The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 7th of May 2022.
Saturday the 7th
lime spreading on Flat 5

Ryan came out this morning with some more Lime.

I left that job to Stephan's supervision because I had a Zoom meeting to attend, the AGM of the local genealogy group, on whose committee I have agreed to serve and been elected to today.

There was some discussion about how meetings would be held and whether or not in-person attendance would be necessary. The group has decided that it will institute provision for hybrid attendance, in person and on-line, when (if) gatherings become a safer option again.

I haven't written a great deal about the Covid situation over the last couple of years because most of the time its effects on our life have been minimal. We learnt how to shop by "click and collect" at the local supermarket, removing the need to go into the shop and we do the same with everything else, with occasional assistance from less risk-averse family and friends. Neither of us has been required to go anywhere for work and our prime concern has been to avoid getting sick because we can't easily find anyone to step into our roles here.

The only interpersonal interactions we have are with health services when we need them. Considering those essential contacts, we don N95 masks, behave as carefully as we can and hope for the best. So far, so good.

dead Australian Sedge plants

The digger is in a temporarily disabled state in the Middle Back, so Stephan and I went out to put an electric tape around it, leaving the gate open behind us for the cows and calves to come in to the paddock from the PW.

Look at all that dead Australian Sedge. Stephan has been doing a marvellous job with a tank full of glyphosate. You might think glyphosate is a chemical from hell and perhaps it is; but it's the only way we're ever going to get the best of this invasive and spreading weed.

Cows and calves coming into the Middle Back

We'd called the cattle as we came out past them but they took a little while to walk along from the front end of the PW, then along Route 356 and up to the gate.

a sapling in the reserve

This is the PW reserve at the top of the hill and in the centre is a Pūriri seedling, now growing well above the long Kikuyu grass.

It's lovely seeing little trees like that surviving and growing up in the protected areas.

Sunday the 8th

We had visitors! Barbara and Jim have recently had Covid, so we decided they'd probably be safe people to have in our house for lunch and socialising. It was lovely. We separately took them out around the farm in the buggy for a look at what we've been doing, then lunched and talked and behaved in a way that used to be just ordinary. Mind you, for Barbara and I in particular, staying home and doing our own solitary thing is pretty normal too. But there's always that strange feeling when you know you can't do the other thing.

Monday the 9th
the 17 sale weaner calves

I'm pleased with the weaners this year. There are always a couple of small ones because you just can't escape statistical realities. The biggest isn't in this group, since we decided to keep Glia's calf with Zella's daughter. Ordinarily I'd have weaned him too, ready for sale.


I keep moving the works cattle around, making sure they don't have any kind of check in their feed before they go.

Here they were coming out of the Frog, on their way to the Mushroom 2 paddock.

one of the troughs, shoved out of place

And inevitably the bull gave the trough a good shove on his way past, as soon as he could hear and see the others across the flats. Fortunately he didn't crack this one on this occasion.

But consider the weight of this 300 litre trough of water and just how strong that animal is to be able to shift it across the ground.

It has been pushed up against the post, so I will have to bring my cleaning hose to empty the trough and then move it back into the correct position again.

Tuesday the 10th

I spent a while on a Zoom call with a climate change researcher today, or rather a researcher into attitudes to climate change. It was an interesting discussion. There seems to be a lot of talk now about how climatic variability is affecting farming and more and more pressure on farmers to change how they do things. When asked how we'll change what we do, most of my answer is we've already taken most of the steps we ought to thus far. The next major step will be not having cattle.

As for how the unpredictable weather extremes have affected us to date, I reported that we live in a fortunate place, that other than the odd bulge of water in the streams, so far we've not had any destructive storms, or other big problems. I know that may not always be the case.

Fancy 166 and her lovely daughter

Tame calf 226, the biggest of the heifers, with her mother, Fancy 166. Her sire being the big Chisum bull, she may yet "fall apart" as she grows up but I'm hoping she'll turn out more like her aunt and half-sister 191, than the huge and lanky 190 and Andrew 198.

