The Farm in Diggers Valley

The first part of the week beginning the 23rd of October 2021.
Saturday the 23rd
cow and calf

7am and out the window was Ellie 171 with her newborn calf. Nice and easy, no bother for me at all.

She's had another bull, her third. This one will require an AM test because his sire was bull 194, who was a carrier of the defective gene.

I used him lightly last year, for convenience, on two cows who were to go to the works and Ellie 171 and 775. That bull had only been kept entire because getting him tested took such a long time and it was too late to put a ring on his scrotum by the time the positive result came back.

cows and calves

874, Dushi and Zoom were having calf trouble, as their precious babies ran playfully toward each other and each mother tried to defend her calf from the hideous dangers posed by those frightening other calves.

The calves learn quite quickly to keep away from the other cows and so they separated again and their mothers ran off with them, away from that disturbing play. They'll settle down in a few days and the calves will be able to run around together without parental interference.

cow and calf

813 had a new daughter, who was lying on the other side of the electric tape across the Windmill paddock.

When I moved the tape a bit so 813 could get to her, it became obvious why she'd retreated to that spot: 813 is just as stupid this year as last. She chased her around, butted her through under the fence, pushed her over in the paddock ... Looking for a mark against your name in the cull column? You've got it.

It carried on raining, so in the middle of the day I lay and read for a couple of hours. I'm now reading Circe by Madeline Miller.


Around 4pm I went out to check and move animals.

The little group of trees half-way up the Big Back North's first slope are in deteriorating condition: two of the Tōtara have died, from drought I think, and the damaged Pūriri has recently had a branch break off this side.

Finally I begin to see why a man from the Regional Council once said "cut those down" when looking at some of the Pūriri we've protected on the flats: they're ugly in their deformed struggle to return to life after being burnt.

I feel sad now when I look at them; but they survived and form part of the genetic diversity of their species and so we protect them. And we protect the areas where their offspring are sown by the birds who eat their drupes. And we hope this might be meaningful in the end.

cows and calves

I walked all the way to the top of the hill, meaning to open the gate into the Middle Back but there didn't look to be much grass in there, and there was still quite a bit around this paddock for them to eat yet.

After the rain everything is sodden again.

The mob of seven pairs is here; I saw the seven calves but not all of the cows. It is the calves I prioritise seeing, since they can get into trouble out here in ways the cows, who know the paddock well, tend not to.


This looks like a place Stephan missed spraying the gorse last year!

At 7pm we went out to do the Magnesium and molasses round in the rain and found 813's calf standing in water in the Windmill lane drain, seemingly unable to get out and back to her mother despite being in a shallow place: I think she was shivering too much to move properly, even though her body felt very warm.

I helped her out and she had a quick feed, then made her way back to the drain. We moved the tape in the Windmill so her mother could walk up the fenceline with her until she was adjacent to a bit of drain without water in it, with a wider area to lie and some nice long grass for shelter. She settled down there, so we could hardly see her, still getting wet but with a lot more shelter from the breeze than out in the open.

We finished in the dark, both very wet. There's surface water everywhere and a heavy rain watch (or a warning, depending how good their forecast boundary is) for tonight.

At 11pm it looked, from the rain radar, as if the rain might stop for a little while; it didn't but it did get a bit lighter for my late check.
Out in Flat 5b I found Gina 168, my fat four-year-old first-time-mother, with a live little calf. She was bellowing at him but otherwise being quite calm in her behaviour. I'm glad her calving hasn't turned into some kind of nightmare as a reward for keeping her so long.

Just before returning to the house I checked to see how high the Waikawa stream was: just coming over the bridge.

Sunday the 24th
cow and calf

168 and her calf. Her afterbirth was strewn around, one lot in one place, bits of membrane in another, so I gathered them up and plopped them over the fence to fertilize a tree.

Afterbirths are heavy! One day I must weigh some, if it's near enough to the scales to carry there. Definitely more than five kilograms, maybe not more than eight.


