The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 21st of July 2012
Saturday the 21st
Stephan and housecow

Stephan still thinks Zella's the best thing since bottled milk.  She's so beautifully behaved, coming to the gate as soon as he calls her, and on his early mornings, she starts toward the house as soon as he turns the kitchen light on.  She's been following him down the lane from the Camp paddock for the last couple of days and overtakes him as soon as she sees the cow-shed, presumably anticipating her molasses treat.

She's done very well for a heifer, picking up condition again after I thought we might have to dry her off a few weeks ago.  She has a little less than two weeks to go before she will start her 12-week holiday before calving.

I went out the back just after lunch and found all the cows sitting peacefully at the bottom of the Middle Back paddock.  The surface over the new culvert (the brown patch on the right) is holding up very well.

Angus cows

I let them through the gate to the right of the picture and they made their way across the horrible muddy culvert in the Back Barn paddock and off around the hill, or up it, to their favourite grazing spots.


I took a detour to check on some orchid sites and found this attractive patch of coral fungi.

Most of the Sun Orchid plants are looking quite advanced this year, although the ones in this paddock may well be eaten by the cattle.  In some places I manage to protect them, but it's difficult when they grow singly in out-of-the-way places.  Some of those I rescue, but I don't really like to remove them from their chosen environment.

Angus cows

By the time I climbed up and over the ridge, the cows were at the top of the hill, enjoying their fresh feed.  Skinny at the front in this picture is probably Ida 75.  Her mother was thin, she's thin ...

feral pig sign

Turning 90° to the left from the picture above, I saw this horrible mess: the result of feral pigs rooting up the pasture.  Damned things.  There are some big animals around, judging from some of the footprints in the mud around the stream crossings.

Sunday the 22nd
sheep mating

The fact that this animal is still trying to mate with the ewes when they come on heat, is probably a good indication of his infertility - otherwise they'd already be pregnant.  He's what's called a cryptorchid (hidden testicle).  When we first went to castrate him, we could only find one testicle, so left him for another few weeks, by which time the one he had was getting rather large, but we could still feel nothing of the other at all.  Presumably it's still high up in his abdomen somewhere, producing the hormones to make him behave like a ram, without the fertility to go with it.  They can be fertile when poorly castrated, but usually when the testes are up in the body they're too hot and the sperm don't survive.

very heavy rain

There was some very heavy rain today - in the morning's photo, above, there's already quite a bit of surface water lying around.  But just before three o'clock, the water fell out of the sky in great sheets, roiling the surface of the lying water into misty clouds.

Monday the 23rd

I lay blissfully dozing this morning until around 11am, the bridge being underwater and there being nothing urgent to do.

We had 101mm of rain in this lot over the two days.

electric spring gate

Early this month, a contributor to the discussion board offered some spare warning flags for electric spring gates.  I responded and now have a few for the gates across the lanes which will, hopefully, stop me ever driving through one again!  This white spring isn't too hard to see, but many of them are grey steel and fade into the background; it's easy to forget they're there.

green grass

Grass, good gracious!  After the five frosts in a row earlier in the month (extremely unusual, if not unheard of in my lifetime), I thought we'd get very little growth for the rest of the winter, but since last Sunday the overnight temperatures have generally been quite respectable and the grass, even the Kikuyu, has responded.

This is a badly-pugged wet patch through which the cows walk to get to from one part of the paddock to another.

feral pig rooting

A closer look at the pig rooting in Saturday's photo.  It's really difficult for a cow to get any feed value out of that lot, when half of it is impossible to eat because it's dug up and the rest is turned over.

running water

The perception of depth is a bit tricky in a photograph, but I shall try and explain.  The water pooling at the top left is running down hill and has gradually scoured out a deeper path down to the bottom right.  The dark area in the centre is a mini-waterfall, where the water is dropping about 300mm/12 inches.  Further down the slope, it turns into a deeper gully, only marginally wider.  A lack of water can be a dreadful thing, but an over-abundance of it also causes problems.

This is how the cow-trapping gullies first form.

While I was walking around in the paddock, I was listening to a radio conversation about photo-shopping and whether or not photographs were to be trusted any more.  I rarely alter photos I take for this site, beyond brightening and cropping them for the size or view I want.  Occasionally I'll blot out something very distracting which I didn't notice in the picture when I took it - I think there was a blue bin in a photo somewhere, which looked really odd, so I magicked it out of the way and sometimes an animal will shove her nose into the side of a shot where I didn't mean her to be, so I later move some grass over where she was.  The wide picture on Saturday, above, is a meld of two photos, but the wide one below of all the heifers, is not.  Generally I try and take the pictures as I plan to use them.

