The week beginning the 4th of January 2020.
Saturday the 4th
Cattle ticks

Maybe this should have come with a warning for grossness but I thought I need to help you live dangerously sometimes.

I carefully scratched my way up the back of 716's udder this morning and caught all these charming, blood-filled ticks in my palm.

They fall off very readily when they're like this, just about to drop off on their own into the grass, to lay thousands of eggs. I've since taken to carrying a little jar with methylated spirits in the bottom, into which to drop them.

Just as we sat down to our morning coffee the phone rang. Some unknown passer-by had dropped in this morning to our dairy farming near-neighbours and told them that one of the calves they have grazing the 10-acre block next to our Road Flat paddock, had been seen jumping over the fence from the roadside into the orchard. Stephan and I went to investigate, spending an hour looking around for the calf, finding no sign that any spare animal was anywhere within our property. I concluded the observer had probably mistakenly thought that the paddock the animals were in was part of ours which includes the orchard. We thought it highly unlikely, nigh on impossible, that one of those animals could have leapt over our very sound roadside fence with electric wires running along the top and half-way down. The fence between the block they're on and the road is an entirely different story and could be walked through in many places by any creature - which was obviously the case if one was out on the road.


Andrew, Stephan and I spent a ridiculous few minutes trying to work out whether or not an extra gate Stephan had brought up here was longer than the one that has closed the top of the lane for several years. The original was still hanging here and the other was propped up where a new gate is required at the start of the yards lane.

Stephan eventually fetched his tape measure and we concluded they should be swapped over. This gateway needs the longer gate, so big trucks can most easily get around the 90° corner.

cattle yards

Sarah brought Charlotte, a friend from her childhood, out to the farm this afternoon, for blackberrying and swimming with the children.

Kerehoma volunteered to demonstrate (or have demonstrated upon him) how effective the headbail gate is. It's pretty good!

blackberry picking

Then they all went berry picking while I moved the cows, excluding the cattle from the blackberry patch.


Later today I want to introduce the cattle to the new yards, so they came down to the bottom of the paddock to graze until then.

I stood and watched for a while, to see if that lone, sleeping calf would wake up. He remained where he was, so I went to check he was ok: just fast asleep.

White-face 746's son is still feeding from behind. It's easier to get a meal on the move that way, at least.


Zoom has a very sore eye. I noticed it a couple of days ago and have been watching carefully to ensure it's getting better, not worse. She's producing lots of tears in response and they're staining the side of her face as they stream from her eye.

Sometimes they get one of the nasty, sharp grass seeds stuck behind an eyelid and it takes a few days for it to be washed out. I've never had a good-enough headbail to easily help in this situation but that is about to change in the next few days.


The hot blackberry pickers came back to the pond.

It's great having smaller, less confident swimmers in life-jackets. We might even purchase a smallest size one to keep here, for it is the fast-moving toddlers who are most at risk when there are lots of people around and distraction levels are high. Sarah and Karl have jackets for all their children. A couple of small jackets Mathew's sons have outgrown have ended up staying by the pond for the summer but a smaller one would be an excellent idea.


Three-year-old 813 was on heat by mid-morning and heifer Harriet 860 joined her by early afternoon.

Here 813 was "chin-resting" ...


... before mounting 860.

860 is standing firmly in place, indicating she is in "standing heat" and that she will ovulate sometime in the next 24 hours. It is these obvious signs, along with a number of more subtle ones, that I look for to confirm the timing of insemination.

The bull can barely contain himself on the other side of the lane when this is going on but fortunately the fences can contain him.


An important strainer went off-line during thumping. The ground is far too hard to nudge such a post with the tractor and not cause it to crack, so Stephan removed some soil in the direction it needed to move...


... before pushing it up straight and returning soil to wherever it was then necessary to hold everything as required.

When working in very dry conditions, soil pummelled into a hole can be made far more solid than the soil you removed.

cattle crush

Andrew and Cathie are leaving tomorrow morning so we decided it would be timely to gather our helpers together for a meal and the Official Opening of the Yards.

(Unfortunately Mathew couldn't join us but we'll do it all again when everything is completely finished.)

This time Gaye volunteered for the headbail treatment and then realised she didn't like it at all: it induced a disturbing sense of claustrophobia! We quickly released her, to her great relief.


Here are some of the "creative team": Stephan, Ruth, Andrew and Brian.

gate and cattle

The the equivalent of a "ribbon cutting" ceremony: I opened the tape gate for the cattle to come in and have a look around.

There was applause but no champagne. It was a nervous moment...


... but the end-users seemed entirely satisfied. Many of the cows, heifers and calves wandered in without any trepidation, sniffed everything, some rubbed their necks and faces on the nicely rough timber edges and nobody seemed startled about anything, which was exactly what we'd hoped. We didn't send them through the race at this stage, since I'd prefer to do that without quite so many people around.

