The week beginning the 22nd of December 2012.
Saturday the 22nd
NAIT tagging

We did some tagging and castrating this morning, as early as we could to beat the heat of the day.

This is how Stephan restricts the movement of a calf while he holds its head and right ear to carefully position the NAIT tag.  I found that holding their tails also helped stop them jumping around too much.  We try and keep things as calm as possible, so they don't end up fearing the yards.

working bee crew

A crowd of people arrived to take part in a working bee, an arrangement made by Sarah with Stephan, to repay him for work he did on her bathroom in Auckland a couple of months ago.

Sarah co-opted all her siblings and their children.  They all seem to love coming out here, so I don't think it's a great hardship.  It's fantastic for us.

working bee

Stephan wielded the big chainsaw, Mathew the scrub-bar and Simon had a smaller saw and they cut down the regrown Kanuka on that slope and everyone else piled it into heaps of firewood or treetops.  The latter will rot down in time.  I doubt we'll burn out here, being so close to the Pine forest behind the farm.

The little boys had lots of fun playing in "huts" discovered amongst the piles of treetops in the foreground.

We always leave a number of the larger trees, usually pruning them around the bottom, so that the cattle still have shade and shelter options.

working bee crew face name face name face name face name face name face name face name face name face name face name face name face name face name face name

The workers at lunchtime.  If you hover your mouse pointer on each face, you will see their names.

They are all six of Elizabeth (Stephan's elder sister) and William's children, plus Mathew's four sons and Sarah's two.

swimming in the pond

When they'd worked for a few hours, they all came home and piled into the pond.  Stephan gave them a demonstration of his solo synchronised sliding technique.  The slide was used by almost everyone in all sorts of body positions.  The scariest one, they said, was head-first on their backs, so they couldn't see when they were going to hit the water.  I still haven't tried the slide yet.

swimming in the pond

Simon gets great height when leaping into the water from the upright section of that log.  He always makes as large a splash as he possibly can.

When everyone went home, I did my first insemination for the year, for Endberly who'd been on heat since this morning.  I've only done one insemination in the last three years (Abigail in March 2011), because Joe 90 and his brothers have been such lovely bulls and I wanted to use them as much as possible.  But their daughters are now the yearlings and since I had to buy semen for the heifers, I got some other straws for some of the cows, which will hopefully produce some bulls I'll want to use in another couple of years.

Angus cows and calves

I really wanted to get all the vaccinating done on one day, so we went out to get #90's mob but they took ages to move to the yards.  I knew we'd run out of light if we tried to do everything to them, so we only vaccinated and castrated.  One calf remains without a ring on his scrotum because he has a deformed testicle which isn't coming down properly.  I've not had that in the herd before.  He's 634's son and she has a couple of marks against her already, so even though she's only three years old, she's going on the cull list.  Both this and the previous calf have not been as well-fed as they should be, despite the cow coming from one of my best families.  They're also a bit flighty, although this calf seems to have calmed down a lot lately.

Tonight, while doing my late check on the insemination mob, I heard a Kiwi, away to the south.  I haven't heard one for some time.

Sunday the 23rd
Paradise Duck

I was contacted a week ago by a woman involved in bird rescue work, about a Paradise Shelduck she had reared from a tiny chick.  The bird, named Storm, had been found on a road with its squashed siblings and no parents to be seen, but has recently been creating some problems for the long-term resident, a one-winged Paradise Duck and Gill wanted to find this young bird a safe and more appropriate home.

She managed to find her a ride with someone coming up this way and Storm arrived late this morning.

She'll stay in this cage for a few days, until I feel she's likely to have adjusted to being here and until some of the social excitement we're expecting this week has died down.

I presume Storm was hatched at the beginning of October, judging by her head-colour change.  I will ask Gill.

ewe being bothered by flies

Tag Ewe has some wool-rot or something in the middle of her back, which is attracting the attention of blowflies.  We took the sheep in to the yards for a closer look at what was going on, but could find no fly eggs or maggots, so applied a bit of deterrent powder and let them all out again.

sheep foot-care

On her way in, Yvette had a pedicure.  Stephan gives her feet a light trim whenever we think about it, to keep her as comfortable as possible.

