The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 6th of November 2021.
Saturday the 6th

Look at this beautiful bread, just sliced using the ancient and extremely clever bread slicer it is leaning against.

Stephan talked of this marvellous device for years, but had never managed to find it. When Richard died and Rachel cleared out Muriel's cupboards, there it was and Stephan chose it as part of his share of the things distributed amongst the siblings. We use it every day.


Occasionally I notice the Clematis vines in the bush remain visible long after the flowering has finished, proving they are female vines and the seeds have set. But have I ever noticed this one before?

My memory is unreliable, so I tried asking google and the answer was yes, in 2012.

native orchid

A single orchid plant grows in the track area adjacent to the Pines and the Frog paddocks. It grew there a couple or three years ago too, so I have looked for it since and here it is, its flower buds forming.

I got a fright this evening when checking the cows and calves in the Mushroom: they were all looking toward the Bush Flat, across the stream, and there was a big dog. A pig dog, obviously lost. It had a collar with a GPS tracker (I'm sure they're still illegal and if they don't work properly, what on earth is the point of them?), so I spent ages messing around trying to get the animal to get on the back of my buggy, or follow me along the track. I didn't know if it was going to eat me: it was certainly big enough to have done so had it been so inclined. I have a visceral, phobic reaction to dogs when I first see them and while I can control it when I need to, and have sometimes ended up tolerating individuals well, I always surprise myself by being able to deal with these situations. I suppose I am more afraid for my cows than for myself and so I wanted that dog away from there.

Then more messing around working out how to restrain it before I could go back out and carry on with my evening tasks. Out the back around the other side of the farm I heard shouting, so Stephan went out to investigate, found the hunter, a guy Stephan knew, who had previously said he would tell us when he was around the back of our farm for just this reason. But the guy maintained this was a spontaneous decision to go hunting and he'd not had time. I don't think he bothers, since I've seen dogs or prints more than once before.

The dog got away and disappeared, so we spent more time mucking around, meeting the guy at the front gate so he could come in and call his dog. We haven't been near anyone for weeks and I wasn't taking him riding out the back with me in a non-Covid-distanced manner when I have no idea what his social activities or vaccination status might be.

The dog ended up further up the valley later in the evening, got away again and was reported even further away by the morning but locked in a kennel. We phoned and made sure its owner knew where it was but he's not had the manners to thank us for all the bother. Next time I might do things differently. Over many years I have tired of pig hunters with dogs; their practices are cruel and beyond careless. They make no effort to reduce the suffering caused to their target prey by their dogs, let alone any "collateral damage" done to the wildlife (primarily Kiwi, since those are the birds they will kill) that might still have been out there in the bush.

Sunday the 7th

This morning I came back to my little buggy after checking on the cows in the Mushroom - 186 is still looking fine, nobody's calving - and saw this creature hanging on a slimy thread from my earmuffs. There was a little funny feeling in my ear as I came out, when I think about it; it must have touched my warm ear and recoiled and now, while I've been away, it has made its escape... nearly. How revolting. I think I'm going to have to start regularly checking my earmuffs before I put them on!

a Pūriri trunk

Preparing for the movement of one of the mobs into the Swamp East Left, I went and cleaned out the trough. While it was refilling for the second emptying after I'd scrubbed its sides and ridged bottom, I went for a walk up the hill to see how the gully reserves have changed since we fenced them off.

There's a lot of small undergrowth, lots of little seedlings everywhere but I was particularly interested to see this fallen Pūriri. It lives still along one side of its trunk, so shoots occasionally emerge and, when the cattle had access to the whole of this hillside, they'd eat them as soon as they'd grown. Now they are free to grow up and will, over the coming decades, probably form a line of trees.

a Pūriri trunk

I found a tiny bit of charred wood at its base, so it must be another of the burnt casualties that managed to cling to survival over the decades since.

a Pūriri tree

Here's one I'll come back to again, for a closer look at its remaining structure. It was on the other side of the big gully running down the hill. Of that pair of damaged trunks, the one on the left appears to contain a twisted root mass, growing down from the structure above. I'd like to investigate that further.

tiny seedlings

This is why all clearing work here is perhaps, in the end, pointless: there are so many seeds and so the earth will eventually return itself to its earlier state, unless people continually work against it.

The seedlings are Kānuka, that marvellous tree we cut and use as firewood and one of the first colonisers of any cleared area. Apparently they're under threat in some places but on this land I doubt they will ever be.

fallen branches

Along the top of the slope up by the boundary I found a confusing mess at the base of the big Pūriri triplet.