Having started out thinking it was a huge site, I began to wonder if I'd got my calculations wrong when I scaled things up and down during planning and had I actually planned things to be half the size I'd intended? I don't think so but it certainly looked smaller with the animals inside!

After a very nice meal together by the pond, Gaye, Brian and their grandchild departed and Stephan, Andrew and I went off to try out the yards for the first-time insemination. I inseminated 813 in the race, since I wasn't quite sure I wanted to go "all new" immediately and standing on concrete with wood on either side is what we're all used to. The race is very nice! 813 was very nice too; I gave her another shot of Harry, since I like calf 900 so much. Hopefully it will work.

At 10.45 Harriet 860 was still standing firmly, confirming that insemination in the morning - and not stupidly early - would be in good time.

The half-moon rose, orange from the smoke of Australia's fires.

Sunday the 5th

Cathie and Andrew left before seven this morning, then we went back to the yards again to inseminate Harriet, heifer 860.

I was not a successful insemination technician on this occasion. I've realised since, after a supportive chat with myself, that there's no reason to fail at an insemination. Every one should be possible. The only limiter, with such a great set-up now, is my own fatigue if I have difficulties.

A straight-forward insemination takes a minute or two; if I have trouble I might have my arm inside a hot cow for more than ten minutes. My technique and confidence have improved over the years so I rarely meet an animal I can't do but every now and then I'll be completely lost in the dark. Add arm soreness, environmental or internal (mine) heat and it can all get too much and I have to give up. Those occasions are rare but very disappointing.

My post-failure chat with myself on this occasion has led me to consider approaching that moment of despair differently.

Another morning coffee interruption from the same source as yesterday, this time the young wife calling to say that her husband had cleaned his boots and was coming to walk through our property looking for his calf.

Stephan went off up the road to supervise this unscheduled visit. I was not convinced that someone who has repeatedly ridiculed my biosecurity measures would have paid sufficient attention to meeting them and I wished Stephan to ensure that he stayed out of our paddocks on this side of the stream if he made moves in that direction.

The young man (he's in his late thirties, I think) took little notice of any such requests, had crossed the stream and jumped the fence into Flat 3 before returning to and making his way around the stream reserve for a while before admitting there was no sign, as we'd already said, of any animal having escaped into our place.

Eventually he moved to leave but made a number of comments about "having suspicions" on the basis that "you have a reputation as terrible neighbours". I think his implication was that we'd stolen his animal - he commented on vehicle marks in the orchard, presumably suggesting we'd loaded it into someone's ute. Or perhaps he thought we'd snuck it into our own herd, or shot and buried it somewhere.

I went home, phoned the young wife for a hopeful chat about the situation. I don't think it helped. I asked what their antipathy was about and she said they've "heard terrible things" about us. I suggested that this having been a life-long experience for me in this community (you get that when you refuse to conform to expected conservative standards of appearance and behaviour) it might be best, if she hears disturbing things, to speak directly to me about it. I doubt she will. I also doubt any of the helpful things we've done for them will be remembered, overshadowed as they appear to be, by the terrible things they've chosen to believe.


Last night with the torch I saw that Zoom's eye, now she's able to open it more, had a cloudy area in the outside corner. Here it is, along with what looks like an injury to her lower lid. I think she's had a stick injury of some sort.

Fortunately it doesn't appear to be infected but I will continue to monitor its healing.

This injury, along with Eva's lameness, has caused me to think about pain relief. Farmers have long been able to access, hold and administer medicines as instructed by their vets and while control is appropriately now being much more tightly exercised over antibiotics, I will speak to our vet about whether we may keep some pain relief medicine on hand. It would have been good for Zoom to have some relief for the obvious pain associated with this eye injury, although no other attention was required. She has continued behaving normally as her eye has wept but she'd doubtless have appreciated some dulling of the sensations it would have caused.

Kingfisher chicks

Kōtare chicks in their nest.

weed flowers

Another flood-sown weed from the stream, on the margins of the Road Flat paddock.

strange sky

I was on a Ragwort-hunting walk in the Tank paddock when the light began to change this afternoon.

On the radio news during the day I'd been hearing that Auckland was under a weird, dark, orange sky and the satellite cloud pictures suggested it would reach us too. Here it was rolling in just after five o'clock.

strange sky

By ten to six we were in darkness like 9pm. It was eerie and unsettling, despite knowing the cause. The light was extraordinary as the clouds passed after an hour or so, making everything look as though viewed through yellow cellophane.

