The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 21st of April 2012
Saturday the 21st

A phone-call from my niece, Kathy, this evening with the news that my brother Bob (Robert Fredrick Martyn Renner), died this afternoon while working in his garden.  I am shocked and very sad.

Bob and I have had a good relationship over the last few years and our last visit together two years ago was a particularly good one, in that we spent much of the time talking about family stuff and ourselves in that context.  We tried to get together again over this last summer but didn't manage it.  I will miss him very much.

The family have published his death notice in the Herald today.


Stephan came in from milking this morning, telling me Zella is the best present he's ever had.  She's turned into such a lovely cow.

Here are the budgies: Echo and Citronella.


And this is their new home, built by Stephan, with help from youngsters including Ella and Jasper.

They have two wide perches between which to fly, a couple of short ones across the corners, made from flax flower stems, as is the bar of the swing.  There's a pot plant for environmental "enrichment".  I will try and grow them something useful like grass and leafy weeds, which they might perhaps nibble on.

Sunday the 22nd
man and calf

We brought cows and calves to the yards from over the road this morning, and weighed and weaned another nine calves and their mothers.

We brought the already-weaned calves in to the yards as well, so our usual calf-buyers could come and see them, then sent them all out to their respective paddocks again.

Imagen's calf is very tame and will have to get used to being part of a mob of cattle, not an odd-one-out whose primary relationship is with people.
He has done alright, now weighing 220kg, which used to be our steer weaning weight a few years ago.  He's far below the other steers in condition at present, but I believe we've supplied sufficient nutrition to give him a good enough start that he'll look the same as all the others in a year's time.  He certainly has the genetics for it!

Angus weaners

We sent the separated calves out to the House paddock, leaving their mothers calling in the yards, and they moved surprisingly well.  I thought they'd double back to their mums.


Foxton and Finan were sitting in exactly the same way on the deck as I passed the window this afternoon.  I got one photo before Foxton got up to come toward me.

Finan is hanging around the house much more during the day since we started locking them in at night.  After paying the large vet bills associated with his injury last year, I decided he'd have to get used to some restrictions.  There are so many feral and stray cats around here.

He still runs to hide under the deck if anyone approaches up the drive, but he is gradually becoming more settled.

Monday the 23rd
Angus weaners

What a noisy lot!  These nine and their mothers are making more noise than the first fifteen we weaned.  One of the cows keeps pushing through an electric spring gate to come down the lane, hunting for her calf and the calves are pacing up and down and around the paddock, yelling.

I prefer to have the calves in the House paddock and the cows in the Windmill, because the cows otherwise come down and yell at the house in the middle of the night, whereas the calves tend to stay up near their mothers.


I ordered some fertilizer ten days ago and I presume it arrived last week.  Ryan brought it out today - six tonnes of RPR with a bit of sulphur and selenium added.  We spread it at a much heavier rate than normal, since there are parts of the farm which have had very little and could do with a decent dollop while we have the chance.


The weather was almost perfect, with long periods of stillness, when the dust from the fert rose straight up in the air.  Stephan went with Ryan in the cab, since he's more familiar with the terrain from the perspective of a tractor operator than I am.  I hung the GPS unit in the cab as well, so I have a record of where the fert was spread.


We did three paddocks on the right (Northern) side of the farm: Frog, Swamp, Back Barn.

This is the widest hillside in the Back Barn Paddock.

new culvert crossing

While Ryan was driving around in the Swamp paddock, I was calling the cows to come from the Back Barn, where they were all happily sitting under the trees in the shade, to the Middle Back gate.

When they eventually got the idea, all 21 of them came galloping along the track, over the culvert, through the gate and then all stopped as they crossed the new culvert Stephan and Ella installed two weeks ago.  Newly disturbed earth is of great interest to cattle.

That's Curly at the back, most of the others having run up the hill.


This little cluster was growing on what looked like a dead bit of root of a Totara tree, by the gate into the Back Barn paddock.  They're pretty colours.  The top of the biggest one was only about an inch and a half wide (4cm).

