The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 27th of November 2010.
Saturday the 27th
Sean, Ryan and Stephan

Raewyn and her youngest boys, Ryan and Sean, stayed at the house last night while their Dad and brothers were out with the ATC campers. This morning they went out with Stephan to milk Imagen, and then afterwards to feed the lamb.

While everyone else had a day of adventure, fun or relaxation, I went off to supervise one student in each of the day's exam sessions. Many of the Scholarship exams are held on the Saturdays of the exam period and they're the nicest sessions for the students, with very little noise around the school to distract them.

Ryan and Sean and their rabbit hole

There's a hole in the ground down near our bridge, which we think was probably made by a large rat, but these two little boys were convinced a rabbit must live there. To see if they could catch it, they set up one of the live-capture traps where the imagined rabbit might come out and investigate the carrot they put in the trap as bait.

They didn't catch anything.

Bulls 90 and 89

The two yearling brothers, #90 and #89. I'm rather pleased with this year's bulls, being better grown than any of their predecessors.

dying camera

The last picture my Canon Powershot G10 camera took before it died. It is just under two years old and had taken around 12,000 pictures. Canon will not look at the camera without extracting over $100 from me, despite this premature catastrophic failure.

dead Canon G10

Camera in rigor mortis. The lens housing will not retract; the lens is now rattling loosely around inside. Very sad. Luckily I earn money from photography, or this would have proven an exceptionally expensive hobby!

Sunday the 28th

Fortunately the small camera I generously bought for Stephan when I bought the G10, still works.

ATC Cadets

The ATC Cadets packed up their camps and walked to their next activity: raft building and then a race around the pond.

ATC Cadets

They had a set time to construct their rafts out of truck tyre tubes, rope and lengths of Kanuka, then they had to lift them over the fence, carry them to the pond and get in without everyone falling off.

ATC Cadets

Then they raced a couple of times around the island and got out and back over the fence again. Lots of fun for all!

Thelymitra longifolia

Finally, I found an open Sun Orchid, this one of the Thelymitra longifolia plants on a big fallen Puriri out in the Middle Back paddock. After all the waiting and hiking out to check the flowers, I only had the happy snappy camera available to take its picture.

It's a beautifully delicate little thing, on a plant I hadn't noticed before. I have missed the others I'd previously spotted, those having flowered in the days I was not able to be here to see them.


Three weeks ago I vaccinated the three bulls against Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD). The disease is rife in Northland herds and although we don't bring outside cattle in to our herd, which reduces our risk considerably, I managed to leave the electric fencing off for a few hours the other day and saw most of the calves right up against the boundary with the neighbours' horrid little Jersey animals. The neighbouring cattle all look healthy enough in that regard, but that's no guarantee they're safe! If any of my calves contracted BVD and passed it to on to the cows, so that the infection was gradually making its way around my herd, we'd have trouble. Bearing in mind the level of risk, I thought it prudent to at least vaccinate the bulls. If any of the bulls contracted the disease from a cow during mating, he'd get sick enough to interrupt his sperm production, thus making him temporarily infertile at a crucial time, as well as then being infectious to any cow he came in contact with. BVD kills early pregnancies, which would then mess up my calving plan this year.

BVD contracted in mid pregnancy may not kill the calf, but causes it to be born in a Persistently Infected state, meaning it sheds the disease for the whole of its life and eventually dies of it, often prematurely. Some infected foetuses are born dead. It's an interesting disease and one I hope not to have to deal with directly.

bulls' bums

The bulls having had that initial sensitiser vaccination three weeks ago, required the booster dose today. That means they're fully vaccinated at least two weeks before the start of mating.

While they were in, we weighed them. #90 and #89 who appeared in a picture above, weighed 493 and 456kg respectively. #87 weighed 481kg.

They're growing pretty fast at present - fast for a dry spring on a moderate diet, at any rate. All three of them have gained 155kg since 14 August, when their average weight was 322kg. They've therefore added half of their August weight to their bodies since then; no wonder they suddenly look so good!

Monday the 29th
Tī Kōuka, Cabbage Tree

More of my "babies": Tī Kōuka, Cabbage Trees, flowering on the riverbank where we planted them to begin to stabilise an area which was beginning to fall into the stream.

Curly's calf

This is Curly's calf, balding along his shoulders as animals with his skin and hair defect do. He and his mother have Hypotrichosis, creating the short, sparse, curly coat.

These calves seem to go through a balding period, after which the hair grows back evenly again. In our warm climate the defect doesn't matter much. In cold places such cattle would have to be culled, because they haven't enough hair for warmth in the winter.

lots of calves

Lots of calves washing up against the fence as their mothers all went through to the next paddock. They gradually learn about farm infrastructure: where troughs are and what they look like, where gates are and how to go through them, etc.

