The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 30th of October 2021.
Saturday the 30th

I woke a few minutes before my alarm was due to go off at three this morning, got up and walked up to the top of Flat 1. My timing was perfect: there was 872 lying and pushing, her calf's front legs and nose already showing, and I stood and watched until I saw it easily born.

cow and calf

At 11am 872 was quietly grazing, her little daughter snuggled down in the cat cemetery.

cows and calves

We brought the five calves and their mothers out of 5a and along to the yards, tagged them, put a rubber ring on each little scrotum, including Gina 168's tiny son, despite his pedigree status: I want to see how well she grows a calf before I decide to keep a son as a breeding bull. I've kept too many bulls before "just in case" they turn out to be good and I could do without the hassle this year. Today those calves weighed from 39-57kg.

710's daughter, the calf with the little blue pools in her eyes, was the only heifer in the group and I tagged her with number 940, because her mother now wears tag 840. Time will tell whether that helps me remember her family history or not. Thank goodness for these pages, as always.


As we brought the three cows and two calves out of the House paddock to weigh and tag them too, I noted that 186's afterbirth was beginning to emerge. Good.

Her paddock-mates are Fancy 191 and Ellie 171, the latter's calf being a bull, sired by bull 194, our last adult carrier of the AM defect, so having decided I'd keep him as a bull in the mean time, I needed a tail hair sample from him, to send away for genetic testing.

Calves' tail switch hairs are short, so I'd found a pair of long-nosed pliers with which to hold and pull a clump of hair - it's actually the hair follicles from which the genetic material is extracted - which I carefully folded into a clean sheet of paper, ready to send away to the laboratory where the testing is done.

If the test shows he's a carrier of the defect, he'll get a ring on his scrotum and grow into a very nice steer.

cow and calf

872 and her daughter.

It was 872 who suddenly appeared to have lost weight before calving, because I'd not managed things very well for her little mob. She's a bit light but she'll be ok.

The two of them were looking a bit unsettled because of this...

813 being a bully

... 813 was hassling them.

813 is still unusually anxious about her own calf's safety so that when the playful little 913 bounces over to the new calf, 813 follows and shoves the new calf out of the way. I hope this behaviour will be short-lived.

When 913 runs away, with 813 close behind, 872 and her calf are calm and content again.

cows and calves

The three cows who've been in Flat 3 with their three bull calves were easy to get out the gate, then along to the yards.

I looked at them very carefully on the way in, to see if I could easily distinguish between the calves.

cow and calf

But just to make sure, we separated Fancy 126 and her son before putting the other two up the race where Stephan applied their numbered tags and a ring to each scrotum.

Fancy's calf got tag number 216 and I'll see how he grows out as a bull. He's looking nice so far, although the big Chisum progeny here have a tendency to end up straggly and thin by yearling stage.

The best of them so far, or at least the most productive heifer, is this calf's elder sibling, Fancy 191, who was the only Chisum daughter of her year to make it to yearling mating weight. So perhaps the bull works well enough with this family line.

The very quiet heifer amongst the older calves is Fancy 166's daughter 226 with the same bull and I look forward to seeing how she develops.

cow and calf

Just after three o'clock I noticed 856, hunched, tail out, in Flat 5d. I went on out to check the cattle in the Big Back and less than twenty minutes later when I came back this way, there she was licking her just-born calf.

By now it was raining, so I didn't go over for a closer look.

The calf was a bull, son of bull 200 and born at 280 days gestation. This is 856's second calf.

Sunday the 31st

There was 58.5mm of rain in the gauge this morning. Everything is wet.

In Flat 1 813 was still giving 872's calf a hard time any time her own daughter went near the other. The older calf just wants to play but her mother is interfering all the time. I'm still hoping she'll settle down.

cows and calves

Mid-afternoon we took the six pairs from Mushroom 2 out to the Spring paddock, the first time these calves have met the streams.

Keeping them moving quietly and then making sure we're right there as they get to the crossings, is the key to getting the calves to follow their mothers across. They're terribly anxious about the water the first time they meet it.

But by the time they get to the second stream, most of them go across without much bother and by the third crossing, here into the Spring paddock, they're fine.

cows and calves

Then we went back for the eight pairs in the Windmill and brought them out in the same way.

In this picture the two groups have just met and there was a lot of sniffing, fortunately only a little pushing and from just up behind the trees on the left, a lot of deep growling, from Endberly, who was giving her best bull-voice impression. Sometimes they can sound very frightening and I presume it works as a warning to the other cattle.


When 813 wasn't getting involved, the two calves in Flat 1 were quite happy together, but 813 was generally following and "protecting" her daughter from this other dangerous animal, bashing her out of the way whenever she had the chance.


872's calf is a pretty little thing. I suppose that's what I say about nearly all of them. Babies are cute.

I do wonder if she's a little undershot in her lower jaw?


More cuteness: 812's lovely grey daughter, out in the Big Back South paddock.


After checking her mob were all present, I moved them in to the Bush Flat.