The chainsaw chaps are not required wardrobe for this job; Stephan just happened to be in the middle of a chainsaw job when the sheep needed checking.

after the working bee

I thought I'd better go out and have a look at the results of all the hard work in the Middle Back Paddock.  It's always really hard to see what's changed without some before and after photos, because once the trees are gone, everything about the view changes.  But all this area where the sedge is growing, was covered in trees.

white foxgloves

Foxgloves are all around the farm, but don't cause us too much bother, since they primarily grow in areas where the grass doesn't.  I like the white ones.

Monday the 24th

Early this morning I used the first of the five straws of Pono of Kawatiri, given to me by Mr David Bone last year, in response to one of my articles he'd read in New Zealand Lifestyle Block Magazine.  Pono has a high Mature Weight figure at +113kg on the breed average of +80.  The real significance of those numbers is difficult to explain, but as my average cow size would put them around +60-70 on that scale, Pono's offspring should grow out to be larger cattle than my herd average at present.  Thus I'm going to use him on my smaller cows, where a bit more size in the resulting progeny would not be a bad thing.  Today Damara 74 was the lucky recipient.  She's a little, short, chunky cow, daughter of an old bull, Exclaim of Kaharau, some of whose semen straws I was given some years ago.

preparing a hāngi

We are to host the Christmas gathering for all of Elizabeth's family.

Karl is putting down a hāngi to cook pork, chicken, some of our mutton and vegetables.  This morning he and some of the boys came out to dig the hole and build the fire ready to be lit tomorrow morning.

The rocks will go on top of the fire so they're super-heated by the time the fire burns down to the bottom of the hole and the rocks provide the cooking heat.

riding on the trailer

Then they set off with Stephan to find some Kanuka tree-tops to be laid on the gazebo frame to provide cool shade when the sun shines (hopefully tomorrow).

walking home

Most of them had to walk back.

Tuesday the 25th
Christmas Day
Paradise ducks

It occurs to me that the parents of these Putangitangi chicks would normally go off to the moult at this time of the year, but with such young charges, they'll have to stay here.  I wonder if they will moult anyway, or if they have some control over when the process begins?  They normally head for large bodies of water where they can escape from land-based predators while they cannot fly.

preparing the hāngi fire

Stephan lit the hāngi fire early this morning and a little later Karl and some of the others arrived.

It rained.

You might accurately surmise from the contents of the small pond, that there was very little room available in the fridge.

preparing the hāngi

Unfortunately I didn't manage to observe the whole hāngi process closely, being involved in other things, and it being intermittently too wet to stand around taking photos.

The food was prepared, placed in the wire baskets (lined with aluminium foil, where leaves or woven baskets would presumably once have been used) and once the hot pit was ready, placed in the ground to cook for the next three hours.

making sure no steam escapes from the hāngi

When it was all covered, Karl and his helpers kept watch for escaping steam and any small vents were covered with more soil.

The smoking embers are the remainder of the fire, removed from the pit.

We had a present-exchange session, during which everyone gave somebody something they'd made.  Samuel and I had ended up with each other's names in the draw.  He'd made me a batch of delicious shortbread and arranged with Miriam to create "Aunty Ruth's DIY Farm", a container of cow-shaped biscuits and farmer wearing motor-cycle helmet, with little tubes of writing-icing with which to decorate them.  He also gave me a pet rock, but it seems to have run away.  I gave Samuel a grey and black scarf I have been knitting for him over the last couple of weeks and since he will return to London after Christmas, it should be immediately useful.

swimming in the pond

At three o'clock somebody said, how about a swim?  It rained the whole time, but strangely that didn't bother the swimmers.  I took photos from under my large umbrella.

swimming in the pond

Stephan having modelled posed diving, a number of variations on the theme were tried.

swimming in the pond

It's a solidly-constructed slide!

lifting the hāngi

The time came to lift the hāngi.  The blue tarpaulin had been placed over the hole before the earth was piled on top, I think so the soil didn't get into the food.

lifting the hāngi

The wet, steaming sacks were lifted off, and the baskets carried up to the house.

serving the hāngi

Sarah, Miriam and Samuel transferring the vegetables to other dishes.

serving the hāngi

Stephan and William carving meat.

the table for Christmas dinner

We managed to seat twenty people for the meal, in our living room.

The plan had been to eat outside, but with rain and wind, even the area on the deck which we'd covered with a tarpaulin was too cold and damp.  We lit the fire during the afternoon to cheer things up a bit and the warmth was quite welcome.

