Three weeks ago I was one of the last to leave Taihape before it was completely cut off by snow. This week I have sat on the veranda sunning myself in the hot afternoon sun and, like in 1991, I think we are going to have a year of all sorts. The answer is to take it as it comes and to be prepared for every eventuality. Keep the gutters cleared so they can cope with a downpour, but fill every available bottle and container with water for when the earth is scorched. Break open the new sunglasses and dust off the bikini, but waterproof the Drizabone.
With this in mind, I have ordered my straw supply for next winter and I am also going to buy some square-wrapped silage bales to store out the front under the hedge. Something seems a bit odd with Mother Nature's signals and I'd rather buy more than I need before Xmas than be paying through the nose for the same item at Easter. There is an old saying about 'hay in the hayshed being the same as money in the bank' yet, as hay has a far greater return than money, I always consider hay a better investment.
In my case it's straw but I do like to keep a supply of good hay as a tasty treat and I will start to ask around for some at the end of this month. I keep my eye out all winter checking who is feeding out what and whether their stock leaves any on the ground. This tells me who did (or didn't) make good hay and it's then a simple matter of calling in to ask if they have any leftovers and whether they'd like to have it cleared out of the shed in time for the new season's cut. There is nothing wrong with well-made and well-stored two-year-old hay and usually, it will be at least half the price of the new hay cut later in the year.
The big wrapped square bales are a bit more expensive to buy than the round ones, but they are much easier to get into when you are only feeding a few animals. I cut a lift-up door at the end of the bale, throw a large tarpaulin over the lot and pin the edges down with electric pigtails. It's easy to lift the opened end up, tunnel in, load the wheelbarrow and back out leaving only the immediate face semi-exposed to the air. This way I can take a month to feed out a big silage bale without any going off.
The rotary hoeing was a disaster. Two metres across the orchard and I was yelling, "Stop! Stop!" There were pieces of worm everywhere - I couldn't bear the thought. The worms work so hard for me that I couldn't tear them apart for the sake of a few days' hand digging. The gardens already established at Middelmost are very easy to work with as they are soft and pliable with three years worth of compost and sawdust, and my vision of the new orchard gardens being the same took a step backwards. The man with the rotary hoe thought I was deranged and couldn't understand the value I placed on the creatures of the soil. Exit man with the rotary hoe! All I have to do now is bribe, someone, with a strong garden fork.
It's very gratifying to be able to extend a humanitarian hand and have it successfully accepted. By being in the right place at the right time I was also able to increase my karma. It was tui I found feebly floating in the middle of a large trough just before dusk. Mouth-to-mouth was out of the question the frozen little wet blob was raced into the laundry and wrapped in a series of towels that I heated up in the tumble dryer. I was surprised at the poor bird's ability to keep breathing as it was gently dried and warmed. It took almost an hour to revive it completely and, because it was quite weak, I tucked it into the middle of a box of straw and left it for the night rather than have it hopping pitifully around in the dark. In the morning the box was opened under the flowering gum and off it went, climbing and bounding from branch to branch up to where his mates were waiting - a cosy night's rest obviously doing the trick. I felt warm and fuzzy for the rest of the day.
But - win some, lose some. Albert had three tiny, furry, presents for me at the back door the next morning. He had been down a burrow, cradle snatching!!
Well - as for calving, both the vet and I are wrong so far. He said Little-Out-of-Africa would calve in July - I thought August. The neighbour reckons in about three weeks' time ...and no one else wants to place a bet although she is definitely starting to bag up and her tummy is looking a bit more matronly. I saw a newborn 'jersey-over-a-Friesian calf last week and it was a rich, velvety, liver-chocolate colour. I am hoping Africa's baby will be the same. My fingers are crossed.
I brought Poppy in again to check the foot that had been sore. Now, the easiest way to clean a cow's foot out thoroughly is to use a bottlebrush. So, picture me, sitting on a beer box beside Poppy scrubbing in between her toes with a bucket of warm soapy water and a bright blue bottle brush when, you guessed it, in drove A PERSON! A motorbike salesman to be exact and, despite the fact it was obvious I didn't need a motorbike, he just stood and stared. He couldn't believe his eyes and I was a bit naughty and said it was something that is done every day in the dairying industry. As Poppy appeared completely as ease with the procedure, the salesman decided I wasn't cracked and departed having seen a hither-to-unknown dairy farming skill.
Mrs Pig celebrated spring a little unexpectedly and I was to blame. I had cleaned out a couple of wine barrels after doing some more bottling and I had tipped the dregs into the pig bucket. Along with some bread and boiled barley, Mrs Pig thought brunch was delicious. A couple of hours later I heard a terrible grumbling noise at the far end of the pig paddock and there was Mrs Pig lying belly up in her favourite sunny spot snoring her head off. On reflection, I guess she had drunk about a third of a bucket of alcohol! What a frightful noise she made for most of the afternoon and I thought it prudent to give her milk for her tea!
Luke has had shoes put back on him and this week we started the slow process of getting ourselves fit. When I was seriously competing I never turned my horses out because it takes too long to get them back into competition fitness. You can't hurry it. If you want your horse's legs to stand up to the pounding they will get on the hard summer ground the slow build-up of road work has to be done. So, with extra padding under the saddle and a sheepskin sleeve on the girth, we have started. An hour's walking on the road a day, plus some gentle work in the paddock for the next couple of weeks will lay a good foundation for both of us. As I haven't ridden all winter, my philosophy is quite simple. If my body is sore then so is his. If I'm ready for the next stage, then he will be too. By the end of this month, I should be brave enough to see if I can get the buttons done up on my riding jacket!