The week beginning the 19th of February 2011.
Saturday the 19th

All night long I kept hearing a calf calling for its mother.  I knew I'd seen every cow and calf before I'd moved them from the Big Back paddock, so presumed a calf might have been left behind and then found its way down the lanes after the rest of the cattle had gone.  But when I went out this morning, the calling calf was in the paddock with the others and I could hear nothing from his missing mother, little Damara 74.

Damara, alone

To find Damara, who I expected would be down the bottom of the Big Back paddock waiting by the gate and calling for her calf, I had to ride up the hill to where I'd last seen her yesterday.  She would not move from the spot where she'd last seen her calf.  I think she must have gone off grazing yesterday between when I ticked her off my list and then moved them down the hill.  Damara, one of Abigail's daughters, obviously has the "loner" trait I've seen to some degree in all of her sisters.  I gave up on trying to get her to move when she wouldn't respond to shouts, slaps on the rump, or me waving my arms around her.  I thought I might have to bring the calf back to her.

calf heading out to find his mother

Stephan had walked out to meet me, and we drafted Damara's calf out of the rest of the mob as they came out of the paddock and made their way toward the yards, and he headed off out to find his mother.  Seeing this, I can understand the stories people sometimes tell of weaned cows and calves going for miles to find each other when separated at weaning.  He was entirely happy to go off on his own, with a sure sense of where he'd find his mother.

I did follow him though, to make sure he went the right way and watched him trot along all the lanes he'd come down yesterday, then up the track in the Big Back, by which time he and Damara were calling to each other.  I didn't wait for them, because their delayed feeding session might take twenty minutes and they weren't required at the yards with the others for any reason.

cows and calves in the Pig Paddock

Drafting the four calves (for vaccination) out of the mob of cows and calves was a very smooth operation - it's so lovely having quiet cows!  When the cows all stand still while I move the calves around them, it makes the job so much easier than if they all nervously dashed out of my way.

After the calves were done, they all went into the Pig Paddock, so they'd be easily accessible to my expected visitors.

I was approached by a couple new to farming, on a more formal sort of basis than usual, to help them sort out the things they need to know to stock their newly acquired farm and to farm it without getting into trouble - in terms of ensuring they did everything correctly for the welfare of the animals, in particular.  As you might gather from reading this site, there are many things I've learnt through my years of farming and there have been gaps I didn't know were there at times, in my knowledge.  There doubtless still are.

Our visitors arrived and we spent some time talking about cattle, farming, breeding, all the things a person new to farming needs to know to be aware of - you don't need to know everything all at once, but you do need to be aware of the sorts of things you'll need to know more about!  Then we went for a wander amongst the cows and calves.

Everyone knows what a cow looks like, but a look over many fences will tell you that not everyone knows what a good cow looks like.  Look around my herd and you'll see a few less-than-perfect examples too, but they are not as common as their better relatives.  It is quite possible that someone else looking at my cows will think I'm entirely misled in my own view of a good animal, in the same way that I am astonished by some pictures I see of cows in other places, touted as examples of perfection.  Perhaps it is necessary to see a herd as a whole, to build a composite picture of the perfect cow that particular breeder is aiming to achieve.

Damara and her son

Sometime during the day Damara and her son wandered down the lanes and settled in the shade near the paddock Imagen and friends are grazing.

Calf 96 is now just over four months old.  Two weeks ago he weighed 180kg and his mother weighed 438kg; so at that stage he was already 41% of his mother's weight.  That's not altogether surprising bearing in mind her small size, but it's impressive in terms of the resources she's supplying to grow him so quickly.  He has been stacking on 1.2kg per day since his first weighing at just over two weeks old.  That's milk all over his nose - I disturbed them while he was feeding.

cattle running

At the end of the day we took the cows and calves from the Pig Paddock, collecting Damara and her calf along the way, and I led them, while Stephan followed, up through the Big Back paddock to the gate at the top into the Middle Back.  I kept stopping on the bike to call them to follow me and Stephan said there was a point at which they all suddenly disappeared, taking off up the hill.  I opened the gate just as the first of them came thundering down the track and along the sides of the hill to where I'd stopped.

cows and calves grazing

There is a lot for them to eat out here, as there was in the Big Back.  These are tricky paddocks to use during mating because of needing not to leave the bull anywhere on a boundary with other people's stock - particularly where it's a long way from home and I can't see what's going on by just looking out the window.  My other concern was that I didn't want to put my one remaining working bull with the cows in a paddock with holes and gullies, because of the risk of him injuring himself.

cattle grazing

This is Kikuyu when it's been left too long.  The top green stuff is still nutritious, and once it's gone, the brown stuff beneath will grow more green tips.  But when it gets long like this, it shades out any clover, which requires good light to grow well.

On the other hand, thick Kikuyu helps retain moisture in the soil during hot dry spells, where short shallow-rooted grasses dry off and die, leaving the soil exposed to the heat and drying.  So Kikuyu may also protect other species like clover during the harshness of some summers.