We have a pond again in Flats 3 & 4. The white dot is the head of a Pūtangitangi; her partner is there with her but not visible with his dark head.

We've had 93mm of rain in the last 48 hours.

cow and calf

I prompted 813's calf to get up out of her sleeping place to feed. Even though she didn't then go in for a feed, she looked pretty lively. Perhaps she'd been up earlier, then gone back to the nice warm place.


Stephan got a nice bread recipe from Elizabeth recently and has begun using it. Here's his best loaf yet.

It takes only a little over an hour to prepare and cook, with no kneading, so is more useful than the bread-maker machine and makes a nicer loaf.


The crack in the Pūriri in Mushroom 1 seems to be expanding very slowly. The problem is that there's no knowing how quickly it will reach a critical point, nor how much strength there may remain in the trunk below it. Presumably all the rain has softened things up a bit more.


723 and Imogen are out in the Back Barn on their own, the two empty cows this year who've earned a forgiven year off.

I looked at 723 and thought, why is your nose crooked? It's skewed off to her left. I'm sure she's not normally like that!

She was drooling a little, although didn't seem distressed, and underneath her chin, on her left side, was swollen.

I opened the gate as we left the Back Barn, so the two of them can graze their way along the lanes, back toward the yards so I can have a closer look at 723's chin.

Pūtangitangi chick

We'd not seen any of the yearlings in the PW today, and only a handful on the other days I'd passed and it occurred to me that perhaps the gate to the Middle Back was open.

We walked along Route 356 to see if that was so and as we reached the end of the track, I heard a strange bird call from, I thought, a bird I saw flitting between the trees up the hill. I was looking through my binoculars to try and identify where the noise was coming from when Stephan exclaimed at this: a lost Pūtangitangi chick.

We listened for the calls of any adults but there were none around.

Pūtangitangi chick

The egg tooth is still on its bill, so it must have been born in the last day or two and I presume washed down the hill from wherever it was hatched. The biggest flood of water would have come from the hill behind the farm, down through the Middle Back (where I've often observed Pūtangitangi and suspected they were nesting up in one of the Pūriri trees), and then flowed into the wet area beneath the track here. Presumably the chick climbed the hill from there.

It's funny how these little birds come towards people when they're lost like this. It must be our voices and the promise of company, despite extreme risk. It would not survive on its own anyway.

The Middle Back gate had been left open and the heifers were all in there. No wonder there was less grass there than I expected to see from the top of the Big Back yesterday.

Stephan walked on over the ridge and down through the Big Back North to check the seven cows and calves and I collected him from around the other side when he came down the hill to the Bush Flat lane.


It is the time of year when the sun lines up with the fence along the edge of Mushroom 1.


Al appears to be growing a garden of his own. He has a great crop of watercress.

The little pond by the deck has been flooding through Al's pen occasionally, as the watercress in the waterfall has blocked the water's flow; that will be where the seeds came from.

cow and calf

Gina 168 is doing everything right. I'm very glad. I've always had high hopes for this heifer, although I knew they might come to nothing.

The calf is a tiny wee thing and is feeding enthusiastically. I hope 168 has sufficient milk; I worry if I see a calf moving from teat to teat very quickly, as this one seemed to be doing.

By inheritance she ought to have more milk than necessary but she is older than usual to calve for the first time and had got quite fat, which is reported to have negative effects on mammary tissue in heifers.

cow and calves

Glia's calf has begun exploring, joining the older calves in playing between the paddocks and in the lane. The other three in the picture are three days older than him but he's the biggest.

Monday the 25th
cow and calf

749 and her calf in the early morning light.


The two ducks who currently spend much of their time on the pond, leave parallel tracks through the weed on the surface. The other tracks will have been made by Pūkeko.

Pūtangitangi chick

Little chick likes warmth and company but this morning I couldn't provide either easily, while doing other things, so I gave her to Stephan, who was sitting reading.

