Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sign of the Times

Metrosideros excelsa
One of the great things about farm life is getting an array of seasonal signals, the pohutukawa tree annual blossoming is one of them, putting on a deep red display right on Christmas.
This year's arrival was actually a week late, maybe the rain we got through the three months right up to end Dec put the brakes on its clock, but certainly a great show of colour.
Its known in some quarters as the NZ Christmas Tree for this flowering characteristic, and its said to be found from the top of the North Island down to a line level with Mt Taranaki through to East Cape.
Here at 40th parallel Whangaehu we're actually below this line but this tree's doing fine in our 900mm annual rainfall flood silt plain, and has withstood three major floods in the last 10 years. 
I'm trying to plant one a year to make an avenue along my driveway, you can just make out junior in front.
Pohutukawa is a Maori word derived from hutukawa, a red feather headress.
The Latin name, metrosideros, refers to the iron-like properties of the hard timber, used in early times for  weapons, paddles, digging sticks and spades.
A tea made from the bark or leaves was used as a cure for dysentery and diarrhoea, and the nectar from the flowers for food and treatment for sore throat.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Yamaha Viking vs Honda Big Red

Have quite often looked up various ATV comparisons and reviews, mostly YouTube posts, and have been highly entertained by the comment, mostly American in origin and some pretty vehement, about performance and reliability of the different makes. Manufacturers, amusingly, aren't past slagging each others product either.
The old Taska Colt here has put in a creditable trouble-free year, but I have to admit, we could do with a better representative in the particular work-slot it occupies on the farm. Main problem, its an NZ put-together of Chinese manufacture origin, and although I thought any reliability problems could be negated by cheaper cost of replacement parts, this theory got blown out of the water when the parts supply dried up.
For a while, local 4WD supremo's Cowper Trucks matched parts, or made them up from scratch, but theyve run out of enthusiasm, understandably because of the dead time involved.
So, I resolved to return to the name manufacturers where servicing and repairs would be assured, and ironically, driving past the local Yamaha dealer's yard, I'd often spotted a Big Red Honda on the used lot.
On going in for a more detailed look I got presented with the new Viking with its attractive finance no deposit/2 yrs to pay package, and a weeks trial offer, one I couldn't refuse.
Well, the Viking was great, a real man's machine, looked good, felt good...
  • ton of grunt
  • fast
  • superb suspension over the mogul section of our farm access race
  • excellent over rough ground, (longer wheelbase big help here)
  • great hill climbing
  • without peer down-hill engine braking
  • loved the controls, dial up drive, dash-mounted handbrake, passenger grab bar
  • comfortable seat and driver position
  • stack of room in the cockpit
But I didnt buy it.........
Thought I might as well try the Honda, and finished up deciding to take it instead for the following reasons...
  • beside the Viking its a bloody ugly duckling, and its harder to get in and out of, but its closer to the "motorised wheel-barrow" job description required here
  • its 4 wheels are the same size, for the life of me I cant see why Yamaha put smaller wheels on front of the Viking
  • I like the Honda's bar-treaded Maxxis 25/10/12 Big Horns all round
  • consequently its good in the mud and climbs hills real good, albeit you have to attack them a bit because of seeming higher geared
  • and isnt so good downhill, poor engine braking by comparison, dont know whether its because of low engine compression, or the auto gearbox/clutch not handling the task, or the gearing referred above
  • Dunno about the auto gearbox, thought it would be better than a CVT belt, but the mind of its own on this installation dosent seem quite with it. The old Taska had a manually controllable 3 speed auto hooked up to a 600cc twin, a much sweeter match.
  • and while on the negatives, the short wheelbase and suspension give you a bumpy ride by comparison
  • however.... the Honda's much quieter, I need to be able to potter round the lambing paddocks, tagging newborn lambs etc, without startling the natives.
  • I also contemplate pasture spraying which needs to be done at a constant 17-20 kph, the Honda will do this without an accompanying noise factor, the Viking will require earmuffs
  • and the Honda can sweetly follow at a slow crawl a mob of sheep in from the back of the farm. The Viking just couldnt do this, its either stopped or going, snatch/grab like a snarling caged tiger, and just as bad in low gear
  • the Honda's cargo bed is all plastic, an advantage over the Vikings tin bed inviting rust under the optional bed-liner which you have to buy as an extra. The dogs handle the jump-on over the rounded back and sides better, and I dont hear any scratching and scrabbling around, so they're keeping their footing pretty well on the plastic too.
  • I've been feeding hay off it for nearly a month now, and am pleased to note the headboard's high enough hay isnt falling down the front of the deck, and there's no potential fire hazard build up. The engine's well shrouded as well. 
  • the Honda's only a 2 seater, the Viking 3, but honestly, when would I be carting 2 other passengers around. Cant carry as much gear on the floor as in the Viking either
  • the handbrake's under the seat, despite the dash warning light and the best will in the world, I still now and again forget to release it, cant beat the Viking's up on the dash
  • both vehicles thoughtfully provide drain holes in any areas that catch water, except the Honda has handy little trays behind the seats that dont, neither has it got a dash pocket with a lid
So that's about the extent of the issues that concern me on both vehicles. Nothing much between them 700cc engine wise.
If I had 1000 acres or more and wanted something capable of getting to all corners of the estancia including the least accessible, and back, with grunt and power, then its the Viking, specially if other personnel to be carried.
The Big Red suits my more laid back requirements.
You might ask why I didnt try the new Honda Pioneer, well I did.
Didnt get off square one..., its designed by someone with a 34" waistline, I just didnt fit behind the wheel!

