Two anniversaries today. The most momentous we completely forgot, until I was reminded by a phone call from Edwin, Stephan's brother: today marks 35 years since the Mathew family's purchase of this farm.
The other is the Eleventh anniversary of the creation of this website and to commemorate the occasion, I've fixed a glaring spelling error on the first weekly page, which has been there for all that time! We could have had a party, or dinner out, but we didn't.
Lance came out for another day's farm work experience and he and Stephan headed out to the PW to clear some regrowth from an area from which firewood was harvested previously. When I went out to see how they were getting on, the smoke suggested that at least their fire was going well.
The cleared part of this slope was covered in small trees like those to the left. Totara, Manuka and Kanuka regrow very easily on cleared areas.
What we really need in here is a truck with fertilizer! But getting in here is still not possible. If these hillsides are cleared of all the scrub, the fert truck will be able to get in to most of it from the top.
This is the sort of timber we cut for firewood. There's still loads of it all over the farm and in these North-facing paddocks, we'd be far better off growing grass.
In the foreground are the young plants which grow into those tall trees. Because they grow so thickly together, they end up creating an unbroken canopy, so all have to keep growing upward to the light. Manuka and Kanuka have quite dense timber with a fair amount of resin, so they make great firewood and burn very well when dry.
The small plants in the bottom right corner are Totara, demonstrating why we treat them as weeds: they grow anywhere and although they're slower to grow up than the other scrub, they take up just as much room.
Anzybas rotundifolius near the felled pine tree, with a few more companions this year - although I couldn't find one on the other side of the trunk, which I watched carefully last year. The undergrowth has changed since then.
These plants have been growing thickly over the whole area since the pine tree was felled and today I realised what they are: Dianella nigra, the plant with the beautiful berries. I am glad they are not some exotic weed.
The tiny Acianthus sinclairii is blooming a little further down the bank.
The orchids seem to occupy particular bands of habitat wherever I find them. I've wondered if that's because they only grow in particular circumstances, or because they're reasonably new to the area and are still spreading? A few more years of observation may tell me.
I wandered over to the House Paddock reserve area and having been followed by Zella and the twins, broke off several branchlets of Puriri to throw back over the fence to them. Meg 699 picked up one of these by a small spray of leaves at one end and when she moved to pull them, a larger set of leaves at the other end followed her. I watched her as she ran backwards, trying to escape what was pursuing her, then she danced around in circles several times before eventually letting go of the first mouthful, so the scary thing stopped following her. Being so entertained by the spectacle, I failed to get the camera out quickly enough to capture any of her hilarious antics.
There is so much fungal growth around at the moment, so I went hunting for interesting things amongst the big trees. This patch of bright orange caught my eye from some distance.
The delicate gill forms of the fungi and glorious colours are a delight to the eye.
Endberly 700 was calling from first light, pacing the fence-lines and then standing looking longingly in various directions, first one way ...
...then the other. The bulls didn't seem to be taking particular notice of her.
At 1.30pm she started standing for the other heifers.
This is the first time I've seen her on heat. Beef heifers generally reach puberty at around nine to ten months and/or when they reach about 250kg. As far as I've observed so far, about four of the thirteen heifers are already cycling.
I took the cows out to the Big Back paddock. I stood in the gateway, counting them in, to ensure I had all 30. Many of them were quite particular about which way they wanted to enter the paddock, some heading in and up the right side (in the foreground) and others going down across the culvert to head up the south side of the centre wetland.
I like working with these intelligent individuals, all with their own preferences.
My Father died 23 years ago. It occurs to me that sometime in the next year, he will have been dead for half of my life - May next year, will mark that point. That strikes me as extraordinary, his having had such an influence on who I am and how I approach things. I regret that I was not old enough by the time he died, to have explored a relationship with him as an adult.
