The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 18th of December 2021.
Saturday the 18th
Stephan bringing Zella in for milking this evening

Stephan bringing Zella and the calf out of the House paddock for milking this evening.

I had a quiet day, not feeling fantastically well, I suspect because of an increasing sensitivity to pollens and other irritants floating around in the atmosphere. It was a good excuse for spending three and a half hours lying on my bed, reading.

cows and calves in the lane on the way to the Frog paddock

Sometimes the cows go first, sometimes the calves.

This is the 15/14 mob on their way to the Frog paddock this evening.

a self-sown pumpkin plant on our deck

The plants are revolting! The garden is escaping.

This is a pumpkin vine, so we'll let it go where it feels most comfortable, hope it produces fruit. Pumpkins are like tomatoes: we think of them as vegetables and yet they're actually fruit.

Stephan says he planted the seeds that grew into these plants. Al has some in his pen that grew from seeds not so deliberately planted.

Sunday the 19th
the foliage of a felled Pine tree

Brian came over to help Stephan do dangerous things to trees. They felled a big pine and I went up to see if the top of it might make someone a nice Christmas tree but the top had shattered either as it fell through the other trees, or when it landed, so I brought a branch home instead. I don't think it will be quite what anyone has in mind.

Stephan attending to Zella's ears

Zella has expectations that must be fulfilled!

The cows get numerous ticks in their ears and they like having them scratched out. Actually, they like having their ears scratched any time, ticks or not.

Little calf seems to be doing well.

one of the Rātā-Pōhutukawa hybrid trees in bloom

Colleen, my aunt, was talking to me today about Pōhutukawa trees in bloom in places she has lived over the years and I thought of her as I looked up to our Rātā-Pōhutukawa hybrid, now flowering so beautifully. They're such an intrinsic part of our summers.

Monday the 20th
calf 940

I thought there was something wrong with this calf when I saw her today but I think she just has a very fat neck.

She is 940, daughter of 710 and 199.

a nest of eggs under a flax bush

Our chickens have obviously been having far too much freedom, finding their own cosy places to lay their eggs, instead of where we, the people who feed them so well, can find and collect them.

I took a sitting hen from the nest boxes and put her in the old aviary and during the morning two secretly-sitting hens (one of which I'd thought was entirely missing a week or two ago, until I found her sitting on a nest down near the pond) came squawking up to the garden looking for food. I threw some pellets into the safety-door opening of the aviary and caught each of them in turn, then shut them into the body of the aviary with the other hen. As we have no rooster, there's no point in hens sitting on nests of rotting eggs and not laying any more for us!

a small drain through the soon-to-be-fenced wet area

Stephan cleared the small drain in the little wet area we want to fence off, to ensure the water can run unimpeded into the culvert pipe. Otherwise it might soak into the edge of the track again and return it all to a boggy mess.

a lot of Kaimaumau smoke in the air

There's a big fire up in the Kaimaumau wetland and today a wind-direction change brought its smoke and ash to us.

Stephan said it got pretty tiresome to work in and when I went out to check him, there were little ashen leaves and lots of dusty ash on the black seat in my buggy.

a rock

There is more to learn about in this world than I will ever have time for. Add geology to my wish-list.

This is a rock from the bank where Stephan has been working on the fence around the wet area. There's a lot of rock of this type on this side of the farm.

an unfurling tree-fern frond

Ferns are such lovely things and there is such variety here.

the house cows in the Pig paddock

That little calf is getting very lively! Stephan was bringing them in this evening to milk Zella. At this stage she has far more milk than the calf can cope with and we've been keeping some for ourselves and Al.

a fresh-looking Kahikatea tree

I wonder if that bright green growth is just what happens to Kahikatea trees in the spring time, or it's enjoying some kind of renewal in the warm weather? With its hanging lichen, that tree has never looked so vibrant.

I think we'd gone out for a consultation on the Big Back fencing job, in the cool of the evening. The tree grows on the edge of the big swamp.