Viking - sexy good looks

Bread and butter Honda cockpit

All plastic cargo deck an advantage

Like those 25.10x12 Maxxis BigHorns all round

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Farewell and Godspeed Little Friends

Its not just us humans that get to have big adventures, these two guys (Waione Coopworth ram lambs) are off to Nepal, but unlike us, they've no idea whats next in store.

They're going to an international aid project there. At first you'd think, too high, too cold, but have been informed Nepal has substantial tracts of flat land, and summers can be pretty warm.
In addition, the project facility housing they're destined for would be the envy of many Nepalese so I'm told.

One of the ram lambs was from a small AI get of Lincoln 201/10, who was the top meat quality index sire of our NZOSR sire reference 2012, so apart from my concern for their future, I'm also conscious of losing some good genetic material. But the supply specs stipulated no duplications in a 5 generation pedigree, and only a handful of my sheep fitted spec.

The purchasers obviously want as diverse a gene spread as possible, given that the females in the shipment mostly came from one single source. 

I felt for them as I dropped them off at the Feilding transit yard on a chilly grey winter evening for the first leg of their journey. If you've worked animals long enough you'll appreciate what company of mates means to them.

Travel well little friends. I hope you're well cared for in your new home, and you get to do us proud.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Distinguished Neigh-bour

