The week beginning the 19th of January 2013.
Saturday the 19th

Four weeks ago today we gave the calves their first 7in1 vaccination, so we got on with giving them the booster shots this morning.  I decided it was also time to draft some cattle from the mating mobs and out to the back of the farm, since there's long grass there and we're running out everywhere else.  There being only twelve days left before the planned end of the mating period, there are several animals who've already had their second chance at getting in calf and they won't come on heat again, if they're going to, until after that end date.

I also wanted to do another bull swap.  Yearling 106 has a slight testicular unevenness, which has become more obvious in the last week than I had noticed previously. I decided I'd keep his influence to a minimum and if that problem is likely to have any fertility implications, I'd better get him out of the way promptly.

So 106 and Joe 90 came out of their mobs and went off into early retirement; lots of cows and some of the heifers went out to the Big Back without a bull; yearling 116 went in with the remaining heifers (Abigail's calves were always small and streamlined, so he should make a good sire for the heifers' calves) and we brought the three spare bulls over the stream from Jane's paddocks.  I had planned to use Ranu 31's son, 113, but he didn't look as good as I expected in terms of conformation and maturity, whereas two-year-old 96 was looking stunning!  Three-year-old 87 is also a lovely bull, but his calves' gestations are too long for this end of the mating season.

young cattle grazing

Bull 116 and six yearling heifers in what amounts to paradise for cattle: warmth, lots of grass, shade, water, a salt lick, company and no stress.

injured Putangitangi

Poor, poor Mr Duck!  The bone of his right leg is waving in the breeze, his foot and lower leg bone only attached by some skin.  I tried to catch him in the dark by confusing him with my bright torch, but couldn't grab him and I stopped trying for fear of causing more problems if he got too panicked and flew into something.

Angus bull

Bull 96 in the Pig Paddock with his cows this evening, with Dexie 101 on the other side of the fence.  (It's not the best photo, since he's standing slightly twisted, giving his rear legs an odd look.)

Zella, Dexie and Dexie's calf, 121, spend their nights grazing the driveway, while Zella's calf and the orphan 684 sleep in the little holding paddock by the milking shed.

Sunday the 20th

Stephan went out with the tractor to spray gorse and ragwort this morning.  One of the things he had forgotten to anticipate was the time it takes to adapt all the machinery he regularly uses to the new tractor.  The old one had bigger holes on the three-point-linkage at the back, so that the back-blade had big lugs to fit them and needed its broken-off smaller ones replaced; the spray pump had a wide bracket which needed modification before the pump would fit onto the PTO (Power Take Off - a rotating shaft to which machinery can be fitted).  These things have caused some frustration, but they are one-time alterations.  Because the tractor's so new and shiny, Stephan's also feeling inclined to do some extra maintenance on the implements as he's adjusting them, which is all to the good.

Paradise duck bathing

Storm has taken to having morning baths in the pond.  She seems very happy.

twin Angus yearling heifers

Meg and Gem.  I'm beginning to think of them as one animal which keeps itself company.  They are not always together, but as often as not they'll be next to each other grazing or lying down.

Identical twin people report lots of intuitive connections between them; I imagine that identical twin animals must sense such things even more strongly.  They were on heat about three days apart, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if they calve on the same day.  These are two animals I definitely won't be separating.

Angus cows and Kikuyu grass

The Big Back Paddock, back to its green self again.  Remember how it was three months ago?  The ground surface is pretty uneven, but the fact that the grass recovers so well always surprises and greatly pleases me.  There's a lot of research done on pugging damage and the production effects in following seasons, but Kikuyu grows no matter what.


I spotted this Ragwort hiding its yellow flowers in the lower branches of a Totara tree, where Stephan had missed it when he did a Ragwort hunt a couple of days ago.  I have learnt that one must always grab the stray plant when it is first seen, or it is likely to be missed and left to seed.

I stood it in the gateway because it's such a magnificent specimen.

