The week beginning the 25th of May 2013.
Saturday the 25th

Another rainy day.  When it's dry we're constantly hoping for rain, but once the rains start, we soon wish it would stop.  I think rain is like the black tint used to darken paint: you only need a tiny bit of black to darken your colour, but a great deal of white to lighten a dark one.  Similarly it only takes a bit of rain to keep things ticking along nicely, but if things get really wet, it takes a great deal of sunshine and fine weather to dry things out and warm them up again.

I've decided the ideal would be to have 37mm fall on Monday night every week throughout the year.

We went to have dinner with Elizabeth and William for Stephan's birthday celebration.  While there, I had intended to get Elizabeth to show me how she holds her needles for sock knitting, but as soon as I got my sock out, she spotted that I was knitting it inside-out and when she showed me how she held her knitting, I could see what I was doing differently.  The woman in the shop where I'd bought my wool had shown me what I was doing wrong, but I hadn't been able to remember what she'd done.  I'll modify my technique on my next sock!

Elizabeth gave Stephan a beautiful pair of (enormous) socks for his enormous feet and I gave him a spoon.  Every cheese-maker needs a nice smooth-handled stainless-steel spoon.  The one we'd previously bought has some decorative handle detail which is unhygienic, so I looked for a better option when we were in Whangarei, had it gift-wrapped and hid it away until today.  A man with a new orange tractor has already received all the exciting presents he needs.

Sunday the 26th

I had another go at calculating a feed budget because last year, even though I'd made a careful attempt to ensure all the cattle had enough to eat over the winter, they still came out into spring in lesser condition than I planned.  It didn't help that the latter part of winter was incredibly wet, but that can happen in any year; it was not an anomaly.

Angus heifers

With the new fencelines going in around the swamp in the Big Back, I needed to recalculate the areas I use in my budget for that paddock, and while I was at it, checked the rest of the farm too.  I reduced the grass growing area by just under seven hectares over the whole farm.  So while I'd previously calculated that I could squeeze all the weaner heifers through the winter, I have now decided that eight of them have to be sold, to leave enough feed for everyone else.

Two or three heifers are not animals I would choose to breed from, so they easily go on the list, but the others took a bit of thinking about.  Which ones can I bear to let go?

These two were on the "maybe" part of my list, 721 (left) and 727 and I needed to choose between them.  I haven't kept a daughter of 721's mother yet, but do have a sister of 727; physically I decided I liked 721 just a little bit better, so she's now moved up the list and 727 down.  I'll send them to the sale at Peria on 20 June, unless someone buys them before then.

Monday the 27th
Angus heifers

An epiphyte had fallen out of a Puriri Tree into the Mushroom 1 Paddock.  The older heifers know about such treats and soon spotted it.

I was wandering around the paddock with a pocket full of little sampling pottles and a teaspoon, waiting for heifers to lift their tales and leave solid deposits on the ground behind them: time to do some faecal egg counting (FEC) again.  I managed to get seven samples before I got cold and fed up with a tedious job.

Tuesday the 28th

The fourteen steer calves went off on a truck this morning, to their new home.  It was a horribly cold morning with frequent hail, and the temperature at 9am was only 8°C.

Angus heifers

I wanted three more poo samples, so went out to stand around with the heifers again - and then two or three nasty, cold squalls came through.  Cattle tend to run with the rain into corners, even though that often takes them away from shelter.  But it did mean they were nicely bunched together for me to watch them fairly easily.  I got another couple of samples and decided nine would be enough.

Our Northland Regional Council contact came out to do the necessary paperwork and approval of our fencing project and kindly took the pottles in to town for me when he left, to drop in to the vet clinic.  I've asked for individual FECs and for the samples to be pooled and sent to the lab for culturing - they grow the eggs there, so they can then identify the species of larvae which hatch.

In the afternoon I received the initial FEC results, showing that those sampled mostly had counts from 50 to 300 eggs per gram; Irene 122's count was 600 epg, which probably reflects her immune-system's state as it constantly has to deal with her Neospora infection.  The accompanying advice was to "drench cattle which are over 500 eggs per gram, any cattle under 100 don't need to be drenched at this time and cattle between 100 and 500 could be rechecked in 2 months".  Overall a reasonably pleasing result, after such a dry summer and a warm and wet autumn.

Angus cows

The cows, having spent a couple of days in Flat 1, were much happier in the Frog Paddock, where they were far more sheltered than they'd been on the flats in the path of the southerly winds and hail.

Wednesday the 29th
hen and chicks

I have concluded that the sire of these two chicks was one of their elder brothers!  This hen's previous clutch of chicks, the twelve mostly-black birds, were much larger than she by this age.

heifer drinking

As I came down the hill from checking the heifers Over the Road, I noticed one of the twins sniff at the concrete trough, then walk deliberately over to the pile of old tyres still lying where Stephan didn't use them for a culvert, and slurp the collected water from inside a couple of them.

Emergency (pictured drinking) came and appeared to find the water reasonably acceptable, but I wasn't convinced she was finding it entirely to her taste.  I went home and collected the trough-siphoning hose and sucked all the water out and the muck off the bottom and left it refilling for them.  It looks perfectly clear and smelt alright to me, but if they won't drink it, they won't feel very happy.

I realised I haven't seen Storm since Sunday.  I remember seeing her out on the track across from the house at some time during Sunday, but now there are no Paradise Ducks around at all.  She must have gone off with the others.  I hope she'll be alright and come back some time.

