The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 22nd of January 2022.
Saturday the 22nd
what a lovely bovine life

There are many places on the farm where it always strikes me that bovine life can be particularly pleasant. This area is high on that list. I have even lain here once or twice on a hot afternoon myself, looking up into the trees, watching the birds. (If I used the incorrect verb form there, do tell me!)

The area is entirely sheltered by the hill behind and surrounding tree cover but, facing north, gets the sun.

heifer 213

Around the other side, in the Big Back North, 213 tried to eat my shirt as I watched Stephan's activities.

gravel from the stream

As part of the work in the Bush Flat paddock, we decided to address a problem in the stream crossing, where a lot of gravel has collected on the inside of the bend, causing the water to flow into the opposite corner and begin undermining that bank. We think if we carefully alter the shape of the inside curve, widening the stream bed, the flood waters won't smash into the other bank quite so damagingly.

Stephan brought several bucket-loads of the gravel out, to cover some of the muddy areas of track where the cattle cause bogs every winter. Anywhere there is mud, silt runs away with the ground water and into the streams, so it seems quite sensible to bring a bit of the stream gravel out to fix the problem.

spreading gravel with the tractor

It is possible some of the gravel here will end up back in the stream again during heavy rain, because the culvert doesn't always cope with the water coming down out of the big Swamp. But Stephan has recently done some repair work on the culvert and cleared its entrance, so that might not happen.

gravel over the culvert in the Big Back South

And while near the Big Back South, he put some of the gravel over the culvert between the little just-fenced tributary and the big swamp.

stream gravel in the Big Back North gateway

I look forward to seeing whether all these improvements will improve the track conditions during the coming winter.

the source of the gravel

This is where the gravel was coming from.

The bank where the digger is sitting has been building up for several years, with the gravel that constantly comes out of the hills behind us. It's all heavy native bush up there but natural erosion processes in and around the streams are always carrying gravel into and along the waterways.

calm cattle resting in the Back Barn

I have no idea how these cows, who are the ones pictured in the first picture today, got from there to here. Physically of course I know but I didn't write down that I'd moved them and I'm writing this page many weeks after the fact. What a careless note-taker I sometimes am.

There is angular 745 again. She really is a dreadful-looking cow but she's a good mother, hasn't caused me any trouble, so she continues her nice life.

the cattle coming out into the Swamp paddock

It was beautifully quiet there as I wandered amongst the cattle, until someone started shouting from away out in the bush behind the farm. I recognised the voice as the same man whose lost pig dog turned up here a few weeks ago. I've seen his dogs run through our place on other occasions and have asked him to let us know when he's hunting. Otherwise he's essentially a poacher.

The cattle all got up and watched anxiously in that direction. I decided that since there wasn't much grass in the Back Barn, I'd let them move into the Swamp, where they could get a little further away from the bothersome yelling.

Angus bull

Andrew is starting to look a lot smoother than he did. He looks good in the summer months. The effects of increased quantity and quality of feed through the spring have quite suddenly become apparent.

In my experience it takes less than two weeks to see a drop in condition in response to a stressful event or a lack of feed and about six weeks to see condition improve when the situation is resolved.

Sunday the 23rd
two small mobs on the flats

The animals here in the foreground are bull 203 (pawing the soil, throwing it up beside himself) and his five young cows and their calves. 874 is on heat, so he's probably telling bull 201 on the other side of the fence to stay away. I noticed that 201 did not respond much at all to the insults and challenges from 203; he's a quiet fellow by nature, it would seem.

Bull 201 now has a larger mob, since I added the "hospital" cows, Zoom and 811 (and recovering calf 921), to the Fancy cows 166 and 188 and their two calves.

872 and her daughter

Watching cows and their calves in close interaction is one of the great pleasures of this life.

Stephan feeding some prunings to the Big Back North mob

Stephan, still working out the back, had needed to prune some Pūriri branches, so carried them over to the cows and bull in the Big Back North.

a nice, soft-looking bull

When I went out to check on bull 200's mob, they'd all drifted back into the Back Barn paddock and he was sitting quietly, looking soft and gorgeous in the sunshine.