I wanted to go out for lunch, which meant dropping Stephan off at Terry's place for his day's trapping, so I could have the ute and it also meant getting up on this extremely cold morning, much earlier than I would otherwise have chosen! We had a light frost yesterday morning, but today's is a really heavy one. When I arrived home, after forty minutes of driving, there was still ice all over the back of the ute. Normally the moving air would have melted it.
By the time I headed along the road toward Taipa, just before 10am, the air was still very cold, but the day was beautifully fine.
I went to meet up with the Doubtless Bay Rural Women, because they were to meet with the members of most of the other groups in the district for a mid-winter lunch. I attended their meeting before we went on to the restaurant.
This is a very familiar view from my childhood: Knuckle Point across Doubtless Bay, with the strange effect of a clear day's mirage making it look like it's floating above the sea - or maybe there's a huge frothy Tsunami coming around the point ...
We went to lunch at "Janits Diner" in Kaeo. Janit is obviously a stranger to apostrophes, and it turned out she's a stranger to proper food hygiene as well. The kitchen is open to the restaurant area and I watched in horror as Janit served a number of portions of Lasagne and some other foods by pushing them off a serving spatula with her finger, then licking her finger before serving the next one. If I had not been in a group of 25 people without my own transport, I would have left and gone elsewhere for lunch. But as we'd already waited an hour and a half for the food, I consoled myself with the fact that the piece which came my way had not received the licked finger treatment (Janit having been holding a knife at that point) and tried to ignore my conjecture on her practices during the earlier preparation of the food in front of me.
I felt so queasy about the whole thing that I could not quite bring myself to say anything to Janit before I left. I emailed her in the evening, but she did not reply.
Jonathan (Stephan's nephew) and Char-Lien came out for lunch and we went for a walk afterwards. I opened the gate for the yearling heifers and they followed us out of Flat 1, up the lane and into 5d. They're looking lovely and learning good lessons about following me around for the next nice grazing change.
This is the deformed Puriri remnant in Mushroom 3, which I decided we should save because it was still alive, even though it didn't look like much of a tree. I haven't found the earlier reference to that fencing job to see what the tree used to look like, but it looks reasonably healthy now.
I still think it's worthwhile saving these individuals, even when they're damaged, for the sake of the whole population and its genetic diversity.
There's a trick to walking in mud, and Char-Lien hasn't learnt it yet. You have to move very smoothly so you don't lose your boots, fairly quickly so you don't sink right in, and always with the expectation that the surface level you're expecting to meet might not be there at all and your foot may continue to sink further than you calculated. At all times one should look for the hardest places to walk, rather than heading for the soft places which will always mean trouble.
I had an unexpected phone call this morning from a man named David Bone. I recognised his name and was able to place him as an Angus breeder, although it took me until we were nearly finished talking to recall exactly why his name was so familiar to me. He had read my recent New Zealand Lifestyle Block Magazine article entitled "Quality Counts", which I'd written about people's choices of animal types for growing on for beef. I'd been giving the matter quite a lot of thought around the time I was selling this year's weaner calves, since they were such a beautiful lot and because at the same time I was reading internet discussion questions from people who'd paid significant sums for sickly, poor-quality animals of similar age, but which would be highly unlikely to return them any profit, nor yield particularly good beef.
Mr Bone said he'd like to give me five straws of his bull - I wondered if he'd looked at my #90, as pictured in the article, and found him wanting, but he said not. The semen he wants to send me is of Pono of Kawatiri, and David Bone is Pono's breeder, which is why I knew his name so well. Pono was one of the first bulls I used for insemination, before I'd even learnt to do the inseminating myself. I think I only bought two straws and one went into Ivy, producing the lovely Iona, who came to a very sad end two weeks after giving birth to Crispin, the bull calf I bottle-reared. The other straw went, by accident of unclear communication or mistake on the part of my helpful inseminating neighbour, into a commercial cow, who produced a bull calf which was subsequently castrated and made a very nice steer.