Looking over the boundary fence at the moment is O'Leary brother's Who Shot theBarman, with all the bearing and circumspection of a character who's been somewhere/done something, coming up to the fence to check out having his photo taken.
All with some justification, as he's recently returned and spelling, after a trip to Randwick chasing the Sydney Cup. Not to be this trip, but his dozen or so lifetime starts to date having yielded the G1 Avondale and Auckland Cups. Plenty of time for more, he's only four.
Along with my father's Ruato win in the Auckland Cup in 1961, some mileage has been got out of a second one coming to this little part of the Whangaehu valley, but in fact there's a third slightly tenuous connection in the winning of that race by Neil Connor's Bodie in 2003, ridden by ace Noel Harris.
Neil moved from the valley some years ago, but the Connors family name is synonomous with racing in these parts, as our generation stem from a quadratic of racing fathers, Stan and Bill Connors, Humphrey O'Leary, and my father Don.
There's a bit of a mention in Noel Harris' book, "Harry, The Ride of My Life", which I've just finished.
For anyone involved in racing over a number of years, its a sometimes hilarious walk down memory lane, racing folk being the comedians they are.
But there's also a good examination of the life of dedicated racing people, and in Noel's case the demands on a jockey to keep peace with family, trainer, and owner connections, not to mention making correct weight and all the other self-management that comes with the game.
He laments the loss from the scene of the farmer/owner with 2 or 3 horses in work, loyal supporters of their chosen trainer and jockey.
Me too......
For some reason the economics of sheep and beef farming have switched over the years to being a benefit for the rest of NZ rather than one for us owners of farms, and small communities and their trainers have suffered decline as a result, as Noel refers, Woodville, Marton, Waverley, Feilding, Levin, Otaki.
Sigh...., those were the days!
Dad and I mostly had 2-3 in work at one time with Don Grubb at Feilding, Malcolm Smith also trained there.
The track's gone now, and I can hardly afford one in work.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Labour's Monetary Policy

The general election's only a few months away, last week the Opposition Labour Party announced some of its plans for control of the economy (inflation, house prices, etc), main part of policy being, universal compulsory superannuation, with a sliding % contribution determined according to inflationary pressure.
Up till now that's been handled by the Reserve Bank adjusting from time to time, the OCR (Official Cash Rate), which flows through to the trading banks adjusting their interest rates, thereby suppressing or easing spending pressures.
Labour claim it would be better for us to be paying the equivalent of an interest rate rise into our own super funds than to the banks as higher interest, and in turn the Reserve Bank would leave the OCR alone, therefore making our NZD less attractive and keeping the exchange rate down, to the benefit of exporters.
Most comment in the press has been favorable so far with the main argument against being that the major reason for those not in a super scheme already is that they cant afford to, and being required to would be a hardship.
My initial reaction was that it'd be a shots eye employers would be mugged into making up the shortfall in any case, on top of, and including, the employers contribution, when already we're facing the minimum living wage argument.
Really, the economy's all about confidence, or otherwise, in spending/investment patterns.
I dont know how other employers feel about the current situation, but I'm tentatively moving back into employing after five or so years working the farm solo. Any rocking of the economic boat now is depressing, just when I'm starting to see the benefits of having another good pair of hands around the place.
Other misgivings I've got about moves around super schemes:
- Australia's often touted as a shining example with its compulsory super, but you couldnt say its been any benefit to that country's balance of payments or house prices, even with their capital gains tax, which incidentally Labour include (a move into capital gains taxing here) as part of this latest package
- Generally, I dont believe in anything other than own choice for investment decisions, lessons after the investment house decisions of the last recession are easily forgotten, and futhermore, I wouldnt entrust any investment of mine to government control. I opted not to be in Kiwi-Saver. The best investment any of us could make is into debt reduction, and trying saving while you run any debt is plain nuts.
- Neither do I think any policy wonks are capable of pulling the economy's levers at the right time, and for right reason
- Every action has a counter-effect. Taking a few dollars out of wage packets will probably increase demand for welfare expenditure. Keeping interest rates down depressess returns for those who have saved in, and rely some on bank deposits for their fixed income
- Just who's going to benefit here? People on benefits dont have an "employer", so they wont get an employers contribution, but I guess us general taxpayers will stump that up somehow. The government tops up contributions to those who are making $20 weekly Kiwi-savings by a further $500, so much like Working for Families, its a middle class tax grab/benefit. Just the effect the left-wing want I guess.

Give Labour points for trying I guess......
but I dont think it'll cut it.
One letter to the editor in yesterday's Dom suggested it would be better for the super surcharge to be directed into the saver's own mortgage principal, rather than into Kiwi-Saver, where it will only be fueling share-market prices.
The NZ share-market does suffer from being too small, and again the Labour/Greens opposition to the Govt floats of 49% of power generators defies logic.
And lastly, we've had a low OCR for a few years now but its done nothing to lower our exchange rate, there are other forces at play outside of the range of our internal economy, mainly the stability of the NZD's appeal to international investors.

