The week beginning 26th April, 2003.
Saturday the 26th
|More fencing today for Daniel and Stephan, this time on the other side of the farm. We realise we're going to have a rather over-the-top set of lanes for the size of our operation, but decided some time ago that we'd like to make farming the property as easy as we possibly could. With lanes to many of the paddocks, we can cut down on the amount of walking around we need to do at the end of some of our heavier work days - we can leave gates open in the right places and the cows can take themselves home. We will be able to individually work the farm whenever we need to and come mating time later this year, I'll have far more options for feeding my insemination mob, since it'll be possible to walk them in from more paddocks along the nice new lanes.
Sebastian had some excellent animal time this afternoon, getting very close to Isla, learning in the process, where milk really comes from. Much to his delight, he was able to extract some from her, himself.
Never believe anyone who tells you that Aberdeen Angus cattle are necessarily wild just because of their breed!
While Kursty and I were watching Sebastian with the sheep, Ms Duck was having a bit of trouble with some of her kind. A pair of ducks has arrived in the last couple of weeks and taken up residence on our flats. We're woken most mornings by a dreadful racket, as they sit near the house and taunt her with duck insults. We've seen them over the last couple of days, fly in and attack her in the paddocks when she's out with us and sometimes she goes off to attack them. They're very noisy and there's a lot of wing-flapping, but nobody seems to get hurt.
The three of us lay down on the grass this afternoon to see how close the ducks would dare to approach us. Here they are, only a few feet away from my gumboot, Ms Duck's back at the bottom right of the picture, as she stood her ground beside me (what a dreadful coward!).
I am beginning to wonder if the male of this pair is Ms Duck's brother, since he was so willing to approach us. Wild Paradise Ducks generally do not approach people at all. There is also the possibility that they are Ms Duck's parents, who have perhaps become accustomed to our proximity and encouraged to approach us by the evident safety of Ms Duck.
Ms Duck's safety over the next four months (NZ Duck-shooting season) is something to which we are giving a great deal of thought at the moment. The season begins on Saturday next and continues, for Paradise ducks, through until the end of August. We would be devastated to lose our constant and delightful companion, but do not wish to make her life a misery in the process of preserving it. The main danger to Ms Duck will be in flying off the farm. The usual way of preventing birds from flying is to clip one wing, but since Paradise ducks moult and regrow their flying feathers over the summer, if we clip her feathers, she'll be prevented from flying for the rest of the year. She'd also be unable to travel to wherever the ducks gather to go through that moult, which is presumably an important social engagement as well.
It occured to me that a similar effect to wing-clipping might be achieved by the use of an elastic band on the outside flight feathers of one wing. The effect of my first trial of that method, was to unbalance her flight enough to discourage her from flying more than a few feet.
Perhaps in the interests of survival, she'll just have to become a ground-dwelling bird for the next four months. I think duck-shooters might mostly hunt on weekend mornings, so maybe she could go for little exercise flights in the afternoons, under strict supervision.
Kursty commented, during her visit, that she now realised why we're so fond of this strange bird. On the website she's just a duck; in person she's extraordinary. The way she just trots along with us on all our walks, completely of her own accord, practises extraordinary aerobatics, and precision landing - the Jonathan Livingston of the duck world - is all endlessly entertaining. She stays with us not because we feed her - she prefers grass to anything we offer her - but quite obviously for the company. (While I've been writing this, she's been checking out the radio, hearing the voices but, after walking around and around it where it sits on the floor, not able to work out where the people are.) Come and visit her!
Sunday the 27th
Our friend Meryl came to visit, this afternoon. Meryl loves animals and birds, but being an Auckland resident, has little contact with the sorts of creatures we live with here. She'd barely arrived before Ms Duck was engulfed in a loving embrace.
We went out for a walk after lunch and Meryl nearly became the first person to be landed on by Ms Duck. She's getting closer and closer to doing so, now that she's perfected landing on fenceposts (Ms Duck, I mean, not Meryl).
I'd like some more feedback, please... What do you like, what would you like to see? Email me from the home page.
Tuesday the 29th
More fertilizer, different truck, same duck. Some time we'll run a competition to see who can find the most photographs with the duck, somewhere, in them.
There's a lot of concern about a looming electricity crisis here this autumn. After a very dry few months in the places where the hydro-electric power stations are (maybe they could take some of our rain?), the hydro-storage lakes are quite low. We've all been urged to save as much as 10% of our usual power usage. Having made significant reductions already, with a similar 'crisis' a couple of years ago, that will be pretty hard to achieve for most people - we've already installed more insulation in our houses, hot-water storage cupboards etc. However, these are some small bods whose power I won't turn off, since they depend upon it for warmth.
