The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 27th of March 2010.
Saturday the 27th
walking the bulls up the road

Convenient paddocks with grass in them are scarce. But the little inconvenient roadside paddock up the road hasn't been grazed for some weeks, and has enough in it to feed the little bulls for a while. We put them over the scales and gave them a pour-on drench, then set out up the road with them. I was pretty nervous about whether they'd move easily or not, but they were fantastic - followed my call to come along the road rather than head into the grassy area directly opposite as they came out onto the road, then quietly walked along to where I opened the gate to their paddock.

Sunday the 28th

Eva 81 finally came on heat late last night and so I had the opportunity to inseminate her late this morning. While she's looked unscathed by her falling-down-a-hole incident, I suspect it has had an effect on her health and fertility since. I hope she's now in calf, because she's a very well-grown heifer already, well ready to carry her first calf this year.

I met a very nice couple from just a few kilometres down the road, with whom I'd made contact after an exchange on the discussion forum. They were keen on Lowline Angus cattle and I'd suggested that many ordinary cattle aren't necessarily huge, and also generally far less expensive than some of the "boutique" breeds. It suited us both for them to come round this afternoon and stand around with some of my cows, to get an idea of their size and character.

Monday the 29th
fertile mucous on the grass

Old Irene was on heat today, the first really firm sign I've seen this season, just a couple of days before she's due to go off to the works. This thick trail of mucous fell on the ground as she was attempting to mount another of the cows in the cull mob. Fertile mucous is clear, slippery and generally very stretchy.

Tuesday the 30th

The New Zealand Angus Association (NZAA) has a Ward Tour every year. This year the region hosting the event is Northland. It generally costs about $800 per person to join the tour, which generally causes me to think I won't be going. The Annual General Meeting of the Association is always held during the tour, so I decided that this year I would definitely go along and ask some questions of the Council members about their approach to the recently exposed Angus genetic defects (AM & NH).

I addressed the meeting on two issues of concern to me: firstly that the NZAA has in my view not adequately informed its bull clients and the commercial farmers who will have bought carriers of the defects over the last several years, of the known presence of the defects in a particular family of Angus, and the availability of genetic testing. I also questioned the appropriateness of Council members in particular, selling bulls from known carriers before the tests were available to prove the status of those bulls, or selling untested bulls when tests were already available, during the bull sales last year. I said I had been told that I was the only member of the association to have expressed any concern to the association and that I wished to know if that was correct.

In summary I was informed that I remain the only member to have contacted the association or the President on the matter; that the Association had realised the first defect discovered (AM) would "affect about 30% of our cows" and that they then "aligned ourselves with the Australian position, which was to basically breed it out". Their position appears to be that because there are a number of defects coming to light, these two are of only minor significance. According to one speaker AM has been present in the New Zealand herd since 1991, although I can only find registrations of calves of the affected pedigrees from 1995, with the first use of Rito 1B2 of Rita 5H11 Bando.

Further comment was then invited from one of the newly elected councillors, whom I realised later is the principal of the Fossil Creek stud. He effectively suggested that publicity would be dangerous because people might perceive the problem to be worse than it really is. He also said that "the percentage of dead calves that one would get, even from a very largely affected herd, is very very small".

I queried that last comment, because according to the science of heredity, if one mates two carrier animals (each parent has a good copy and a defective copy of the allele in question) then there is a 25% chance of producing an animal which is without the defect, a 50% chance of producing another carrier, and a 25% chance of producing an affected calf, i.e. a dead one. New Zealand breeders must be incredibly lucky, if they have avoided the dead 25% over a number of matings. In the case of the NH defect, it is quite likely that the proportion of dead calves born is reduced, because many pregnancies apparently fail early in gestation, but those cows will be unproductive when they do not produce a calf in that season.

I was and am astonished and really very angry, but I have done about as much as I can without resorting to an email campaign to find out whether the Angus breeders who have not been involved in this mess, understand the ongoing implications of this approach, which will potentially negatively affect all of the membership. There will be scores of carrier cattle in the unregistered Angus population; there were bulls sold last year by registered breeders which were tested as AMC (carriers of the AM defect), and many more sold before any of us were aware of the problem. While registered breeders can easily breed their way around the problem because pedigrees are known and testing has been done, what of the commercial breeder who buys an unpedigreed bull from someone, or through a local sale? In my view, the NZAA had a great opportunity, which they have now missed, to inform farmers of the defects in an unalarming manner, educated people on avoiding the problems, and could have stated very clearly that any bull bought from a registered breeder would be guaranteed free of the defects, because many of us have gone to a great deal of effort and expense to ensure that would be the case. What I did not anticipate was that some registered breeders would sell carrier bulls. To my mind that is entirely contrary to the aim of the association of improving the breed of Angus cattle!