Pono has a reasonably large EBV for mature weight, but he may work with some of my cows very well. I thanked Mr Bone very much for his kind gesture and later had a conversation with the man who stores the semen and from whom I generally now purchase any semen I require, prompting me to begin planning next season's mating a little earlier than I normally would.
I walked up around the Big Back Paddock this afternoon, looking for cows. From the ridge where the fence divides the Big Back from the Small Hill, I took this picture.
The farm is looking very wintry, with its faded colours. I suppose we're rather lucky there's still colour at all, and it's not all just grey and white!
The rear-end of Demelza. Last year her presumed Bartholin's Cyst was so large it bulged out of her vulva. It appeared to spontaneously resolve itself after that and there being significant evidence of blood and mucous around her tail, I thought she'd aborted her calf. I hope this isn't a sign of the cyst developing again, although my recent reading suggests it should not, as it did not last year, interfere with her ability to calve and get back in calf again.
This is our boundary fence with the DOC-owned Buselich Reserve. I have had a conversation with the guy who looks after DOC fencing and he'll come out to discuss replacement of the fence later in the year - we'll share the job 50/50. In the mean time, its dilapidated state means I have be careful not to push the cows so hard in here that they start pushing through the fence for whatever they think they'd like to eat on the other side, or they'll be off into the bush!
There are fascinating fungal forms everywhere I look.
These orchids (Corybas cheesemanii) must have been earlier this year than last. They grow up the edge of the Bush Block which neighbours the Buselich reserve. This was the most intact flower I could see, at the bottom of the hill where I discovered them last year. I walked all the way up the track where I marked them last year, but found only finished plants or no evidence of the plants at all where they'd previously been.
This one is primarily for my own record: a Lancewood seedling with its cotyledons and first true leaf. Recognition of the cotyledon stage of the plant would be useful when finding germinating seeds at a stage when they can be successfully transplanted to pots for growing on and planting in other places. Because most of the tiny plants germinate under other trees, by the time they've grown a few roots, they're very difficult to dig out without damaging them, so I have rarely tried.
Mike and Eric came out with lunch today and afterwards, while Eric went off to help Stephan do some welding work on the pig trap he's constructing, Mike and I headed into the bush for a "walk". This walk involved even less actual walking than usual; we spent most of our time clambering down the bank below the felled Pine tree, looking for interesting small things in the leaf litter.
These Birdnest fungi (Crucibulum laeve) were growing on a fallen Ponga frond.
These two pictures show them at all stages of development. I understand that raindrops cause the spore capsules to bounce out of the basket, and presumably a raindrop may also cause the lid to pop off to begin with, when it is ready.
What an exquisite colour! I was going backwards down the steep slope when I noticed a tiny spot of purple and found a few of these fungi growing in one little spot.
The club or coral fungi come in so many different colours, from white through cream and yellow to red, orange and purple. I presume this one is Ramariopsis pulchella, being the only purple one of this type I can find on the Hidden Forest website.
I am reasonably confident that these are Puka roots, the Shining Broadleaf epiphyte Griselinia lucida. When the roots are mature, they are distinctively grooved and often swing free of the trunk on which they probably first grew. At this stage they're densely fuzzy and cling well to the bark of the host tree's trunk.
All of these pictured fungi are quite small. I'm currently not expert or determined enough to identify them all; I simply like their form and colour.
This one was growing out of a dead Ponga trunk. I think it's stunning!
These bright filaments caught my eye, growing on the back of a large fallen leaf from what was, I think, a possum poo.
I like these tiny tall toadstools, with their translucent stems. They are very small - the green is a bit of moss.
So many different forms.
Mike and I made our way around the slope, finding orchids, interesting germinating seeds and more fungi and then emerged onto the road and wandered home again so he and Eric could head back to town.
Later on I went back up the road and over to the hill paddock to check on the heifers. On my way home I came back through the reserve we fenced off around the gully, taking a low path along the original fenceline by the road, where the water from the hillside constantly trickles out into the culvert under the road.