The ground is wet with puddles of water in every hoof print, so when the calves ran, there were splashes with every step.

Most of them ran all the way down to the other gate, then around and back up the paddock again. They are such a delight to watch.

Monday the 1st of November

Mid-morning and I couldn't see 872's calf anywhere so we came out for a look, also intending to take the two cows and calves in to tag the new one, since grass was getting a bit short in Flat 1 and they needed a move.

Eventually I found the calf, sitting in the water in the drain up the top end of Flat 1, in the foreground of this picture. I think 813 had been harassing her again - that's her standing a little way off.


I gently coaxed the calf out of the drain and she took off across the paddock, obviously quite distressed.

813 just wouldn't leave her alone, so we took 872 and the calf out of the paddock, leaving 813 and her calf on their own. If you can't play nicely together ...

cow and calf

The little wet calf gradually settled down as we quietly walked them toward the yards and I was surprised that she'd calmed down so much she was happy for Stephan to touch her. He checked the alignment of her bottom teeth against the upper pad while he had her there and said it felt fine.

We weighed and tagged her. She's 35.5kg at two days old, so her birth weight would have been just over 30kg. I gave her number 942, to remind me that her grandmother was 742, a cow I always liked but who'd not been looking like she was thriving in the last couple of years and when she proved not to have got back in calf this year, I decided it was probably time for her to go.

I sent 872 and her calf into the Windmill so they could make their way quietly to the top end in their own time, then put them across the lane into Mushroom 1, neighbouring the three cows and one calf (856's) in 5d. They can join together in a day or two.

cow and calf

We then took 813 and her daughter out to the Swamp paddock, on their own! There were others quite nearby, the big mob in the Spring paddock across the stream and the yearlings in the PW, so not entirely alone.


I looked across the House paddock and it took me a moment to realise what was wrong here: Glia's calf has torn his ear tag out! Fortunately this rarely happens: this is the third in my farming lifetime and all three have been in calves: 822's number tag in December 2016, and 896 ripped out his NAIT tag last year.

All the other lost tags have been in the adult cattle and the tags have simply broken and fallen out of their ears.


And there is the tag: I'd put a little fence (not electrified) around a hole Al has been digging, because he found a previously-unknown rubbish pile including nails, metal, glass and broken plates, which I don't want the cows walking in.

I'd seen the calf playing there earlier and chased him off - he was butting the standards at that time, but he must have gone back again, caught a bit of the tape/wire around his tag and then pulled free.


What a moth-eaten looking calf: Endberly's fuzzy daughter.


And this one, bald on the side of her muzzle, as well as a spot on her hind leg. I'll likely never know what is causing this since it's not causing any other bother, as far as I can tell. The calves remain healthy and active.


Early evening in the Spring paddock.


On the West-facing hillside Over the Road, the sun is still shining and there are my seven young cattle, easy to count from afar.

Tuesday the 2nd

Our phone has been faulty for a few days and we hadn't even noticed until eventually someone tried to ring us and the calls kept cutting off before we could answer - we'd been able to phone out all the while. I presumed it was the same fault as has occurred twice before, so phoned the fault number and eventually someone came today to investigate and told me that everything was fine on the outside and I'd need to check on our side of the gate.

I assured the very nice man that I would do that myself, even though it was obvious that what I'd previously (not) done had probably caused the problem: for about 20 years I didn't get around to sorting out the telephone cabling where it came into the house and it sat in a tangle in a tucked-away corner. As long as nobody moved the stereo cabinet, everything was fine.

But exposed to light and air over a long period, the insulation between the wires in the cable has broken down at the ends and so I had to redo some of the connections I'd made so carefully several weeks ago before at last tucking the whole lot into the wall. It should be ok now but, just in case, a small piece of wall panel is screwed in, rather than nailed, for easier access if there's a next time.


Stephan ordered some lime rock but because of the calves all over the flats, I didn't want a big rattly truck driving up the lane, so we decided it could go here, on the concrete by the old yards. Stephan took a few of his milled planks over to form a back-board for the pile.


Now to distribute it all into the variety of pot-holes and other soft and muddy patches on the tracks.


I took this mob, the seven cows and calves, from the Bush Flat and around the lanes to the Back Barn, where I opened the adjoining gate to the Swamp, so 813 and her calf could join them.

I thought this photo might well become a "before" picture, when we get around to sorting out the drain here.

cows and calves

I carried on into the Spring paddock to check on the big mob, finding them all sitting around on the bit of land between Route 356's wetland, the stream beside the main track, and the track back down to the trough and gate across the stream. It's a nice sheltered area and I often find the cattle here.


186's bit of afterbirth has been gradually dropping over the last couple of days. The bit that's showing is presumably only a little tiny bit of what's still inside her.

Wednesday the 3rd

Here's 186 and there's no afterbirth! I couldn't find it anywhere, so either she ate it or it's still out there in a stinky pile, probably being food for a hawk. I'm glad it's out, although it will take a while for her to clean out completely.