The mother of the big yellow one was a Light Sussex, who suddenly died a few days ago. She had been living with a Light Sussex rooster for some weeks, so I could collect their fertilized
eggs for hatching. I'd set the first of the eggs in time to hatch while Sebastian was here, but a few days before their hatching date, the hen gave up and wandered off her nest, leaving the eggs to go cold. I wasn't sure if they'd still be alive, but put them under another conveniently sitting bantam, who hatched them successfully, a couple of days later than expected. Since I still had four more eggs, from the now-dead hen, I stole the newly-hatched chicks away from the hen they were under and gave her the new eggs to incubate. Thus these wee darlings need warmth and care from a lightbulb and me. With a bit of luck, the hen I so wickedly tricked, will keep sitting until she hatches the next lot of chicks.
Wednesday the 30th
I had a phone call early this morning from the editor of the local newspaper, The Northland Age, soon followed by a visit from the paper's photographer, who took several pictures of Ms Duck for tomorrow's paper.
Thursday the 1st of May
Today's Northland Age carries this front-page photograph:
I only bought five copies.
Leaving the famous duck at home, Stephan and I headed for Waitangi to join the members of the Northern Angus Association on a tour of some of the northland Angus Studs. We spent only about half an hour at each location and sadly, most of those we visited showed us only their bulls. I would have liked to see more of the cows, since seeing the animals breeders have chosen to keep in their herds, year after year, would be more informative, I feel, than one year's crop of bulls for sale.
Friday the 2nd
This morning was our turn to do a bit of showing. I was somewhat nervous. I've only been farming for seven years and breeding stud cattle since 1998 and I didn't know whether what I have believed to be a good animal would pass muster with those who've been in the breeding business for decades.
Since our guests were travelling for an hour or so to get here, we prepared drinks and Stephan baked some biscuits. We arranged the cattle in three separate groups: bulls in one safe paddock, Ivy and her calves in a yard, and the rest behind a tape along the driveway.
The one lot of cows we'd seen yesterday had been very nervous of the number of people approaching them, so I wasn't sure how ours would behave in the presence of a small crowd. As a sort of insurance of good behaviour, I reminded both Isla and Abigail of how much they liked feed-nuts before the people arrived. So as we all approached the cattle, those two came looking for more of the same, so none of them ran off anywhere in fright at all the people. It became a bit of a joke that we have a "temperament problem" with our herd, that perhaps we'd be licked to death before anything else.
Despite frequent rain showers, the visit was extremely successful. I had asked for feedback on my animals and received several comments, mostly positive, and those which were not will aid me in future breeding decisions.
Ms Duck, of course, was a hit.
Everybody left, we dashed around and sent the cows off to the paddocks they were meant to be in, then we drove off to the next farm on the tour. It was a bit of a pity that neither of us listened closely to the directions for getting there, being a bit distracted by what was going on at our place, but we eventually found them and saw some very nice cows and their calves.
One more farm, in the by-now pouring rain and then it was all over. Since we had ended up south of Kaikohe, we came back via the Rawene-Kohukohu ferry, so we could drop in on Jill and Bruce for afternoon tea. I found another tourist on the ferry, invited her to come and stay and then got back in the ute, since the rain was getting worse.
We headed for home in time to get here before dark, to feed the chickens and check things were all well.
But the further we travelled, the more water we saw lying in and flowing across paddocks. When we got nearer to home, we began to suspect we'd not make it all the way...
This much water here suggested that going into town to find somewhere else to stay, might also be pointless, so we continued in the direction of home, to see what we would see.
We drove very slowly through this bit, but the next corner was covered far too deeply to attempt. We're usually on the other side of all this. I've not been caught on this side since 1997!
So we backed down the road, stopped outside the house of our nice near-neighbours, and visited them for about three hours. When we couldn't see the water out the windows any more, we went out into the dark and drove up the road again. There was a lot less water at the first corner, but the next dip in the road was still well covered. We sat for about three quarters of an hour, placing marker stones at the edge of the water so we could see how much and how quickly it was receding.
I convinced Stephan that his legs would make good measuring sticks and sent him out into the flood. Once we were sure that the water wouldn't flood the vehicle, he stood at the edge of the road, to give me a reference point, and I drove slowly through.
The water was only a few inches deep over our bridge, so we drove on through. We'd been delayed by 3½ hours and were very glad to be finally at home.