Tuesday the 24th
water damage

More evidence of too much water, which has washed lots of the metal from over and around this new culvert pipe up the road.  There must have been an enormous flow - actually I suspect the water comes over the road here, but we can never witness it because we're always stuck on the other side of the river.

mandarin tree

We've been making our way through the Mandarin tree's enormous bounty, but still have some way to go...

Angus heifers

I was taking some pictures of a fence for an article, and the heifers weren't quite where I needed them to be, partly because they were too busy playing around with each other.  Somebody was probably coming on heat.

Interestingly there are no NAIT tags visible on these animals, but in many of the publicity shots I saw as reminders came out last month about the requirement for all cattle to be tagged, you could clearly see them far nearer the edges of ears than they should be.  You can't see these heifer's NAIT tags because they're inside their right ears, where they're supposed to be.

Paradise Duck pair

A pair of Putangitangi (Paradise Ducks) doing what ducks do in the springtime.  I presume this is the pair which nests somewhere on the riverbank in the Windmill paddock (they were here in 5b, just over the fence), although I've never worked out where their nest is.

feral pig rooting

Back to the Back Barn paddock and yet more wide areas of pig damage.  Stephan's still building his pig trap.

Wednesday the 25th

What a great cloud!  There were, when I first looked - and there's still a little indication of it - wisps coming off the edge of the middle right-hand bulge.  I love the great range of blues and greys in this picture.

yearling heifers on the run

I moved the heifers into the Camp paddock and while I went up to the tank fence to turn on the portable electric unit (to keep them away from the tank's fittings) they roared around the paddock, up the hill, into the bush and out, then down and back to the river crossing.

yearling heifer in standing heat

Endberly's on heat again.  That's only 17 days since her last, which is a bit short.  This might only be her second heat, so perhaps things take a while to settle down into the usual 21-day cycle.

I went out for drinks and nibbles at the vet clinic this afternoon/evening, the Board having requested my presence to formally acknowledge my departure from their ranks.  They gave me a very nice wood-covered Guest Book, with a laser-cut Pukeko on the front - I contacted its creator to ask what the wood was, since there was no indication.  It's Totara; Totara and a Pukeko; very fitting, since both surround us here.  Muriel and Patrick, Stephan's parents, used to keep a guest book for the farm, so it'll be nice to reinstate that tradition.  I wonder where the old one got to?

Thursday the 26th
Angus cows

The cows are so easy to move.  For all that this is a stressful time of year when feed's a bit short, it's lovely working with the cows as individuals again, rather than as part of their self-contained cow-calf pairs.  I like it all, really.

The Eucalyptus trees over the boundary have grown tall again since they were cut down about ten years ago - how time has flown!

The bulls came in for their copper shots today.  It's always the same routine: bounce around in the pile of soil beside the driveway, then hare off over the bridge to the yards.  They're so good to watch, although a bit scary to work with at times, because of their bulk and high spirits.

This evening I noted it wasn't quite dark at ten past six.  The evenings have been drawing out markedly in the last week or two, to my delight ... no, de-light is what happens in autumn.  There are many things making it feel as though spring is coming early this year.  The overnight temperatures for the last five days have been 11 and 12°C.  There is grass growing all over the place, which is something which rarely happens in the middle of winter to such a degree.  As long as it doesn't get any wetter, we will look back on this as a lovely winter.

Friday the 27th

I spent my morning updating a spreadsheet in which I keep the treatment records for the cattle.  Not much happens to them, but it provides an easy way to look back over the copper supplementation and vaccination records.

In the afternoon I attended a Beef + Lamb Feed Budgeting seminar in town, which I found quite instructive.  My own feed planning is still only half-way there - although it seems any formal feed planning on beef farms is uncommon - but it has helped me get a better handle on how much grass I'm growing and how fast it's being eaten this season.  At the end of the afternoon we all went away with a USB memory stick containing a couple of feed-budgeting tools which look at pasture quality, feed value and potential energy-provision and calculate how long one can feed various stock groups on different areas and feed levels.  None of these things is completely predictive, because there are so many variables in nature and in the way we see and measure what we have - one person's estimation of clover content in the sward will be slightly different from another's, for instance.

What these tools may do though, is better enable me to estimate the number of animals I can carry through the winter, although I think I have it about right this year - we'll see, come pre-mating weighing for the yearlings and post-calving condition of the cows.

cattle on a far hillside

When I got home I went out to let the cows out of the Swamp Paddock, where they'd run out of grass, so they could graze along the edges of the lane.  In the fading light on my way back, all nine pregnant heifers were visible on the hillside over the road.  Just before it got dark I managed to see all the heifers in the Camp paddock.

I noticed today that there's Pine pollen everywhere again.  I haven't seen it coming from the trees, but it was all over the cars in town and is sitting on top of the trough water.  My other record of it being this early was in July 2009, which turned into a lovely spring - although later followed by the worst drought up here in decades!