The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 1st of May 2021.
Saturday the 1st

Firstly I must apologise for the long periods of silence in this website. I have been distracted by my new genealogy interest, including, this past couple of weeks, contact with a DNA-related cousin of some degree, whose actual relationship to me is entirely unknown because of his having been adopted as a baby. Finding his biological relatives has been a fascinating bit of research, although I've not yet found our link.

I had been working back up one branch of my family tree to try and find the mysterious Thomas Brown Craig's origins, one of my father's paternal forebears, but realised that most of my DNA relatives were turning up in the maternal side of my father's line and so I went off on that tangent instead. Most particularly I've had some lovely correspondence with my grandmother's niece, recalling her own memories of her grandfather, a man whose name was all I knew of him. It has been a delightful time of discovery.


I don't go out to many things but today two of them clashed, so I had to choose. It was the day of the genealogy group meeting, along with its AGM, to which I sent my apologies, and went instead to the first one-day gathering for the reo Māori class I'm attending, the day on which many of the students were to present their first assessment for the year.

I completed the level five course last year but because the year was so Covid-disrupted, I felt I needed some consolidation time and more opportunities to kōrero, converse, with others. For the last few weeks I've returned to this year's level five class as manuhiri, guest. I don't have to submit any work but my ability to understand what is being said is growing steadily.

I arrived home just after 4pm, with several things to do before dark.

cattle

I've been weaning calves over the last eight days and wanted to separate another small group of them this evening.

To free up the cow-weaning paddock, 5d, for the next group, I brought Ellie 119, 723 and 773 out and down the lane to join the other weaned cows in Flat 1.

The three cows plunged into the midst of the others in their usual post-weaning excitement.

cow and calf

The big group of 22 cows and calves were in Flat 4 and as they came out along the lane, I gently pushed Fancy 126 and her daughter through to the front and then along to the yards on their own: I have been watching pretty 206's behaviour and concluded that she's just a bit too excitable to keep. I feel quite sorry about this decision, since this was a much-anticipated calf after 126's dead daughter last season.

cow and calf

They waited in one of the pens as their friends went past and over the stream to the Tank paddock.

Then from the mob of 18 in the House paddock, I drafted, with some help from Stephan, young 865 and her daughter, and the two year-older cows 811 and 813 and their sons. The mothers went into Flat 5a and their calves into the lush grass in Mushroom 1.

Fancy and her daughter followed behind Stephan and I drafted them in the same way - I didn't want any fighting in the lane between the two groups who've been in separate mobs for a while. Once the cows were all in the paddock, the three youngsters left senior cow, Fancy, alone, avoiding any challenge she made to them.

I had intended keeping 865's lovely daughter, but she too is a bit flighty and she's small.

Watching the two-year-old heifers and their calves this year and last, I have been changing my thinking about mating the yearlings. While I've been growing the calves to yearling mating far better in recent years than I used to, and on through that first pregnancy, we still don't have the feed available to see them well through their whole first lactation, which then impacts on their condition at second calving. That is primarily due to the number of cattle we run, which while already significantly reduced from earlier days, still pushes the cattle to their healthy limits at times of restricted feed - and beyond their limit at times, so that they end up in lighter condition than is optimally healthy for them.

The heifers who calve for the first time at three, produce bigger, more robust calves at weaning time and are in better condition then themselves. The argument for calving at two is mostly an economic one: if you bring an animal into the breeding herd at that age, she doesn't spend a "wasted" year not being pregnant. It's a point of view I no longer subscribe to. A year's stress-free growth is hardly a waste when you're going to spend the next several years "in production" and need a good start.

The other argument for calving young heifers is that they're your best genetic stock (which makes a number of potentially problematic assumptions) and you get to find out how good they are. But that question can't really be answered well unless everything runs entirely smoothly every year, which even if we're only looking at weather conditions, it doesn't.

As I've been exploring the nature of British and European cultures as they spread out across the world, I've been looking at their extractive approach to everything with new eyes, thinking about my own cultural assumptions about the world, farming, economics, and always thinking about how people and animals are treated.

And during these past two health-challenged years of my own, I've been keen to reduce my stress levels and one of my biggest stressors is always the health and happiness of my cows. So at this stage, I am abandoning two-year-old heifer calving in favour of an easier life for us all.

Sunday the 2nd
cattle

My weaning planning has had to include careful consideration about which heifers I will keep in the herd and which I will sell. Those who are staying can remain on their mothers for a few more weeks.

