The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 30th of April 2022.
Saturday the 30th

This is a Pūriri that started growing in Stephan's garden, under our big tree out the back of the house. We planted it in the reserve over the graves of Damian and Yvette and when it was blown around by the wind we tied it to a stake with some blue string ... and then we didn't take the blue string off in time and the tree grew over it. There is still a tiny bit sticking out of the trunk, just above one of the leaves in the picture.

I have sometimes thought about what might happen when people no longer inhabit the earth, leaving all their piles of pointless waste behind them, the mountains of plastic used once and discarded; I think this is the answer: if there are still trees, they will simply grow over it all as if it were never there. Not recycling, just covering.

cows and calves

The cows and calves are in the Big Back South, apparently still quite content with their ever-decreasing feed supplies. Sometimes they complain about grass that looks quite nice to me and other times, like here, now, they seem quite happy with what doesn't look like much at all.


Just over the boundary, in the big reserve next door, is a Puka very much like the one that fell down last year from the centre of one of our old Pūriri.

All the brown stuff beneath it is what's left of a lot of dead perching lily plants, killed by two years of drought.

Monarch butterfly

A Monarch butterfly, just hatched. I think this was the last of those caterpillars I attempted to rescue and feed until they pupated, after the weather suddenly cooled.

I took it outside to the flowering Thyme plant and hoped it would survive, find wherever it needs to be for the winter.

weaned cows grazing

The second weaned cow group, grazing their way up Flat 5c. I come and shift the tape twice a day.

Sunday the 1st of May
cows and calves along the Mushroom lane

This morning I brought the cows and calves in from out the back so I could wean the last calves for sale.

I drafted five cows into now-empty 5d and their five calves in to Mushroom 1 with the other 12 calves. The rest of the mob, 18 in number now, went down to Flat 4.

I added one disappointment to their number, 222, Ellie 191's daughter who was sired by my last straw from Schurrtop Reality X723, sire of my lovely bulls Joe 90 and Mr Big 87. I was hoping she'd be a great animal but she's nervous and twitchy, so she has to go.

Then I went home and bottled ballarats for three hours.

Monday the 2nd

811 is one of the last-weaned group, since her daughter, 921, needed as long as she could get with her mother.

I have decided that due to 811's calves' sensitivity to Theileria (921 nearly died and last year's calf didn't do nearly as well as I expected and in retrospect I think that was probably due to Theileria, before I realised it was here), 811 has to go. I'm sorry about that because I think she's a beautiful cow.

I checked the udders of these cows and discovered that young 856's right quarters were much less engorged than her left, her right rear quarter soft, almost empty. I presume that means she milked very well and her calf had a favourite side. He certainly grew well enough. I won't know if there's a problem until next calving but I suspect she'll be fine.

Lame 773 is now walking normally again. She's still with grey 812, 183 and their calves.

coming down to the crossing from Flat 4

In the afternoon Stephan came across to help me move the 18 from Flat 4, across the stream to the Road Flat.

Sometimes they seem to know exactly what is required and come easily but on other occasions I wish Stephan had been there to follow and make sure they all came. I think this might be the first time some of the calves have come this way, so the stragglers took a little persuading.


Walking back from moving the works cattle again I came through the reserve that used to be part of the front of the Frog paddock, something inconceivable now and I can't even remember how it was all arranged. Lots of things have grown over the time the cattle have been excluded. This toetoe plant caught my attention; I think they're very attractive plants.

Tuesday the 3rd
Zita in the wrong place

The red handle hanging from the gate was attached to the fence, creating an electric tape barrier to send the house cows and calves into the House paddock for the day. But out the window we could see Zita wandering off up the lane on her own. She's a mischievous animal.

Zita going back to where she should be

Stephan went out and told her where to go.

She's quite tame now, a lovely calf.

white-faced 746 on her knees again

White-faced 746 is still the only cow in the herd to graze on her knees; nobody else has ever followed suit.

Cow behaviour like this interests me. It's not something she learnt from anybody else, just something she started doing when she realised she could reach further under the fences than anyone else, for those extra bits of green grass. It's not unhelpful from my perspective: stopping grass growing up into the fence wires is useful maintenance work.

fungus growing out of some calf poo

I think this is calf poo, growing some fungus that looks the same as some I often find growing from possum poo. It looks fabulous!

a hedgehog in the magpie trap

Hedgehogs aren't usually this active when caught in the traps. We usually find them curled up, asleep. But this one was actively looking for a way out.