Angus cattle

I wished to take bull 96 and his cows out to the Back Barn and because the bulls had made such a racket when they'd all been in the yards, I asked Stephan to come and help me by standing guard at the two spring gates between the lane and the paddock where the yearlings are, for fear the bulls might try and have a go at each other under the springs.  It didn't go quite to plan, with the cattle running off and Stephan not realising where they'd got to, but the moving mob made it out to their paddock without any big drama.  We put a couple of electric tapes across the gateways between the two groups, as an extra safety measure.

bacon and egg pie

Bacon and egg pies are yummy.  Stephan said there are no onions in any of the recipes in his books, but he's been adding them whenever he makes a pie, at my request, because it makes everything taste better.  I always find the hard egg yolks dry and hard to eat, but with the sweet moisture of the onions, eating the pie is a very nice experience.

This was Stephan's first attempt at making his own pastry and it was delicious.

The injured Putangitangi was looking a bit better today, out in the paddock feeding with his partner and chick.  His foot is still attached.

Monday the 21st
back-blading a track

This track gets into a nasty state during the winter.  We will have to metal it sometime, once we have sorted out the drainage issues along it.  I bounced my way half-way along it on the bike a few weeks ago and had to be rescued because I got stuck.  Stephan can get the bike out of places I can't, partly because he's huge and strong, and because his legs are so much longer than mine so the bike doesn't fall over when he's trying to shift it from tricky spots.

flowering Ragwort

Last year the Ragwort in the Big Back Paddock got away on us.  We were busy and kept meaning to get out here but by the time we did, most of the plants had gone to seed.  This year there are loads of plants, but we're getting onto them earlier.  In other paddocks where we were earlier last year, there is a marked reduction in Ragwort, so the manual flower cutting really does have a positive effect.  When ground conditions are good or the plants are sparse we pull them out and hang them in the trees.  Out here where there's so much of it this year, we'll cut the flowers and take them away and Stephan will do some spraying to kill the plants.  Pulling them is back-breaking work, especially when the ground gets dry and hard.

Tuesday the 22nd
Tui at the top of a Northern Rata tree

I took a picture so I could identify the bird at the top of the Rata tree in the Bush Flat Reserve (a Tui, from the white feather at its neck) and then spotted red flowers once I'd enlarged the picture on the computer screen.  They're at the right edge of the leaves, if you look hard.

seeding Ragwort

Some Ragwort has already gone to seed.  This happens primarily where plants have had their flower stems broken by the cattle.  Ragwort flowers will seed within a couple of days of being cut from the plant, which is effectively what happens when the stem is broken.

I was out looking for the cattle in the Back Barn Paddock and wasn't carrying my Ragwort bag, so had to leave this plant until I return with it.  I must carry a bag with me at all times at this time of the year.

children erecting a tent

Jude and her friend Leela arrived this afternoon with Stella and her friends Matariki and Mahinamoki, Moki's younger sister Muriwai and the two boys, Jasper and Louie.

small boy working

Louie was soon in the shed making something.  (His mother really does feed him.)


We all walked up to the big shed so I could show the children where a Kingfisher has been nesting across the other side of the stream.  The birds appear to have left now, so I was mimicking the noise the chicks make and telling the children about Stephan and I watching the tree a week or so ago, trying to figure out which hole the nest was in, when a bird bottom suddenly appeared at one of the holes and expelled a shot of faeces out into the air.  It was a very funny sight and fun to recount to the children.

Apparently the girls all thought my shorts were fabulous, with so many different patches.  They're a bit holey and need some more repairs!  They're the remnants of my 501 jeans, from my time in Auckland a life-time ago.  I'll tell them that story sometime.

Some of the children's holiday pictures are from Jude's camera, which I shall note as they appear.

children blackberrying

The children all took containers and tongs and headed for the blackberry fenceline in Flat 1.

I suspect some people made a particular effort to get as crimson-covered as they could!

Wednesday the 23rd
child swimming

The pond was of course a favourite spot.

