The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 20th of April 2013.
Saturday the 20th
hen and chicks

Cute little hen.

Sunday the 21st

Tomorrow is the day six cows and my favourite-ever bull, Joe 90, go off to the works.  The decision had to be made, but it took me some time to action it, mostly because I had to come to terms with him going.

I mixed him in with the cows last evening and today took them all down to the yards because none of them yet have NAIT tags.  Stephan's pretty good at inserting tags in the ears of cows while they stand in the race (the head-bail isn't yet reconfigured for use), and so the cows all got a tag in their right ears.  539 moved in such a way that her NAIT tag ended up uncomfortably close to her existing numbered tag, each putting pressure on the other.  But they won't suffer them for long.

We put Joe up the race and before long realised that having to pay the $13 no-NAIT-tag fine would be vastly cheaper than having to re-rebuild the race: he was not happy about having his head fiddled with!  In the race he looked HUGE, with his enormously thick neck and big head.  I painted our initials on his back and we opened the gate and let him out.

I later gave them all some molasses with a good dollop of Magnesium in it and Joe ate rather a lot of it, so perhaps he'll be a bit calmer tomorrow.

As we finished the tagging it started to rain, and while we had lunch the rain got heavier as the sky darkened.  The phone rang and a familiar Canadian accent with a still very detectable Kiwi twang announced a call from friend Cliff, who is back again to visit his ageing parents and had a bit of time free to pop in for a visit.  By the time he arrived, the rain was very heavy and soon after turned to a solid downpour of substantial hailstones.  I began to wonder if we'd have a flood.

Our donor-daughter Ella was flying up on the plane, so Stephan set off to collect her, hoping the flight would be uneventful and that the cloud would clear enough for the plane to land and Cliff and I spent a pleasant hour or two in conversation.


Ella hasn't been up since the water slide was installed, so it didn't take her long to get into her togs and encourage Stephan to join her in the pond. But she needed a bit of "persuasion" to go down the slide, having failed to stick to the "if you go, I'll go next" deal she'd made with Stephan.

Monday the 22nd
Angus cow

The works truck was due at 10 o'clock, so I went over early to yard the cattle and say my final good byes.

Blond-eared 528 didn't have a calf last season, having for some reason failed to get pregnant.  But as I was fond of her, she had otherwise been a good cow and I thought it would be worth waiting to get a daughter from her, I kept her.  But watching her through the last few months, with what looks discomfort in her feet or legs, which she should not have at her age, I eventually decided she would go on the cull list.  I've had to accept that there are some nice cows whose family lines end with them, when they either don't produce daughters, or their daughters are not as good as I'd hoped.

I did investigate the possibility of having Joe 90's semen tested, to see whether that was the problem with his fertility, but on balance concluded that as I'd seen him adequately serving several cows which did not get in calf, the problem had to be with semen quality, not his physical ability.  I would like to have had semen collected for use again in later years, since his calves are so beautifully streamlined and their gestation shorter than average for the breed, but the process would have been expensive and quite possibly pointless, if his semen proved unacceptable for freezing and thawing.  He only got a third of his cows pregnant this season and I suspect that his Neospora infection has affected his fertility.

Some of the other cows going today are also old favourites.

I stayed away from the yards, leaving Stephan to load the cows.  Apparently it all went very smoothly, although I heard some raised voices associated with keeping Joe 90 moving up the ramp when it was his turn to go on the truck.  There was no problem, but it's best not to give big animals any chance to change their minds about moving forward.

During the day I checked on the AFFCo website and in the evening Joe 90's kill-sheet was there.  They must do the big bulls promptly, presumably to reduce management issues.  The cows usually get done the morning after they arrive.

girl with lawnmower

Ella and Stephan came back from loading the cattle and set to work mowing the lawn.  Good to get the free labour units working!

Putangitangi swimming

Ella went for a swim, with lots of squealing as she came down the slide, then when she hit the water with a wallop and splashed her way across to the jetty, Storm dived repeatedly under the water.  I haven't seen her diving before.  When they're tiny, the Putangitangi chicks regularly dive into water to avoid the attention of passing predators (and sometimes get devoured by others they find in the depths).  Storm seemed to be having a great time.

making steps

I ought perhaps to have X-rated this topless photograph.

The path down to the cowshed has, until now, been a muddy slope, which is a bit treacherous when the weather is wet.  Today Stephan formed some shallow steps, to make it safer and easier to walk down there.

Tuesday the 23rd

There's a bit of blood and surgery in the next few pictures and if you're male, you may find them particularly uncomfortable: proceed with caution.

Having tried a number of times to get 683's stray testicle to come down into his scrotum far enough for a rubber ring to be applied, without success, I gave some thought to what I'd do about him.  In the end I opted for the simplest solution and booked the vet to come and cut him.  The other option I'd considered was to keep him and have him slaughtered as homekill when still quite young, but I'd rather not have a non-pedigree bull around the place.