A cow's oestrus cycle is about 21 days long, so when mating starts I pay very close attention to everyone for those first three weeks, noting every little thing I see. Now we're into the second cycle of 21 days, life gets a bit easier because I am looking to see if anyone mated three weeks ago is of interest to the bull again over two or three days. If not, it means they're already pregnant. It means I don't have to be quite so on the ball in getting out here so early each morning; and the bulls are obviously a lot more relaxed too.

Pūriri and Makomako foliage

I know that a Wineberry, Makomako, Aristotelia serrata, grows under one of the Pūriri beside the crossing from one side of the Bush Flat to the other, but I hadn't realised how tall it had become. Its foliage is quite different from the Pūriri up through which it is growing.

My tree book tells me they grow up to 10m tall. There are many of them around the farm, mostly near the streams.

a big eel

This eel spends much of its time in the water beneath Jane's culvert bridge. It is the big one I studied on the nights we all went to feed the eels two weeks ago.

Monday the 24th
Carrot weed

Every now and again a real Carrot weed plant appears out across the flats. We instantly remove it!

While they have white flowers quite like the Parsley Dropwort, there are noticeable differences when one is familiar with the plants. I saw this flower from quite some distance away and stopped to check. Stephan pulled it out.

a tape around the Spring gully

Last week Stephan and Andrew spent several hours here in the Spring paddock, pruning the trees up both sides of the water-course for which we named the paddock. They threw all the pruned branches back in under the trees and in their piles and tangles, they're potentially hazardous for the calves, should they venture in amongst them.

Stephan and I walked up and down around the whole area with electric string and standards, to create an indicative barrier - we can't easily electrify it so hope the cattle will presume it's hot and not test it.

Stephan attending to bull 200's ticks

Goodness! The things Stephan does with the bulls.

We've been able to scratch bull 200's tail for most of his life, so he was quite happy to have his ticks scratched off this afternoon.

getting quite intimate with the bull

Happier than I thought, albeit a little surprised.

getting very intimate with the bull!

But I had no idea he'd be quite this quiet. Extraordinary.

889's right ear is drooping

As we let them go across the stream to the Spring paddock, I noticed 889's ear was down - I can see it now in one of the photos above.

She seemed otherwise content, so I will presume it doesn't indicate anything serious at present and check her again tomorrow.

Zella and Glia, who thought they were about to be moved

I went across to Flat 2 to let the five with bull 203 into the little triangle where there's some nice grass.

Zella, who no doubt thinks of it as her own special grass, since she and Glia often graze there, came over expectantly.

the animals for whom I'd opened the gate to new grass

They carried on watching as the other cattle went in through the gateway.

The calf in the picture is 874's daughter 924, who I've been noticing is looking really nice.

cows and calves crossing a stream

This evening I moved bull 189 and his little mob.

There are nine calves in this picture, which does not tally with what I wrote in my notes about who was in the mob. I often got muddled about how many animals were in which mobs when I wrote about them during the mating period, but I'll figure it out and correct my notes.

Tuesday the 25th
up the Swamp East Right

Here is that mob from the last photo, on the hillside in the Swamp East Right paddock.

It's nice to see the dead gorse. If we don't stop it, it grows and spreads so quickly!

We brought Zella's calf in to the yards this evening because she's been looking a bit slow and her colour, where it ought to be a nice pink, is looking a bit pale. After the death of her sister, Zoom's, calf, I am concerned that little Zita might be fighting Theileria, although rather more successfully than her nephew. But with Coccidia having killed the other calf as a secondary infection, and little Zita doing a lot of fast tail swishing, I decided to act prophylactically, and treat those whose health is a little under par at present, to ward off that threat. Zita got the unused half of her nephew's dose and the rest from a new bottle of the Coccidia medicine I bought last Friday, since it looks like this might be a problem we will have to deal with again.