I realised as we drove away from the meeting that I felt rather sad. For months and months I've been quietly boiling about this issue, tried my very best to work out why the NZAA weren't doing anything about it, corresponding with various people in the organisation and getting nowhere. I do not wish to continue to support the New Zealand Angus Association when this is their approach. I need to do some thinking about whether quitting my registered breeding membership will have effects I do not want, and whether on balance that would matter anyway, bearing in mind how strongly opposed I am to the direction of the organisation.

If you know someone who breeds black cattle, ask them if they know anything about this interesting issue! Please feel free to send anyone with queries in my direction.

new café at Mangamuka Bridge

We left the Omapere Hotel at the end of the meeting and made our way home via the farm of another Angus breeder, who was involved in the tour and readying her property and cattle for the tour's visit later in the afternoon.

At Mangamuka Bridge we found that the old petrol station has been transformed into a café, so stopped to sample their coffee and service, both of which were very nice.

I had not noticed the change to the building in the dark this morning as we passed it on our way to catch the first Kohukohu ferry across to Rawene.

new ram at work

Back at home Mr Ram was keeping Lamb company.

Wednesday the 31st

The cull cows went off on a truck today and it was a horrible experience for some of them and for me. The truck driver, a young man we've had here on other occasions, lost his presence of mind and took that out on lovely grey 367. He took no notice of my protests or demands that he desist in triggering his electric prodder. When bullying men are involved, women and animals are at the bottom of the heap! I have and will take what action I can about this incident.

To my usual cow eulogies:

Imagen following Stephan

Imagen is still eagerly following Stephan anywhere if he carries molasses. Because of this willingness it's easiest to move her away from Zella at night than the other way around. (We separate them nightly so Imagen can be milked in the morning.)

Thursday the 1st of April
weird tree-dweller

Oryctolagus cuniculus minimus. Fast moving, rarely seen, never before photographed in the wild. This specimen apparently had amnesia and tremors, causing it to remain disoriented and shivering, halfway up a Kanuka tree.

They are reputed to have extremely sharp teeth and claws, so are best left entirely alone.

Friday the 2nd
digging a hole to find a water pipe

We went out to the fence which marks the end of the Swamp paddock (we're supposed to call those soggy bits wetlands these days, but you can't just change a paddock's name on a whim) and the beginning of the Back Barn Paddock, because I had determined it would be a very good place for a water trough. There are streams running through both paddocks, but the cattle demonstrate a preference for troughs much of the time, as long as they're kept clean. A stream crossing where cattle might stop to drink, will often be downstream of another, so there may well be "essence of cow" detectable in the water, which is presumably not a good taste.

Stephan started digging a trench where he thought the main water line runs underground.

dropwort parsley roots

The soil is very dry. There is only the coolness one would expect as part of the soil structure, but no real moisture.

This is the base of a parsley dropwort plant, which is often called carrotweed, but is a slightly smaller plant than real wild carrot.

more holes in the ground

I went home to try and find something for him and came back to find Stephan had been digging all over the place, but had managed to find the pipe. He'd decided to go back to where he was certain it was, then dug holes to get a line to show where he should be digging by the fence.

installing a saddle fitting

The next task was to drill a hole in the pipe and install a saddle so that another pipe could be branched off the main line.

installing a saddle fitting

I like this sort of clever thing. It's clever enough to make me suspect a woman might have designed it!

installing a saddle fitting

And there it all is, ready to have a piece of alkathene fitted to feed the new trough.

the trough, in place

Stephan then banged a couple of posts in on the fenceline, cut the three bottom wires, put the trough in place, then rejoined the wires from each end to the new posts.

stream bed

I went for a wander to see if I could find some more Beggar's tick plants and seeds (which I did) and spent some time wandering down the stream.

There are dried marks on the rocks which indicate the normal level of the water. It looks to me as if the level is currently about two inches below normal summer flows, and about five inches below the winter level. I may have to return later in the year to take comparative photos.

strange little plant

I don't know what this plant is. Please feel free to suggest possible names or plant families. These appear to be flowers, and were minute, on many-branched stems. There were no obvious leaves, although there presumably were some nearer the ground. I primarily took the picture so I look at the little flowers later - my eyes are getting a bit hard to focus in such situations.

I weaned another five calves today. Last year we weaned most of them in one big mob and it was chaos; this year I'm doing them in small groups and they're much calmer, quieter, and settle more quickly.