The week beginning the 2nd of February 2013.
Saturday the 2nd
Angus cattle

Today I separated the bulls from the cows and heifers.  These are 96's mob of cows and calves, heading across the stream and out of the Back Barn paddock.

The separations themselves were easy to effect: yearling 116, curiously investigating something, got slightly left behind by his heifers, so I quickly pulled a spring gate between him and them and directed him into a paddock I'd prepared.

When 96 came through the same area, he went ahead of his cows to growl toward 116, so I quickly popped him into the same area before his cows came along the lane and the job was done.

The cows and heifers all went together into the Windmill Paddock, so there is lots of room on flat areas for them to sort out their social order again.  After those two groups were combined, I moved the Insemination mob to join them too.  Imagen entered the Windmill paddock on her own before all the others; she's the only cow in the herd about whom I don't worry in that situation.  She's queen of the herd and nobody else will take her on.  I watched her walk down the paddock, then as white-face 470 began to assume the "I'm bigger than you" pose, Imagen ran at her and chased her off.  I suspect that's a particular confidence she received as part of the inheritance from her stroppy sire, N Bar Emulation EXT, who has a dreadful reputation for his temperament.

Ragwort seedlings

This is what happens when a Ragwort plant is allowed to seed.  I'd marked this place on the GPS last year as the location of a seeded plant and here are lots of its children.

GPS map

The GPS unit, which I hang on my camera bag as I walk around hunting Ragwort, is proving exceptionally useful.

It tracks where I go and shows me the points of note I've previously entered - Ragwort hotspots from last year being of primary interest in this case.  This is a section of the Big Back paddock, with the big fallen Puriri in the upper right quadrant (just beneath the "Ragwort8" label).  Tracking where I've been makes it easy to ensure I go back to check where I haven't, so that far less Ragwort is missed than in earlier years.

Obviously that spot in the centre at the bottom needs to be visited where it is labelled "Ragworts".  I don't appear to have been there yet.  When wandering around in all that scrub, one place looks very much like another and it's really easy to miss parts of it without some way of tracking where you've been.  The GPS unit seemed like a bit of an expensive toy when we bought it, but it's been a very worthwhile investment.

firewood collection

Elizabeth and William came out today with their firewood trailer.

I spent some time with Elizabeth picking Blackberries (of which there are an abundance at present), until Bloo arrived unexpectedly.

Stephan and William came back with a big trailer of wood from a pile somewhere and commenced cutting it up before loading it into the trailer.  Another excellent example to all of the best time of year to collect fuel for the winter months!  Take heed.

Sunday the 3rd

Today did not start well.

Stephan milked Zella, then shot out on the bike to do something, leaving the cows and calves to wander into Flat 1 for the day.  Standing at the sink washing milk dishes, I wondered where two of the calves were and when Stephan came back down the lane, I went out to see if I could propel them toward him.  They were both just outside the house, munching on some plants which should never even have been on our property!

A couple of days ago Stephan asked me if we'd like some plants whose name he couldn't remember, which a woman down the road has been breeding - he's been doing some possum control for her for a while.  He brought them home, along with their name: Rhododendron.  I was pretty sure that species was on the "toxic to stock" list and a check revealed that they were not something it would be wise to plant anywhere there was the remotest chance cattle or sheep could access, which in my mind means anywhere on our property.  They were to be taken away again.

I chased the calves away and back out the little side gate through which they'd entered and they went up the lane to join the others.

Researching on-line I discovered some alarming reports of the small amounts of the plant which had been toxic to sheep and cattle and then phoned the vet to find out if there was much we could do.  The vet told me 1g/kg liveweight would be fatal (but presumably that's 1g of the active ingredient, not the green weight of the plant material eaten) and that they don't stock activated charcoal (the recommended remedy) in quantities larger than those required for cats and dogs.  (Surely that's pretty stupid, since presumably calves eating toxic plants happens from time to time and they're valuable animals people would want to try and save?)

Further internet searching found information stating that "as little 0.2% of the body weight as leaves may be toxic or lethal."  I carefully inspected the plants and am fairly sure they had eaten no more than six leaves - between them or primarily by 121, who was chewing on a leaf when I found them, I can't be sure.

A woman who breeds goats away down south had posted on the forum a recipe for a drench for animals which had ingested toxic plants and since we had no other option and I wanted to feel that we'd done something I made it up.  It consisted of some extremely strong black tea, paraffin oil, powdered ginger and baking soda.

Angus calves

We brought the calves back in and took them over to the yards, where 684 (the orphan) and Dexie 121 were carefully drenched with their cupful each of the disgusting-looking mixture.

Afterwards Stephan put the scales platform into the race so we could weigh them as well.  121, who doesn't look very impressive, now weighs 186kg at 3.8 months old and has for the last six weeks been growing at over 1.38kg per day, which is excellent considering that her mother is a two-year-old first-timer.

684 weighed 193kg, so he's been growing at 1.24kg/day since his mother died, which is pretty damned good for a hand-reared calf!  I'd have expected him to drop back in growth more than that, but presumably this is the sort of growth one might expect from at least six litres of milk fed each day.  (Zella's calf has dropped back by 300g/day, because he's now having to share his supply with the orphan; but he's still growing at 1.15kg/day.)