I love this photo of Jasper.

four girls on a slide

It wasn't long before everyone got over their initial fear of the slide and the jumping board and were all up and down and in and out of the water continuously.

hen and chicks

Feeding the chickens this morning, I couldn't find the family of eight chicks.  Eventually I discovered them in the long grass down by the stream - Stephan let them out a couple of days ago, so they could enjoy foraging for more of their food.  The hen is the one at the extreme right, no longer bigger than her chicks.

picking ragwort

Late this afternoon I suggested to the children that we walk out to the back of the farm to hunt Ragwort.  Leela had Matariki, Stella and Moki with her and I had Jasper and Muriwai, who very diligently cut and bagged all the flowers they found.

All of the scissors and secateurs get orange tape tied to them, in case they're dropped in the grass.  We've had losses before which are both annoying and potentially dangerous for the cattle.

picking ragwort

There's a lot of Ragwort around the big fallen Puriri, much of which was taller than Jasper and Muriwai.

This tree has been down since 2006; perhaps it's time we chopped it up.

Stephan and Louie hiding

We only worked for about three quarters of an hour, until we'd cleaned up the big area around the fallen tree - even that much help makes the whole job seem less daunting.  Next time I go to the paddock, I'll only have to get the bits around the edges of that area.

Walking down the hill we realised we were being watched by a couple of people hiding beside the track!

Stephan and Louie had come out to the bottom of the paddock in the ute to collect us all and take us home.

cattle and children

Louie, Muriwai and I got off the ute at the bottom of the Windmill paddock lane and walked along to get Zella and the others out of Flat 3.

Muriwai was very calm and assured with the cows and sensed where she needed to be to move them in the right directions.  She said she'd only ever met one cow before, so she must be in possession of that natural sense of balance which some people have with animals.

bath time

Back at home it was bath time for some. 

Thursday the 24th

Ever since the first big birthday visit in 2010, Stella has wished for another great Treasure Hunt.  Because she comes during such a busy time of the year, I always find myself in a great rush to get it organised, so the clues are not nearly as clever as I'd like; any suggestions or inspiration for future years' use will be gratefully received.

While the children played and swam, Stephan and I went to finish setting out the trail.  (I did some of it yesterday, and some Ragwort picking on my way as well.)

When we arrived home the children all wanted to start immediately, but we told them we needed to have lunch and a sit-down first!

I printed them all a map of the farm, because they would need some paddock names and on the back were two lists of things they had to find along the way.

  • Lotus major
  • Penny Royal
  • Dandelion
  • Parsley Dropwort
  • Dog Daisy
  • Self-heal
  • Clover
  • Foxglove
  • Thistle
  • Mexican Devilweed
  • Ragwort
  • Buttercup
  • small Daisy
  • Dock
  • Plantain
  • ... a couple of others added as we went, but I can't find anyone's list.
  • Bird nest
  • Bird egg or shell
  • Piece of wood which looks like something else
  • Cicada shell
  • Feather

I gave Stella a compass (although I had to keep checking she hadn't put it down anywhere) and the first clue.

With the compass at the back gate from the garden, walk in the direction of 263° to the first gate.

That sent them to the gateway at the end of the House Paddock, where they found the next clue wrapped around a pipe to the trough.

Walk along the fenceline to the North-West until you see some black pipes. Where do those pipes go?
Hint: If you had money, you could put it in the bank.
Where would you put water?

a treasure hunt

Eventually, with quite a few extra hints to get them thinking in the right direction, they started looking for the water tank.

Everyone headed across the stream, then discovered why jandals are a less-than-ideal type of footwear for lumpy farm walking once they're wet!

At the tank they found the next instruction:

Climb to the top of the hill and under the fence.
Then walk in a Westerly direction down to the stream where we had lunch once before.

a treasure hunt

By the time I reached the top of the hill, all the children had already climbed under or through the fence.

Then we all walked down to the stream and the girls eventually found the spot where we'd lunched and they'd swum a couple of years ago.

There in a tree was another orange clue card, fluttering in the wind ...

Follow the stream until you get to the track. Walk along the track and then follow the gum trees to the very furthest point of the farm.

a treasure hunt

Jasper was the first to find all the flowers on the list, when we spotted some Mexican Devil Weed across the stream in the Swamp Reserve.