Then, looking up, I realised what had happened: the huge Puka that had formerly grown at the top of that tree, had crashed to the ground.


From out on the track looking back that way, I wondered how I'd not noticed before. The broken tree is the one in the centre, with all the dead branches reaching for the sky.

The following picture is from last year, showing just how big a structure it was at the top that Pūriri.


It was a huge umbrella of leaves over the host tree, one of the larger Puka on the farm - although in some of the other, healthier trees, there may be plants as large but they're less conspicuous amongst the Pūriri foliage.

I wonder if the Pūriri will respond to the increased light and the reduction in demand for water and nutrients by its former companion, and increase its own canopy of leaves?


Later on Stephan and I went out to the Middle Back together to check on and then move the cows and calves.

I called them up to the gate to the Big Back North and Stephan made sure the calves all followed their mothers up the hill.

As Endberly came past me I saw that she was holding her tail in an odd way. I've seen her do this before, wondered what was wrong, then seen her looking quite normal again later. There must be some uncomfortable but passing thing that happens inside her from time to time.


Once everyone had gone through the gate, we went through the other fence into the PW reserve.

There were a number of Privet trees, this large-leaf variety turning up more and more often now. In past years we've only had the small-leaf Privet.

The ground is soft beneath the trees, with no cattle in here to compact the soil, so this rather large tree came out without too much trouble for Stephan.


I looked up the trunk of the big Pūriri there to check on the Pittosporum cornifolium I'd found there some years ago - 2013 and two pictures in 2018, August and September.

The two-year drought killed a lot of plants.


No, you will not be milling that Tōtara.


I pulled some bark from a dead Taraire as I passed and found all these insects underneath. I discovered that they are Flat Bugs, Family Aradidae, Genus Ctenoneurus.


This was meant to be a close-up photo to see what one looked like, not an invasion of privacy: it wasn't until I was processing the pictures that I realised there were two insects here, in the middle of their own business.


Here I looked down the slope from the top of the open area in the reserve. We think it's looking really lovely.

There are some weeds like the woolly nightshade down on the left, but most of the trees are native.


We walked back down the hill and on to move the eight pairs from the Blackberry, across the stream to the Swamp East Left.

There are two rocks in the stream that I keep noticing: this one with its distinctly coloured halves ...


... and this one with damp cracks all over it.

All of the stones in this part of the stream will have come from up in the hills. Their variety always fascinates me.

Monday the 8th

I was standing in Mushroom 2 a bit after one o'clock this afternoon, watching 188 calving and listening to a flock of Pīpīwharauroa, Shining Cuckoos, in the tops of the trees around me.

I spotted this one, sitting still long enough for a picture, as it sang its distinctive song.


I'd seen 188 stalking around the paddock with her tail out at 12.20pm, looking very unsettled. I thought I'd have time to go home for a bit of lunch while she carried on with the job.

Now, 45 minutes later, she was under the trees but I couldn't see any bit of calf yet.

cow and calf

At 2pm there was a bag, with feet and then the little calf was very quickly born: good going for a first-time calving.

The calf is a tiny heifer.

Monarch caterpillars

I noticed evidence of eating on a Swan plant in a pot by the house but there were no caterpillars there; the wasps must be taking them all already. But on a plant that was thriving last season but is now affected by the weird curled-up leaf problem that seems to afflict the Swan plants over the cooler months, I found two sizeable caterpillars, with very little left to eat.

I brought them in on their shrivelled branches and cut some healthy sprigs from the pot-growing plant. They didn't move for more than a day and then I could see why: they were moulting. I've noticed before that they spend many hours in stillness when there's some unseen process going on.

The one in the picture had turned and was now eating its discarded skin: waste not any good thing.


It's never clear enough in pictures but sometimes the combination of haze in the air and the angle of the sun shows the hills in relief against each other, changing how we see them from here. Ordinarily the variety of the bush makes it hard to see where the folds in the land occur, one ridge fading into the face of the next part of the hillside.

Tuesday the 9th
cow and calf

Fancy 188 seems to be a very calm new mother, here she'd come around into Mushroom 1 to graze, leaving her calf sleeping near where she was born yesterday in Mushroom 2.

cow and calf

She calmly went down to the gate and back up the other side of the fence to feed her calf. I watched for a while to ensure that was all going well.


