The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 19th of May 2012
Saturday the 19th
two pigs

The pigs, on their last morning.  I've rarely visited the pigs, being only interested in their being properly fed and looked after - which gets more and more difficult at this time of the year when the rains begin and the soil they live on turns to mud.  The pigs themselves seem quite happy in mud, and Stephan regularly took them green feed along with their milk.

They were ready to kill a couple of weeks ago, but then Stephan's arm got sore, and now it's in a cast, so the pigs have had to wait ... until today when a marvellous visitor arrived.

We met Mark over at the Takakuri field-day on Thursday, when Stephan and Mike hitched a ride around the farm in his ute.  He and his companion mentioned that they enjoyed pig hunting and after some conversation, Stephan invited them to hunt here if they'd like to.

processing a pig

Mark arrived this morning, with permits for the Department of Conservation (DoC) land in the area, a Kiwi Aversion Training Certificate for his two dogs and set off toward the bush up the northern side of our place, where our neighbour is also keen to have pigs hunted out.  He came back a few hours later with a pig on his shoulders, and having killed another three at various points on the hunt.  Having made it clear that my aim was pest control, I was extremely pleased that he was willing to kill pigs that he had no hope of carrying home.

In conversation with Mark before he set off, Stephan mentioned that he had a couple of domestic pigs to kill and Mark said he'd give him a hand (or two) when he got back.  This was too good an offer to pass up!  While Mark was hunting, Stephan heated the water ready for scalding (which enables removal of the hair).

After some refreshment the two of them went to deal with the domestic pigs.  Mark was an ideal helper, being well-practised in pig slaughter, so that our pigs could be dispatched with humane speed and efficiency, and then processed in a similar manner.

Stephan helped with the hair-scraping task with one hand.

When the job was all done, Mark went on his way home with our profuse thanks and Stephan took the pigs round to the butcher's chiller.

Because we had an invitation to dinner, we decided it was a good day to stop milking Zella in the evenings, so she's now on once-a-day milking.  Now there are no pigs to take the excess, that will give us ample milk for household use and cheese-making and will stop Zella losing weight.

Sunday the 20th
Angus cattle

There's not really any grass left for the cows and bull calves to go to and they're only still together because Abigail's calf is a month younger than everyone else.  He's now five months old, the same age his elder half-brothers 87 and 90 were when they were weaned, and then went on to become such strappingly good-looking fellows.

These are, from left to right, 113 (337 kg), 106 (308 kg) and 116 (254 kg) and their mothers Ranu 31 (113), Abigail (116) and Emma 93 (106).  I'm particularly impressed with young Emma 93's calf, she having calved at two years, and now having weaned 53% of her own bodyweight (adjusted to 200 days, 259 kg calf weight).  Her udder has always appeared insignificant, but she's obviously fed her son adequately and he's grown well.

Monday the 21st

Stephan has been counting down to today for the last three weeks, since his arm was encased in plaster!

The cast was cut off, he was sent to the x-ray department across the corridor, then back to see the visiting orthopaedic specialist who said he was sufficiently healed to go home with no further physical restraint.  However, he was warned against any strenuous activity, which might aggravate his elbow injury and leave him with long-term problems.  I asked a lot of specific questions of the doctor at that point, so that Stephan couldn't later excuse things like drain digging, hammering, sheep slaughter, lifting huge weights etc. as acceptable light activities.  I know exactly what he's like.

Tuesday the 22nd

Xavier, who does our home-kill slaughter, is also an avid pig-hunter and arrived this morning as pre-arranged, with a friend to go hunting out the back.  They drove out to the Back Barn paddock and parked there.

Angus cattle

I have sold two cows and eight heifers to some people over near Fairburn, so went and drafted the two cows out of the main mob - quite a feat in a large paddock!  Then I separated the eight heifers from the four pregnant ones which have been with them, and took the ten animals to the yards.

Boeing 707, Zella's daughter, is at the back of this mob.  She looks like she'll make a very nice cow, but because she's one quarter Jersey, I don't really want to keep her in my herd, from which I'm trying to breed out anything but Angus.

dead feral boar

As I wandered down the lane with the cattle, I became aware I was being followed by Xavier and his mate in the ute.  I thought they must have decided Mark had chased all the pigs away the other day and there was no point.

But no, they'd had a pig-hunt of the boutique rich-person variety: I allowed them to drive to the hunting location, they got out of the ute with the dogs and within a couple of minutes they caught this pig.  I think they were quite happy.

processing a dead sheep

We'd talked with Xavier about the possibility of him helping us by killing a couple of sheep, since Stephan can't do it at present, and though he wasn't keen, by the time he came back with his easy prey, he was much more amenable to the idea.

I told him I needed to go and get the sheep mustering device and he said he wondered what on earth I was going to come back with!  As usual we mustered the sheep with a bucket of maize to lead them in to the yards, then picked out two wethers and Xavier killed them, hung them up and skinned and cleaned them.

From his reticence, I was unsure whether sheep slaughter was something Xavier was expert at, but I understand it is more that people don't want to pay enough to make it worth his while to go and do the job for them.  But since he was here and had a nice pig ...

He was fast and clean and did an excellent job.