Robust economies are all about "confidence".
The further governments keep their hands off the levers the better, far as I'm concerned.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Zuk - The gremlin returns...

After rejoicing over the faulty distributor discovery and the subsequent fix, 6 months down the track the engine splutter and miss returns.
Rob reports the engine shuts down completely if you turn on the wipers or lights.
I give up, so its out with the tow rope, and in to Dion at Wanganui Auto Electrical, with instructions to submit it to Auto Electrics 101.
Didnt take them long at all.
The main earth cable, (multi-strand copper is it?), has corroded away and the strands a brittle mess.
New earth cable, and we're on the way home and back to work.
Hasnt looked back since, and the engine temp's behaving itself even better.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Massey University 50th Anniversary

Tiritea House, the old VC's residence
Nostalgia day today. This year marks 50 since Massey changed from an agricultural college, to a university, celebrations have been going a week, and my decade went through today.
Just a couple of my old class-mates turned up, but a distinct collegial familiarity with all the other faces, ancient recognition from the old campus, hostel, or rugby field, or careers in tandem crossing years and fields of endeavour.
Naturally, conversations lubricated broached with the more infamous and hilarious exploits of university student-hood. Pre-varsity at the time, I had the view held by wider society of uni students looked on with some disdain, long-haired protesters, but I quickly came to admire the absolute creativity and sheer audacity of some of the pranks and pranksters here.
I guess to open reflection at this level might seem hardly appropriate, but its this immersion in the creative melting pot that is a university that made me, and the critical thinking path I think, or hope, I've taken in the business of life and living. And my contribution to humanity a pretty humble one compared with those of the shoulders rubbed today.
It was great to catch up with farm management lecturer, Peter MacGillivray, naming me in one, with his fantastic memory recall. No one lecturer made so big an impression on critical thinking with so few notes, all our dip-ag class agreed. He's been a great lifetime servant of Massey.
TS Chang provided the other trigger, sheep performance research, that launched my sheep and beef breeding interest and career.
Less than 1000 students back then, 30,000 today.
Very pleased to hear that university planning includes restoration to original of Tiritea House, the Main Science building and the Refectory as part of earthquake upgrading. A couple of dippies drove a mini and a fiat round the ground floor corridor of Main, passing at the front vestibule, and the Refec was the scene of many a Sunday bun-fight and table run.
But I do remember my lecturers with just as great finity as I do the hallowed halls, MacGillivray, Small, Chang, Bowler, Jacques, Rees, Meek, Regnault, Baker, and sadly, the face but not the name, of the economics/accountancy man, (Ward?), who put me on the path to vital cashflow/budgetry skill.

Looking across the Common to the Refectory and Pink on the right
Old Hostel, where I lived for the year, (125 quid for the year it cost), is gone now, used to be to the left of this pic. Its reputed one student went a whole year without underpants, every week or so he'd flog another pair off the clothesline. Another character rolled his station-wagon on the access road with the hostel beer order aboard, 18 flagons-worth running in a stream down the hill to the hostel entrance. And when the Mog girls hi-jacked and apple-pied our laundry basket, my pillow slip got a nice lip-stick kiss mark on it, I day-dreamt it was that pretty little Johnson blondie did it, lol.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Good start to the lamb season

So far so good, certainly a better start to the season than last year when the three months leading up to New Year were so dry. This Jan have had nearly 90mm rain and the place is hanging on pretty good despite a heap of drying wind the last week.
We're 100 lamb sales ahead of same time last year, and at a bit over $93 gross per, nearly $20 ahead on price as well.
Even so, to be really comfortable over here, you need to achieve at least $100 per head.
Our annual draft of 15 month heifers made a couple of dollars less than last year, at last weeks local store female cattle sale, and were actually about 5kg lower av lwt as well, so the market's pretty consistent, $753 av gross for 336kg lwt.
Have been seriously comparing the merits of the commercial ewe flock vs same su's in beef cows, and although the annual gross with a beef herd is a lot lower, the net profit is nearly double.
Will be keeping these surplus heifers next year and putting them to the bull with the others, with a view to at very least, increase the beef herd size.
Past experience has shown they'll get in calf here at 250kg and up, at yearling stage, and this years 2 yo's calved 100%, with no assistance necessary, a really good achievement coming out of last summer's drought.