We got a Topmilk bin to put him in to carry him home, since Stephan had no deadly tools with him.

molasses addict, Zella.

Zella is so hooked on molasses in TopMilk bins that she followed us down the fence-line.

She's been having molasses with Magnesium Oxide twice a day for the last several weeks, since she showed signs of becoming unwell again one night when Stephan brought them in to separate the calves for the night. On that occasion she was just "off" and her body felt unexpectedly cool, like it did when she had milk fever after calving last December. I'm very glad Stephan noticed her subtly changed behaviour and called me out to have a look too. We gave her a double shot of Magnesium Oxide and more the following morning and she came right again and since then we've been giving it to her twice a day. She's coming up to 13 this year and older cows often need more care than young ones. It's odd to think of her as old; it seems she was a calf such a short time ago.

Wednesday the 4th
the swamp reserve in the Frog paddock

Walking across the Frog paddock after checking the four cattle in the Swamp East, I took this picture of the little wet area reserve, fenced in 2018 by Stephan and our guest Blue. Blue was one of friend Fran's Massey University doctoral students who came to stay for a while over that summer.

most of the weaner calves together in Mushroom 1, watching their mothers

Nearly all the weaners gathered together with the few still calling for their mothers.

Stephan mowing 5b

The cows had chewed the grass right down in 5b, so Stephan came and mowed it - and then did 5a as well when he was finished, because while he mowed, I moved the cows out of 5a...

the combined group of weaned cows

... into the remaining grass in 5c, having put the most recently-weaned five in there just before them. They all settled down together very quietly, as they ought to, since they've only been in separate mobs since the start of weaning less than two weeks ago.

Thursday the 5th

It being a sunny, warm morning, we invited Jane over for a cuppa and sat out on the deck for a chat. We used to invite her over regularly, since she lives alone, but Covid has complicated that. Jane, in her later years, is far more social than we are because, well, why not live your late life freely, even though the risks from the illness increase; so do the risks of social isolation? Our risk calculation is more conservative, since we need to be fit and able and a contagious disease in our household would potentially leave nobody to ensure the welfare of the animals. And if Stephan got ill, who would cook my dinner?

So on any sunny, pleasant day, we invite her over and sit out in the open air together.

Kikuyu grass flowering

There's something very odd going on in the world and while this might look innocuous, I see it as an alarming portent: Kikuyu grass flowers between October and March. Kikuyu grass should not be flowering in May!

a pair of Pūtangitangi

Two very welcome, occasional residents flew in today, a pair of Pūtangitangi.

the weaned cows

I saved a little corner of 5d's grass, so I could bring the cows back in there on their way out of Flat 5.

The cut grass in 5a and b is really thick! The thickness of the Kikuyu is why mowing it is a good idea. That reduces the thatch of inedible stolon material, allowing the other grasses to grow up through it now that the Kikuyu is slowed by cooling temperatures. The thick stuff will rot down, compost into the soil.

Friday the 6th
the weaned calves in Mushroom 3

I'd opened Mushroom 3 for the calves yesterday and finding them all there today, shut them in. I move them away from their mothers by degrees, so they gradually get used to the separation with as little distress as possible.

I was expecting Ryan with some lime this morning but he's had a truck problem and can't come.

I went to check the fences along the Bush reserve boundary and disturbed a black cat who must have been sitting enjoying the warm sunshine and leapt to its feet and into the reserve. They're everywhere.

Stephan at 'mill

Stephan had one of the biggest logs set up for milling this afternoon. I love seeing him do this. He worked so hard for so many years, keeping the mortgage paid on this place, earning money to try and make some progress and it has finally all come together and now he carries on working pretty hard but doing only what he enjoys. He's a happy guy.

Things could have been very different. There could have been children needing shoes and tertiary education; he could have married someone who liked finer things than I have ever been bothered about and maybe if he'd dealt with that poorly, she'd have walked away with half the value of the farm and he'd have been living an entirely different life now. Instead I turned up (for the second time), told him I'd never marry anyone thanks, even if he asked, and he could do the cooking after I got sick of it and I'd take over the cows and run the farm. It wasn't exactly the life I'd been expecting either but it's turned out very satisfactorily.

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