The week beginning the 2nd of May 2015.
Saturday the 2nd

After sending the just-weaned cows down the lane from the Windmill Paddock, I opened the gate for the others to go from 5b into 5c, where I'd just sowed grass seed.

Once those cows were on the move, I opened the lane gate to 5b so the seven new cows could come in with them without being challenged at the gateway.

They joined the others quite quietly and proceeded into 5c and I shut the gate.


Then somebody growled and turned on someone else and they all went crazy!

Everyone started fighting and chasing everyone else, including some who've been together all the time.  Silly things.  I think it's mostly playful.  They seem physically relieved after weaning, free again to be their own selves, not responsible for the lives and safety of their calves any more and they kick up their heels and behave like youngsters again for a while.

Stephan, having spent some of the day pruning the Small Hill's streamside in preparation for the next fence, came and mowed 5b.  Later I sowed 5d and then let the cows in there for the night.  There's not a lot of feed in these paddocks, because I've only recently used them for the cows during weaning.


After checking the heifers out the back with my rifle slung over my shoulder, looking for pigs, I walked back in almost-darkness as the moon rose.

Sunday the 3rd

A couple of days ago when I washed the milk-straining cloth, it became slimy as soon as I added soap.  Soap or detergent makes milk with somatic cells (white blood cells responding to infection) clot into a liquid not unlike snot, which made the cloth feel as it did.  It's a useful daily check on Zella's udder health.

At evening milking I took four little cups down to the shed and got Stephan to give me a sample from each quarter and then mixed each sample of that milk with an equal quantity of 25% detergent in water.  The healthy milk in three quarters didn't change, but the milk from her front right clotted into a viscous mass.  It would appear that the physical stress of weaning and the change in milking (her calf no longer taking all her milk during each day) has prompted the resurgence of the Stapholococcus aureus infection she had last season.  Botheration.

I consulted the vet who advised that we could treat her with the intramammary antibiotic I had on hand and so she received the first of three syringes up the affected teat this morning.  That process is painless and very simple.

Unfortunately that means we have to discard all of her milk from tonight's milking and on until next Saturday evening at the earliest.  I froze several containers of the milk we have on hand from last night and this morning, to keep us going through the week.


Stephan's really getting serious about the firewood vs. burning challenge.  I think he's definitely going to win this one - I win both ways since I don't really want to win the "I burnt more than you collected" competition.

This is excellent firewood because it's very dense and if it's left in the paddock to dry for a couple of years after cutting and then collected in the summer before it gets rain-wet again, it burns hot and clean and easily.  Our chimney rarely needs cleaning.

Elizabeth and William came out today and Stephan and William went out two or three times to the Middle Back to collect the last loads from that paddock before conditions get too wet.  William and Stephan then cut up a couple of trailer-loads for William to take and some went in with this lot.

This much wood means we also have enough to share, should friends or family or anyone else run out and be in need during the winter.

geese and sheep

The young geese appear to have accepted their new life with the sheep.  I don't see them as much as before and they're always very excited when I appear, but I don't miss the constant banging on the back of the house, the ear-splitting honking whenever we went outside or into the bathroom, nor the mess on the back lawn and concrete path.

geese and sheep

They're not quite as confident as old Madam Goose is with the sheep.  I'd thrown them some maize, but they weren't quick enough to eat it up before the sheep saw me throwing it out and came to get as much as they could out of the grass.

weaner Angus bulls

At the end of the day I drafted the four bull calves away from their mothers and in to the House Paddock.  This is the last of the weaning.

I'm really pleased with the bull calves this year.  The Pono sons are lovely, vastly better than their brothers from last year, having quite different cows as their mothers.

The four of them are: Pono sons 138 and 144, 137 is the son of ancient Exclaim of Kaharau (born in 1976) and 140 was sired by BT Right Time 24J.

Once they were settled I combined all the weaners, creating a mob of 36 including the pregnant yearlings.  This time of year always feels like a "tidying up" time.

Monday the 4th
Angus calves

Goodness knows why orphan 765 was out in the lane.  I imagine he got pushed around by some of the others who have forgotten who he is, since he's not been with them for most of their lives.  These three, Zella and Imagen's sons and 765, are spending most of the time separately from the rest of the mob.

Angus cows

Eva and Dinky stood quietly chewing their cud while looking at their sons, this morning.

Angus cows

Behind them the two younger cows, Dexie 101 and Queenly 107, were much more vocal in their distress at the continued separation from their calves.


Eco has been looking weird, as though he has hair gel in his head feathers (admittedly my eyesight contributes to many strange things I think I see), but once I'd taken a couple of pictures of him to enlarge on my screen, I could see he was growing new feathers which had not completely emerged from their sheaths.

car in paddock

Continuing the very sensible firewood collection practice of doing it before the rains come, William was able to drive his car and trailer right out into the Bush Flat Paddock this afternoon.
There is a lot of dry wood there from the Puriri we dropped in 2011, a lot of which was already dead.  William chopped and collected a trailer-load while I was sowing more seed, this time in a section of the Windmill Paddock.