Tuesday the 21st
fencing in the Big Back South

After pruning some trees and some minor earth-works, Stephan had put all the fence posts in and, this morning, begun putting the wires on the fence around the wet area.

plover family

This family of Spur-winged plovers spend their days standing around in Flat 3. There are two parent birds and three juveniles.

a very old Kānuka

How many times have I walked past this old Kānuka and not thought about its size, the significance of all the things growing up and in it? It is one of the largest specimens on the farm.

Kānuka are the trees we cut for firewood, growing thickly on any hillside not kept clear of their seedlings. We cut them down when they're much younger than this, and we deliberately don't cut down any of the big, old ones.

new fence

By 5pm the Big Back South new fence was complete. I have some Pūriri seedlings I would like to plant in the left side of the wet bit, since I think they'd enjoy the dampness there and it looks unlikely to dry out completely during summer droughts.

Unfortunately I didn't notice that I'd allowed the sun to shine on my dusty camera lens.

the two house-cow calves and Zella in the tall Parsley Dropwort

Cute calves. I think it's sweet that the two calves are now so happy in each other's company, despite their obvious size and age difference.

Wednesday the 22nd
fence rearrangement in the Bush Flat

Now another bit of alteration, which then extended into quite a big job, as these things can.

The lane along between the Bush Flat and Small Hill paddocks is quite narrow in places and this end corner near the Big Back North gateway was far too tight a turn, so we decided we'd change it.

Here Stephan had pulled out the strainer post; the hose-pipe contains and protects one of the under-the-gate electric cables he'd just dug up.

fence rearrangement in the Bush Flat

The water-line runs along the Bush Flat fenceline and we spent a few careful minutes digging around to discover where it was so it could be carefully extracted from the ground, rather than found by digging through it and then fixing the leak.

a dead Monarch butterfly

Death in the wilderness.

A Monarch butterfly near the gate to Route 356. I once found a swan plant in the PW, so no doubt there are others out here to support the breeding activities of the butterflies, far away from our garden plants.

a very slow calf

In the evening we moved the cow and calf mobs around. The 14-pair mob were in Mushroom 1 and I had to go and wake 921 up to follow the others. Then I wished I'd kept her and her mother back, because she was worryingly slow and a bit wavery on her hind legs: something's not right. I let her walk along very quietly and slowly to the Big Back South, since her mother had already gone.

Thursday the 23rd

Yesterday I emailed the genetics lab where bull 212's DNA is being tested, to ask when I might expect a result. The prompt yielded a answer early this morning, unfortunately not the one I hoped for: he tested as a carrier of the AM gene, so we'll have to castrate him.

the back of 792's tag has broken off

792 has broken the back off her tag. They all rub their ears against the trees with the roughest bark because ticks latch on behind the protection of the tags and they must be terribly itchy. I don't blame the cows at all but I still wish they wouldn't. The tag will probably disappear altogether before long and I'll have another anonymous-to-everyone-but-me black cow.

You might think this is a sick-cow look, with her ears down but she's just snoozing. If I went around to her head and talked to her, she would prick her ears up and look healthily alert.

921, not looking very well

Little 921 doesn't look markedly worse than yesterday but I'm checking on her every time I come out to see this mob.

I checked her mother's udder, to ensure she'd been feeding and it felt soft, her teats clean.

creative fencing

Now there's a bit of creative fencing!

Stephan beginning to clear the pond of its surface weed

That's a lot of weed for one lone pool-boy to get out of the pond!

the Flat 1 trough has been shoved sideways and is now overflowing

Stephan said there was no water at the milking shed this morning and this was why: Andrew had been shoving the trough around as other cattle walked up the lane.

Some of the bulls do this idiotic thing, somehow meaning to prove how strong and virile they are when really, if not for our care, they'd deprive their own cows of water and they'd all die of thirst! Where would that get him?

Stephan put the trough back where it should be and reconnected the pipe.

Friday the 24th
sick 921 beside the Bush Flat reserve fence

921 doesn't look right at all. She has very yellow urine, which I presume means she's quite dehydrated, even though here she was sitting beside the trough at the bottom of the Big Back North.