813's nice daughter

This is 813's nice daughter, 931. She's in this mob with her mother because I decided to keep her and see how she turns out.

Her sire being bull 189, she may yet prove too fiery for my liking but so far she seems surprisingly calm, so I'll give her a chance. It would be nice to have a pleasant daughter from this family line and she's the last of them.

Writing that sent me off to find my latest Cow Families chart but I've had to give that up for the moment; it needs more work and I'm about to send some cull cows away, so it will need further updating.

the old fence between the Middle and Big Back paddocks

When I looked up at this fence, I thought at first that a whole section was missing. Some battens must have fallen off since the last time I looked at it. One day it'll be replaced but it's still keeping the animals safely on either side, so it can wait.

Pūriri regrowth

The very vigorous Pūriri regrowth in the centre of this picture is in response to our pruning-to-feed-cows efforts the summer before last, when we were in drought and feed was particularly short.

calves resting under the trees

I had to hunt for the last three calves on my list, finding them at the top of the hill under some big Tōtara, where it was difficult to spot them in the shadows. They looked very comfortable.

puff-ball fungus

This beautiful puffball was just down the slope from the trough, on my way back to the gate.

two of the calves

Two of the nice sale heifers. 217 on the right is Gertrude's fine daughter, a calf whose temperament is far too flighty for me, so she's off. She's Gertrude's best calf of three so far, so even though Gertrude herself is a stroppy bully, she can stay for the time being simply because she's likely to produce another nice calf this season, without much other bother.

220 is not nearly as calm as I would expect from her sire, will likely calm down a great deal but having discovered that her marvellous-looking sire doesn't make very good breeding cattle with my cows, she can go too. She'll do well for Heidi.

It's always disappointing when they don't turn out as well as I hoped.

Wednesday the 11th
another cracked Pūriri

I'm watching this Pūriri in Mushroom 1. I'm fairly sure the crack is new and now I'm trying to figure out if it's widening.

in the Bush Flat paddock

I'd previously strung an electric tape around all the drain diggings and bare earth alongside the new Bush Flat drain and so there were several patches of lush, long Kikuyu here, just the right kind of treat for the works cattle. There's not a lot of other good grass in the paddock and so when they've eaten this bit, I'll move them again.

Thursday the 12th
the farm from the Small Hill ridge

I opened the gates for the weaner calves to come out of the Small Hill yesterday, along to the yards to be weighed for the last time before they go. There were only eleven calves there last night and this morning only three had come down as far as the flats lane, with the other eight still back near the paddock. I had to go hunting for the missing six.

collecting calves from the top of the Small Hill

It's quite a climb up the Small Hill, and as I clambered along the steep slopes I thought about how much of this area we should actually stop trying to use. There was a slope where slumping is still obvious, making some of it even steeper. We might have to do another assessment of the area.

The six calves were all right up the top, grazing some nice grassy bits, so I made sure they were all there, followed them down, making sure they all went so I wouldn't have to climb back up again.

steaming calves

All this was happening so early because Ryan had rung and said he could bring some lime and I needed the cattle out of the way, out of the lanes. Ordinarily I would sit around for some time after breakfast checking email, writing things, having coffee...

I put the calves in the area around the yards to graze for the day, ready to weigh them later.

Stephan had arranged to go out to help Elizabeth with something, so I was also doing it all on my own. (Stephan would have stayed if I'd asked, but there wasn't any need.)

lime spreading in the Blackberry paddock

After spreading a bit of lime in 5d (I'm not sure he actually spread it where he'd missed last time), Ryan followed me out and limed the Frog, then came out to the Blackberry. I have long wanted to get him onto this little bit of ground, where the blackberries used to grow.