We can see you. I keep seeing cock pheasants doing this, all around the farm; then they suddenly burst into the air in a flurry of feathers and alarm calls and fly away to the nearest cover.

I'd spent the day preparing last year's farm accounts for the accountant, so had come out for a look around later in the afternoon, moved some cattle, checked calves and cows.

Thursday the 4th

I checked Fancy 188 several times today because she was looking near to calving. And 186, to see how she was feeling. I went over to her when she was lying quietly and there was a lot of reddish, stinky gunk coming from her vulva. As long as she stays well, she can carry on with this self-cleaning function.

burnt tree

In the evening I opened the Spring gate to the Middle Back for the 14 cows and calves, so they could make their way there whenever they were ready.

Then climbing the hill to go and check them all I came across this Pūriri trunk, long, long dead and the reason obvious. There are only a few trunks still standing with scorch marks; most of the burnt ones fell down at some time if the fire killed them.

I swear about those long-ago men who did this awful thing but at the same time I'm aware we would not be farming in this place if they had not, for it would still be deep forest. This trunk has probably been standing here like this for over a hundred years. I think the burning was done here during the 1910s.


I climbed the hill and counted cows and calves. All the calves were present and content, so I presumed the four cows I couldn't see were somewhere happily grazing.

This is 716's horrible udder. But this year's calf fed without trouble and should now grow like a weed with all that milk.


Nearly all of the calves were on top of the hill, sitting quietly or just nosing around.

Friday the 5th

I was provided with an excuse for procrastination this morning, in the form of an email from the Women's Studies Journal editorial team, with all the pdf files of the latest issue. I spent the morning getting that ready and uploading it to the WSANZ website. Whenever I prepare the journal for the website I think, I must come back and read that! Sometimes I read something instead of working, which is a terrible practice because then it takes me so much longer.

But it's all there for when I have the time.


Driving out the back I looked through the trees at this animal with her head held low and had to stop to see what was wrong with her: a bird on her ear, not sick.


The cows and calves in the Spring hadn't moved themselves to the Middle Back and were looking disgruntled, so I led them along to the gate and off they went, up the hill.

The dead bits are Australian Sedge: Stephan declared war on it and set out with his gun full of glyphosate. It's the only way to kill it and killing it is the only way we can deal with it because it is obviously marching its way across the farm.


This is presumably a hybrid Grey Duck/Mallard drake, in the middle of Flat 2.


I was hoping that Glia's son's ear might miraculously knit itself back together with the two edges apparently nicely glued together the other day, but no. The strip of dried blood is still hanging on the bottom part of his ripped ear.


This Pūriri is, I think, in decline. Its foliage seems sparser than before and its trunk looks different. It is no doubt an effect of the two years of drought, exerting further stress on an already weakened tree.

In recent weeks as I've continued thinking about the Pūriri, I've realised that these trees are not the stately remnants of their kind, for this is not how they would have originally looked. These are the tenacious survivors of deliberately-lit fire, intended to eliminate everything wild from land men wanted to farm. It is surprising that they're here at all; but despite their disfigurement, they are valuable as part of the genetic pool to which they've fought to continue to belong.

Compare this tree with the picture below, one taken by Sarah Baddeley when she was visiting in 2003, of Stephan standing beside one of the huge trees in the reserve adjacent to the House paddock. While that tree has no doubt suffered some ill effect from the farming activities going on around it, I think its basic structure may be as nature intended: a tall, sturdy trunk branching high above the ground, with huge, thick, heavy branches growing toward the light.


I now think that trees like the small one in the Mushroom paddock (above), are the struggling remnants of their former, much larger, selves. In the aerial photos from 1950, these trees are visible, after thirty or forty years of recovery since the fires. But their canopies are small and far lower than the original tops of the trees would have been. In the forests they are giants.

I think the first portable chainsaws didn't exist until the 1950s, possibly coming later than that to this area and after the Penneys lived here for a long period, the farm was mostly used as a 'run-off' by farmers of other home properties and so the trees were probably simply ignored.

Damaged trees like ours remain in paddocks all around Northland, usually entirely unprotected from the livestock around them. My guess is that they remain where they are because they would take significant effort to remove. Around our farm there are big felled trunks with cuts through them, so presumably someone meant to move the bits away but then didn't, even after going to the significant effort of (presumably) making the cuts by hand.

Trees like those on the flats are also lonely. By erecting protective fences around them we not only protect their trunks and roots from cattle damage, we also provide areas in which small seedlings can grow from the seeds birds drop when they perch in the trees. But where the Kikuyu grass grows thickly beneath the trees, the seedlings find it hard to grow. I may have to become more proactive in promoting the growth of such seedlings in these areas. And we will have to stop the calves from stumbling in and knocking any small plants around.

I've begun to think about deliberately planting Pūriri beneath the trees. They grow closely with each other naturally, so why not? The young, strong, new trees would push their way up through the old ones.

The 2021 calving date prediction sheet is available here.

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