I snuck over to the Pukeko nest today to see how many more of the chicks had hatched and spotted these fresh mussel shells on the grass nearby. I regularly see mussel shells around the farm in the paddocks, but had little idea how they got there. I had wondered if some high-flying birds dropped the mussels they'd fished out of the river, hoping to smash them. But here is the explanation: they are collected from the streams by Pukeko and brought back to their young, where the adult birds, with their very tough bills, break the shellfish open and remove the flesh inside. I do like a solved mystery!
The group of Pukeko parents were quite distressed by my presence, and the first-hatched, mobile chicks were leaving the nest, so I left again quickly. There were still some eggs to hatch.
See, you really can be outstanding in your field. A hump has formed because of underground earth movement - or probably actually water moving - and there's a hole in the top, just big enough for a couple of big feet and legs. That's the North boundary right out at the back of the farm, in the Back Barn Paddock, to which we'd just moved the cattle.
Once all the other cattle had gone out the back, I sent the two bulls on their way to the other side of the farm.
#89 who suffered OOS (Occupational Overuse Syndrome) of the penis the other week, seems entirely recovered. However the chance of scarring from a bending or strain injury makes using him as a breeding bull again too risky - both because it may affect his ability to get cows pregnant, and also because if things are not operating properly, he could perhaps physically hurt the cows during mating. I could have a vet check him out, if I want to reconsider. In the short term I wouldn't use him anyway because he wasn't well for a few days and his elevated body temperature may have interrupted his ability to produce viable sperm.
It rained for much of the rest of the day, just gently and constantly and we went to a wet but enjoyable party at 5pm, to say goodbye to Raewyn, Mathew and the boys, who are moving to Hokitika, down on the West Coast of the South Island! They will be missed.
From about 5am the rain poured down and the streams came up and isolated us from the rest of the world - and from Imogen! But if at all possible, one must get to one's housecow. So one did. Not me, the other one.
We drove out to the first river crossing and Stephan waded across the fast water - which was rather more alarming at close quarters than this photo makes it look. (I quickly snapped a picture just before the rain began to fall heavily again and then put the camera back in the ute.)
Stephan tied a rope to his wrist (in case he fell in and I needed to drag him back out again) and when he reached the other side, tied that to a fence post. Then I tied the milking bucket to the rope and we swung it across the stream and he set off out to milk Imagen and put her back with her calf again.
After waiting for what seemed an age, Stephan finally came back along the track and we did the whole river crossing in reverse and went home to dry out.
Before we headed out on our adventure there was a sudden and marked change in air temperature outside, signalled by the sudden fogging of all the windows in the house, on the outside. It was extraordinary. I'd been feeling cool enough to wear a jersey, but when I stepped outside it was almost hot, and extremely humid.
The river got reasonably high, but our water supply kept flowing and my only concern was that the calves in the back barn could have been in some danger, if they were caught on the other side of the river from their mothers and tried to cross back. A heavy cow, being taller, could cross the streams safely, but a calf might get caught in the current and be washed off its feet.
Later on I went out through the still partly flooded stream crossings and found all the cattle safe and sound and happily grazing.
While sitting writing, thinking we were still virtually isolated from the rest of society, a strange voice called from outside and we found we had unexpected and very welcome guests. Stephan's cousin, Doug, Kathleen and their three children are up visiting from Queenstown and had managed to get out to see us, despite the flooding.
Visiting people with your parents on a rainy day when you're a child is no fun at all, but fortunately the day was still very warm, so the children put their togs on and we all headed down to the pond.
Some of us, particularly those of us with cameras, sensibly carried umbrellas. Nicola, under the light coloured umbrella, eventually succumbed to temptation and joined the swimmers.
Not long after our visitors had left, the river came up and over the bridge again. Their timing was perfect.
We had expected Jude to come yesterday with Stella and her birthday party friends, but the storm had made travelling unwise and they delayed their journey until today.
After setting up their sleeping arrangements - a room full of little girls on the floor and a boy on the window seat - it was time for birthday presents. But first Stella, Jasper and Louie wanted to present Stephan and I with a couple of gifts they'd brought back from Australia for us: some rather scary-looking floating crocodile heads for our pond! They'll no doubt appear in photos from time to time.
The children then gave Stella their presents and they all delightedly helped her play with some of them.