Wednesday the 26th
Boxing Day

Late yesterday afternoon I moved the main bull mob from the Swamp paddock to Mushroom 3.  I didn't quite manage to tick everyone off, so went back at 7pm, when the Christmas crowd had gone home, to look for the missing ones.  604's calf was in the lane and wouldn't be chased along to the new paddock, being determined to go back in a particular direction into the Swamp paddock.  I left him to it, going instead to see if I could see the missed cows in the new paddock, which I did, except for 604.

As I went back to find 604, she and the calf came along the lane and up the slope in the Mushroom lane, where I thought I saw 604 wobble a bit on her back legs.  Discounting that observation as unlikely, I let them go to the paddock with the others.  The bull was very interested in her as she came along the lane and then followed her around in the paddock a bit.  I carried out my usual cow checks and then discovered that 604 had separated from the others, lain down under a tree and was looking really uncomfortable: rolling to her side and kicking at her belly.  She got up and sniffed the ground with the same intensity a calving cow does.  It was all very strange.

Getting her out of the paddock on my own in heavy rain as it was getting dark wasn't going to be a possibility, so I hoped whatever ailed her was a temporary thing and left them for the night.

sick cow

This morning I wouldn't have been surprised to find her flat-out dead, but she was still standing and occasionally sitting down, still kicking at herself from time to time, not eating and looking quite unhappy.  With a significant amount of vaginal mucous on her tail, I put her discomfort down to a mating injury, presumably rectal, since there was no blood in the mucous she'd produced.

I visited her regularly during the day, offered her molasses and water, but she wasn't interested in either.  Eventually I let the rest of the mob go to the Bush Flat Paddock, so she wouldn't have to contend with the attentions of some pesky calves which kept coming over and annoying her.  I would have liked to keep her own calf back with her, but that would have been difficult at that particular gateway.

My mother, Jill (who has Alzheimer's Disease), was coming up to us by bus from Auckland, because Jude and Rachel were both to be away on camping holidays and someone needs to be overseeing what Jill is doing.  Sadly nobody made sure the driver of the bus understood this requirement and when the changeover happened at Kerikeri, Jill got left behind.  She rang us and Stephan had to drive to Kerikeri (just over an hour away) and collect her.  By the time she conversed with Rachel on the phone in the evening, she had completely forgotten that her journey had not gone entirely smoothly.

In the early evening I coaxed 604 out of the paddock and left her waiting in the lane while I attempted to get her calf to join her.  Because his mother was completely silent, he didn't want to go to her and even when Stephan came to help me and the calf did go to her, he seemed quite uncertain, because she still made no noise.  Earlier in the day, when he'd left the paddock, she called a couple of times, but no longer.

She continued to move freely and well and I walked them down the lanes to home and put her in the milking shed's little holding paddock, so I could keep an eye on her closely and provide any necessary care.  We took the calf to the yards and wrestled with him to get him to take a two litre bottle of milk.  He must already have been quite hungry and once he realised how to suck the teat, he downed it readily.  He's eleven weeks old and weighs 145kg, rather larger in the race than any of them look in the paddock.

I checked on the cow regularly and after ten o'clock became really concerned that her condition had worsened and that she appeared to be in a fair amount of pain, groaning with every breath and she was much cooler than I expected she would be, so I called a vet.  I had intended to have a vet to her in the morning, but didn't think it alright to leave her for any longer without pain relief, at least.

The vet arrived just before midnight and checked her over, pronounced that the problem was not a rectal injury as I had assumed, but was something further up the intestinal tract, probably a ruptured stomach ulcer.  She said the blood in the cow's rectum was completely digested, which indicated a bleed in the abomasum (the "real" stomach), although I personally thought the blood looked more boysenberry-red than Marmitey (black and tarry) as it was described to me later.

The vet gave her antibiotics and pain killers intravenously and said things don't look too hopeful; the cow wandered home and lay down again and we went to bed at 1am.

Thursday the 27th

This morning we wrestled with the calf in the race again and got two two-litre bottles of milk into him.  It hadn't been an easy start to the day, since the calf was obviously feeling a bit like I do without food and became quite irrational, going through fences and, somehow, over gates and was heading out to the back of the farm.  We had to run and stop him and bring him back, because I don't know how far he might have gone in search of his mother and a feed and if fences wouldn't stop him, who knows where he'd have ended up?

After a feed he was a bit better and because he seemed more settled when the other cows were around, we left him with Zella and her companions and he stayed with them.

hill view

Clouds or mist which occurs between large land features makes things stand out in ways which seem quite strange.