Puriri tree

This is a very odd little Puriri remnant, but I think it's looking more lively than it used to.

There is a picture in 2012, but from a different angle, in which the amount of canopy doesn't actually look much different.  I'll have to go back for another picture from that angle for a better comparison.

Tuesday the 5th

We went to a Dairy NZ field day.  Worry not, we're not turning to the dark side, just interested to see how the farm next door is managed, how its conditions compare with ours and so on.

It was an interesting day.  While dairying and beef farming are very different in many ways (although if you're an urban dweller and have contact with farming issues only via the media, you wouldn't know there was anything other than dairying, any other cow except a black and white Friesian), many common factors exist.  Dairy and beef breeding herds' productivity and profitability depend entirely upon the management of cows so that they calve every year.  A dairy cow won't produce milk if she doesn't calve; a beef weaner calf can't be sold if it doesn't exist.  Cows won't get in calf unless they're adequately fed and that's where the two systems have diverged in recent years: dairy cow feed now includes a great deal more not-grass than it ever used to in this country, allowing many more animals to be carried per hectare than could be fed on the grass grown there.  There's an enormous reliance now on imported Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE), a by-product of the Palm Oil industry.  (The feeding of PKE to dairy cows has some interesting implications which make me glad we have our own milking cow who eats only grass!)

Dairy cow fertility is also managed more invasively than is usual in beef herds, primarily it seems to me because the cows are fed on the margin of sufficiency, meaning some don't quite attain adequate body condition to return to fertility after each calf, in the timeframe required to allow them to stay in the annual cycle.  Annual calving is not an unreasonable or unnatural expectation of a healthy cow, as long as she has the resources to maintain herself while milking and growing her next calf.  In nature it would be so.

New Zealand farmers have long practised "managed starvation", i.e. feeding only just enough most of the time, running as many animals as possible on a property, pushing the boundaries of sustainability and letting those which can't hold their own fall out the bottom - all the cows which don't get pregnant get culled to the works each year, regardless of their other merits.  In many dairy herds hormone treatments are used to prompt some of the cows to return to oestrus after calving, because otherwise they take too long under the high demands of milk production and feed challenges in the early spring.  I've never been particularly comfortable with the practice, having worked as an Insemination Technician for a while and observed some very skinny cows being brought back to fertility before their bodies would naturally have managed it.  What sort of next generation do you produce if the current mothers are under-resourced?

Things are gradually changing, I think, with the recognition that running cows too close to the bone doesn't yield great results, but there's still a long way to go.  Current practice appears to be to carry as many cows as the feed budget will allow, rather than reducing stocking rates and feed bills and seeing how much more production you get if the cows and the whole farming system are under less stress.  Apparently it does work out; but if you have a multi-million dollar mortgage to support, you probably daren't take the chance that a change will make a positive difference.

I don't like the modern dairy industry.  It looks like everyone has jumped on a maximum-production bandwagon which is now careering along without anyone having noticed there's no brake pedal.  The potential environmental impacts in areas into which dairying has been newly introduced with complete reliance on irrigation are very concerning.  What the animal welfare implications are of ever-increasing herd numbers should be on the minds of every dairy consumer.  The current low price being paid to dairy farmers is not only of concern to them and to the country's GDP; I expect it will be seriously impacting on the daily lives of many animals, as their farmers go about their work under ever increasing financial and personal stress.  Cows are lovely animals and some of them live utterly miserable lives.

Back to the field day: I used to work on the neighbouring farm as an occasional relief-milker, so was familiar with the general layout, but it was interesting to go and look at the pastures in particular and realise that this is not an easy area in which to farm.  For all that we have nice flats and shelter, it's pretty tough country because of the soil types and the high rainfall - "safe" during summer, most of the time, but not entirely so.  Seeing some of the production difficulties within a dairy context which more closely measures its in and outputs than we can makes the problems somewhat clearer.

Wednesday the 6th

Somebody turned one of the pressure-adjustment taps off too far and this is the result: something has burst.  Fortunately it turned out to be a bit of above-ground pipe, not a joint buried under the track.

Thursday the 7th
mowing a paddock

I did a draft this morning as I let the weaned cow mob out of the Mushroom 2 Paddock, sending the cows one way and the first and second-time heifers the other.  The heifers are now my R3/4 mob, i.e. they're the rising three and four year heifers, all pregnant, all needing some care over the winter as they recover from rearing their first or second calves, grow the next one and continue growing themselves.  The exceptions in that age group are those which didn't calve this year, who can stay with the cows for the winter.

Stephan mowed the Windmill Paddock, making it look lovely and even.  Once the fertilizer has been, I'll put tapes up around the small section over which I broadcast new seed, so it can remain undisturbed for six weeks, but I can still use the rest of the paddock, when it has grown sufficient grass again.