I was talking to someone the other day about how we measure things and every time I note something on here I think about it: New Zealand went metric over the early years of the 1970s and so my generation were the first to grow up with metrics in official usage.  But because our parents naturally still thought of everything in Imperial measure, we learnt as much of their sense of the measure of things as the official one.  I know the horizon out from our house in Cable Bay was eleven miles, but I have no idea without calculating it, how far that is in kilometres.  An inch is still a measure I can "see" - as is a centimetre, but a centimetre is often too small for ordinary use.  When I talk to Stephan, I have to use millimetres, because he says he doesn't immediately know what a centimetre looks like, but if I say 10 millimetres, he's ok.  We're all still doing calculations between systems to make things make sense.

Stella's generation will presumably have moved entirely into the new age and have no trouble at all - or they'll all measure everything in pixels.

native orchid plants

My Native Orchid refuge.  These are plants rescued from places they might otherwise have been destroyed, or never have been able to flower.  I've been slack about labelling them so I remember exactly where they originated, but have a copy of this photo now with a few of the plants noted.  The plants at the left end of the wood fragment are from the Puriri tree, another attempt to have plants in a separate location in case of disaster where they main colony grows.  A pair of plants are from the roadside corner, which will disappear soon.  Some are from the fenceline in the Mushroom 3 paddock, where the plants are at risk of being eaten by the cattle - last year I excluded the cattle with electric tape from the small areas where they grow and they were able to flower and seed.  I rescued another today from the Back Barn Paddock, where it was growing on a bank the cattle frequently tread.  Last year the flowers were picked off before they bloomed.  There are other plants still there, mostly a bit closer to trees, where they might be a bit more protected.

Tuesday the 24th

The track along the bottom of the Small Hill paddock, which leads to the Big Back, gets very boggy in places, with all the water coming off the hill when it rains.  Stephan has been working on it over the last couple of years, getting the drainage sorted out and seeing where the water pools and then comes across the track.  Today he installed a culvert.  We could do with a digger, but the tractor's front-end-loader bucket and the back blade do a reasonable job.

Wednesday the 25th
Angus weaners

Tomorrow will be a busy day, so I moved the weaned calves from the Windmill Paddock and the just-weaned ones from the House Paddock to the Pig paddock by the yards.  I'd kept the three yearling heifers and Dexie 86 with the weaned calves since the other day and this evening drafted the four of them off and left them beside the driveway with an electric tape to keep them in one place.

Ruth and sheep

The goose has been lonely since all the turkeys were killed.  There's grass in the chickens paddock again now and the goose likes the sheep, so we brought them home to her.

Yvette is over 12 now, and she's very lame and the walk from the Mushroom 1 paddock where they were grazing, back to the chickens paddock would be over 600 metres, so we took the ute to collect her.  She'd not have lain still without a struggle, so we hooked a soft rope around one rear leg and looped it up around her neck.  I had only to apply a little pressure to stop her struggling to get up.

I was catching up with some radio programmes on my MP3 player, while we worked.  It provided some distraction from the pain in my knees as I had to hold my position on the back of the moving ute!

sheep mustering

The other sixteen sheep went under the fence into the Windmill paddock and had to be enticed out with a bowl of maize.

If you prefer to believe that your meat magically comes from a polystyrene tray at the supermarket, you'd better miss the next section.

Thursday the 26th

At about ten to seven this morning Xavier arrived at our gateway.  I told him his target was #86, the biggest of the four heifers standing in the driveway and the only one with a tag in her right ear.  Then I stood looking the other way and hoping for the best.  After the shot, I looked round to see the heifer on the ground and walked briskly over to move the other three away.  Was it coincidence that Dexie 101 wanted to have a last sniff of her sister?  I didn't let her, because Xavier needed to cut the heifer's throat to complete the killing process and while 101 was probably just curious, the smell of blood would have upset her.

The shot to the brain kills the animal, but to absolutely ensure no possible return to any consciousness, the throat must be cut to bleed the animal and ensure death.  Surprisingly the heart continued to beat for several minutes after her death.

Then Xavier skinned, gutted and hung her up until he could load the quarters onto the back of the ute and he drove them off around to Sniff's place (scary name for a butcher, but he's lovely) where the meat will be hung in the chiller for a week.