Stephan and I drafted everyone else out the gateway and into the Bush Flat, then let her mother, 811, and 921 come out into the lane, to start quietly walking back to the yards.

shifting the old truck canopy from Flat 5a

The old truck canopy has gone beyond safety and now the swallows have fledged, it's time to remove it from Flat 5a before the birds start nest-building again and before any of the cattle hurt themselves on the disintegrating frame.

I can't find any pictures of bringing it here but it was sometime back in the early 2000s, when I wanted to provide the sheep with some shade in this treeless paddock.

In the picture Stephan was checking around for bits of anything that had fallen off the rusty frame and then he took it home...

farm scene

... nearly all the way to the shed but couldn't get it through the last gate, so put it down on the ground and dismantled it there.

There is still some re-usable material in the frame.

Al on the run from his usual paddock

Looking out the window I'd seen a flash of something white in the distance where I didn't expect it: Al had somehow escaped from the House paddock and was exploring the Windmill.

He seemed happy enough but I was a little concerned he might decide to keep going if he found something interesting, so went out and called him back.

He'd got out by lifting a gate off its hinges at the top end of the paddock, possibly because one of the cattle had chased him into a corner.

Al on a lean

He was listing to port, as I've seen him do once before when he was far too hot.

Al having a cool-down with some trough water

So I grabbed a Topmilk bin and sloshed water all over him until he looked a bit more comfortable and I left him like this, rubbing his bum in the wet mud, having a glorious time.

811 and her daughter sitting in the lane

921 had come most of the way along the Bush Flat lane but it was so hot I didn't want her to sit out here in the sunshine for long, so gently got them up and moving again.

poor sick calf in the stream

She stopped and stood in the stream for a few minutes. She didn't seem to want to drink, just stood there.

I moved her up into the shade of the big Pūriri but as her mother was continuing grazing along the lane, she walked out into the sunshine again, so I kept them quietly moving along to the next bit of shade.

calf's pale membranes

I left them again for a rest where there was shade and a trough, before coming back another hour later to continue the walk to the yards.

We weighed her, and I looked at the colour of her mucous membranes, which were terribly pale.

I went home and phoned the vet before it got any later in the day, it being the last working day before the four-day Christmas holiday period. He said the most likely cause of anaemia and weakness is Theileria and that I should avoid moving her around or exciting her. Too late for that instruction!

Theileria orientalis Ikeda is a red blood-cell parasite that turned up in the country back in 2012 and killed a lot of dairy cattle and in some herds, a lot of beef calves in its first couple of years. Because we don't bring animals in to our herd, we didn't get it then but I think it has finally arrived. It is a tick-borne parasite and ticks travel on any mammal and many birds, and so the pigs, wandering dogs, hedgehogs, possums, etc. will have transported ticks here over the years and our luck has finally run out. Ticks also crawl around in the grass, so they can travel across our double-boundary areas to get from any animals out there to ours, too.

I suspect we had two or three affected calves last year, slow, lethargic calves who hung back behind all the others but I didn't think very much about it at the time. I've not seen one as sick as this before.

sick calf and her mother

The only treatment is supportive care while keeping the animal as quiet as possible, so we ran a tape across the House paddock and let 811 and her calf in there, where there's shade and they'll have the nearby company of Zella and Glia and their calves.

Later I watched the calf almost feeding, but mostly just licking at the teats and then giving up.

Having done all we could for her at present, we went out to our usual family Christmas Eve dinner, where Elizabeth had cooked and glazed one of our biggest hams and served it with all the traditional things. Delicious!

But the best thing about the evening was that having decided we had to trust that our Covid vaccinations would keep us safe, we went to be ordinarily sociable with people we knew had been being as careful as we had, apart from their having had to travel to come north. We hugged everyone and behaved as we used to before this whole extraordinary business began. It felt marvellous to behave "normally" again for a few hours.

I thought little 921 might die while we were out but decided not to go and disturb her to check when we got home, since there was nothing I could really do for her in the dark.

If you wish to send us a message or comment, feel free to email us.