The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 11th of December 2021.
Saturday the 11th

Coming back from checking the 15/14 mob in the PW, I flew through a cloud of very active native bees, where they were busy about their nests in the sunny clay bank beside the track. Two of them got caught in spider webs on my filthy windscreen and I stopped to release one, still caught on the outside and about to be attacked by the resident spider. I foiled its attempts at harvesting lunch and released the bee from the strands of web still stuck to its feet and it flew back to its home. I am not a takeaway food delivery service for spiders I'd not invited to become regular passengers in my personal transport!

A couple of weeks ago I said yes to going out to the genealogy group's end-of-year lunch in Mangonui. I had two considerations, one being my Covid anxiety, about which I had some long chats with myself and Stephan, concluding in the end that the balance tipped in favour of (mostly) Stephan's enjoyment in being socially engaged against a probably-minuscule physical health risk in going to a "vaccine pass" event (everyone had to produce the proof they'd been twice vaccinated against Covid-19); the other was that today was one of the most likely days for Zella's calving.

I examined her closely this morning and then looked at her several times after we'd moved her into the Pig paddock for the day: she looked calm and quite likely to hold on for long enough for us to go out for a few hours.

We had a lovely lunch in a group of twenty, about half the number who were there last year, seated at four tables of five each. Stephan and I rarely sit together at such events, thinking we can maximise our enjoyment by having separate conversations and comparing notes later, and when two couples came to join my table, I suggested the women sent their partners away too. Stephan and all the wood-crazy men went off together and had a great chat and my group comprised the four of us who'd tried to travel to Christchurch for time together last August, plus the partner of a genealogy member who wasn't the least interested in family history. She may not have had as good a time as we all did.

We had a lovely time being "normal" again for a while.

Zella in labour

When we drove back in the gate, I thought Zella looked a bit odd, so quickly changed clothes and went for a closer look: membranes already and not much sign of her getting on with her labour. Odd.

I watched her there for a while, took her some Magnesium in molasses and eventually decided to see how easily she might come back across the bridge to the driveway area near the little milking shed, which would make the next 24 hours easier to manage.

As I carried the blue bin out of the paddock, Glia enthusiastically followed and Zella decided to come too.

Zella in labour

When the calf's feet appeared I could barely believe it: they were upside-down. Last year's calf came backwards and so was this one. I'd been telling myself she couldn't possibly have a backwards calf two years in a row!

Zella's new daughter

This time I made sure Stephan was paying attention and available to help, since the feet didn't look very small. We gently (and quickly at the appropriate moment) pulled her daughter out.

I watched to see that she'd fed but when she didn't seem to be getting that sorted out before dark, I gave her a little assistance - crouched beside her and helped her latch onto Zella's teats until she got the hang of it on her own. Probably unnecessary, but reassuring for me to know she'd had some colostrum before the end of the day.

Sunday the 12th
Zella's new daughter

Our last little calf for the season, so lovely and soft to touch. They are such lovely little animals.

We got Zella in to the little shed and Stephan milked off a bit of colostrum to relieve her udder tightness, leaving plenty in the rear teats from which the calf had been feeding.

Zella's front right quarter has been troublesome over many years and this season we didn't use any of the antibiotic udder treatment, since she didn't have any signs of infection, just fluctuating levels of somatic cells in her milk, which I have concluded is her normal state. Zella dried off without any problems and her udder seems fine now, except there's not much milk in that quarter, despite its appearance and size. As I write this I realise I may have entirely misjudged the situation but so far she's ok.

the Kānuka is blooming

The white in these trees is the blooming of Kānuka.

Kānuka flowers

They have much smaller and differently-structured flowers than Mānuka, which flower in the spring.

Kānuka flower

And they're primarily white. Mānuka come in white and many shades of pink.

warts on yearling 922's nose

I think some of 922's warts have gone.

sappling Pūriri

These Pūriri saplings have been growing very well. They began to grow when we first protected the bit of drain digging we did with the hired digger and when that electric tape had to be moved, I put a shorter piece around these lovely plants, so they'd not be eaten or trampled by the cattle.

I stopped to examine them to see what their natural growth pattern is, these trees growing in the shade of other, larger trees. They appear to grow straight up but the one second from right has a significant secondary branch at a third of its height. I've noticed that many of the burnt-and-left Pūriri have quite short trunks before they bifurcate into two huge, almost vertical trunks, rather than branches, the two appearing to have as much size as the lower part.

I had thought that perhaps the natural pattern was to grow straight up before branching out into the main canopy but even here in the shade, the dividing is happening in that lower region.

