Quite a large amount of rain

Five inches of rain in 12 hours (with about half of that in one hour) was dramatic:

It actually peaked a bit higher than even this:


Takapu flood May 2015

The water is wide

The next day, when the waters came down a bit:


Takapu flood May 2015

This fence held, fortunately.

A 18cm (7 inch) banded kokopu Stephen caught (with his bare hands) in a neighbor’s driveway (which had become a river due to a blocked drain).  We figured fish ought not to be crossing roads — at least not by swimming over them, so we plonked it into the stream proper.

Banded Kokopu

Gone fishin’ on Takapu Road. Yes, ON the road…

The force of the water stripped the surface right off the road on places.

Damaged road surface

Bit of a mess, that.

There were several power poles down where the stream had eaten the ground out from around them.  A few hours later, this scene was littered with trucks and cranes re-siting the poles into the paddock on the other side of the stream.  Power was only out for 24 hours.

Takapu flood May 2015

That would be why the power went out, then.

The industrial area at the bottom of the valley was also hit pretty hard.  Warehouses were awash and stuff was tossed every which way.  Up in Porirua whole cars were floated away.

Shipping container washed over a bridge

Downstream, there was just more and more water.

There were massive logs jammed up against the water main.  Our neighbors found two of their bridges several culverts down stream. Driveways were washed out, and fences have been pulled down all up and down the valley.  We have some fences to replace, and repairs to do to the protective works on either side of our bridge, but all in all we came out of it a lot better than most.

The Great Project has begun

As Tam mentioned in her earlier post, we’ve begun work on the barn.

We’ve been discussing building the barn since… well, since not long after we moving in 10 years ago. The big shed we built back in 2005 (with much help from Steve and Jennifer) has been great, vital even. The concrete floor we (finally) got poured in the shed back in 2011 has made it even better.

When we moved in, the place came with an empty concrete foundation- where the old cattery was located.  It naturally attracted piles of junk (firewood, scrap timber, Yvonne’s jumping-rails and equestrian-stuff). Serious construction plans started in 2010; I took a draft barn plan to council. They pointed out that the existing foundation was 20 years old, but the code required that the foundation have a minimum of a 50-year lifespan.  Time to call in the first engineer! They confirmed the slab was in good shape, that it was on good firm ground, and that there was steel in the slab, as per plan.  They couldn’t guarantee the lifespan of the slab unless he cut it in half… which kinda defeats the purpose.  So he suggested we pour a new footing around the perimeter. That way the barn will be resting on the new (50-year-lifespan) footing, and center of the slab is now just a floor with no lifespan requirements.

A couple of years passed as I worked on the building consent, and we went through many, many iterations of the barn plan. We settled on a final plan in 2012, and I got the building consent approved (a lengthy saga of its own, building consents are becoming excessively ponderous in their required paperwork).

Last December Dave M and I built the form-work for the new concrete footing (and I put in lots and lots of reinforcing steel), and in early January with the help of my new neighbor Dave W we got the concrete poured.  Woo!

And then they announced the road running through our farm. So I lost 4 months reading, researching, writing, meeting with local mayors and councils, etc.

Back in June I finally got to the construction phase. I would build walls and bits during the week, then on the weekend get some friends over and we would prop them up and bolt them in place.


barn under construction

Two walls

Alpacas exploring the barn under construction

The alpacas aren’t concerned


Yesterday was a big day- the posts and beams.  This was not going to be a 2 or 3 person job, so I put out the call and we got a big team.

The posts are 250x250x27000 macrocarpa, rough saw straight from the sawmill. They look great!  And they weren’t that hard to get in place.

The large beams are 410x90x5400, LVL (laminate veneer lumber- essentially structural plywood).  They were HEAVY. I was glad for all the extra people.


barn under construction

posts and beams

barn under construction


With that done, I can now continue.  A floor, the second level walls, then the rafters and roof await!

Been a bit full-on

I see that the last post was the “this year’s babies” post…  Spring, with shearing, matings and birthings is our “silly season”.  After that, we usually have the big camping event down south, with the frantic period of prep as we try to get stuff finished off around the farm, and try to get projects finished for the trip itself.

Then this year, when we got back from down south, we got hit with the news that the New Zealand Transport Agency wants to build a new highway literally through the middle of our farm.

Cue several months of crash up-skilling ourselves on the Wellington regional roading network, national and international motoring trends,  assorted traffic modeling tools and analysis, regional resilience plans, etc.

The good news is that the road they want to build is actually a dumb road, and there are better roads they could build (and/or upgrade) to solve the problems they are supposed to solve.  The bad news is that because this is a well-funded government bureaucracy, that might not matter.