Draft muster, New Year 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014

More on the Quad Bike Issue

Another child's lost it's life in a quad accident, 6 year old, rolled into a ditch and pinned under the machine, had a helmet on but that's no protection against water, and the weight of a quad on a small body.
Public reaction's reached a crescendo with one recent letter to the editor of the DomPost stridently advocating policing and fining of farmers not obeying OSH recommendations, that should be made into law, and policed whatsmore.
Just how he thinks that's going to happen worries me as a land-owner. Are police going to run spy drones over farmland or what?
If this is an indication of Wellington sentiment, then Prime Minister John Key only got it half right when he said, in a misquoted context, Wellington was dying. I'd say its already brain-dead, particularly when you add into account the ongoing NIMBY saga's of resistance to any change, the Basin Over-pass, the Kapiti Expressway, and the preference to impose on one farmer's life with the Transmission Gully project instead of the cheaper re-location option of the 75 or so householders to upgrade the existing highway route.
Fortunately, a voice of reason appeared on Friday in another letter to the editor, from none other than the Operations General Manager, Work Safe NZ, who reiterated the four principles; always wear a helmet, choose the right vehicle for the job, be trained and experienced enough for the task, and no kids allowed.
Although it conflicts statistically with a coroner investigating 5 quad related deaths, she also said there was only one quad related workplace death in 2013, and the message was getting through.
People like Gerry Cuneen who advocate getting tough on farmers need to realise just how severely bureaucratic attitudes affect employment, I won't employ people, full-stop, if I'm to be responsible for every foible of their character.
And as for kids on quads, I got sick to death years ago, of visiting townies turning up here with undisciplined kids whose ingrained belief was that they could have a burn around on somebody else's $15,000 machine, then look at me like I'm some sort of shit when I wouldn't refill the fuel tank for them.
Those days are long past.
I saw a statistic some time ago, that 45% of farm related bike accidents were actually ocurred by visitors.
Thankyou for your comment Work Safe Ona de Rooy.
I've had bikes on this place since 1965, I dont wear a helmet all the time, but I always do if the task might eventually include risk.
I do service and maintain my machinery regularly, and generally look after them, always have.
I have a range of machines to select for different jobs.
I rarely let anyone else drive or passenger on them.
My father was an ag contractor/farmer, an artisan at his ag work, and a stickler for looking after machinery.
That's my grounding, he put me in control of a tractor in my early teens after riding with him since primary school age. I got severely reprimanded for the few minor accidents I had, and touch wood, have never had an incident of import since, mainly due to never exceeding around 20kph, I think.
I've noted recently, OSH personnel saying theyre targeting older farmers for their arrogance on this point, and that we're just as likely to be involved in serious incidents.
I'd say that's more a quirk of the farmer demographic being loaded to the over 50's age group end.
I'm just waiting for the day OSH turn up here to give me the once over, probably female, half my age, getting paid twice what I make off my humble "square", and telling me how to suck eggs.
But I hope its Ona de Rooy, or someone she's trained to be as realistic.
Just read that 8 people died last year in bicycle accidents on the road. I wonder if the Wellington PC police are going to start preventative surveillance on townies.
So far as us rural folk are concerned it would be far simpler to deny ACC payout on any claim where breach of the 4 quad safety rules was evident.
In the meantime, we should do a lot better at being safe on quads, not so much to avoid personal injury, but simply to avoid the attention getting focussed on us by, and any further growth of, the PC police.