The week beginning the 15th of June 2013.
Saturday the 15th
Angus heifers

As I walked along the lane on my way to move them out of Flat 3, the heifers had obviously decided it was time for a shift, too.  I pushed them all into the lane and then drafted them into Flat 2 (going to the sale) or Flat 1.

Last Thursday I weighed them all and there was some pretty annoying behaviour by some of them: Eva's daughter 120 is now in the sale group, because she jumped around on the scales and I note she does that every time.  She can go and live somewhere else.

713, a heifer I rather like, but which didn't get in calf this season, shows signs of playing her mother's trick in the yards and refusing to go through the race without being pushed, shouted at or threatened.  (I can't get her mother, 613, onto the scales unless I let her go forward to the head-bail area and then back her onto the scales until she stops at a bar behind her.  She will not walk forward onto the platform.)  I had intended to keep 713, but as I've written before, winter hardens my resolve and I'm going to book her in for homekill: she'll make nice beef.

Surprise 115, Demelza's daughter, may not be a good long-term prospect after suffering her mother's near collapse before she was born, and she bounced around on the scales and wouldn't do as expected either; I'll try and get her and Squiggles' daughter, 112, up to retail heifer kill weight by the end of the winter, and the two of them can go off on a truck together.

We have lovely levels of grass around the farm at present.  It has been a very easy autumn/winter so far.  There's a good sign of the grass I planted last year coming up through the Kikuyu everywhere and the Kikuyu itself has kept on growing at an unusual rate for the time of year.  Usually by now the temperatures have dropped too much for it, but so far our lowest overnight temperature has been 4.5°C.

Sunday the 16th

Heavy rain warnings came to fruition around midday, when the heavens opened and the rain fell heavily for about an hour and a half, dumping 34mm of rain on us in that short period.  When the rain falls that quickly, the streams come up in a hurry, so about half an hour into it, when it became obvious the stream would go over the bridge, Stephan went out in the downpour and brought Zella and Dexie 101 back from the Pig Paddock, where he'd sent them this morning.

The hens all gathered for a community grooming session on a sheltered part of the deck.

flooded stream

That's a reasonable sized flood.

Zella and Dexie would have been alright in the Pig paddock (the bright green through the trees on the right) but we never know how much rain we'll get out of these storms and that paddock has had water right through it in the past.  Once the water is over the bridge like this, it would be foolhardy to cross it, so we couldn't get across to do anything about the cows if we needed to.


We went out to see how the new works in the Bush Flat paddock had fared and then Stephan took a shovel back out and spent some time digging to ensure our planned placement of a culvert across this track would work as expected.  When you look at an area, it's often hard to tell which way the water will run.  I've seen drains dug in completely the wrong directions because someone's eye assessment was wrong.  If you do a bit of digging while the water is there, the flow is sometimes in surprising directions.

cows crossing a flooded stream

When the streams had gone down a bit, I moved the cows, which included their negotiating this flooded crossing.  They were very tentative.

I've observed this before.  When any of us crosses a clear stream, we focus on the position of the ground beneath the water.  But when the water is opaque and you can't see the bottom, your eyes can't help but follow some of the movement across your field of view, which creates a sensation similar to the dizzy feeling achieved if you spin around several times and then stop.  I think this is probably partly why people lose their footing when trying to cross flooded streams.
I watched a calf crossing the stream on her own earlier in the season and was amused to see her apparently suffering the same spatial confusion: she wavered several times, falling sideways because the surface she was watching as she walked kept moving to the side and her body was (incorrectly) adjusting for that.

Monday the 17th

Patting butter into smooth balls is a lovely activity.  Sometimes I think I'm really clever and throw the ball from one pat to the other to mould it nicely and then it ends up in the sink.  Not so clever.

I've been really surprised by how good the butter is and how well it's lasting.  I've stopped eating the bought stuff altogether and if we can get enough cream and I continue making butter regularly, I think we'll possibly not be buying any for the foreseeable future.

caterpillar sleeping-bag

A Common bag moth caterpillar, Liothula omnivora, was partially out of its bark "sleeping bag" (its front claws are just visible) and presumably in the process of attaching to the shaft of an electric fence standard I wanted to take away with me.  I lifted it very gently and put it near a fence-post instead, hoping it would be able to relocate before completing its pupation process.

Angus heifers

Twin Gem 698 is very often the first heifer to follow me anywhere.  Usually Meg 699 is with her, but this time she's back a bit in the line of animals.  Neither of them will let me touch them yet, but I'll keep working on it.  Actually none of bull 89's daughters will let me, but I hope they'll settle eventually.  Some of the older cows were more than two or three before I could touch them.

farm track

I was surprised at how little pugging all those animals' feet had caused to the clay track.  The ground conditions are still surprisingly firm.  We're not at all worried about water-tables and how much rain there's been after the drought, because we always have enough here.  A relatively dry, warm winter would be fantastic!

Tuesday the 18th
Angus cows

Here is an example of cow social behaviour, as I shifted the cows from the Swamp to the Back Barn Paddock this afternoon.  Imagen is next to the fence/gate post and white-faced 470 is holding her head in such a way that I know she's giving Imagen a wide berth.

Cows like Imagen are a pain when they guard gateways.  She doesn't even want to be first, she's just asserting her authority.

Wednesday the 19th

The truck to take the nine yearling heifers to the Kaikohe Saleyards arrived earlier than I expected this morning.  I had gone out to double-check the decision I'd made about one of the heifers - young white-face 660's daughter, 715 - which had looked better than I thought last evening in the yards.  But I decided my earlier thoughts on her should stand and that she could go.  I hoped they'd fetch a price which would not cause me to regret sending her.