In the picture are Juliette, Matariki, Stella, Ana, Mahinamoki, Louie and Jasper.
Then we took them out to try our maze.
A few weeks ago I formulated a plan to cut a maze through the overgrown River Flat paddock up the road, but with the flooding and ongoing rain, we had to abandon that project. Instead we took our plan and created the maze with electric tape and standards. I think it was as much fun to make as it was for the children to solve. It could have been even more exciting if we'd actually electrified the tape! The children were quite keen on the idea, but I guarantee it would have ended in tears. Imagine the stories they would have told their parents!
When they'd collected all the sweets from all the dead ends in the maze and all worked out how to get through it in any direction, they headed off across the paddock and explored the pig sty. Then Stella said they'd pretend to be cows, and I could make them all go into the yards. I had to flail some of them with my stick to get them into the race. One does what one must.
Punctuating all other activities was swimming in the pond, whenever they could get Jude, Jill, Stephan or I to go and supervise them.
Late in the afternoon the five girls came walking with me to go and get the cattle from the Back Barn paddock. We have to have them in the yards in the morning for a 7.30 start for their triennial TB (Bovine Tuberculosis) test, so they'll spend the night in the bottom half of Flat 1.
In the picture Stella and Juliette had seen that somebody would need to move the cows and calves out of the corner where they'd gone to graze off the track. They were very good with the animals, although perhaps a little too confident occasionally, bearing in mind their relative stature.
The bull was actively interested in 606. Don't send your children to a farm if you don't want them to know about sex and reproduction!
Back at home it was time for the birthday cake ritual. Nana Jill had made the cake for Stella, using pictures I took back in September 2009, of a Puriri Moth.
I woke my farm helpers at 6am, and we walked out to wake the cows and get them moving just after half past six.
We had to present all animals over two years old for TB testing, i.e. all the cows. First we drafted off the children, for their safety and so we could work quickly, then drafted the yearling heifers, the bull and all the calves out of the way. We were pushing the last of the cows up into the pen just as Martin drove in the gate.
Some of the children were entirely comfortable around the cows (although I kept a close eye on them, concerned about cattle pushing each other in their direction); but for those who weren't quite so happy about being amongst the bovine monsters, there was the safe haven of the loading ramp.
Then they were back into the pond again.
Last year the children were thrilled by our carefully planned treasure hunt. This year, with cyclonic rainfall and flooding followed by ongoing rain, we weren't able to extend the treasure hunt concept in the way we knew Stella was hoping.
Instead the children all had a list of things they had to find on a rambling walk around the farm. Unfortunately the heavy rain had probably washed quite a few feathers and snail shells from wherever they'd fallen, so the hunt wasn't quite as fruitful as I had anticipated.
This was the list:
Every now and then a girl would approach and whistle or sing some little bit of song they'd heard and learnt and sometimes I could even recognise it!
When they tired of walking and hunting, we headed downhill toward the stream and Stella found a good picnic spot for lunch.
The tired adults sat on the bank and ate lunch, while the children spent some time constructing a dam in the stream.
Just upstream from their dam was a deep corner, into which they plunged after lunch. I think they were trying not to touch the bottom, so they took turns swimming around the bend from one shallow area to the other.
We all walked home via the blackberry patch.
Stephan lit the fire under the bath's water drum so there was hot water in the evening, after yet more pond swimming.
Stephan went to work, out on that headland in the distance, and the rest of us went to the beach for the afternoon. We started with a walk around the rocks at Chuck's Cove, where I spent most of my childhood and where Jude likes to take the children to look at the blow hole in the rocks.
We had a late lunch at the Mangonui Fish (and Chips) Shop and then went to Coopers Beach for swimming.
Later, back at home, I asked the girls if they preferred the pond or the beach. They voted for the pond, saying they liked having it to themselves.
Any of the girls reading this who thought something else, had better write and tell me.
Stephan set up the flying fox and they all had a lot of fun - until one of them fell off and hurt her ankle. After a bit of a sit down with some ice on it she came right again, fortunately.
Jill went back to Whangarei with Louie after lunch, so he could spend a night with his Nana.
We all headed out to the Camp paddock, right next to the blackberry patch, where Stephan had put some Kanuka scrub he'd cut for the children to build huts. I cut flax from around the pond and split it for them to use as binding material where they needed it.