Grey 607's daughter, 907, is the youngest in the herd but is the same size as 207, Fancy 191's daughter, who is ten days older. Using their weight data in my spreadsheet, I've spent some time looking at it in various ways, and have concluded that 907 at 200 days will be the same size as a couple of the other mature cows' daughters I intend keeping, so she can stay. And after all, I did mate her mother late in the hope this heifer would be the result. I'd been worrying about her being too small but her conformation looks good, she's being well fed, and has every chance of turning out well.

new shed

Stephan, having built a new workshed, has used the area in which he used to park the tractor so needs to rearrange things, including where the winter's firewood is stored. Here is its new place, in an extension along the length of the big barn.

He'll stack this winter's newly-cut supply in here, bring the remainder of the older stored wood to the house, and thereby make room for the tractor again. There will eventually be room for most of the other machinery too.

pig

Al came for a walk out the front with me in the sunshine.

udder

At weaning time I check the engorged udders to see if they're even. 811's is not: her front left quarter is noticeably bigger than the others, suggesting that it was the calf's favourite feed source. Cows' udders respond to demand.

I like to note these things so I can compare them in later years. If one quarter were very small at weaning and it was the same again the following year, I would conclude it was incapable of producing milk for some reason. That wouldn't matter as long as she was still producing enough milk to satisfy the calf's needs but it would provide some explanation if the calf had not done well.

calf

Several calves were standing around on the clay bank in the distance when I entered the Tank paddock. I walked over to see who they were and for some reason, as I climbed up the bank to get a closer look at the furthest ones, heifer 905 dashed away in fright - perhaps it was that for the first time in her life I was wearing my black woollen hat, on this cold evening.

I walked quietly away from her, talking as I went, hoping to settle her nerves but she stayed there, even after all the others had come down to join their mothers on the flatter area. You might just see the top of her head and her ears where the arrow is pointing.

Monday the 3rd
new shed

On this cold day I stayed inside with the fire going and did family research, while Stephan warmed himself cutting firewood.

cattle ear tags

I've booked five cattle in to the works and here are replacement NAIT tags for Ellie 119 and Jet 777. Ellie will get Demelza's unused tag and Jet can have one of the replacement tags we recently got from the tag company. I complained that far too many of them had fallen out, so they kindly sent me some spares.

cattle

This might become one of those "before" pictures, of the Tank paddock.

At some stage we will do some drainage works in here to try and manage that middle area where most of the animals are standing. It becomes ridiculously boggy in winter because the water coming down off the hill isn't effectively taken away and therefore attempts to flow through the ground.

We will create drains and fence them, so clean water goes to the streams.

cattle

865, 811 and 813 about to spend their third night separated from their calves.

Fancy 126 was quietly grazing across the other side of the paddock. I think they remember what this is about after a couple of years.

Tuesday the 4th
machines

Stephan, off to do wheelies in his digger. No, far too slow for that.

He asked Gary from next door if he'd like to come and help him get a couple of the pine trees down from the hillside. One had fallen on its own and the other, a much bigger tree, Stephan had felled a couple of weeks ago when Brian came over for some tree play.

I stayed home and made a lot of butter, since I hadn't done anything with the cream for over a week. It lasts surprisingly well, for an unpasteurised product. Its keeping qualities presumably demonstrate our cleanliness in harvesting and processing the milk from Zella. I make the freshest cream into the nicest butter for immediate use, and the older cream becomes butter for cooking and baking.

Off to class again in the evening and while I wasn't obliged to undertake the assessment task, I took the opportunity to take on a different challenge from last year and wrote about my family history research. The assignment was a correctly-written 300-word piece of writing, then a spoken presentation about that, without simply reading it out.

This evening, all those attending class had either presented theirs last Saturday or had some other arrangement with the kaiako, teacher. (Kaiako: kai = someone who does the thing; ako = to teach or learn).

In the Māori world, te ao Māori, how you got to be who and where you are is important, so who you connect back to and where they are from is information you exchange when you meet new people - and from isn't quite right either, it's much more where you are of. People are of the land.

This is part of New Zealand's difficulty: Europeans came here with their land titles and concepts of ownership, and imposed them on peoples whose understanding of their place in the world and the land's place in their lives, was entirely different. If selling a piece of land to someone else is impossible, but that person thinks they've bought it and gives themselves a piece of paper to say so, then three or four generations down the track, you're still going to be having problems. And so we rightly do.