I phoned my aunt in Wellington again, this time to ask her to continue telling me a story that had been previously interrupted at a crucial moment by her rest home's dodgy telephone system. My Grandfather died when I was four and I have always remembered the story in a particular way (from my father's perspective) but Colleen told me much more about the event, because she was staying at Coopers Beach at the time. I hadn't known she was there.

My conversations with her have been immensely valuable to me in understanding the nature of the people in my family and some of the contexts of our history. I phone her as often as I think won't tax her too much or annoy the rest home by tying up the telephone.

cattle in the lane and on the faraway hill

The day had been showery, hence the low, grey cloud all around.

Stephan had been over at Elizabeth's place for much of the day. When he arrived home we moved the 15/14 mob from the PW down to Flat 4 and I noticed one of the heifers away in the distance, on the very top of the ⅓ part of Over the Road.

flowers in the lane

The lanes are all edged with white flowers.

Stephan collecting fencing standards from Mushroom 2

Stephan, picking up the fence standards I'd put in beneath the low electric feed wire, to remind Ryan where it was when he was spreading the lime in Mushroom 2. They probably served Stephan well too, when he was mowing the paddock.

cows and calves on their way to the Spring paddock

Here is the 14-pair mob coming out to the Spring paddock, with Stephan somewhere behind them to ensure none of the calves fell too far behind and got confused about where they were supposed to be.

looking across the Windmill paddock

When processing this photo I was a little confused about where I was looking: it's a view across the Windmill paddock to the yearlings coming down the lane but I was standing near the gates to the Tank paddock, so the hill and bush in the background are different from the usual view to our Bush Block reserve. That hillside is on the other side of the road, a little further away. It is possibly original bush, since the area appears intact in the 1950 aerial photograph, by which time all the major clearing had been done.

Zella feeding her calf

Zella had been grazing contentedly during the day and at 6.30 this evening I watched her calf to ensure she was feeding well. I noticed that Zella was shifting on her back legs and appeared to almost collapse a little on her right; I made a note.

I looked out to see what she was doing several times over the next hour then saw that when sitting, she was dropping her nose to the ground: that's not right! I walked down to see her and heard the rattly state of her breath and her sudden depression in vitality and she was unusually cool everywhere I felt, and that's not right, for a big cow at the end of a hot day, during a very warm evening.

I immediately phoned the vet. Our vet was off with his staff having an end of year gathering, so we had a visit from one of the other clinic's staff (despite its owner denying me service last year).

Vet Chris arrived within the hour and confirmed my suspicion of milk fever, despite Zella still being able to stand and move around, albeit in a wavering manner. He checked various things, then gave her a bottle of oral calcium, which ordinarily it would be impossible to get into her mouth but by then she was quite 'out of it' and swallowed it all; then he got a bag of Calcium borogluconate and its needle and delivered that beneath the skin on her side as Stephan held her head by a halter and Chris made sure he was able to get out of the way quickly if Zella fell over.

The problem, entirely my fault, was having forgotten to go and give Zella her regular pre-calving Magnesium in molasses over the last couple of weeks. At and just after calving, cows need to mobilise extraordinary amounts of Calcium out of their own bodies and Magnesium is crucial to that process. As a high-milk-producing older cow (she's now 13!), she is more prone to metabolic disturbance at this time than she would have been earlier in her life.

Providing a huge dollop of Calcium to her now rectified the situation within half an hour, sufficiently that she could continue to recover, rather than die. I will continue giving her Magnesium over the next couple of weeks.

Chris came in for a cup of tea, our first inside visitor in many weeks.

Monday the 13th
scratching Zella's ears

At 5.30 this morning I checked on Zella, finding her sitting chewing her cud, quite warm now, obviously feeling much better. She is still quite subdued but behaving normally enough to want her ears scratched as usual this morning after milking.

Al coming for his breakfast

The now-obligatory Al picture: coming for breakfast.

Glia chasing Zella's calf

We put Zella, Glia and the calves back in the House paddock so we could easily watch Zella during the day. Glia was oddly threatened by the new little black creature and repeatedly chased her away.

calves on the run

The calf, having seemed a bit subdued yesterday, is now very lively.

Tuesday the 14th
calves and cows in the Spring paddock

Rain, glorious rain. We had that little bit on Sunday, a bit more yesterday and now properly raining.

I walked into the Spring paddock under my umbrella and that's why the calves were looking at me in the photo.

rain running down the Big Back North track

I went around to the other side of the farm, to see how Stephan's drain work was looking.