Tuesday the 30th

Early yesterday morning I bought a new camera via an internet shopping site. The G10 was great, so I bought the latest model in the same line, the G12. It's not a cheap camera and I hope it lasts a hell of a lot longer than the G10 did. This afternoon it arrived. That's astonishingly quick service.

a swarm of bees

I went out to move the cattle again this evening and was wandering along toward the gate in a thoughtful sort of dream, when something odd about the fencepost I was approaching made me stop, thankfully!

Bees are quite dozy and placid when in swarm mode, I'm told, but having a reasonable level of allergy to their stings, I don't think I should test that by putting my hand too close. I called Stephan on my phone and asked him to come out and open the gate. He soon appeared in white overalls and the only sting he received was from a bee he walked on out in the paddock.

456 and her calf

Beating her expected calving date by five days, 456 produced a tiny little heifer sometime this afternoon. All was well, I was glad to find, since I'd not anticipated this birth quite so soon.

Wednesday the 1st of December

The bees were still on the post this morning, but would have left when it got too hot during the day.

Last exam session this morning. Back to being a farmer!

unidentified flower

I went orchid hunting and all I could find was this odd little flower. I am not sure what it is. It could be a Lobelia of some sort, but also looks like Pratia. I found an old watercolour painting of a plant very like this which was identified as Pratia angulata, but recent photos of that species have different, shorter and rounder leaves.

Thursday the 2nd

Piwakawaka, Fantail. They're hard to catch with the camera, always flitting around catching tiny flying insects.

The bird is sitting in a Kahikatea tree.

hidden calf

When a calf can hide in an area like this, you can see how we can spend hours looking for them in more interesting terrain!

The calf is that little bit of black in the foreground.

dairy herd crossing Ruaroa Road

On my first free day in two and a half weeks, I had to go out to a Vet meeting. I didn't arrange that very well!

On my way home the dairy herd over the hills was making its way to the shed for afternoon milking. I stopped a little way back from them, having seen someone driving them along from behind, because if I'd gone closer, the cows would have stopped to let me pass. It was rather pleasant to stop and wait.

Kotare nest hole

I noticed a pile of newly chipped bits of wood on the ground under the fallen Puriri at the bottom of the garden and then saw the cause: a pair of Kingfishers have been making a nest hole in the trunk. (The glass to the left is a window pane we placed there to provide wind shelter for the orchid during flowering.)

After dark I shone my torch into this hole. There was a bird sitting along to the left, whose feathers I could see through a crack in the wood.

Tree Fuchsia

We planted this little Tree Fuchsia plant (Fuchsia excorticata), over Matariki's grave. It was a small plant, made even smaller by (probably) a rabbit nipping off one side branch on the first night, so we put a cage over it.  In its two days out here, it is shooting up! When in my greenhouse these plants have been quite slow growing; they must prefer full light.

Friday the 3rd
cows heading into a stream crossing

Cows and calves coming to my call, to cross the stream from the Frog to the Swamp paddock.

orchid bud

I spent days "stalking" this orchid flower, waiting to see it open, but never did. Maybe next year.


These ones though, don't close.

Orchids have three sepals (outer flower covering) and three petals. In this flower, the sepals are the two parts joined at the front, and the dorsal sepal behind, with its point straight up at the rear. Two of the petals are those in front of the dorsal sepal, and the third forms the labellum which has the little dark tip coming out of the flower like a tongue.

Dexie standing in the stream

Walking back to ensure all the cattle had moved from the Frog to the Swamp paddock, I found Dexie standing in the stream. This is something our cattle won't always have the opportunity to do. It's not good for waterways to have large animals stomping around in them, leaving their various waste products in the water, unbalancing the ecosystems of the streams. Fencing the streams is an ongoing project.

Irene 35's foot

Irene 35 has foot problems. The inner part of her hoof as indicated is eroded around an injury site. I suspect she's stepped on something sharp and an infection may have developed under the hard part of her hoof.

She may need to be seen by a vet.

Irene's mother, Irene, had foot problems. I might be shooting myself in the foot to keep these cows and breed from their offspring. But ...
I know making excuses for cattle is a dangerous path to take.

Irene's mother had Neospora, which she probably picked up during her last failed pregnancy on the farm she lived on at the time. As a result Irene and her brothers have Neospora, acquired during gestation. The bulls don't pass it on to their daughters (or the cows), fortunately. But I have noticed a marked difference in the general health of the infected cattle and I theorise that their immune systems are constantly challenged and thus a slight foot challenge which any other cow might naturally heal, becomes a problem in these cattle. Original Irene's granddaughters so far have very nice feet, from their very nice-footed sire.

I might end up with a lot of culling to do on bad feet in years to come, but if my suspicion is correct, the progeny will not have horrible feet, but they will have the lovely features I see in Irene's family when they're at their healthy best.

I have such a great life: I am my own boss, these are my own decisions. If I'm wrong, I answer only to myself and the mistakes still make beef price.