We put the calf in the race and Vet Brian had a feel to determine which way he'd deal with the problem, deciding it would be best to lay the animal down under sedation.  Brian injected him with a sedative and we let him out into the clean grassy loading ramp yard and waited for him to go to sleep.  Eventually he started to wobble about on his legs and lay down.

castrating an Angus calf

Stephan was instructed to "sit on his head", or at least hold him down on his left side, while Brian tied a rope around the animal's right rear leg, so it could be held up out of the way.

Brian had brought a school-age work-experience companion, whom he'd intended would watch what he was doing; but I'm paying for his services and holding the camera, so Moana got to hold the rope instead.

After injecting a local anaesthetic into the scrotum, Brian clipped the hair from the areas he intended to cut.

castrating an Angus calf

A long cut around the bottom of the scrotum (so it would drain well afterwards) allowed the first testicle to be popped out.

castrating an Angus calf

Brian explained that this marvellous device, with a combination of cut and crush actions, had to be applied "nut to nut", crushing the cords and blood vessels above and cutting the testicle free.

castrating an Angus calf

Brian held it on for a while to ensure there would be no bleeding.  When he was satisfied all was well, he removed the pliers and everything popped back up inside the calf's body, thankfully with no bleeding.

The second testicle required a cut in the skin next to the scrotum, through which the testicle was popped, crushed, cut, held and then let go.

There was no stitching, because apparently it's best to allow drainage of the two wounds.  Brian told us that old vets recommend that the animal be left to recover for the rest of the day, but that in the evening he should be made to run around a bit, to shake out any blood clots, which would otherwise potentially sit inside the cuts and set up an infection.

anaesthetised calf

After receiving an intravenous injection of a drug to reverse the effects of the sedative and a long-acting prophylactic antibiotic, the calf lay as if dying for several minutes, before sitting up blearily for a while.

Angus calf

When he looked a bit better, I let the other calves walk out of the yards and allowed 683 to follow them in his own time.

bovine testicles

Ella held the testicles for me to take a picture.  The one on the right was his left, the one which resided in his scrotum and the other, the undescended one.  Both are smaller than I'd expect at this age and there's obviously a problem with the smaller one being so much less developed than the other - not that any of this matters for a steer, who'd lose them anyway, but it's not helpful to have animals like this, which can't be easily castrated at the right time.  (It has been suggested to me since first writing, that the undescended testicle might well be underdeveloped simply because it was in the wrong place and too warm.)

Early this morning, Jude put Jasper and Stella on the bus to come north.  I went in to pick them up from the bus at 2.30pm.  The bus now stops outside the new Library at the Te Ahu centre, so when we'd put their bags in the ute, we all went into the library for the children to select some reading material for their stay.  They fell upon the books with great enthusiasm!

Then we went to buy gumboots for Stella - I'd brought the ones they wore last time and Jasper now fitted into the larger of the two pairs, but Stella needed a size we don't yet have in our gumboot library.

children, Putangitangi and cattle

The children announced they were the Famous Four - the three of them and Storm - as they walked together up the lane this evening.  I'd gone out to draft some cows and required a bit of assistance at the Camp gate, to separate the cows, calves and heifers I wanted to go into that paddock from the cows and calves I wanted to wean.

This evening it was the turn of Demelza, Queenly, Imagen, Ida 75, Emma 93 and Dinky 94 to be separated from their calves.  Weaning six pairs at a time is working nicely.  While the noise continues over a longer period, there's far less stress and volume involved.

Wednesday the 24th
children and the pond

The children didn't swim quite as often as they did during the summer, but still had some fun in the pond.

Stephan cooked them some fabulous cheese scones for lunch from the Richmond Road School Cook Book the Renner Allen children gave us for Christmas.

children exploring

Later the three of them went off exploring in the bush reserve by the House Paddock, planning a treasure hunt for Stephan and me to do tomorrow.

girls and young cattle

Stella and Ella, trying to make friends with the heifers, by offering them tasty Puriri leaves.

Thursday the 25th

There was no cold water in the taps this morning.  The cold now comes to the house directly from the big tank on the hill in the Camp Paddock, so it shouldn't stop unless the tank empties, which also shouldn't happen.  Even without water going into the tank, it would last us two or three months and the water supply to the tank is unlikely to fail for that long without us discovering it in the mean time.

family pose

There were cows and calves and yearling heifers in the paddock, so I suspected that somebody had got through the fence around the tank (which still only has a portable solar-powered electric energizer attached, so won't be working in the dark - it's that red thing on the right in the photo) and knocked the fittings off the tank.  My imaginings had expensive fittings broken, thousands of litres of water cascading down the hill, eroding the soil around the tank ...  Stephan was all calmness.

There were small hoof-prints all around the tank and the outlet pipe had been knocked off, but not broken and the animal which had done that must have stepped in such a way that it nudged the tap from its fully-on position to nearly-off, so there was only a tiny trickle of water.  What luck!