These are the trees on the ridge at the top of the hill over the road.  Normally I see them either against the sky or against the green of the hills in the distance, but rarely like this.

Paradise Duck

Storm likes a bit of a cuddle.  She doesn't much like being in the cage, but I'd like to make sure she is firmly grounded here before letting her out.

Angus bull and cow

Joe 90 and 579.  579's latest daughter was sired by #87, so I'm hoping she'll have a #90 daughter this time.

Angus calf

Poor calf, calling still for his mother, who has been mute since I brought them in, other than her painful grunting.

sick cow

But this gave me hope: eating something tasty for the first time just after 3pm.

At noon we'd taken her to the yards and pumped 200g of Magnesium Oxide and water into her, as advised by the vet, as an antacid (although with all function apparently shut down, I did wonder about its use) and then five litres of water and molasses, since she was drinking only tiny sips of water.

This evening we put the calf into the milking shed calf pen, so we could restrain him a little and offered him the bottle, which he took.  That's pretty good for a third feed!

Friday the 28th
bottle-feeding an Angus calf

The calf's fourth bottle feed this morning and he recognised the teat and took it without needing restraint or prompting.  What a great calf!

His mother looks a little less down in the dumps today.

working bee crew

Lots of people came back to carry on their working bee this morning.

On the back of the ute are Francis, Karl, Simon, Anna, Miriam, Liam and Dylan.  In the cab with Stephan were Mathew and possibly Ryan.  Stephan took them out to the Middle Back and got them started, then came home for a 9 o'clock meeting with our tractor salesperson.  We both signed six forms and a very large post-dated cheque and still can't quite believe we've bought a tractor!

sick cow

604 still looks pretty much the same, still not eating and only taking very small amounts of water.  I phoned the vet for advice, specifically asking how much fluid they would give her by tube if that were judged necessary, so I'd know if we were managing to get enough fluid into her by drench-gun.  Chris suggested it would be good to re-examine her and confirm there was no blockage anywhere and would tube fluids into her while here, so we booked a visit for this afternoon.

running boy

In the mean time, Elizabeth and William came out with Sarah and the smallest children and we headed out to have lunch with the workers.  Sean ran a lot of the way.

working bee in progress

The hillside is being denuded of Kanuka, so the awful sedge growing everywhere will have lots of light!  I guess that'll be an early job for the new tractor: coming out with a weed-wiping boom to apply herbicide to it all.

lunch time

A great team of people.  It has been lovely having them all here.

out-of-place tree

Sitting on the hillside, I spotted a tree in the middle of a patch of bush just beyond our northern boundary which does not look right.  Its green is not the right sort of green and I think it could be an exotic invader.  We'll have to work out where it is and go and have a closer look at it.

stream crossing

Stephan has been working on this crossing, trying to stop it from scouring out every time the stream rises.  We need to get it stabilised and then lay gravel on the approaches, so that when the cattle walk through, they don't tramp soil into the water.

sick cow

Samuel came with me to get 604 into the yards and when vet Chris arrived, he gave her a thorough examination and said he agreed with the original diagnosis of a ruptured stomach ulcer.  Then he mixed twenty litres of water and electrolytes and we head-bailed the cow so he could insert a tube up her nose and down to her stomach and Chris held the cow's head and tube and I poured the fluid into the funnel at the other end.  Samuel held onto the head-bail's operating bar, in case it needed to be opened in a hurry if the cow went down.

play time

When we got back home, most of the workers were in the pond again - or about to be.

Paradise duck

When everyone left, I took Storm out of her cage and she stood and flapped her wings for ages, before selecting the Hydrangea bush at the edge of the garden as somewhere she'd like to shelter.

Storm's wing feathers have been slightly clipped, something I strongly advise is not done.  It was done with the best intentions of keeping her safe, to prevent her leaving the property on which she was reared and getting out onto a busy road; but Paradise Ducks take such obvious pleasure in flying that it seems almost criminal to curtail that primary ability.

The young birds don't moult until the end of their second year and the wing feathers do not regrow in the mean time, so if you clip a Putangitangi wing, you ground the bird for a long time.  If you rear such a bird but it is not safe for it to fly where you are, please find it a safe place to be re-homed before it begins flying, in preference to preventing it from doing so.  As well as needing to fly away to moult around large water bodies, that annual gathering probably serves an important social function, allowing a young bird to find its permanent mate.

I was glad to see how much lift Storm managed to attain when exercising her wings, and suspect she may be able to compensate and fly despite her shortened feathers.