The satellite pictures showed a red cloud that must have been Australian dust as well as soot and smoke particles. I've noticed a great deal of dust settling on things in the last few days; goodness knows what we're breathing!

Monday the 6th

One of the uncomfortable features of this summer is continual strong, often cold, wind. This morning it carried drizzle (and dust) with it too.

Grey 607 was on heat in the early afternoon, the steer and bull calf 197 keeping close company.


813's lovely daughter again. Her mother was a favourite too, early in her life.


This bit of fence has not had a settled life, having been put up and down more than once.

It's now coming out permanently and the drain dug there will be filled in, since other drainage subsequently took care of the wet problem we dug it to solve. The top of the House paddock will be marked by a new fence from that strainer in the picture to the one Stephan and Andrew put in and then straightened on Saturday.


Stephan said this rabbit had been sitting near him for much of the day, allowing him to get closer and closer.

The rabbit population is growing in numbers greater than I've seen here before. We will have to look up some recipes.


A couple of hours later I went back out to look at the cows again, found Stephan starting to put rails up on the new top end of the House paddock where it will serve as an improved weaning area in the autumn.

I'm already finding it difficult to remember how everything was before we started all these changes.


While watching cows I noticed some swallows swooping about and a line of (probably) newly fledged chicks sitting on the fence.

The birds have been nesting in the old truck canopy in Flat 5a, their dry mud nests attached to one of the metal pipes under the roof. I tentatively felt inside one of the nests one afternoon and counted three little warm bodies. The nest was too close to the roof to allow any photography of its contents.

The nests are partially lined with shed winter hair from the cows and a rainbow selection of feathers.


Each year in the bull calf group there'll be one in particular who is actively interested in what he's bred to grow up and do, and starts practising early. This year it's Henrietta 141's son, 197.


I ran an electric tape across Flat 2, ready for the cows to come down here for the night - they need a shift and it'll be easy enough to get 607 out of here in the morning for insemination.

The grass and clover are beautiful, although there's not quite as much feed in here as this lovely patch makes it appear.


Down the lane from Mushroom 1 to Flat 2.

Bull 176 in Flat 5a on the right here, ran up and down the fenceline as the cows came along the lane.


Poor frustrated bull. I'll put him back in with Zella and Glia soon but he's alright where he is for the time being.

Tuesday the 7th

In to the yards with 607 for insemination early this morning. Perhaps it wasn't early enough, since three weeks later I discovered it had not resulted in her pregnancy.

I regularly read articles and comments about insemination and its timing and had come to the conclusion that often I was doing it a bit early; but perhaps not, in all cases.

The approach to the yards is not yet completed, so a tape presently forms the right-hand side of the lane.

young cow

Dreamliner 787 is out with bull 178 in the Middle Back. She has a striking patch of warts on her neck. I've sprayed them with Iodine a couple of times but she's not keen on that happening out in the paddock, so I'll now watch and wait to see if they reduce in size and number.

787's calf isn't looking very impressive. I've been thinking she may lose her place in the herd.

Kingfisher chicks

Kōtare chicks in the nest. Here there are three visible.

Bits of egg shell have been falling out of the nest. I thought the parents usually carried shells away so as not to alert predators to their location. The shells are dirty in a way that suggests they may have been from an earlier nesting.


874 is another animal with a tiny bit of white near her eye. In her case I'm not surprised, her mother having had rather a lot more.

You may notice tear stains on 874's cheek. Unlike Zoom, she's had no noticeable injury but tears flush out whatever gets in their eyes and sometimes something irritates the eye a little more than usual for a while.


This is the gully where steer 356 got stuck, back in 2004.

Before it was fenced off, the cattle browsed the slopes and kept them mostly clear, as can be seen behind the tractor in a picture from 2016.

Swamp Lily

We managed to remove many of last year's Swamp Lily plants but some survived to appear again this year. Stephan later dived down to pull this one out.


This is the beautiful Kauri on the island. It is growing really well, presumably aided by never suffering any water stress. If it survives the current challenges facing its species, it will eventually be the island, but that'll be beyond our lifetimes.

eggs in nest

And here is another nest of Pukeko eggs.


In the cooler air of the evening, we both went Over the Road with bags and secateurs to hunt for Ragwort.

This face used to be covered in Ragwort but it would appear we've now got it under control. The trick is in removing all the plants before they seed - or at least removing all the seeds before they fall to the ground or blow away.

We collected a couple of big bags of flowers and seeds from some of the reserve gullies over the other side of the hill, before it got too dark to see what we were doing under the trees.

dry hillside

The pasture on the warm and exposed hillside is very dry.

Fortunately Kikuyu grass tends not to die right off and a bit of rain will soon cause it to grow and make the hillside green again but there's not much feed here in the mean time.

Nor is there much prospect of rain.

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