When I walked out here yesterday it occurred to me that it would have been great fun to staple a picture of a Koala to one of the Eucalyptus trees, as if it were climbing it; but I didn't have the time nor the energy to come all this way out again between then and now.  The weather is ever so hot.

At the very back of the farm, I'd hung a bag of food - fruit and potato chips - from a tree branch and stashed a couple of bottles of drink in various niches in a large Totara trunk.  There were cups for the children and somewhere, another clue.

Fortunately no opportunistic pig hunter had been past and taken a free lunch - and the fruit was safely enclosed in a container, to keep it safe from possums overnight.

Walk along the fence up the hill to your left, then follow the track until you find a large Vitex lucens.

We'd taken one of the tree books with us, so they could discover that they were looking for a Puriri Tree.

As we walked along the track, I pointed out the fenceline under which they'd crawled a little while ago and all were surprised to see how far away it looked.  It's fun taking children into wide open spaces.

In the Puriri Tree at the top of the next ridge they found some insect/fish catching nets, specimen bottles and the next clue:

Follow the trapper's trail.

a treasure hunt

One of the girls spotted the orange ribbons hanging in the trees to mark their trail and off they ran.  We could hear them far ahead of us for a while, but then they were quiet as they kept on running, down to the gateway to the Middle Back, along the bottom and under the fence into the PW, along Route 356 and we didn't see or hear them again until we reached where they'd stopped at the end of the ribbon trail because they hadn't spotted the next clue.

Turn left at the gate and go back along the fence until you find the tap to fill up your drink bottles.

... then ...

Follow the track back toward the East.

I had managed to have them do a loop around the paddocks without doubling back on themselves, other than for that one short walk to the tap and back.  On the track near the gate to the Pines Paddock was the next clue, attached to a bundle of short lengths of alkathene pipe, each with a groove filed into the centre on one side.

These are important tools for your next task: A lone old one stands in the middle of a place where a lot of fun guys used to be.

a treasure hunt

They instantly worked out that I meant them to go to the Mushroom Paddock.  It took a little more guidance to ensure they went to the right tree and didn't miss out on one of the clues.

Walk East!
Something may catch your eye.

a treasure hunt

We had hung six wood-turned spinning tops from the fences and the lowest branches of some of the trees in the corner of the Mushroom 1 paddock, which drew them to the next clue, also hanging in the tree and fluttering in the breeze.

This was not quite how I imagined they'd get through the fences.  How fascinating that they were so cooperative - and even held the wires for the adults to go through too.

Once upon a time two people lived in a Bush house with a lamb and some Pukeko chicks. The house has gone; can you find where it was?

When you find the clue, be careful not to drop it, or you will have a job to retrieve it!

a treasure hunt

This is where we used to live, when Damian was a lamb.  The old water-tank used to stand back in the trees where it was cool and even though it was not full of water, it was Weta ...

The tank used to be a great home for a large number of cave Weta.  It was a scary place to look with a torch!

Now there's about three inches of water and weed at the bottom and sometimes the Swallows nest in here.  I hung the next clue and some little baskets of sweets on a No.8 wire hook.  It took the kids a little while to find it.

Head for home, but look out for something unusual. You will often find all sorts of things in the same area.
Eyes to the Right!

The children all ran along the track toward home, looking under Topmilk bins which are still sitting waiting to be picked up, peering into troughs and trees and by the time they were adjacent to Flat 1 they seemed to have given up and missed what they were supposed to see!  I called them back for another look and someone spotted the colourful wrapping of a small gift hanging on a fence post.  They all climbed through the electric fence with their alkathene fence tools and ran around in the paddock for the next twenty minutes, with some hints from us about how warm or cold they were getting as they walked in various directions.  There were six gifts, one for each child and they all helped find them all - in between some blackberry snacking.

And so the Treasure Hunt ended for the year and was judged a great success.  The best part, said the children, was following the trapper's trail and looking for the presents at the end.

I had tried to get them all to mark on their maps where we'd been, but my follow-up on that matter was not very good and by the time they were finished, they all lost interest.