I moved the four works cattle out of the Bush Flat this morning, popped them in to the little riverbank paddock opposite Mushroom 3, so Ryan could lime the Bush Flat. Then I dashed down and flushed the little mob of lame grey 812 and friends out of Flat 1 so he could spread there too. I didn't mean for it to happen but 812 ended up running rather more than I liked, but later she seemed fine. She's not as lame now as she was for a while; staying on the flat paddocks has helped her a lot.

When Stephan came home we weighed the 17 calves. The biggest and best-grown was white-face 749's white-faced son, 949, at 293kg (he's 203 days old). The smallest steer was 244kg (182 days). The heifers ranged from Gertrude's big daughter at 281kg to one-month-younger 211 at 206kg. She's disappointingly small. Nearly-died 921 was 217kg, which considering her set-back, isn't too terrible. The steers' average weight was 261kg and the heifers', 244kg.

I took all that data home, put it all in my spreadsheet, took off the 6% the calves would have lost had they gone to the saleyards, and worked out their price on the per kg rate Heidi and I had agreed. Since they're going all in one load to one buyer, they don't need any paint marks to identify them, like the works cattle do.

the works cattle

After sending the calves off along the lane to the front yards, we brought the works cattle in to weigh them too, then painted their backs with our initials so they're ready to go whenever we get a call to say the truck is coming. They then went over the stream into the grassy Tank paddock, where I expect they'll be very happy for a few days.

Friday the 13th
the sale calves

Yesterday afternoon I brought the sale calves out to the front, where there was lots for them to eat, then pushed them into the yards area for the night.

Early this morning I went out and pushed them up to the top yards, then quietly drafted the heifers into one pen, the steers into the other, ready to go. They're such quiet animals I didn't even need a stick to direct operations.

The truck arrived half an hour early and we hadn't even opened the gates. Disconcerted, neither of us noticed that the driver didn't turn the truck's engine off once he'd positioned the back of the truck at the loading ramp. The steers were a bit twitchy going up and into the back of it and we still didn't notice. One of them bounced against one of the old wooden rails and cracked it but we didn't stop and when the heifers' turn came and they were even less pleased about the truck, having already heard all the banging of the steers going on, one of them ended up half-way out through the broken rail and then she was out in the roundabout, with her way clear for an escape out to the road! The driver sort of ran to stop her, fortunately not frightening her so much that she kept going. I have no doubt that in his own mind he was the hero of the moment; he certainly told us he'd saved the day.

I shut the road gates, Stephan went off to his timber pile to get a new rail and the tools to attach it and the driver turned the engine off. In the silence I realised what had been wrong! The noise on its own makes the truck an even scarier thing than it is in all its unfamiliarity, with the vibration the engine causes making lots of bits of metal rumble and rattle; no wonder the heifers kept turning back out of the doorway.

I asked the driver to stay quietly out of the way while I gently herded my upset heifers back in to the yards (three or four of them ended up out through the broken rail) and they calmed down fairly quickly once they were all back together.

Stephan returned and nailed the new timber in place and then the heifers went up much more readily, although it still wasn't as easy as if they'd gone on to a quiet truck in the first place.

The driver told us that he usually leaves the engine going for a quick loading but in the same breath told us that slow and steady gets the job done. I concluded he was an inexperienced chap trying to convince somebody that he was an expert.

His driving was, fortunately, much more skilled than his loading and he took the truck quietly out onto the road and away.

The heifers were off the truck again in about a quarter of an hour at Heidi's home block and the steers took a little longer to reach their destination another quarter of an hour around the roads. I like selling my calves like this. It's all much less stressful for them and so it's better for me too.

rebuilding a gate

I complained to Stephan that I'd had a real struggle with the two gates into the yards - the wooden one on the left in the photo above and the steel one beyond it, that has to be lifted up and around over the long Kikuyu - and so he went and rehung the steel gate and brought the wooden one back for repair. Repair turned into rebuild, or a new gate, really.

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