I spent the day wondering if they'd be delivered back unsold later in the day - I'm a real worrywart.  But for the first time in my farming sales career, everything came together in my favour!  The warm autumn and good grass growth in Northland after lots of people had decreased their stock numbers during the drought, meant that there was good demand at the sale, despite it now being early winter.  Similar heifers have been struggling to reach $1.90/kg in recent sales, but today mine made $2.28 - although my average 230kg on the scales the other day for the group fell to 217kg by the time they had been trucked and had waited around at the saleyards.  They've now gone to live over at Awanui with a man whose cows I used to inseminate and he was lovely with his animals.  So they had a big round trip in the process, but at least they'll be warmer for the winter than if they'd gone south and I know they've gone somewhere good.

road works

This hasn't happened for more than 35 years!  The Council must have too much money left in its roading budget at the end of the July - June financial year.  They're spreading blue base metal, grading and rolling it smooth.

This was done twice along the whole stretch of road.  Then they came through again with a cap of lime-rock and rolled it in as well.  The whole job took a couple of weeks from today's date.  The roller had a vibrating function which made it audible up and down the valley - a deep sort of thrumming noise which I found oddly unsettling.  I wasn't alone - Dexie 101 was very unsettled throughout the job's duration too, with her ears constantly up and looking quite unhappy about the threat she couldn't place.

goose and ewe

The sheep eat far more than I want to have to provide for them.  They weren't happy in their paddock - in retrospect, I wonder if they were similarly unsettled by the roadworks noise - so we brought them out and put them into the long grass of the little milk-shed holding area, which they gradually tidied up quite nicely.

Madam Goose is now officially part of the mob.

planting trees

The cows having grazed down the new tree area, Stephan asked for some trees to plant, so I gave him a Kauri (which he's planting in the picture), a Kohekohe (planted in the right foreground) and a Puriri.  We plan these things little better than nature would itself, but we do try and leave sensible spaces between the trees for their expected growth.

For the last eighteen months we have not used the Road Flat paddock.  There have been several reasons, starting with the trespass of some wormy little calves from next door, after which I didn't want my cattle in there, then because of that intended fallow period we let the council dump all the fill from the corner and that needed time to consolidate, and there were logging trucks up and down the valley all summer making taking cattle along the road quite tricky.  The other access to the paddock is across the stream and the banks are steep and difficult and I don't like using the crossing both because of its minor risk to the safety of the cattle, but also because it's a bad practice environmentally.

We've been mulling over a possibility for several months, of using the Road Flat for an orchard.  It's a one hectare area, so it would be far bigger than we could ever need for our own consumption, so we've been talking about it with other members of the family as well.

a new machine

A contribution to the project has been made in the form of the price of a slasher for the tractor, since the paddock and the spaces between the trees will need to be mowed regularly.

This slasher was brought to us today on a "try and see if it's right" basis, supposedly being a near-new model someone else has decided they don't actually need.  I was suspicious of its actual history as soon as it was unloaded, because it has obvious wear in places it should not have suffered if it is only as old as we've been told.  But it was on the ground and with some unreasonable effort was attached to the tractor, so we kept it to give it a go.  It's a bigger model than the one we were expecting.

Thursday the 20th
Angus heifers

Today was cold!  At nine o'clock in the morning the temperature was 8°C, with a cold southerly wind blowing nasty little showers through every half hour or so.  There have been serious weather warnings from the MetService all week for severe snow down south and the barometric maps show the winds coming up from Antarctica!  There's a big anticyclone dragging the southerlies from further south than they usually come and it's going to be very chilly.

I went out to shift the 28 heifers from the Big Back North paddock to the Mushroom 3 and the rain fell again, so I scuttled up the Small Hill slope and huddled under a Totara tree until it stopped, watching the heifers make their way along the lane below me.

Angus heifers

But between the showers today the sun was warm and bright, the complete opposite of the dark grey, cold squalls during which the rain came at us sideways.

Before I fetched the heifers, I had stopped in this paddock to re-erect an electric tape around the bank in the top corner, where all the orchids grow.  The plants have quite big leaves now and it would not help them to have them eaten at this stage.

cutting grass by tractor

Stephan, keen to try out the slasher, decided it was fine enough between showers to take the tractor up the road and into the paddock for a mowing session.

Cabbage Tree

This Cabbage Tree grows in the paddock and looks like one of those which has been affected by the Sudden Decline condition, but may be recovering.  All its previous foliage appears to have died, but there are new shoots in many places on the trunks.

Friday the 21st

I've been spending hours sorting out my grazing spreadsheet, into which I enter information on the class and numbers of animals and the dates they go into and out of a paddock.  I've set up formulae to work out how many grazing days I get in each area and a tentative calculation of how much feed there is available in each paddock at any time.  I used a reduced form of the spreadsheet last winter to help me keep track of where the animals had been and I'm augmenting it as I think of information I'd find it helpful to calculate.  I'm hoping it will help me get a better idea of the actual growth-rates of the pastures in different areas of the farm.

In the afternoon we went to town and to Kaitaia Vets, to commiserate with the remaining staff on their last day of work before the practice is amalgamated with its previous opposition.  I am not happy about the development.


I completed my second pair of socks, in an Australian wool I bought in Whangarei (80% wool, 20% Nylon).  One of the cats must have made friends with one of the socks when they were lying on the couch and I'm not very happy about the way the yarn has pulled in places, suggesting it may not be as good as I'd hoped for the purpose; but it's lovely and soft, so should be comfortable to wear.  Next time I'm going to fully rib the cuff and should have just enough wool for another pair the same size.