Whakapapa (whaka - to make something happen, papa - layers) describes the generations of ancestors from whom you descend and as human, we all have them; but as Pākehā, a person of European descent in a country far, far away from where my ancestors originated, I don't know who they were. And I've been thinking a lot about that over the last many weeks: why did my father's family, who were the ones here for the longest, not talk very much about who they descended from? I've theorised that it may have been part of having struck out across the world to a new place, a new life, without (for most people) any likelihood of ever seeing their families again. But it's also a function of a society in which literacy was increasing, so that oral histories became unimportant and people didn't tell the stories of their families any more. But neither did most people write them down. And that brings me back to my current project and its alignment with my favourite thing, writing. I'm writing down all the things I find out about my forebears and the people around them and the contexts of the times in which they lived, as far as I can glean them from other things written about the times. Fortunately for me, a huge amount of material has been digitised and can be found on-line.

So I stood in class this evening and delivered my kōrero, talk, with only fleeting reference to my notes. I find speaking in public unnerving in ordinary circumstances but doing it in a second language puts me into some kind of out-of-body panic, so that I'm not quite conscious, afterwards, of what I've said, although I believe I delivered something comprehensible. I find it extremely difficult in either language to have to refer to any but the briefest notes, the conflict between reading and speaking, in my mind, arresting my ability to do either efficiently, so I really do have to know how to say what I want to convey.

In all of these things I find the discomfort I feel prompts so much interesting new thought, that I keep throwing myself into it.

I welcome your thoughts on any of the above. Email or comment from the bottom of the page - I've increased the capacity of the comment box to 4965 characters, which is just over 850 words, at which point it stops accepting any more. I presume that will suffice.

Wednesday the 5th
bulls

The works cattle are to go in the morning, so we got them in to paint initials on their backs and put NAIT tags in the ears of the two cows who've lost theirs.

Here Stephan had gone up Flat 5c to bring the two bulls out and away from the much-quieter 200, who's definitely staying.

We brought them into 5a where I'd put some bins with salt and Magnesium Oxide for them, to try and settle them down a bit for our extra handling and their trip on the truck tomorrow.

Then we got the three cows out of the mob in Flat 1 and as they went up the race Stephan eventually impressed on me that Jet still had a NAIT tag and wouldn't need tagging now. I don't know why I thought she'd lost hers. So many of them have, perhaps I confused her with someone else.

We weighed them all, since it's so easy to do and the head-bail again worked magically so that tagging Ellie 119 was a breeze, without the old danger of a cow who doesn't want to have a tag waving her head around to avoid the taggers. Cows' heads are big, heavy and hard and they move them fast. You don't want to get any part of you in the way of that movement or injury results.

bull

Once the cows were done and out of the way we got the two bulls in and started giving 194 a shower, to wash some of the crap off his rear end. I should probably have drenched these bulls at some stage but they were on good feed and gaining weight, so I left them to it. But 194 just kept getting dirtier, forming great heavy dags on his tail. We put him in the crush after wetting him down and scrubbed some of the muck off his rear, cut the dags off his tail.

bulls

Then took them directly out to the front yards for the night, gave them some hay, hoped they'd stay put and not try to push their way out through the slightly dodgy gates.

cow

Jet weighed an impressive 742kg. She's in beautiful condition but as she came out of the paddock I watched her cracked front toe flexing with every step. She is still walking evenly, so it's not obviously bothering her but sometimes she seems aware of it if she walks on uneven surfaces.

Thursday the 6th

The truck was on time this morning, probably because with State Highway 1 through Mangamuka Gorge still closed, we're in a no-exit area and so our cattle would have been some of the first collected for the trip.

I left Stephan to load them and immersed myself in borrowed microfiche files of NZ Births, Deaths and Marriages. I found that usefully distracting.

For the record the departing cattle were:

calves

Checking the mob of 15 out in the Spring paddock, these two were standing close enough together to see a real difference in colour, although it isn't quite as visible in the photograph: 916, with her wide, staring eye, is coming to sniff me and her coat in the sunshine looked almost maroon against the much truer black of bull 201.

digger

Stephan and Gary were back in the Pines again today and at the bottom of the hill with one of the big sections of log, when I came out to see them.

men in trees

A couple of hours later I walked up the hill to see why they were so quiet and found them discussing how to get the sections of another tree down the hill.

view

A long way away, I could see a much bigger digger at work on a hillside seven kilometres away - there's some logging going on in that brown, cleared patch in the upper middle of the picture.

young saplings

When we dug the drain along the bottom of the Pines a couple or three years ago, we erected some electric tape around it to stop the cattle getting into the drain and making a mess. When the weather later became extremely dry, we removed the tape but discovered several Pūriri seedlings under the big Kahikatea trees, so I protected them with a smaller piece of tape and they have continued to grow well.

cattle

Then I took the seven weaned calves from Mushroom 1 down to the yards and weighed them, so I could apply some pour-on drench to 903, who has an extremely dirty bum.