The rain water was all running where we wanted it, although it was coloured by a lot of the fine, recently disturbed clay, washing away into the stream. That's not ideal but these changes will improve the situation overall.

a single Tarweed plant in the Small Hill paddock

Along the lane I noticed a single Tarweed plant on the slope of the Small Hill. I'll have to go back for that when it isn't raining.

cows and calves in the rain

I moved the 15/14 mob from Flat 4 to 3 and then watched the calves for a while, running madly around the new paddock.

Wednesday the 15th
an interesting treetop

What a funny-looking tree. I think it's Tōtara but will have to take binoculars out for a better look.

the Tī Kōuka on the Flat 1 fenceline

The Tī Kōuka on the Flat 1 fenceline is looking better and better, now it has a proper bit of protective electric fence to stop the cows snacking on its leaves.

pasture at the top end of Flat 1

The pasture at the top end of Flat 1, where it's had a chance to grow for a while, is lushly full of clover, looking delicious!

Stephan collecting the calves from the House paddock

When we give Zella and Glia the whole House paddock the calves often end up away up the other end and have to be fetched down at milking time. How else would we remain fit?

small bits of lime on a clod of soil

Here's some lime from the recent spreading: not very finely ground, but it'll break down in time.

Thursday the 16th
two slow calves

Late this afternoon I moved the 14-pair mob from the Spring paddock to the Middle Back. I'd already opened the gate, so called them along behind me for a while, then stood out of the way by the track as they galloped past.

I counted 26 animals, so went to see where the last two were: here, being very slow.

I didn't think very much about this at the time but I'm pretty sure the two calves were 811's daughter, 921, and Zoom's son, 950.

a huge patch of killed Australian Sedge plants

The Middle Back looks a bit shocking at the moment, the dead sedge now being so ... dead.

Flat 4, newly mown

Back on the flats Stephan had mown Flat 4, now the cows had chewed it down.

Andrew and son

Glia's son, going over to chat to his dad, Andrew.

Friday the 17th
Glia's and Zella's calves sitting together

Glia's calf seems much happier again now he has some company, even though she's just a baby.

Stephan holding Zella's daughter's head

She's a lovely quiet baby, too, letting Stephan give her a lovely scratch around her face this morning after milking.

the colours of our summer

Some of the colours of our summer.

Kikuyu growing up a plug-hole

Kikuyu grass grows anywhere!

This is the little hand basin attached to the long-drop toilet in the native trees area adjacent to the pond.

the new Flat 3 gateway

The cows and calves came so easily and quickly out of the new Flat 3 gate that they were gone along the lane before I thought about taking a picture. What a marvellous amendment.

Stephan trying to herd the yearlings down the hill Over the Road

Heifer 885 (in the middle here, I think) spent her day running down to the gate Over the Road and back to the rest of her mob, all the while issuing the most piercing and quite alarming calls: she was on heat. She was so fractious I worried she might decide to try going over the fence somewhere so she could go and find a bull, so decided to bring them back across the road, since it's nearly time to draft out the few I want to put to the bull at the end of the month.

the Pūriri we planted over the grave of Ms Duck and our latest little chick

We forgot about the Pūriri seedling we planted over the Pūtangitangi grave, where Ms Duck and the latest little chick are buried. Today I remembered to stop and have a look for it and there are its healthy leaves amongst the fast-growing Kikuyu grass.

a too-small Pine tree

We went for a walk up the Big Back North paddock to look at a little wilding Pine tree Stephan had seen, after Roz and Elizabeth both asked if we might have any Christmas trees.

I don't think this one will quite do the trick and we didn't find any others of any greater size.

undergrowth in one of the Big Back North reserve areas

This is the top of the first gully reserve. There is a multitudinous variety of seedling plants under the big Pūriri trees the reserve was built to protect.

the big Pūriri near the Middle Back gate

We walked along the hillside toward the back of the farm, pulling Ragwort seedlings, examining Pūriri, live and dead.

This one stands just below the Middle Back gateway on the back ridge. I looked all around the tree and couldn't see any obvious damage nor evidence of fire. I suppose every tree carries more mass in its branches than it does in the base of its trunk but in Pūriri it's so obvious: above the first division the vertical 'branches' are almost as massive as the trunk below.

the big Pūriri near the Middle Back gate

This is its canopy. This tree and the one that split and fell in Mushroom 1 are the two I've noticed with this growth habit; less obvious is the big tree at the end corner of Mushroom 3 whose long curved branchlets I don't see until they're on the ground and I collect them as fabulous kindling for the fire.

Stephan with binoculars

Stephan, spying on someone else's digger on another hill.

The long grass in front of Stephan is in the Small Hill paddock and few of the cattle come up so far to eat it when they're in the paddock.

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