Wednesday the 26th

When I met cousin Eleanor in Tauranga, she gave me some type-written sheets from my great aunt Lily, who'd written down a lot of things she could remember of her early life and her relations. Today I retyped the 4,500 words so they'd be available to send out to the family and easier to work with as I continue exploring the families' histories. Lily was 70 when she wrote in 1970, so her recollections go a long way back. She could remember our earliest immigrants to this country, from Scotland and Denmark, people I know only from a few photographs and official records.


These beetles zip across the dry soil on the tracks wherever I look. They're very fast movers. They are an endemic Tiger beetle, Neocicindela tuberculata.

The fastest beetle in the west!

bull, cows and calves in the Swamp East Left

I went and let the bull 189 mob through the little alley between the Swamp East Right and Left and here they'd fanned out to graze the new grass.

Farming with trees is what we do.

The fence posts in the centre of the picture are those on either side of the drain running down from one of the fenced gullies. There is a gateway at the top and one at the bottom, for the cattle to easily pass.

a young Pūriri

As I left the paddock I looked for young Pūriri growing in the stream reserve. I'm familiarising myself with their natural growth patterns to see if I can understand more about the huge, ancient tree skeletons I find around the farm.

Some saplings, like this one, divide or throw out a substantial branch quite low on their trunks. I wonder whether these patterns are influenced more by the amount of light that's available, or genetics?

steer 861's damaged hoof

Here is the damaged hoof of steer 861, whose foot was probably trodden on by someone else in January 2019, when he was just a calf. I didn't sell him with the others because of his foot injury and my concern that he might have problems with it later. He never did, but nor did the hoof every grow normally.

Now at last, having booked him and the other two to go to the works back in November, he's off on his one and only journey, tomorrow.

Andrew, the steer 861 and heifer 190

I brought Andrew in to meet up with heifer 190 and the steer and while they stood quietly in the driveway, painted marks on their backs for quick identification at the works. Then I walked them out the front to graze in some nice grass for their last night.


I wrote "Tame Andrew" on Andrew's back, hoping somebody might give him a stroke and a kind word on his last walk up the race at the works.

He's been lovely, the quietest bull I've ever had. But I don't want to use him for breeding; his calf birthweights are too big, his conformation not good enough and he lacks the ability to hold his condition through winter on the feed levels available here, all traits I do not wish to breed in to the herd.

heifer 190

His full sister, 190, who has a similar constitution and has taken a while to gain sufficient condition to be "finished" for the works.

steer 861

The steer is in fabulous condition, to my eye. The extra weeks in which they were able to keep eating fast-growing grass, while the works delay kept them here, has done them all good.

The delay has been due to Covid adjustments within the plants, staff numbers being reduced during shifts to enable more space between workers, which meant they could not process animals at the usual speed or in the usual numbers.

previously nearly-dead 921

Here is a normal-looking calf. Extraordinary, considering how near death she was a few short weeks ago.

Nikau in the Pūriri reserve by the gateway and stream

Back out to check the bulls with their cows this evening I noticed how big some of the Nikau have grown, under the tall Pūriri at the entrance to the Swamp East Left.

The seedlings with the pale leaves are Taraire, gradually making their way up out of the Kikuyu grass.

the central ridge in the Spring paddock

Everyone was quiet up on the ridge in the Spring paddock.

It's lovely up here on a quiet evening.

Thursday the 27th
Stephan giving Glia her molasses this morning

Coming back from setting up the gates out the front for the truck, I captured Stephan dishing out the morning's molasses to Glia.

Zella goes into the little shed for her bin of the treat ready for milking, and Glia always gets a little too. Just a little, since she's so fat.

The two calves have become very close and can usually be found together.

Al at his breakfast

The obligatory Al picture: breakfast time.

Since we're not using much milk and no longer regularly making butter, most of Zella's milk goes to feed Al.

He's a very fortunate pig.

loading the truck

The truck came slightly early but as we were ready, that was fine.

Stephan always gets the driver to stand clear as he loads the cattle, with only the occasional use of the shock prod from the side, if an animal looks too unwilling to proceed. But if you give them a little time to look, they usually go up quite readily.