She was a very nicely finished heifer and will presumably make very good eating.  I took a while to decide who was for the chop, between 86 and 94, but in the end I decided 94 could stay in the herd, because she's one of Abigail's daughters and they have generally turned out well - my hesitation was on the grounds that 94, named Dinky, was so tiny as a calf and remained smaller than average through her youth.  Now two and a half, she's a good size, and pregnant.

Dexie 86's fate was to be the same wherever it happened, either here or in the Auckland works, because she tested AMC, a carrier of the recessive lethal genetic mutation she inherited from her grand-sire, and she has never been a great animal to look at.

If you are scrolling up the page and prefer to believe that your meat magically comes from a polystyrene tray at the supermarket, you'd better miss the next section.

Thursday the 26th ...continued
loading cattle onto a truck

Heidi, who is buying the steers, emailed the other day to say Jim would turn up with a truck to collect them at 2.30pm.  Fortunately I happened to phone her around 10 o'clock and she wondered why I was still planning to do something with them before the truck was due to arrive at 10.30.

Jim was quite relaxed about waiting for a few minutes as I put the steers over the scales for the last time, both for my records and so Heidi has weights for drenching them when she has them - I was going to do them before they went this afternoon!

It was nice putting them into a decent sized truck, so that there were three pens of six.

The weather looked alright, so I weighed and drenched (pour-on) the heifers.  It started to rain within the hour.  Good grief.

tree trunk on fence wires

We'll be away all day tomorrow, so I went out to check the weaned cows in the Big Back (found all but one, but heard a call at the top of the hill from the missing animal - and a bellow always means they're standing up) and the cows and heifer calves in the Middle Back.  I considered leaving the cows and calves where they were until I spotted this tree down over the fence into the PW reserve area.  Getting an animal out of there if anyone went over the fence would be a nightmare, so I moved them to the PW.

Friday the 27th
train crossing road

We got up at 5am, Stephan milked the cows and we set off for Auckland at 6.40am.

This is the second time on recent trips that I've seen a train on this crossing.  I like trains.

There were road-works all the way through this area.  There's been some serious work going on there for weeks.

We stopped just south of here at Lili's Café, where an acquaintance of Stephan's, Warren Sumner, cooks much of the café's offerings and makes a very nice coffee.  He also showcases and sells a number of local (local to our area as well) artists' work, including wood-turning, sculpture, painting and bone carving.

We reached the funeral home's carpark just before 11.30 and after changing our clothes (I'd parked in a corner near some bushes and there was nobody around) I went in to use the toilet, then saw the chapel where the funeral was to be held, along with Bob's coffin.  I was standing there when a man came into the room and after a short conversation during which he told me he'd only just put the lid on, he kindly agreed to unscrew it again, leaving me for a few minutes with Bob.

When Father died and we had his body at home until the funeral, I discovered the value of being able to see and touch the dead.  The western world's sanitisation of death does us no favours in allowing people to distance themselves from its realities.  Something very valuable to my emotional processing of this sudden change in my life happens when I'm with the body of someone I knew well.  Without that experience, I find it takes longer to accept the reality of what has happened.

It is perhaps most challenging to accept the fact of sudden and unexpected death, as in this instance.  As I was writing last week's page last weekend, I was keenly aware all the time, that I was writing about things which happened while my brother was alive, but that he would never read any of it again.  I think the time lapse between Saturday when he died, and today's funeral, has been helpful to me.

I also think that if you're going to die, doing so in your own garden, while doing something you enjoy, is one of the better ways to go, even though it's incredibly shocking for all who love you.  Having experienced deaths after long months of increasing illness and suffering, and deaths as a result of the deliberate actions of others, and bearing in mind we all have to go sometime, this would be my choice, if I had any.  I talked with someone at the funeral about having notice of the end and how that might provide the opportunity for saying things which need to be said; but while we think that opportunity is there, in reality it often doesn't really arise, in the midst of pain and drug-induced relief of drawn-out endings.

Say the things you need to.  Send that email, make that phone call, go round and have a beer; you never know when it'll be too late to do any of it again.