These little fungi were growing under an overhanging clay bank, where there are probably also glow-worms (although I could not identify any in the daylight).
I am glad we've been able to create the reserves in areas like this; so many huge trees of enormous age are an impressive environment to wander through.
Lilo sent a couple of bales of hay home with Stephan during the week, so I took some out to the bulls. They weren't too sure what they should do with it! #87 spent a couple of minutes rubbing his chin, chest and head in it and on the ground where I'd put it. None of them ate much of it all.
A Nursery Web Spider, Dolomedes minor, on a gorse bush.
Everything is so lovely and dry! This is most unusual in the winter.
The older cows will benefit only from the Lepto part of the 7in1 vaccine, because in earlier years when they were calves, we were still using 5in1 and then a separate Lepto vaccine for the whole herd each autumn. Their 5in1 protection presumably lapsed when they no longer received an annual booster of that vaccine.
From 2006 the younger animals had 7in1 at around four weeks old, a booster four to six weeks later, their first autumn 7in1 at around eight or nine months and they've had annual boosters every year since.
We have not, in my time here, had any deaths from Clostridial diseases in the cattle, but there is little extra expense in continuing to give them the cover against them and possibly some added protection for the new calves from their mothers having ongoing immunity.
Double-checking back through my treatments spreadsheet it looks like I may have failed in this constant protection, having used the Lepto-only vaccine in 2009. Damn. Presumably the vet didn't have 7in1 available when I was ready to vaccinate. Another hole in my system and fewer of the cows are fully covered than I thought.
Most of the sheep have been in the Chickens Paddock with very little grass, so today I brought them out to the House Paddock. Dotty and one of the lambs had somehow got out here a few days ago, so Dotty and Lamb were unfamiliar with each other when they met again - it doesn't take long! This is some definite bullying behaviour - Lamb (on the left) was bullying Dotty. Every now and then they'd pull back from each other and get ready to knock heads together, but I suspect Dotty, with blood on her head already, wasn't keen to continue those challenges.
The photos which follow are screenshots from Google Earth.
After a prompt from a correspondent a couple of weeks ago, I borrowed an e-book from the library which I've long intended to read: Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. As I write this, I have not yet finished reading the book, but the story Pollan tells about the US corn industry astonished me and the following section on the farming practices of the feed-lot "farming" left me feeling quite ill. It occurred to me that I have little idea of what North America looks like, and knowing that the Google Earth programme will show me my own farm (and no livestock because the photo was taken in the summer and all the cows were in the shade under the trees), I figured I'd be able to see something of the farming systems about which I'd been reading. I spent a number of hours being a "feed-lot stalker"!
I found a list of North American feed-lots on the American Angus Association website and began visiting them via Google Earth. After a while, I didn't need to find them by address, because they're obvious from above: the bright white grid roading systems with black, brown or grey strips between.
In this picture, from an altitude of around 10km, the feed-lot is in the bottom right corner. But the rest of the picture also distresses me; it does not look remotely like a natural world.
Perhaps I am terribly naive.
This one from 14km up, with three feed-lots. While the rest of the area looks more naturally green, the fact that every square metre of earth is cultivated is an alien sight for me. I presume the circles are due to irrigation rigs.
This is the area in which we live, from an altitude of 10km.
This is a shot of a bit of North America, with a great big feed-lot in the middle.
By some careful manipulation I put the two together, so that I could get a sense of the scale of these places: some feedlots are larger than our entire farm.
I watched Ms Duck's parents today as the female flew up into their usual nesting tree - a huge Puriri growing on the other side of the river, whose branches lean almost over the bottom of Flat 1. I wonder if watching the Putangitangi would tell us anything about the coming season, or if they simply react to changes in the weather and temperatures as they happen? Does the nesting of the ducks indicate that spring will kick in early, in about six weeks' time?