I drew my own map, with the magical assistance of the GPS unit I was carrying:

treasure hunt

I asked everyone to guess how far they'd walked on the Treasure hunt.  (I wish I'd tried too, before I looked at the GPS track.)  The guesses were: Stephan, 4.3km; Jude, 6.5km; Leela, 7.7km; Louie, 10km; Muriwai, 10km; Jasper, 23km; Mahinamoki, 24km; Matariki, 34.3km and Stella, 5km.  The correct distance was 5.2km.

bird nest

I found this Piwakawaka (Fantail) nest on the grass out in the Big Back Paddock when I was checking the cows.  There was a family of the birds with a couple of obviously young chicks, who were flitting about making a slightly higher-pitched noise than their parents.  They're such tiny birds it's hard to tell that the small ones are smaller than the adults, but they're a slightly different colour and their behaviour is a little different.

I went into the house with the nest sticking out of my shirt pocket, where Stella claimed it for the completion of her Treasure Hunt list.

birthday cake

Stella's 11th Birthday cake - with a tiny owl looking out of a hole in one of the trees.  Candles were added, of course, before it was brought out after dinner.

Friday the 25th
children in the forest

Coming in from checking the cattle, I spotted an upside-down ewe in the House Paddock, so took the children with me to rescue her.  I told them they weren't allowed to laugh too loudly, because she'd be very embarrassed.

I tell the children all sorts of shocking nonsense when they're here and I'm not entirely sure they quite get my jokes yet.

Afterwards they asked if they could go for a walk in the Dark Forest, so I helped them through the fence and told them how to get home without having to go through it again - thanks to Stephan's garden fence alteration, the Dark Forest is now accessible along the riverbank from our Native Planting area.

fence posts

The Department of Conservation (DOC) owns the Marko Buselich Reserve on our Southern boundary and the boundary fence in our Big Back Paddock has required replacement for some time.  Today a couple of DOC workers delivered a trailer-load of fence posts and strainers.  Presumably they'll send wire and battens in another load.

Earlier this month we received confirmation that an application to the Northland Regional Council Environment Fund has been approved, to assist us in constructing a fence to protect the whole of the swamp in the Big Back Paddock.  We are extremely pleased to be granted such assistance and Stephan's plan is to get that Swamp fencing done first, which will divide the paddock in two and then he'll take out the boundary fence, and I'll still have use of the other half of the paddock while he does that work.

swimming in the pond

Back at home, naturally the children were all in the pond again.

Putangitangi mother and youngster

I saw the injured male Putangitangi fly off this morning and he did not return.  His dead foot is still attached to him.  The fact that he can still fly gives me hope that he'll survive, but I worry about not seeing him again.

The mother and chick are in Flat 1 and the chick is female - the white change around her bill is now obvious.

At dinner last night we were talking about what would happen to anyone who didn't behave themselves (there's a rumour that I tie children up by their ankles and suspend them from trees); Stella told her friends that I'd once put her in time-out inside a pen constructed of electric tapes.  I don't specifically remember the occasion, but it sounds entirely likely.  Apparently I told her I'd electrified the tapes and she thought, "no, Aunty Ruth wouldn't do that," and then discovered that I do indeed mean what I say in such circumstances!  I think they like having a wicked Aunty.

children at the electric fence

Proof of no lasting harm done to children by electric fences.

I suspect they're all fascinated by the possibility of receiving an electric shock and it being of little consequence.  There were a couple of shocks received yesterday during the treasure hunt, but they all gathered at the back fence this evening to experiment with pieces of grass.  The grass will conduct enough of the pulse (if you hold it close enough and it's not too dry) to test whether the fence is going or not.

There were lots of questions about wearing gumboots, standing on top of plastic things, having bare feet, jumping in the air and touching the wire, as well as the fact that the fence unit pulses, so you can touch it between pulses and not feel anything ... until you get the timing wrong!

feather collage

We'd collected a lot of feathers during the treasure hunt and this evening I gave Muriwai some paper and glue and she sat down to create things with them.  In the end she didn't bother with the glue, but just made a bird for me to photograph.  The bird's eye and beak are shells from the beach.