The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 9th of June 2012
Saturday the 9th
water tank

I turned the supply to the water tank off a few weeks ago - can't find a note anywhere on the date, unfortunately - and thought I'd better go and turn it on again before we ran out of water.  The tank's level was clear from the condensation around the bottom: less than a quarter full.  We turn it off when there's heavy rain, so the tank doesn't take in silty water from the stream up in the hills.

Moving the cows again this afternoon, I watched Irene 35 with interest, but she seems to be moving more freely again.  She's still quite careful on hard surfaces, but I think she has no foot infection, just bad feet.

Sunday the 10th

Mike and his son, Eric, came out for a walk around the Bush Block with Stephan this afternoon, clearing and resetting traps for stoats and laying a bit of toxin around for possums.

Monday the 11th

The President of the one local branch of Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) phoned me last week to ask if I'd come to their meeting today in Cable Bay.  Stephan was out trapping, so I asked Jane if she'd be interested in going, so we could travel in her car.  The meeting's primary guests were from Access, the RWNZ-owned home support service which provides in-home support to those who require help during illness or because of long-term inability to manage entirely on their own.  There are three such providers in this area, and I had not realised Access was one of them.  Making RWNZ members aware of Access in our own community so we can spread that awareness, was the purpose of the meeting.

Tuesday the 12th
Angus cows

This afternoon I brought the 35-cow mob in to the yards for their first copper injection of the winter.

The yards are gluggy and pretty nasty to work in.  Since there has been so much traffic in and out of the round-about area, with the road workers coming and going, I don't really want to put the cows out there - always in my mind is the risk of someone walking BVD into the place.

Usually I bring all the cows up, then as they're done they exit out of the headbail area to the right and go quietly off around the round-about to graze until all the cows are done.  Today I brought only half the mob up at a time, so they could all fit in either of these two top yards and as I'd finished with them I let them out the left gate of the headbail into the yard in which they're pictured here.  Then I took this lot down and out the bottom again, before processing the other half of the mob.

For the last couple of weeks the one remaining turkey has been spending most of her time around the garden, leaving huge piles of poo on the deck.  She missed the killing session a few weeks ago because she was off somewhere sitting on a nest of infertile eggs; but today Stephan finally managed to catch her and soon after reappeared with a couple of turkey breasts for a Hawaiian Turkey casserole, while the rest of the body went into the salted bait bucket for trapping stoats and cats.

Wednesday the 13th
Angus-Jersey housecow

Zella and the twins had run out of grass, so after checking that the new grass plants didn't pull out of the ground, I decided they could have Flat 4 a little earlier than the six weeks I am supposed to wait before grazing it.  Zella looked very happy with the new arrangement!

grazed Kikuyu pasture

In the mean time, the main cow mob is on a vastly reduced diet in comparison.  The Kikuyu has continued to grow, so there was fresh feed for them when they went in here (the bottom half of Flat 1) after their copper injections, but I left them to give it a good going over before letting them into the other half of the paddock.

Angus cattle

The stock agent rang again today, saying the cull cows can go tomorrow, so I called them over the stream from Jane's place and put them in the yards for the night.  I left them in this grassy yard so they'd have somewhere dry to lie down.

572 is on the left and in ridiculously good condition, but not in calf for the second time in her short career.
601 at the front, on her way because she's NHC and I have to test every heifer calf, and this year's daughter being NHF (free of the gene), I've decided to drop her out of the herd.
Behind 601 is 542, a cow I've always been fond of, despite her funny shape, but that shape is indicative of her bloodline and the potency of the Jersey influence she continues to pass on to her calves.
Behind 542 is her mother, 486, whose calf died last season, but whose Jersey influence is not overcome by any bull I've yet used; she also had an earlier year without a calf, so she's on her way.
At the back is Dexie 46, Abigail's fourth daughter; she is AMC, so all her calves have had to be tested and she's also empty this year.
Abigail is in front of Dexie and the bull, #97, is at the right.

I have agonised over my decision to cull Abigail from the herd.  She has such a long story that deciding to end it in this way has been a really hard thing to do.  As Isla's first daughter, she had a special place from the very beginning.  The fact that she was born on the sunny morning of Tuesday 11 September, 2001, about fifteen hours before the western world was shaken by events which have reverberated ever since, has remained part of that story in my mind.  Abigail was the first calf I halter-trained and took to the A&P Show, in 2002 and 2003.  The birth of Demelza, her first calf, could have ended very badly, but they both survived it.  Abigail produced seven daughters and two sons.  Three of her daughters (Demelza, Damara and Dinky) are still here, along with her last son, #116, recently weaned.