Thursday the 30th

For the last couple of years Stephan has attempted making a couple of types of cheese which require storage for several weeks at cool temperatures above those of a domestic fridge.  To achieve something close to the right environment, we bought a chilli-bin (insulated box often used to keep things cool for picnics) and he regularly placed and replaced ice pads inside to keep it cool.  Some of the cheeses worked alright - there was some very nice Camembert-style cheese on several occasions - but the fluctuations in temperature were not helpful for some others.

Cheese-making friend Peter, of Cottage Crafts, told him how he'd set up a thermostat to control the temperature of an old fridge for cheese-making and so we ordered a similar thermostat and I went hunting for a fridge on the local internet auction site.  I found a good-looking fridge, put in a bid for $100 and as we were off out to Stephan's birthday dinner when the auction was due to close, set up an auto-bid to carry on to $150 and hoped for the best.  On our arrival home, I found we'd bought the fridge for $102; excellent.

Today we went over to Kerikeri to collect our purchase.  For the sake of efficient use of the trip, we set up a couple of other things to do, including calling in to have a look at a cattle crush also advertised on the auction site.  It was something I wanted to carefully consider as we prepare to build new yards in the next couple of years.  The crush was an ungalvanised model though, so had significant rust already (not seriously structurally significant) and I know that although we have good intentions of taking good care of things, we would probably do better in the long term to start with something which did not require a lot of attention, i.e. one of the models which comes hot-dip galvanised from the start.  Those Australian implements appear to have been created for climates far drier than ours.

The last part of our day's plan was to arrive back in Kaitaia in time for a meeting convened by TB Free NZ to inform local farmers about the most recent Bovine Tuberculosis breakdown in the area.  The meeting was well attended, but some of the information wasn't terribly well presented.  There are obviously gaps in communication between the various authorities and some of the farmers who have been involved with this and the earlier breakdown.  Dairy cows have been brought into the area from farms much further south, all being subjected to the necessary testing regime at various points along the way, but some infected cows don't react to the test and some of those have come north.  The disease is then not being detected until the original cows have infected their new herd-mates.  In the latest incident, milk from a cow with a (undetected) mammary TB tumour had been used to feed calves which were then sold to other farmers, spreading the infection further.

In my opinion this particular meeting should have happened much earlier this year, because many of us are directly affected by increased testing requirements and the opportunity to understand the wider picture would have been appropriate.  Last time there was a breakdown, there was no real effect on anyone beyond the direct neighbours of the infected farms.

One hopeful bit of information from our perspective was talk of how the new NAIT system may enable a more targeted application of TB testing.  The electronic recording of animal movements will enable NAIT to see that some herds are heavily involved in repeated animal movements and that others are less so.  In our case, animal movements are only one-way: out.  I wonder if that could potentially see us returned to a three-yearly (or even less frequent) testing regime, since the core of the herd remains here for most of their lives?

Friday the 31st

Having had a dreadful headache during the night, which didn't get any better today, I spent an easy day (physically speaking) writing.  Taking a break for a little while, I had just sat down to do a bit of sock knitting when the phone rang.  It was our neighbour from the house out the front, saying there had been a cow out since last night and it had been in the grassy area in front of their house, chasing their lamb.

My natural first reaction is horrified panic!  I'd heard a heifer calling earlier in the day and had quietly wandered out the front and along the road a little, to ensure she was still where she should be on the hillside.  All had seemed well then.  But assuming it was probably Dexie 121 back on heat again (it's nearly three weeks since her first time) I went 'with heart in mouth' to check the bulls on Jane's place.  I imagined that perhaps one of the heifers had somehow got out onto the road and made her way down through the neighbours' to the bulls on Jane's.  But both bulls were quietly there without extra company.

However, two trees had fallen down over the fence between where the bulls were and the riverbank.  The very strong winds on Tuesday must have brought them down and it appeared the younger of the two bulls had gone exploring down into the stream and up into the neighbours' place, looking for a way to get to that enticingly-calling heifer.  The fact that the animal was identified as a cow naturally confused me.  One tends to assume that people who live in the country are able to note the anatomical differences between various classes of farm animals.  Bull 113's undercarriage is not insignificant.  I don't like his temperament much, so I'm glad he wasn't chasing the neighbours' children!

I couldn't get both bulls to move back across the river to our place, so enticed them into a laneway where there was still some long grass to be eaten and they had no access to the downed fence, until I could come back to deal with them.  I walked around the road to the neighbour, checking for hoof-prints on the road, of which there were thankfully none and concluded then that the "cow" was indeed bull 113.

Angus heifers

Then I walked up onto the hill Over the Road to do a roll-check of the heifers, which were all present and correct.  The on-heat heifer turned out to be Victoria 118, who had muddy sides (from being repeatedly mounted by the others) and was still sniffing around the tail of one of the older heifers.

Autumn late-afternoon sunshine colours are lovely.  The west-facing hillside is a lovely warm place on sunny days.  The now-large pine trees on the neighbours' block (behind me as I took the picture) provide quite a bit of shelter from the southerly winds.

farm pond

I walked to the top of the hill (to the right in the picture above) and looked over the ridge.  There must be lots of little farm dams and ponds with ducks hiding from hunters during May and June each year.  These were all Mallard Ducks.