Most of this year's weaners are to go to a farmer who (generally, except in the case of extraordinary drought) regularly buys them from year to year. But I also put a small advert on the lifestyleblock.co.nz site in case anyone was looking for heifers for breeding. Since I am breeding my cattle primarily to become breeding cows, I prefer the best of them to be used for that purpose, rather than simply ending up in a butcher's chiller.
I received one response to that advert a few months ago and invited its authors to come up and have a look at the calves and the herd, which today they arranged to do.
I brought the cattle to the yards, drafted off the steers and bulls and their mothers, along with the bull, yearling heifers and mad 102 heifer calf - who's actually settling down, thankfully. They all went into the Pig Paddock to the right in the picture.
The commercial (not pedigree) heifers and their mothers are in the middle, and the stud heifers and cows to the left.
Our visitors arrived and donned their carefully cleaned gumboots for a wander amongst the animals. Buying calves with a view to breeding is pointless unless you have their mothers to look at too, in my opinion. Conformation, udder quality, mature size and condition cannot be seen in a youngster, but if you see her mother, at least you have half the picture of the likely potential of the calf.
The calves are rarely as quiet as their mothers when they're small, but coming from a quiet herd makes it likely they will respond to human contact positively and become as quiet as the herd in which they originated.
In the evening when the heat of the day had eased, we put the calves over the scales in the yards. Collating the data later I was very pleased by their average daily weight gains. Of particular interest were the two-year-old heifers whose average calf daily gain is 1.16kg. The lowest of those was 0.98 and the highest 1.325, which is impressive in a first-time heifer (grey 607)! There are only three calves in the whole herd gaining less than a kilogram per day. The twins combined grow by 1.89kg/day and the smaller of the two is our slowest-growing calf. I drenched a handful of the younger cows, including 568, the twins' mother, and hope that will enhance her ability to build her own body condition back up and improve the growth-rates of her calves.
I drafted the five yearling heifers away from the bull - I don't want them calving when I can't watch them closely later in the year.
I find photography at this time of year really difficult. The light is so hard and bright and the shadows so very dark. However, I have since this photo, discovered how to make my camera do a better job in such situations, with some dynamic range correction.
We headed up to the slip in the hills again today, to take a few more pictures. This is the stream where it comes through our back boundary, the water obviously carrying quite a bit of silt, which it presumably do for some months to come, with all that clay now slumped into the streambed. Normally this water would be crystal clear.
We climbed up behind the slip to have a closer look at why the hill had come down, and then we kept on climbing. This is one view of the area.
If we had not been carrying a borrowed GPS unit, I don't think I'd have been willing to wander off into the bush in the way we did, with no real idea of where we were or even which way we were facing at times.
There were various landmarks, like an old fence, which gave some land-based indication of where we were, but it seemed to be running in the wrong direction for where I thought we were. Stephan eventually found some pink plastic ribbons in the trees, indicating a previous trapping walk.
I don't know the name of this fern, but as it's so pretty, I'm including the photo anyway. There are all manner of small plants of exquisite appearance in the bush. I even found a greenhood orchid plant up on a reasonably dry slope, which surprised me. And lots of hookgrass seeds.
Finding some of his abandoned traps (since the NZ Kiwi Foundation ran out of funding and the contractors stopped doing the trap runs), Stephan took the cover off to find this sprung trap holding the remains of a long decomposed rat.
Further up the hill, a SA trap for cats, although the ramp for a cat to get to it had rotted and dropped to the ground. Stephan found another bit of wood to form a ramp for any curious cat, even though the trap has no bait.
The trap is operated by the cat pushing on the upside-down v trigger as it reaches for the bait on the tree trunk. That releases the catch at the top and the very strong spring causes the bars of the trap to snap onto the cat's neck. cat is killed by the force of the trap around its neck, combined with its own body-weight hanging from the trap still attached by the chain to the staple in the tree trunk.
Walking through the flatter parts of the forest was remarkably easy. Some areas of bush have extremely thick undergrowth, but this was relatively open and made for pleasant walking.
Cabbage trees (Tī Kōuka) are a favourite of mine, against the summer blue sky. These were up on the ridge we climbed to, where there was a clearing, the remains of an ancient fence and some great views.
This is Puketutu, which we decided not to climb right now. I'd set out in gumboots, so I could cross the streams without getting wet feet, but they're not the best tramping boots and my heels were getting pretty sore with all our uphill walking.
And this was one of the views from the ridge - our sea view! In the distance is Doubtless Bay, with Karikari peninsula and Knuckle Point just visible. Turning a little to the left, we could see Kaitaia and the main road South.
Back down in the relative lowlands we found a number of long-ago felled Puriri. This one looked to have been felled and left, perhaps it was discovered to be hollow and so not then used for fenceposts, which was probably the main purpose of felling the others. They certainly made excellent posts, many still in place around the area from 90 or so years ago.