In the middle of this, my mother and her partner came to visit, which was the expected mix of additional stress and genuine fun.  We had a lovely little trip up north.

I’ve had to build a new PC.  I will probably get it dual-booting Windows 8.1 and Linux Mint.  We’re shifting to new herd management software as well.

AND we bought in a new stud alpaca from Australia.

AND Stephen was a guest speaker at the Australian alpaca conference.

AND we’re putting in photo-voltaics and starting (finally) the build on the new barn.

AND my job is being restructured out of existence, so I need to get a new one.

So yeah, busy.

Spring is bustin’ out

Here’s this year’s cohort (photos by Stephen!):

MAGOTHY and mother Marlett:



FOXACID and mother San Serif:




ESCHELON with big sister Suleluri in the foreground and mother Svalinn in the background.  That’s FOXACID’s butt to the right (they’re already playing together) and various others in the background.  One of the two remaining geese is the speck back left.



It’s the first time we’ve had one of these born here !  Very cool !  The mare is Rosie, being looked after by our grazer, whose own mare is due to give birth in another couple months.  Then we’ll have TWO baby horsies ! (Something about this little guy makes me twelve again).


It’s actually kind of startling how disproportioned they look at first.  Check out those legs.


He faced Death standing

Sunday we lost one of our stud males, Fred.

Every year a few of our animals die. It’s the inescapable statistics of scale. Some of these deaths are easier than others.

Fred was not our first stud male, but he was probably one of the most successful. He was purchased on short notice, a little fellow originally imported from Australia with lovely soft brown eyes. He sired many cria, and passed through genes that helped our herd.

But at nearly 18 he was starting to slow down. We don’t know how long he’d been feeling crook, camelids are so stoic they hide their illnesses too well. But when we were bringing Fred and the young boys up for shearing, he was having a tough time of it, having to pause and rest every few steps.

Anaemia, quite severe.

We didn’t shear him, knowing if he was going to have any chance we had to keep him warm and happy. I treated him as best I could for his anaemia, but to no avail.

On Sunday it was clear he was fading. He was gasping for breath, his thin blood incapable of providing him enough oxygen.

Tam and I got him out of the paddock, though we had to assist his walking by carrying most of his weight using a towel slung beneath him. To our surprise he hopped up into the trailer, a good cooperative soul to the end. We expected him to promptly sit down as we drove up to the yards, but he stood the whole way, then hopped out and walked in on his own. We’d brought him up so I could take him to his final appointment with the vet on Monday.

Then we left, off to shear alpacas all day. When we returned, he had died.

Normally an alpaca dies sitting. It is natural to sit when you feel weak and sick. We find them on their side, with the neck curled back in the posture of death. It’s how we expected to find Fred. He’d been mostly sitting in kush for days, rarely standing, as the anaemia took its toll.

But I could tell from the way he lay that he’d died standing. His heart stopped, and he toppled over.

Did he know his death was coming? Did he stand up to face it? We’ll never know, but he certainly left a mark on our herd, and in our hearts.


RIP Cedar House Frederick    2.2.96 to 3.11.13

Introducing Ziggy

New llama arrived Friday morning!  Meet Ziggy:

Ziggy the llama

Ziggy, with Hob in the background.

A closeup of Ziggy the llama


He has one light blue eye and one dark blue eye.  Guess how he got his name? (No, we didn’t name him.)  He impressed us with his general grooviness when we met him back in May.  Stephen’s already taken him through Tawa.



A cold hurricane

What a weekend.

It started Thursday evening. Ironically enough I was at a community resilience planning meeting, where we were working on what Tawa planned to do to help itself in the event of “the big one”. A large storm was predicted to hit Wellington that evening, and by the time we all started arriving at the local fire station it was already starting to blow.

By 7:15 we lost power. We continued on for another 10 minutes by emergency lighting. Then the fire fighters got called out, and the station started hopping as the volunteers came in. We decided to postpone.

I couldn’t get home owing to the giant tree blocking Takapu Road. Thankfully I’d taken all my kit with me that evening, and the moment I got out of the road and back into cell phone range I got a text that PERT had been activated.

Spent the next five hours driving around Porirua, doing reconnaissance of the storm damage, including trying to assess routes and rising streams around an IHC facility that was considering evacuation. I almost didn’t see the raging torrent in the dark, wind and rain. Ben called out in time to prevent me from plunging into the torrent. It was hard to distinguish the ankle-deep water I was sloshing through from the stream.