Those weights mean that if the 0.2% of liveweight toxicity information is correct, either calf would have to have eaten at least a dozen leaves to be fatally affected.  I hoped that the information was correct and continued to watch them and worry, all day.

I understood that I'd expect to see any ill effects within about six hours.

I kept going out and peering at the two calves.  684 seemed quite comfortable, chewing his cud or quietly grazing for most of the time.  121 didn't look quite so easy and at one point around 2pm I found her sitting with her mouth partly open, which is unusual, then dripping saliva from her top lip.  The list of terrible symptoms included salivation, tearing, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle weakness, convulsions, coma, and death.  Lovely.  However within another hour or so, those worrying signs had disappeared and 121 had returned to grazing normally and appeared to be alright.


Storm.  I thought she'd have finished changing head-colour by now, but the process is slower than I expected.


Storm has a go at both cats whenever she's near them.  Foxton fights back!

My only worry is that Foxton may catch Storm's eye as she swipes at her, but hopefully she's not giving her a serious batting.  I also hope that this will eventually deter the bird's attacks on the cats, because Finan really doesn't need to be frightened any more.

Angus cows and calves

Some time a bit after six, the sky clouded over enough to take some of the heat out of the air.  I'd started to relax about the sick calves and the others all needed moving, so we brought them in to the yards to weigh the calves.  Afterwards the mob went over the road and up the hill, where there's stacks of grass.

The calves are growing exceptionally well.  Last year, when we had so much rain and there was an abundance of grass, they didn't do as well as they appear to be doing this year.  The average growth-rate of the heifers so far weighed is 1.28kg/day for the last six weeks.  The steers have grown at 1.34kg/day.  One of the weights was much lighter than expected, so I'm not sure if there was an error, or something hasn't been quite right for that calf or his mother.  The best steer (Imagen's) has been growing at 1.82kg/day and the best heifer (Demelza's) at 1.55kg/day.

Monday the 4th
a rainy day

We awoke to the relieving sound of rain.

We haven't had any significant precipitation since the flood on 30 December and everything had become worryingly dry.  When the cows walked on the grass, it crunched, even though it still looked quite green.

We also awoke to three healthy calves waiting around the milking shed.  I am so very relieved!

Liquid Nitrogen semen bank

Now that I've finished the mating season for the cows, it's time to send the semen bank home.  The liquid Nitrogen has lasted surprisingly well, considering the air temperatures we've been experiencing.  I found an old woollen coat and wrapped that around it and that seems to have been quite effective in reducing some of the heat exchange.  The hotter the surrounding temperatures, the faster the Nitrogen evaporates.  The bank has been here for six weeks and still has 17cm on the gauge - ten centimetres is the minimum refill level.

Before sending it back (to Greg, who has been lending it to me for several years, since our mating seasons don't clash) I rearranged my straws.  When I first picked it up, I put all the new straws into an empty can in this bank, but having used many of them, there was room to fit them all back into one can.

The vapour at the top of the picture is evaporating Nitrogen and the liquid in the canister is the liquid form.  We both wore our gumboots while I was doing the transfers between cans, since we had to hold one of them out of the bank and with little drain holes in the bottom to ensure the level in the bank and the cans is the same, there were some very cold drips hitting the floor!  Neither of us wanted frost-burnt feet.

I take pictures of the straws and then go away and look at them, rather than thinking about what I'm doing with them sitting out of the Nitrogen.  This is my picture for next year, to remind me how the straws are arranged.  Naturally I keep a document which details which straws are where, but I find it useful to have a picture to go with it, especially since there are a couple of coloured inserts with one white and one orange straw and just to add confusion, two inserts of the same hue as each other.  I need to make sure I don't get them mixed up.

There was a medium-sized white-tailed spider sitting on the rim when I took the top plug out, so I pushed it in; it sizzled.

Tuesday the 5th
Nikau in flower

Along the roadside as I walked out to check the cattle Over the Road this morning, I noticed these Nikau flowers still emerging from their covering.  The green piece below is the base of the last leaf, as it falls from the trunk.

Nikau in flower

A few steps further up the road, another, with the old grey panicles whose seed will be long gone.


Even though we'd had no rain for weeks, the farm is still green enough that the grass should respond well to the recent fall.  By the end of another week though, we'll be feeling just as dry as before because of the heat and wind.

Wednesday the 6th
Waitangi Day

A fabulous day for a public holiday, with a Southerly breeze to keep things cool, but clear sunny skies.

Stephan went trapping and I wrote and listened to the usual special programming on Radio NZ National for Waitangi day.

At Waitangi the media were all out to find any scrap of discord and report it as the main event, as is the usual practice.  I think they do us no favours in our progress toward inter-cultural understanding and harmony.  I was horrified to watch the Prime Minister, in his usual smug school-boy manner, piling fuel onto that same fire.  As was commented elsewhere in the media later, it will do him no harm amongst the group of people for whom racism is no shame and may even bolster his support.