We had the same problem when we used to go and shear people's sheep: most expected to have them done for large-farm rates, i.e. a couple of dollars a head, without any recognition that the whole job would then not even cover our costs to get there.  If we charged a larger fee, people weren't keen to have the work done, so we stopped offering it.

truck spreading metal

Once Stephan had returned from delivering the mutton to the butcher, where it will be boned and rolled for the party on Saturday, we went to the cattle yards.  We waited a couple of minutes while Dickie spread a load of metal on the roundabout, thinking it would probably make a big noise which would startle the cattle.  The road working machinery has been parked in our roundabout and with all the traffic, the ground has become rather soft, so they bring metal as they need it to keep things tidy and workable.

Angus cow

Our first NAIT-tagged cow!

479 was born in 2004 and subsequently received her AHB official barcoded eartag, which she, like so many of the others, then lost sometime in the next few years.  (I spoke to Allflex representatives on several occasions about our high tag loss, so I hope they took my comments on board and this next lot will last a great deal longer - particularly the expensive Radio Frequency NAIT tags.)

All the cattle will need to have the new tag, as 479 has in her right ear, from the 1st of July, although there is a three-year grace period for breeding stock.  If the cattle go off the farm though, they need to be tagged.

These two cows didn't have to have the NAIT tags yet, but as 479 had no tags, and I had the numbered and NAIT tags here for her, we put them in.  Both are required to have a numbered and barcoded primary tag and a secondary tag which can be the NAIT tag.  611 (on the right, below) only needed a NAIT tag carefully inserted beside her numbered tag.

We managed to get our manky old head-bail to hold them adequately for tagging.  Stephan's quite good at tagging cattle as they stand in the race, being quick to operate the tagger in an ear, but the NAIT tags have to be more accurately placed, further into the right ear, so holding an adult animal's head still is necessary.

Angus cattle family

The camera angle is a bit funny, but these three are all members of the same family: 706, whose brothers were last year's twins and whose mother, 568 is staying here; 479 and daughter 611.  The two cows are nice animals, but the growth-rates of their calves are now at the bottom of my herd's rankings and so their calves don't quite match the others.  They're going into a system which will probably stick to calving heifers as three-year-olds, which will work very well with that slightly slower growth.

The young heifers could stay here if I had the room, but having had to make some decisions, these are the ones which I didn't want to keep quite as much as the ones I'm keeping.

The truck arrived, they all went on quietly and away they went.

corner realignment

The corner now looks quite different.  I feel sad whenever I look at it, so I don't go around there much.  It's such a big change.

corner realignment

There's no stop/go traffic control on the corner now, since Diggers Valley is such a low-use road and both Dickie in the truck and Cracker in the digger have radio contact with the logging trucks, so know when they're coming up or down the road.

Wednesday the 23rd
Angus bull with feral pig

What you see when you don't have a gun!

I spotted the extra black creature in the bull's paddock from some distance away, so when I'd finished checking and moving cattle, I wandered along to see if the pig was still there.  It hardly noticed me and when it did sense my presence, came wandering toward me for a while - they have poor eyesight, alright hearing and a very good sense of smell, so these pigs will often put their noses in the air before running off in fright if they decide there's danger.

Thursday the 24th
clay-coated road

This is the road surface between the corner and our driveway.  It looks like it could get very greasy and slippery if it rains.

When Dickie drives the truck in close to the bank so Cracker (the digger operator) can load up the loose soil, his tyres get covered in mud and little bits inevitably drop off the truck as he travels, and it all gets compacted onto the road surface.  Add to that the big logging trucks travelling through and the road is getting quite a hammering.

corner realignment

The corner looks quite different from the earliest photo.

corner realignment

The clay face is fascinating, with its range of colours.  None of it looks very stable to me, all of the clay having a great deal of sand in it.  There's a beautiful slate grey sandy clay in some patches, which crumbles as soon as it's touched.  There are also apparently channels down through the bank from the top, and tree roots emerge near the bottom, having found their way down through soft patches.

corner realignment

There's still a lot of earth to be moved.

Friday the 25th
rabbit in cage

Last night Finan was leaping around under the table in the lounge, playing with what I at first presumed to be a mouse - he's been bringing one in every night lately.  I then realised that I was looking at rather more fur and greater body and eye size than a mouse: he'd carried in a frightened baby rabbit.

I congratulated him warmly (we need another rabbiter) and rescued the poor creature, because I wasn't going to watch him terrorise it for the rest of the evening.

The rabbit spent its night warmly ensconced in a sweatshirt in a basket by the fire and early this morning we found a cage for it to spend the weekend in, my thought being that the about-to-visit children would find it entertaining.  I couldn't find any obvious injury, so thought to keep it safe and well fed until we decided what to do with it after the weekend.


Somebody was top-dressing from the airstrip on the faraway hills this morning. 

Stella standing on her Father

I don't recall ever trampling on my Father in this disrespectful manner!  I hope Stella is a gentler masseuse than she looks.

Our spare room is full of bedding and people again, Jude, Roger and the three children having arrived and moved in for the weekend, having come up for Stephan's birthday.

Jane, next door, kindly offered to have some of the family stay there, since we will have a houseful, so Jill, Issa and Rachel are our neighbours for the weekend.