It's great having the ability to mow the paddocks now.  I've always relied on using the cows to manage the Kikuyu, making them chew it down hard at this time of the year, but since I've been reducing the stocking rates over the last few years, I can't always apply sufficient grazing pressure.  The other problem is that the largest proportion of the current cow herd is young and still growing and I don't want to have to push them that hard.

Angus calves and yearlings

The heifers all walked down the lane and the calves all walked up Flat 1 to see who they were, calling again for their mothers.  There are 36 in this mob today and tomorrow there will only be 16, after twenty go off on a truck.

grey (mostly) Angus steer

Heidi, who's buying the weaners again this year, rang and said last year's steers were all close to the road at her place, so I drove over this afternoon to have a look.

I remember this pretty face from his calfhood.  His sister is this year's favourite, Jet 777 - did I mention I'd decided she could have a name?  I looked up the Boeing 777 to find it described as a "wide-bodied jet", which seemed hopefully appropriate.

Angus steer

Gem 698's son has an impressive case of ringworm.  It's six years since we had ringworm in our herd, so these steers will have had no immunity to it.  It's unsightly but of no great consequence and will resolve itself in a couple of weeks.  Heidi said she'd recently introduced some small calves to the mob, who probably brought it with them.

Angus steer

Endberly's first calf is still an impressive animal.  I still remember the struggle to pull him free from his mother!

Angus/Jersey steer

Zellason!  He looks so much like his mother.  He had and has a distinctive Jersey appearance, despite that portion of his inheritance being only one quarter.

They're all looking really good.  My cattle always grow well and please their new owners!

Angus calves

Back at home again I sent the calves toward the yards.  I had to walk all the way up the paddock to fetch these three, the house-cow calves, who are still sticking together in their own little group, still calling for their mummies.

While I had them at the yards, I weighed them all, discovering I undercharged for them this year.  Oh well.

I usually weigh them at weaning and in the three or so weeks before they go they usually gain only enough weight to make up for the usual gut-fill loss of standing around in the yards before one should weigh them for sale.  From past saleyard records I know that loss is up to 6% and so can calculate a fair price without discomforting my calves; but this year, they've done better after weaning than they usually do and I consequently underestimated their sale weights.  On the other hand, I get pretty fed up with messing around with whether or not my calves weigh 255 or 260 kg and would prefer to decide a fair price for animals which will reach works size before most others on the market.  Sadly that's an unfulfilled wish for a more enlightened time and market.

Friday the 8th
wasp nest

Up early this morning to draft the calves for the truck.

As I was setting up the loading race I pulled the big new wooden gate open and felt my fingers brush over what I presumed was a fallen Oak leaf in the gap between the diagonals on the gate.  When I looked, I discovered my lucky escape from a painful sting!

wasp nest

I'm having a charmed wasp year, having had two or three close calls with wasps which did not sting me, including one inside my boot, against which my foot pressed at least twice before I realised what it was and got it out.  Last year I was stung by any wasp I went near.

weaner Angus calves

The truck was over an hour late.  I don't know why we don't just add an hour to any time they give us, since they're so rarely anywhere near on time.

Rain fell constantly.

weaner Angus calves

Front right in this picture is orphan 765, all nicely grown so that he looks just like any of the others.  It takes quite some effort to give an orphan as good a start as it would have had with its mother.  I don't see there's much point in doing anything else though, if one can do the best for the animal.

weaner Angus bulls

The four weaner bulls are looking lovelier by the day.  The two at front and left are the Pono of Kawatiri sons, who both look like being really nice bulls.  I have too many bulls.  I always have too many bulls.

mown paddock

Stephan mowed Mushroom 2.  It's a paddock I've monitored quite closely at times, it being easy to take photos from this gateway for over-time comparison.  I took a series of pictures through the winter in 2011 for just that purpose.  Perhaps this winter would be a good time to do that again, to see how it differs with new seed sown and having been mown.

Cabbage and Puriri trees

The trees in Flat 5c which we planted in 2004.  There are later pictures of them in 2006 and 2009.

The Puriri remains oddly small, but seems healthy enough.  Something isn't as it would like to grow properly.  I wonder if the short bit of tanalised fence post at its base has had any effect?  We buried that in the ground when we planted the tree, so there'd be a hole available in which to bury the ashes of Stephan's parents, if that was what everyone else decided they wanted to do.  Muriel liked that idea when we talked about it.  In the mean time they sit quietly waiting in the wardrobe.  Stephan and I would like to be buried in the cat cemetery, when the time comes, but we'll have to make various appications to see if such a thing can be allowed.  Having had a great grandfather's remains moved so a motorway could be built in Wellington, I know that one's final resting place is not always so!  I find the whole subject slightly absurd at the moment.  Maybe it's the effect of that fast approaching half century mark ...