Late in the day I went to check the cattle over the road and up near the top of the hill found an extensive population of flowering and seeding ragwort plants.  I was so horrified I didn't even take a picture!  I spent about three quarters of an hour carefully cutting and bagging flowers and seeds.

Thursday the 7th
new fence

Stephan started on the big swamp fence today, having cleared enough of the top side of the first small section.  There is a culvert just beyond the strainer post (to the right of it in the picture) and the track continues up the hill and around to the right to the Middle Back fenceline.  We'll put a gate here, so we can still get around the whole area when we need to.  For the sake of accessibility for anyone in future years, we foresee laying metal up that track so we can drive through the bush, around the farm...  That's a very long-term plan!  We continually operate in the belief that this place is special enough to make such efforts.

new fence

I didn't recognise the post thumper when I saw it, all freshly oiled and tidied.  Stephan says he's finding it easier to use with this tractor, which may be due to the three-point linkage arms being of different lengths than those on the old tractor.

new fence

We've not yet quite decided how to deal with the boundary fence.  There is considerable slumping of the ground around the area where the water that comes down into our swamp probably comes up to the surface.  The neighbours graze that small paddock fairly hard, so there's both little vegetative protection for the eroding soil and also cattle adding physical pressure.  The result is that soil and swampy weed gradually build up on their side of the boundary fence, gradually pushing the fence down in our direction and making the ground on that side quite a bit higher in relation to the fence, so that the barrier to their cattle is no longer as high as it should be.

Relations have not been cordial with those neighbours for many years, after they took exception to my having their bull impounded upon its fourth intrusion into my herd, and I discovered that sometimes you have to cost other people money before they'll remedy a problem they're causing.  Since then they have ceased grazing their lone bull at the end of their property on our joint boundary, but other cattle did subsequently come over the fence and so we fixed the fence ourselves.  Subsequent to Stephan's work, the neighbours installed a hot-wire above the boundary fence, but that wire has not been electrified for some time.

It is likely that we will continue having to periodically lift the fence and we are considering continuing the three-wire electric fence of the new reserve along the inside of the boundary fence.

Totara tree

This tree's deformed trunk caught my eye amongst the scrub.  It is a Totara and I suspect that as a small sapling it was broken over by one of the cattle, didn't die but grew around and up again, causing this big twist in the trunk.  It might be a really interesting piece of wood in cross-section.  Maybe I'll tie a bit of plastic ribbon around it so it doesn't get cut down as this slope is cleared of scrub.

Friday the 8th
Angus cow

Queenly 23 appears to have been sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time!  Cows are not considerate about where they evacuate their bowels.

Angus calf

Most of the calves in this mob Over the Road have developed scours.  It's extremely smelly and some of them aren't looking very happy.  This is Imagen's son.

Some of them are shooting something akin to a yellowy-green slurry out their back ends at present and lots of it is dribbling down their legs and being swished around all over their sides and backs.

I think it's a dietary upset to do with this paddock in particular, because the calves back on the main part of the farm are fine.

I am watching and making notes for the time being.


The Titoki in the reserve on the hillside is a fabulous colour!  Its leaves are a stunning shade of green.  Now I know it's there, I can't understand how it took me so many years to notice it.

Behind the Titoki is a sparsely-leaved Puriri and in front is a very tall Nikau palm.

From the top of the hill I caught sight of something I keep seeing so briefly that I haven't yet managed to catch it with the camera: Joe 90 on his back with his legs in the air!  He seems to have taken to rolling on the ground, presumably to scratch his back.  I was very alarmed the first time I saw it and haven't yet seen him clearly enough to know for sure that he's actually doing it for pleasure and not because he's having weird fits, but he returns to normal behaviour immediately afterwards.

ewe with flystrike

As I sat working in my office today a ewe called outside my window.  She was on her own, so I went to see what was going on.  She had lain down in the shade by the garden fence and the dark spot in the middle of her back was surrounded by buzzing flies.

By the end of the afternoon the tell-tale dark wet patch had begun to spread.  Every few minutes the ewe got up and ran away from her flies, never managing to lose them.  She also kept reaching back to bite at her back, where things were no doubt infuriatingly itchy.

I moved the flock to the driveway until Stephan arrived home and we put them in the yards and he applied the toxic flystrike powder to her back.  The maggots in the wool were still quite small, but had migrated down to the skin level, making it quite pink in the affected area.  There were also lots of fly eggs, ready to produce even more maggots.

If one does not treat flystrike, the maggots begin to get into the skin.  When they're starting the process, it's probably just very tickly, but before long presumably progresses to stinging and then on to uninterrupted pain as the maggots devour the live sheep.  This was an early case, but in the current hot weather, she'd be in a pretty bad state in another 24 hours.  This is typical under this week's conditions: rain for a day and continued warmth means there are an increased number of flies around and if there's anything slightly smelly about a sheep's wool (this one had an issue in this same spot a few weeks ago) they'll target it.

Angus heifer calf

Dexie 121 has slight scours, presumably from the Rhododendron event.  The others are clean.

She appears to be quite healthy and happy, but may have been a bit more off colour than was obvious to me as I've observed her over the last few days.

We were very lucky to get away with that one!