phoned Sean and told him to get on the radio to his driver and get him to shut the door, all the while imagining nearly 600kg of heifer landing on her front feet on a hard road from a high truck!

Having done what I needed to, I got in the ute and headed off down the road, thinking my way through who to call under different circumstances - if the heifer had jumped and was hurt and so on. But just around the corner Stephan and the neighbour came back up the road with thumbs-up signals. They'd found the truck at the bottom of the valley road, with the driver having just shut the door, heifer safely still inside.

I decided I'd had quite enough animal stress for the day and wasn't up to facing the rigours of the weaner fair with its hundreds of calves vocalising their separation distress. I'll be expecting an "insecure load" discount from Mangonui Haulage for this one! There are two really important jobs for a stock truck driver: get the animals on quietly without stress or injury, and shut the damned door so they stay there! If the second isn't carried out, nothing else really counts.

heifers back with the mob

A bit later on I took the four heifers back out to the mob in the Back Barn Paddock. The others obviously knew these heifers had been off on a jaunt!

singing tree

Our singing tree. It takes a while to work out where the bird-like noise this tree makes is coming from, but once spotted, it's obvious the wood-on-wood rubbing is causing the squeaking. Taking people up to get firewood in this little area, we watch as they look up into the trees to see what sort of bird might be calling above them.

Stephan on a crazy machine

Stephan had a fun afternoon playing at mid-life crisis behaviour on a friend's machine, which needed to be taken in to town for a warrant of fitness and to have its road licence updated.

It was extremely noisy, and everywhere he drove it, everyone looked around to see what it was.

cows on heat

Two cows on heat this afternoon, 542 and 478. They spent the whole day following each other around, mounting each other frequently, and were probably quite exhausted by the end of it all. I inseminated them both just after 11pm.

Friday the 5th

The extended dry weather appears to be seriously affecting many of the Taraire trees. I've seen several with yellowing and browned leaves. In some places there are trees which appear to have died, their leaves having all turned brown.

Queenly 23

Fat Queenly again. I love this cow.


Walking through the trees this evening I brushed something from my neck, which then continued to hitch a ride on my sleeve: a tiny weta.