The tap to fill the tank has been off since the last heavy rain (because the stream was quite dirty with the run-off after the long dry summer).  You can see the water level on the outside, because the temperature of the water in the tank is still warmer than the outside air was overnight: there's condensation around the top of the tank, down to the top of the water.

children on a tractor

Last time I published a photo like this, I received a protest from a correspondent who pointed out how dangerous it is to let children ride on machinery in this way.  While I have no argument with that in principle, in practice it's something we continue to allow occasionally when the children visit.  Naturally one would not do it on poorly-maintained equipment.  The possibility of this front-end-loader failing, dropping the children to the ground and crushing their limbs exists, but the probability is negligible.

While they're here, they do all sorts of things they don't get to do at home in the city or town.

Two of these children belong to parents who took them to the beach during a Tsunami alert and allowed them to swim in the sea.  I consider the risks of this activity to be vastly less than those to which they're regularly exposed in their own environment!

They were all going to the Big Back Paddock and we had packed food for them to eat at lunch time and they were supposed to be helping Stephan, or exploring for a while, but as soon as they arrived, the girls ate their share of the lunch and walked home again.  I passed them as I took something out to Stephan on the bike, for which he'd radioed home.

The little walkie-talkie radios we bought last year were a fun addition to the children's activities, in that they could go off on their own, but still have communication with either of us for reassurance or instruction.  Lance, who comes out to help Stephan sometimes, gave us a spare one when he lost one of the pair he had, so now we have three.  Stephan and I generally kept hold of one each, and the roving children had the other whenever they went out.

clearing scrub

Jasper stayed and did some serious work with Stephan, clearing away the trees cut off the area between the track and where a new fence will run up the edge of the wet area to the back boundary fence.

girls learning to knit

When they arrived home, the girls asked me to teach them to knit.  Stella had her previous knitting lesson with me seven years ago.  I taught them both to cast on, then because I'd used what I think is the French method, which is much like knitting stitches, it was easy for them to progress to actual knitting.  Jasper came home and while the girls carried on, I taught him as I'd taught them.  Later I showed them another method of casting on which they preferred and they knitted and unravelled several small pieces as they practised their new craft.

Angus cows

When they'd had enough of that, we went back out to see how Stephan was getting on.

We passed the weaned cows standing around by the fence, as their calves grazed contentedly across the adjacent paddock.

Children and Putangitangi

The "famous four" again.  Storm walked along with us all the way, up along the new fenceline beside the swamp, through the bushy bits and over the gullies.

conservation fencing

Between this morning and this afternoon, Stephan had erected and finished this fence, from the tape gate at the culvert to the back boundary.  He's very pleased and very tired.

Putangitangi take-off

The three children caught a ride home on the tractor, while Storm and I set off together - until she took to the air.  I sensed she was about to fly, so trained the camera on her.  This picture taken just as she'd left the ground, in the course of the first flap of her wings.  Despite her clipped flight feathers, she's able to fly reasonably well.  I think she's only lost a little over a centimetre from each wing tip and because they were clipped on both sides (which seems rather odd, since the whole point of wing clipping is to unbalance the bird and discourage it from trying) she's not unbalanced.  I walked and Storm flew little "hops" along with me, until she gave up and flew home on her own.

Friday the 26th

tiny possum

Stephan has been setting the live capture traps continually and after he'd shot this morning's trapped possum, this minute offspring fell from her pouch.  How fascinating that their babies are born when they're practically still foetal, with little more than the means to reach the teat onto which they latch and a rudimentary mouth with which to suckle.  The front paws, with their tiny claws, were still reaching to grab something and return to safety.  Presumably the baby had only just been born, or it would not have dropped from its mother so easily.  The possum teat is elongated and a baby, once attached, does not easily fall off. Naturally this tiny creature was humanely dispatched.


Stephan went fencing this morning and the children spent the time having more knitting lessons and practice.

When it was time for lunch, we packed up some food and a Thermos of coffee for Stephan and walked out to the Big Back Paddock to have a picnic with him.

Stella goes hiking

Stella asked if we could go for a walk out to where we'd had lunch on her birthday treasure-hunt and the conversation developed until she said she'd quite like to walk there by herself; so off she went.

I thought she'd chicken out when she'd gone away from us a bit, but she was obviously quite determined.  She was carrying one of the radios, so when she wasn't sure which way to go, she called back to clarify her instructions.

Stephan and Ella returned to working on the fence line and Jasper and I walked around to the other side of the farm to meet Stella at the bottom of the Back Barn Paddock.  We lost touch with her for a while because we had to walk around the hill in the middle of the farm (our Pine trees are on the top of it), but she could still talk to Stephan and Ella when necessary.

There is a farm map of sorts available here.  It is available to anyone who would like access, but restricted by password, which I will provide by email.

Jasper and I heard Stella before we saw her.  She said she was shouting, just for fun, as she walked down along beside the stream.

I really like that the kids can go out and explore by themselves.  It seems that there's so little opportunity for them to do much of that any more, so where they're safe from the sorts of dangers that crowded cities potentially hold, I think it's great for them to go out and be on their own.