I happened to be reading a book in which I found this sentence: "Finding peace in the beauty of the world and the workings of nature includes participation in the rhythms of living and then dying."1  I'm not sure that my situation is exactly what the writer had in mind, but it fits well with the necessities of farming.  To continue breeding beautiful animals means those who have taken their turn must eventually make way for others who follow.  The fact that I'm playing "god" in this process is only a matter of hands-on management, rather than letting nature take its course.

Thursday the 14th

I checked on the cows in the yards, herded them up into the correct pen to await the truck, put the Animal Status Declaration and Liver Test forms in the receptacle for the truck driver and headed out to the PW to climb the hills and find my heifers, while Stephan waited for the truck and loaded the cows.  I could not stay.

Stephan called me on the radio before I was expecting him to, to say the truck driver was quiet and respectful with the cattle and that they'd all loaded on very calmly and were gone.

Angus heifers

I found all my heifers and propelled them across the hillside until they took off in a rush and I found them all waiting at the bottom.  As I walked them down along the House lane, Stephan came out to give me a hand, so I could go ahead and lead them past the house, where they'd spooked at something last time and all dashed back in fright.  They'll generally follow me through a scary place when they wouldn't go there on their own.  On that basis, I probably should have gone to the works for the day.

I took this lot to the yards and gave them their copper injection, then drafted the eleven weaner/R1 heifers up toward 5b, to give that paddock of winter Rye its first grazing.

Angus cows

The three R2 heifers went into 5a, and Stephan and I drafted six of the young and thin (four second-calving R3 heifers, Squiggles and 571)out of the cow mob in Flat 1 to join those heifers (in the picture they're in the paddock with the white shelter).  The cows then went up the lane to the Bush Flat, with me and Dinky 94 (who's been with the heifers for several weeks) following behind.  I didn't want any of them fighting her on their way to the paddock, since she's not been with them for a while.

Putangitangi - Paradise Ducks

A pair of Putangitangi feeding on the nice new rye grass I've sown in Mushroom 1.

Friday the 15th
sheep marooned on an island in the stream

The Council officer we first dealt with over the corner came out to have a look at the job this morning.  I walked back from the front gate after he left and remembered the sheep needed moving.  Dotty was calling in a strange voice and there was another baa from some distance from the rest of the mob, so I went to see where the lone sheep was: marooned on this little island in the stream.

He's Dotty's son, whose sister had to be rescued last year.  He must have fallen into the stream, then managed to climb onto the little island - the other banks are far too steep for a sheep to scale.

I contemplated finding something to make a bridge for him across the gap, but thought he might jump into the water and as I'm nursing a bit of a cold, I didn't want to have to get in the water to rescue him, so decided he could wait until later in the day when Stephan came home.

rescuing a sheep

As soon as Stephan arrived, we went up to the Chickens paddock and Stephan stepped across to the island, grabbed the lamb and lifted him across to the shore.  He was pretty pleased to be back with his mob.

When the cows go to the works, it would appear they don't get processed until the following morning - at least that's the kill date on the paperwork I receive, so I presume they hold them overnight.  I never rest easily until I know the time of the ends of their lives has passed.  It was particularly hard yesterday and today.

I know some people retire old cows on their farms, letting them live out their natural span; but what happens at the ends of those lives?  If one doesn't make a timely decision about such an animal, it may die an uncomfortable death.  I learnt that with Ivy.  When I mentioned to my mother, Jill, on a walk to see the cows, that Ivy would be going to the works soon, she cried out in consternation, how could I send Ivy?  So I kept her, she had one more calf than she had the resources to manage (Squiggles) and then died after tumbling down a hill the following autumn.

A few people won't send cows to the works, choosing instead to have them killed at home when they've reached the ends of their lives.  But that either means digging a lot of very large holes, or eating a lot of very old beef - and I know at least two farming families who do just that.

Isla saved me from having to decide what to do at the end of her life, although in her case I think I would have made any exception.  When her neurological problem worsened suddenly, there was no question of what was necessary.

I have nursed several cows through winters beyond their healthy maturity and it's hard work physically and emotionally.  Most of my cows' lives will end before mine and so it will fall to me to make those decisions many more times yet.  My cows have reasonably pleasant lives here, and I doubt it makes much difference to them whether or not they spend another year eating grass, but it would if that year was full of pain because I'd kept them too long.

It's all justification and rationalisation, but somehow I have to live with this.