The five girls built a lean-to structure between a couple of trees, thatching it and then carpeting it with soft grass they gathered from around the clearing.
Jasper and Jude built a great little round shelter over a horizontal Puriri branch nearby.
The children said they wanted to sleep in their shelters overnight but we three adults were not overly keen on the idea. We anticipated that when darkness fell and the children's torches attracted a lot of unknown and unwelcome visitors of the insect variety, there would be a group of distressed children insisting on coming home - across the stream and over the paddock.
So four of the girls (Ana, Matariki, Stella and Juliette) decided they'd sleep outside on the deck.
Juliette and Stella gave up at around 9.30 and moved back inside. Matariki and Ana were being eaten by mosquitoes at 11pm but sleepily mumbled that they were happy where they were, so I went to bed.
Early this morning there was only Ana, sleeping just inside the house on the still-warm concrete floor with the doors all open to the outside.
Two girls joined us this morning to muster the cattle back into the yards for Martin to "read" the TB test sites on the cattle. He palpated every injection site, checking for any reaction to tiny injection he gave each of them on Tuesday morning. As usual in TB-Free Northland, our test was clear.
After a quick shower, Stephan was ready to go to the airport. He and sister Elizabeth boarded the plane for Auckland, flying on to Gisborne to attend the Lytton High School 50th Jubilee.
As they were boarding the plane it started to rain lightly, with the expected approach of Tropical Cyclone Wilma. The rain continued steadily, gradually becoming heavier during the day.
The birthday party children continued to swim and before they got out of the pond for the last time, I asked them to collect all the tyre inner tubes, the crocodile heads, an escaped flamingo and anything else which looked like it might be carried away by flood waters. Stephan had carried most of the deck chairs away from under the shade rotunda, so Jude and I removed the last two we'd left there for us to sit on in the morning - which we then hadn't because the rain had already begun.
When Jude left, I spent half an hour in the Pig Paddock winding up the electric tape from the maze and gathered the good standards we'd used there. I left the fibreglass standards where they were, thinking they'd probably not move anyway and I can't pull them out without gloves and by then I was really getting wet.
A little while before it got dark the river was over the bridge and I decided I'd better take the chickens out of their cages and put them into cat cages in a dry place. The big hens were easy to catch, being already in their hutch for the night, but the bantams took a bit of clever manoeuvring with a net to catch them one at a time and pop them into a small cage and into the dry warmness of Stephan's woodworking shed. By the time I was finished I was soaked to the skin and sloshing around inside my gumboots.
At half past nine, the cattle were making a bit of noise, so I went to check on them. Having deliberately put them into Flat 1, where they'd be together without a river through their paddock, I then opened the gate to Flat 2 when the rain began to fall very heavily, so they could shelter under the trees. But when the really heavy rain fell, the river came up very quickly, flooding into the bottom of the drain down between the two paddocks. There was so much water flowing through the drain that it began coming over the pasture. Both Flats 1 and 2 were so wet I was wading through water up to my knees in places. It worried me that a calf, if it were shoved and lost its footing when crossing the culvert to the gate, might not get back out of the drain before being washed into the river! I called the cattle to follow me in the dark and put them all through into Flat 3, which is slightly higher and has no drains or low points.
The water rose steadily and peaked just before I took this picture at 10.15pm when I returned from moving the cattle. I was very glad I'd moved the chickens, because it would have been dangerous to try to get to them through the water. I could see one of the cages was still where it should be, but there was an awful lot of water around.
It would have been far more exciting to see all this in daylight!
The water was flowing over the riverbank on the corner, across the area where our camping visitors were a couple of weeks ago, over the bath, through the shade rotunda, over the log on the edge of the pond, through the fences and across and down the driveway.
Water hasn't come over this part of the bank, at the top of the driveway where the farm lane begins, since 2003's big flood.
The flood was quite frightening, being so high and there being so much more rain forecast overnight. But from midnight on the rain lessened and the rain radar pictures from Metservice looked like that was going to be the end of the heavy falls. I finally went to bed at 2am, after a quick phone conversation with Ronnie over at Fairburn, who had also been wandering around in the dark, watching the water levels and her stock.
Gale force winds had been forecast to follow the cyclone but, thankfully, the night was quite peaceful.