Look out! The snakes are huge in here!
But it's not a snake, it's the fallen trunk of a tree fern.
Something terrible has happened to the little Tree Fuchsia we planted over Matariki Lamb's grave! It was looking really healthy, but since the two lots of heavy rain, it has curled up and died!
This is becoming a dangerous place: huge snakes in the bush, crocodiles in the pond...
A couple of Paradise Ducks flew in today, the female calling as she flew. Until they returned, I hadn't really noticed they weren't here, but they've been away as usual for a few weeks, for their annual moult.
Summer is a tricky season. Having chosen to keep our stock numbers reasonably low after last summer's drought, here we are this summer with a surfeit of grass.
I went on a ragwort-hunting walk through the Big Back paddock. These interesting fungi were growing all the way up a dead tree-trunk.
The calf standing behind the cow is 665, not the daughter of 571, whose tail she was contentedly chewing.
The white stuff on 571's back is the residue of the pour-on Genesis Ultra drench I gave her and a handful of others when we weighed the calves the other day. 571 looked like this in December, with some swelling under her jaw. I will watch with interest to see if the drench makes any difference to her profile.
This little dead chick, still in its egg, was lying out in the middle of one of the tracks this morning. The egg was about an inch long. It looks like that of a tree-nesting bird (thrush or blackbird perhaps, although I can't remember which has blue eggs), so perhaps a parent carried it away from its nest before dropping it, after it died.
Stephan has been catching up on some jobs which have been awaiting his attention for a while. This is the gateway to Flat 1, where he hung a replacement steel gate last week. The gate now closes on this side of the culvert, leaving a little pen-sized area within the paddock, so now that has rails on both sides. Previously there was a tape gate on Stephan's right where the new rails are, which led to the small area on the riverbank, through a small gap at the edge of the culvert. With some reorganising of the fencing, there's now a nice wooden gate instead, and a two-wire semi-permanent electric fence around the riverbank, replacing some electric tape and standards.
The steel gate on this side of the culvert removes a little dead-end area into which the cattle often turn when I want them to continue on around the corner. The wooden gate into the riverbank area will make getting cows in and out of there far easier than it was - they didn't like the narrow squeeze between post and culvert edge. We'd originally planned to plant the whole area out but it became a very useful little area in which to tuck away the odd cow or two and it remains a very good house-cow "paddock". Stephan has left room between the gradually slumping riverbank edge and the fence for me to plant more Cabbage trees and flax to help retain the bank. There is another picture of the area here.
While typing this afternoon I slapped at my hand when something bit me and then realised it was this tiny weta. I don't think it attacked me with any vicious intent, and it was suprise rather than great pain which caused my reaction. I'm not sure if I caused it to lose its leg or that had already happened.
Flat-out, fast asleep and an opportunity to get photos of how many teats and how much white might be on the udder of calf 101, whose name I have not decided upon. The Angus Association didn't send out its usual computer batch files for registration of calves and I consequently forgot to register them by the deadline.
I guess it's time I wrote my resignation letter - I intend to tell them I am leaving the organisation because of its lack of an ethical stand over the recent genetic defect problems. I don't want to continue to be associated with such a body.
Anybody I have spoken to outside the Angus fraternity expresses surprise and often disgust when I tell them they could easily buy a bull from a registered breeder which is known to carry a lethal recessive gene. One would expect, when buying from a breeder of some standing, to be sold animals of quality, without serious problems. My page explaining the problem is here: Arthrogryposis Multiplex and Neuropathic Hydrocephalus.
Not long after I left them, the cattle started making distressed blaring noises and galloping from everywhere to one point in their paddock. When I looked to see what was wrong, a young hawk was flying up and away from them. Cattle are really unhappy about the presence of hawks, but I'd previously thought they were only particularly perturbed when they had very young calves.
The hawk kept returning and the cattle continued to be upset by it so I went out to see what was attracting it.
It's a big paddock, but some of the cattle were still standing near the place I estimated they had originally gathered. There on the ground was a dead rabbit. It must have been there for a day or so, from its slight odour, but I thought it might be fresh enough for Stephan to use for bait, so took it home and the hawk stopped bothering the cattle.
Stephan baited a few traps and threw what was left of the body in to the river (which I realise sounds like extremely bad behaviour) where it was soon grasped by a huge eel. We watched for ages as the eel pulled the body around in the stream, grabbing it and then rolling wildly to break bits off. Eventually another eel joined it and they drifted away a little, beyond where we could see them as the day's light faded. We sometimes feed the eels like this after our experience years ago one night, when a possum one of us shot out of a tree landed in the stream, very shortly followed by an alarming lot of splashing, which we thought indicated the miraculous resurrection of the possum. It was then we witnessed the behaviour of the eels in the river, which detect the presence of food in the water and come upstream from wherever they are, for a feed.