Out the back just before 5pm I called the big mob of cows and calves down to the gate to move them from the Big Back North to the South paddock. Only 11 of the 14 cows showed up but all the calves were there, so I opened the gates for them.

It's a difficult move to facilitate as can be seen: I needed to be in four places at once, here where I'd come to prompt a calf to come down to join everyone else, away to the right to stop the calves going back down the fenceline as their mothers went along the lane after going out the gate, off to the left to stop those calves going under the spring gate and into the lane and away along there, in the Bush Flat paddock, to stop a whole lot of them going under the spring gate into the paddock, where they would also wander along the wrong side of that fence as their mothers went off without them down to the right.

However, I managed to quietly get all the calves out of this bit and shut the gate, then turned the two who'd gone along the lane to the left back into the other bit, and gradually corralled the five or six calves in the Bush Flat, until they went back out that gate and into the correct bit of lane behind their mothers.

I left the last three cows who'd not come, one of whom I could hear a long way away, to come down in their own time, and I'd come back later to shift them around too - I didn't want to leave the gates open or who knows where everyone would end up later.

Angus heifer

The 11 yearlings are on Jane's place at the moment, so I wandered over to check them.

Gina 202 has an interesting hairstyle now.


At 7pm I went back out to let the last three cows rejoin their calves, finding three cows and a calf in the North paddock: Gina 168's calf had somehow gone back to his mother, probably across the swamp, under the two swamp-edge fences.

811 and her calf were quite distressed and 811 didn't seem to notice her calf as she went past and headed off out the back to look for her. I had to call 811 back, while propelling the calf in her direction so she would see her. It's only been a couple of hours but obviously enough to convince each that the other would never return.

Kahikatea pollen cones

If we hadn't only been at home, both of us would think we had Covid! We sniff and sneeze and carry on and I've concluded it must be the presence of a lot of pollen in the air, something that never bothered us in earlier years. Funny how we get more sensitive to such things as we get older. It's not awfully helpful, nor pleasant.

This is a Kahikatea tree with all its pollen cones. There are all sorts of other things in bloom too, including many of the grasses. I guess we could find out what's bothering us most but what would be the point? It's not as if we can avoid any of it.

Wednesday the 10th

Stephan has been spraying, starting with lots of gorse and ragwort on the hills and has now mixed a tank of glyphosate ready to tackle the weeds along the tracks, those that came with the limerock and which we now need to control until we vanquish them.

An awful lot of rattail grass has turned up on the tracks, something we did not previously have and do not want to spread.

I have mixed feelings about glyphosate in light of its discussion in the media of late; we don't use it anywhere near our food gardens, and keep the cattle away from sprayed areas for much longer than the instructions say.


775, up to day 279, the latest day she's calved in other years. She looks pretty close with those little dips where her tail meets her body, lots of tail swishing and her udder is tight.

farm track

Evidence of where Stephan has been: red dye in the spray makes it easy to see where he's already sprayed. Is this environmentally friendly? No, of course not; but remembering the back-bending work we've had to do some years when a new weed has appeared and we'd not sprayed before it flowered, on balance I still currently prefer this option.

Monarch caterpillars

The caterpillars have doubled in size in a couple of days. They spent so much time doing nothing that I wondered if they'd moulted twice to catch up with themselves from when their food had run short.

I have been going to Jane's garden a couple of times each day to cut a fresh sprig of leaves for the caterpillars, since we have only one small healthy plant here and if I cut it any more, it won't survive. I just need to keep these two fed until they're big enough to pupate.

At 6pm we sat down to watch a livestream of the Read NZ Te Pou Muramura Pānui (formerly the Book Council Lecture), delivered this year by Renée.

One of the very best things about Covid is that so many events are delivered on-line as well as in person (when that's a permitted activity). And so we sat in our living room, watching, listening, thinking and very much enjoying Renée's presentation.

Thursday the 11th

What a pose!

cow and calf

There's a reassuring sight: 775 lying quietly with her standing calf, born sometime overnight.

I checked her at 9.40 last night and while she wasn't in obvious labour then, I am not at all surprised to find her with her calf this morning.

That's everyone finished until Zella is due in mid December. I can relax for a while.

native orchid

So off I went on Orchid Holiday, the day being so lovely and warm, wandering up into the Big Back paddock and then through the fence in to the big swamp to look at the fallen Pūriri log.