There were no other animals in the little truck, so they got in very calmly and would end up on a bigger truck somewhere down the road, before travelling south to Moerewa in a double-deck truck and trailer unit.

I'm always sad to send them off but have always given significant thought to the decision, so I have to live with the discomfort until it fades. Despite our fondness for Andrew, I'm glad he's been able to go, for the other possibility was that he would grow very much larger and have to stay here for life, once he got too big for the works. Keeping a large bull I didn't want to breed, wouldn't be particularly sensible.

922's wart-free face

I went immediately Over the Road to check on the heifers, since I could see some of them just up the hill.

922's nose warts have gone away. I first commented on them on 28 October and then on 12 December.

I like her pretty face; much better without a warty nose.

Friday the 28th

We brought bull 200's little mob in to the yards mid-morning and weighed them, then castrated Ellie 171's son, because we now know he carries the AM defect gene. I gave him a shot of pain relief at the same time, since I had some and it would mask the pain for the first couple of days when he'd feel it most.

The calves all had their second 7-in-1 vaccination. There were a few vaccine-hesitant individuals amongst them but I just waited until they weren't looking. That's how we do things around here.

swimming in the pond

Sarah came with Maihi and Wana-i-Rangi, all masked and distanced, since Covid is circulating in Auckland.

The children, as always, had a lovely time in the pond.

the children and a swinging horse

Stephan brought out the horse swing he had made for one of the younger cousins, ready for Sarah to take south with her. Wana-i-Rangi had an earlier version.

This one's tail is the piece I found out in the Swamp paddock and suspect came from 183's beautiful curly switch.

The children seem entirely unperturbed by the requirement to wear masks. It has been a strange alteration for most of us but the children haven't lived long lives without them yet, so seem to have taken it in their stride.

cattle in the Flats lane and back near the yards

When Sarah had gone we went back out to do some more calf vaccinating.

The cattle in this picture are going the wrong way to match with my notes but I suspect I'd let them out of Flat 2, to the right, earlier and was about to turn them back toward the yards once Stephan had come back to open the gate.

five calves in the yards

And here are the five calves from that little mob. The calves are getting better and better at going through the yards easily, which might indicate we got the design right enough.

When the little mob with bull 201 came in, the two healthy calves got their vaccination but I didn't do recovering 921, thinking she's probably still catching up. This morning she was swishing her tail furiously and had a dirty rear, so I gave her a dose of the Coccidia medicine instead. She seems well enough but let's not risk it.

Since I last weighed her 11 days ago, she's gained 11kg, which is an ok growth rate under the circumstances.

Zella's little mob

After dinner we did the last calves, those of Glia and Zella, then drafted bull 201 out of his mob and sent him away with the house cows.

Little Zita only had her first 7-in-1 vaccination today, since she's so much younger than everyone else; I will have to remember to do her again in a month.

I've been having a marvellous time exploring the 1800s, finding records of my great, great grandfather, his siblings and parents, who came out to Victoria from Scotland in 1858 and then on to Dunedin in 1861.

When doing family research, it helps to have either famous or troublesome relatives; if your forebears were ordinary, quiet and law-abiding people, they probably didn't make it into the newspapers or official documents and unless people have retained family papers, details of those people's lives are hard to find.

But my Kirk family were a troubled lot, appearing in newspaper reports because of the nature of their deaths and subsequent inquests, court reports for bankruptcies, they sometimes owned businesses and advertised them, one had a near-fatal accident when the population was small enough that such news was of community interest, so it ended up in the paper.

Great Aunt Lily, who documented her early memories when she turned 70 (if only everyone did such a thing!), appeared to have confused memories of two or three men named Robert Kirk but I was able to find an Australian newspaper article about of the death of one of them, Lily's uncle, one of the last hansom cab drivers in Sydney - with a photo, of his fabulous conveyance!

I've always liked delving into pedigrees, as you may have gathered from my animals' pedigree charts. Filling in my own has been an extraordinarily satisfying project.

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