Sunday the 20th

Four days ago I watched a little fixed-wing aircraft buzzing slowly over the bush-clad hills around me, then heard the approach of a helicopter: it must be coming up to Marijuana harvest time again.  The Police are out hunting for the plantations and spraying them before they can be harvested by their growers.  This morning the helicopter was back again, with its spray gear hanging underneath.

Northland's climate makes it a prime area for those who grow Marijuana, despite its illegality.  Most growers plant and tend crops on other people's land.  There can be legal implications for the owners of such land, so it's reassuring to see the Police spotting from above, discouraging such activity.

Monday the 21st
beehive delivery truck

Syd Greaves has bees and now he has bees on our place again.  We've not had Syd's hives here for some years, partly because access has been difficult when the ground is wet.  Things are a little easier now we have metalled races in so many places.

Tuesday the 22nd
decorated retaining wall

Travelling to an appointment in Whangarei this morning, we passed a number of road-works sites.  This is a new retaining wall alongside a new passing lane near the turn-off to Oakura, Mokau and Helena Bay.  I do like those eels!

We had lunch with Jill and sometime around 1pm we headed north, to spend the afternoon with Kate and Geoff, who have a new property near Helena Bay.  Because we were talking about our morning, we didn't turn the radio on to listen to the news.

Kate and Stephan beside the stream

We had a lovely lunch with Kate and Geoff, then went for a walk, which involved clambering down some perilously steep slopes from their grazing land to a spectacular stream and forest below.

We wandered up the stream for some distance, did a bit of eel-tickling (actually I prodded it gently with my finger) to wake up a rather sleepy-looking eel in a pool.

When we were heading back toward home, Kate's phone beeped and she had to deal with something, and looking at mine I found someone had left a message, so I played the phone-in-the-wilderness game too!

The message was from Jill, saying someone had alerted her to the distressing news that Christchurch had been shaken again, far worse than before, and that she was watching it all unfold on the television news.

climbing the hill again

We headed back up the hill, probably slightly more quickly than we would have done in ignorance of terrible things happening in other places.

The news on various internet sites was shocking.  We see such destruction on the news from time to time, in far-away places most of us have never been.  While one sympathises and thinks of the horror of such situations, it never touches quite as deeply as when the voices of the people in the middle of the dust and chaos are those with our own accents.

I've only been to Christchurch a couple of times in my life, most recently just touching down at the airport on my way through.  Many years ago when my dear friend Katy lived there, I went down for a weekend and while there, visited the Cathedral to join the bellringers on their practice night.  Those bells have now fallen to the ground.

We sent a text to Stephan's sister, Rachel, to ask if all the family were alright, and thankfully received one back again very quickly to say they were all safely accounted for.

We left Kate and Geoff looking at the flood of pictures being posted through the internet news sites and headed for home, listening to the radio as we travelled.

These strange clouds were visible as we approached Mangamuka Bridge.

strange clouds over the Maungataniwha Range

At home we immediately sat down in front of the television news.

Wednesday the 23rd

We spent quite a lot of time watching television today.

I went out to check the cows and discovered Abigail in an excited state, trying to jump anyone near her: on heat.  Bother.  She should be in calf.  The cattle were all at the bottom of the Middle Back paddock, on either side of a nasty muddy gully, which looked pretty perilous for anyone being shoved in the wrong direction.  They'd made a good impression on the grass in the rest of the paddock, so I ticked them all off on my list and then let them through to the Back Barn paddock.

Thursday the 24th

I've been watching too much of the news.  It's all horrible.  I can't imagine what it's like to live in and around Christchurch, let alone to be waiting to find out if there's anyone left alive under those mountains of rubble.

I had a meeting in town today, so had to stop watching and listening for several hours.

Hand-shaking etiquette:  Today I re-met the husband of an acquaintance in town.  Frank extended his hand so I naturally responded, and he closed before we had fully "engaged" and crushed my knuckles and fingers.  For ten minutes afterwards I had to massage my hand before it stopped aching.

A hand-shake is a greeting, a demonstration of good or benign intent, or it should be.  The secret violence of a crushing hand-shake is neither of those things.  Someone afterwards suggested some ways of dealing with the situation, but at the time I was collapsing internally with the intense pain and surprise.  I have often experienced such "attacks" and have attempted for the last few years to break the habit of offering my hand for shaking, but have yet to work out a simple, socially-acceptable technique of politely refusing proffered hands from men I meet.  Frank's will be the last hand I shake.

Puriri tree

When I looked at it this evening, I had the impression that this big Puriri is on more of a lean than it was before.  It might be my altered perception in the midst of ground-shaking news.

It is gradually going over, evidenced by the varying angles of the new growth from the horizontal branches, and the lifting roots on the "uphill" side, but it's a slow movement still at this stage.    I will at some point erect some electric tape around the area into which the tree would fall, to keep the cattle safe should it go down.