Grasses and small trees are growing up around, over and from it now as well as orchids so there weren't as many orchids as I'd seen before but several were blooming in the sunshine.

native orchid

The flowers here were all this colour.

There's a lot of luck involved in seeing sun orchids in that the sun needs to be shining and the day warm, between about 11am and 2pm, at just the time the flowers are ready to bloom. If it rains or the sky is cloudy, or the air is too cool, the flowers won't open. I have learnt to wait.

native orchid

Then I turned, crossed back to the edge of the swamp and pushed my way up the bank toward the fence, where I knew there had been more plants in other years and here was a lovely blue one.

native orchid

I went around to the Swamp paddock because up by the boundary fence, on a tongue of land extending down toward the swamp there, there are many orchid plants whose buds I thought might also be ready to open. I found this beauty.


I took this picture on my way across the Swamp paddock, of a group of Ragwort plants.

Stephan was somewhere nearby - I could hear the tractor - on his way to this paddock to spray the gorse and Ragwort.


They're such a cheerful colour but very much unwanted.

Up by the orchids I also found a little Tarweed plant, another pretty yellow flowerer. Time to start looking out for those too and pulling them out wherever we see them.

tail hair

On the ground beside the Ragwort plants was this: a significant piece of somebody's tail, presumably trodden on as its owner got up from lying.

The only cow with a tail this lush and curly is 183.

I tucked one end under my hat and walked off to meet Stephan. I asked him not to spray where the orchids are, in case there's another chance to come back and see more of them flowering. I don't think he noticed my new hairstyle until I pointed it out.


Gina 142 this evening, in the Bush Flat. Her udder's left rear quarter looks full and uncomfortable. It must be tough being a cow, not being able to control how your calf is feeding.


Stephan has been feeding Al of late, while I was busy with calving and sometimes not here at the right time.

Friday the 12th

Eleven nice yearlings in the Pig paddock.


I went and cleaned the trough in Flat 4, then checked around the boundary, made sure the fence wires were all working.

Stephan was over here a day or two ago cutting along our Bush Block side of the boundary fence with the ten-acre neighbours. They don't ever do any maintenance so if it needs doing, we do it.

We went to town, having booked a click-and-collect timeslot at the supermarket just before noon, and then, to make the trip worthwhile, collected some things from the farm supplies store, then took all the fuel containers to the service station and filled everything up. It wasn't until we were half-way through and the dollar figure had climbed alarmingly that we noticed how expensive the diesel was! It's gone up thirty cents a litre since we last bought any, now $1.77 per litre at the pump. But there's a digger, a tractor, the ute and none of them is any use if they don't have fuel. I don't really notice the petrol price because we only buy that in containers for the farm machinery, rather than noticing it every time we fill up a car.

cow and calf

I moved the big mob from the Bush Flat but Endberly's calf lost track of her mother and then wouldn't cross the stream. I had to dash up the lane after Endberly and turn her back to collect her daughter.

Then we were so far behind all the others that I wasn't there to ensure the other calves went where they should and two calves ended up through the fence in Mushroom 1 and then, somehow, so did Endberly's daughter and by the time I got that partially sorted out, everyone else had reached the right-hand turn into the Flat 4 lane and most of the calves went into Flat 1 with the other mob. What a mess.


Endberly's calf wouldn't go out the gate, but went through the fence into Flat 5 instead.

Despite all this chaos, I remained remarkably calm. It was like trying to juggle too many balls: I had to let them all fall and stop rolling before I tried to sort everything out. (I can juggle, by the way, but only three balls at once.)

937's bald patches are now growing the finest silver hair.

cow and calves

937 was obviously very confused when she met Glia, a cow the same colour as her mother, but when she tried to have a feed, she got kicked!

I had to leave her there for the moment.


With seven or eight of the fourteen calves in Flat 1 with the mob there, I needed to work out how to get them back to their own mothers and when those mothers came back down the lane again I realised the calves were likely to try and get directly to them, which would take them through the big drain and they'd still be in the wrong place. So the best thing was to move the Flat 1 mob nearer to the others and the best place to take them was into 5a, from where they could scoot under the fences and back to their mothers, either in the lane or along in Flat 4.

So here they all were just after I had moved them. Most of the calves gradually made their way back to their mothers. I had to set up a lane across 5b to take Endberly up to collect her daughter, who had stayed with Glia and her calf.

When I checked at 7.20pm all the other calves had rejoined their mothers.

The 2021 calving date prediction sheet is available here.

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