I feel a bit like a late mother, returning to child-rearing 20 years after the first children were born. It is that long since we were found by our first two Pūtangitangi chicks.

It is mostly a delightful return to a previous experience but I wake each morning fearing I'll open a silent box, find the chick has not survived through the night. Sometimes they don't, when they've been lost.

Pūtangitangi chick

At morning coffee time we invited Jane over to sit by the pond for a socially-distanced cuppa with us, while I fished for swimming insects for the chick to eat - and the chick did her own bit of hunting as well.

Pūtangitangi chick

The little back-swimmers are fast and frequently eluded my sieve but I caught quite a number of them. There were red worms in a bucket of water out the back, along with mosquito larvae, all of which I put into this container before adding the chick.


Stephan has been busy!


In the paddock beyond, the grass has grown splendidly. Zella and Glia usually graze this area but I don't really want to take Glia's calf away from the flats and his playmates yet.

The chick has a sore eye. I wiped it with some mildly-salty water and that seemed to clear it a bit. Then I wrapped her in a warm t-shirt and took her with me to lie in the afternoon sun while I read for a while.


In the evening we went to check the seven calves and cows; Stephan took the high track and I went along the bottom tracks near the swamp. He found them first.

Here he was coming back down to join me and we walked back down the rest of the hill together.

Tuesday the 26th

White eyelashes and brow hairs. He didn't stay still for long enough for me to get a good profile photo to compare with his mother as a youngster.

Pūtangitangi chick

Little Pūtangitangi chick isn't thriving. We're keeping her warm and fed (she's regularly eating some budgie hand-rearing formula along with the swimming insects) but I fear she may have been too long separated from her parents when she was lost.

I have often cautioned those who've asked me for chick-rescuing advice over the years, that too much stress (cold mostly) before a lost chick is found, will often cause them to die within days of rescue.

They're particularly difficult to keep appropriately warm; with their extremely thick down, it's impossible to tell that a chick is too cold except by its behaviour and vocalising. When they're happy and comfortable they chatter; when not, the chirp is a single noise. We seem to be hearing less chattering now, even when she is warm enough.

But I still need to go out, so I warmed a t-shirt again, put warmer-than-blood temperature water in a bottle and placed the chick loosely beside that in a box lined with more cosy material, so it could snuggle closer to the bottle, or move a little away, as it wished.


The Tītoki in the House paddock reserve is about to flower.


And over by the track on the other side of the paddock, the Akeake is ... doing something.

I looked it up: those are the remains of the female 'flowers', which I'd barely have noticed, being not much more obvious than what's happening now.

Tī Kōuka

Many of the Tī Kōuka are beginning to bloom or about to.


And the harakeke, flax, flower stems have shot up from most of the plants.

I like the look of them better when we've removed last year's dried stalks, so Stephan did a bit of that garden maintenance work on the plants around the pond.

Soon the Tūī will arrive to drink the nectar from the flowers as they emerge.


Imogen and 723 had arrived down near the yards and I was able to see 723's chin as she grazed along the edges of the track. She seems to be having no difficulty eating and it looks very much as though she may have had a puncture wound to her chin which then abscessed, and that has either just or is about to rupture.

I often see them roughly scrubbing their chins against the ground to itch the underneath and it would be easy enough to get spiked by something sharp.

Just before dark I thought 716 was looking sort of heavy in the back end and she was slow to move paddock with the others when I opened the gate from 5b to 5c.

I went out to check at 9.40 and found 710 with a new, wavy-haired, heifer calf. She was definitely due but I'd seen no sign of her labour earlier. 716 still looked low-slung in her back end and was swishing her tail a lot.

At 11.10 there were two feet just visible in a membrane bag. The calf wasn't born until just after midnight but I'll record the birth today, since most of the process happened before 12. I was a little distance away and didn't realise the calf had been born until I went across the paddock to look, since 716 was so quiet about it all, a little bull.

The 2021 calving date prediction sheet is available here.

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