He's been a bit mucky for a while and weaning him hasn't made it any better. Hopefully some drench will make a difference.

Interestingly, in the two weeks since he was weaned from his mother and has been eating the lush grass in Mushroom 1, his daily weight gain has jumped by a kilogram compared with the previous month.

The average daily gain for these seven was 1.7kg.

cattle

Mushroom 1 is now empty and ready again for the last lot of weaning calves.

I brought Gertrude 162, Ellie 171 and their two sons in from the Back Barn.

We recently castrated these two and watching their behaviour as they passed the mob in the Frog, I think it was a good decision! 204's snorting and bellowing was very much like his mother's, whenever she meets someone unfamiliar.

After I'd drafted those two pairs into 5d and Mushroom 1 I went back for the three young mothers in the Frog, 860, 874 and Fancy 191, with their three little calves, and they came along to join the others in the weaning paddocks.

With Glia's calf, that's that for the sale calf weaning, I think. I will double-check everyone's records to ensure I've not done anything ill-considered. All the steer calves go for sale but it's been as hard as usual deciding which heifers to keep and which ones to sell.

dead bird

Stephan said he found this dead Eastern Rosella up in the Pines. The feather colours are extraordinary. I wonder what they'd look like under a black light?

Friday the 7th
cattle

I came out at first light to check on the separated calves and cows, since they'd made such a lot of noise in the night.

For half the trip out I tried not to breathe deeply because that hazy appearance across the paddock is acrid-smelling smoke from our awful upwind neighbours. They're in the habit of burning plastics and other toxic-smoke-producing rubbish, possibly in their domestic fireplace, either overnight so nobody can tell where the smell is coming from, or early in the morning. There doesn't seem to be much we can do about it with an inactive Regional Council on its own clean air policies.

The calves and cows were all safe, even though very unhappy.

calf

Calf 903's rear end caught my eye, looking dreadful in the morning light. I hope I've done him (and a couple of others I similarly drenched last week) some good.

cattle

At milking time Stephan did not return the two calves to Glia and Zella, since Glia's son needs to be weaned for sale and I decided that for practical reasons, Zella's daughter would need to be weaned at the same time, even though we'll keep her. She would be too lonely if we suddenly removed her friend.

Early this afternoon the killsheet for the cows was available on the works website (the bulls were done earlier in the day) and the health assessment, which is a very brief report but useful nonetheless, showed that Ellie 119 had peritonitis. I've looked back to my notes of the time she was ill, to see if I could glean anything in retrospect but there's really no hint there. I looked up peritonitis in cattle which says: "Clinical signs of peritonitis in cattle are often nonspecific and characterized by reduced feed intake, drop in milk production, and decreased rumination activity..." which certainly fits with both my memory of her then and my notes and suggests that was the initial incidence. She's not been obviously acutely unwell since that time, but her general demeanour makes me suspect things have not been entirely right with her.

cows

I'm pushing the cows in Flat 1 to eat it right down and they're doing a good job. They're all in good (some in more than good) condition, so can certainly stand a reduction in feed quality for a little while.

Endberly on the left had no calf this year, so is fat and Gina 168 (second from right) is my forgiven heifer, still here because I liked her so much to start with and probably through my inability she failed to get pregnant last year. She's in calf now and she's fat. She may yet become a cause of terrible regret.

In the distance Stephan and Gary were taking a big load of firewood back to the shed, where they cut it up and then took two ute-loads over to Gary and Sandi's place. Last year they had firewood in dribs and drabs, which wasn't terribly satisfactory. This year, because Gary's been over helping so much, Stephan insisted on supplying them amply in advance of the cold weather.

cattle

Then I moved the cows, since I want to use the other end of the paddock for a different mob.

These cows went along to Flat 4 and the ones on the right in the distance are the 20 cows, calves and yearlings, who came down to the bottom end of Flat 1.

The three on the right are 865, 811 and 813, who will join the now-weaning mothers in 5d.

Now Zella's daughter is not taking the milk she produces during the day, Zella will need to be milked at night for a while. I haven't planned when we'll stop milking this year, since she's due to calve so late. It will likely depend on the weather and feed levels, along with her condition through the winter.

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