Couldn’t get home when the EOC closed at 12:30, still a tree in the road. So I crashed at Kerry’s place. We were up early, she had to be back at the EOC by 7. I got up the valley in time to watch our neighbor John demolish the giant tree in the road with his 12-ton digger. Impressive. There were down power lines all over the road, though at that point they’d been down for 12 hours, and everyone was presuming they were no longer live (not always a safe assumption, but thankfully they were dead).

I got home, had some food, then headed out to help with clearing the road. John had dealt with the giant tree down his way, but there were plenty more trees blocking the road and driveways. Thankfully we are well equipped, and roving mobs of chainsaw-wielding people roved the valley looking for people in need of help. A fine way to meet neighbors you hadn’t met before. Tiring work, though.

Then Saturday we had our annual “Darkest Day” party to celebrate the solstice. And it really was dark, seeing as we had no power (mostly), and all illumination was provided by hurricane lamps and LED candles (and some real candles after the little kids had gone home).

I say “mostly” no power because Friday evening Tam discovered the cat bed was still warm, to the surprised exclamation “God must love cats!” How can the power be out, mostly? Well, not all the cables to our house broke, we still have one phase and a neutral. So we have one circuit of power outlets that are live. So the fridge is plugged in, and extension cables criss-cross the house (which is how I have internet and this computer to post onto the blog).

Light is still provided by means of lanterns, heat comes from the wood burner (though we really notice how the lack of ceiling fan means the heat mostly lingers at the tops of the room).

We should have power by the end of the week. Hopefully.

It was a big storm. It came very close to the Waihine storm of ’68, so-named for the inter-island ferry Waihine that sank in the harbor mouth during that storm for the loss of 52 lives.

Thankfully no such disasters this time, though a moored ferry in the harbor (the Kaitake) slipped its moorings and needed its anchor and tugs to ride out the storm.

The sustained 10-minute average wind speed over this storm (~100 kph) was less than the Waihine storm (133 kph), but wave heights at the harbor mouth were higher (15 m as compared to 12-14 m in ’68), and the peak wind speeds were higher (200 kph).

So we basically got hit by a category 1 hurricane that lasted 2 days, but was cold. What fun!

In the end all the animals came through okay. Our back garden now gets more natual light as one tree fell apart, but otherwise the farm was undamaged. And now I have acess to plenty more firewood as I help neighbors with their cleanup. Yay!

Animal Interactions

So, as you well know, we do stuff with our llamas and alpacas. Beach walks. Christmas Parades. Stuff like that. Back in November I had Hob (llama) and Durendal (alpaca) up at the PakNSave Porirua for the SPCA street appeal. Camelid work well for money-raising, as people come up and pet them, then look guilty and put money in the bucket.

The SPCA folks, seeing how well camelids did with the public, asked if I could bring them along to a more challenging and potentially more rewarding environment- a visit to a secure Child Youth and Family facility for highly troubled teens.

This is way more than a foster home, it is in-effect a low-security prison for kids who are starting to go really off the rails. A psychiatrist-friend was not very optimistic of my chances of having much of an effect on the kids, who in her experience were early-stage psychopaths most of whom would spend the rest of their lives in and out of the Justice system.

The problem many of these kids have is that they cannot connect, cannot trust people, due to a long history of abuse and other serious issues. The SPCA works with CYF to bring in animals to try and get positive reactions from the kids. They assured me that there would be plenty of staff on hand, and that the kids are “generally on their best behaviour.”

And it went really, really well.

Hob is the largest and thus most intimidating, but he is also amazingly calm and groovy. The alpacas were a bit less forgiving, and that was what made it really work. I gave the kids a talk about how if they moved or acted like predators (loud, fast, sudden) then the animals would be afraid of them. They needed to be calm, controlled and gentle- and they needed that to be in their body language.

And it worked.

The kids really, REALLY wanted to interact with the animals. Lead them around. Pet them. And they discovered the more they controlled and calmed themselves, the more they could do with the alpacas. It was a situation where the kids got to see immediate positive feedback if they controlled themselves. Sure, the CYFs counsellors can tell them that self-control is important, but when a formerly-dubious alpaca lets you quietly pet his neck, then it makes the value of self-control real.

I expect we’ll be going back. Over time I can try and vary what I tell the kids before we start, and what mix of animals I bring, to try and maximize the value of the experience.

The cull did not go according to plan

We had planned to cull all our geese this Saturday. We arranged a big “de-goosing” shindig, with the former-professional-chef neighbour, foodie friends, and anyone else who wanted one of the ~19 geese.

We did a small de-goosing about 18 months ago. It was easy, we chased the waddling geese down to the yards, grabbed the ones we wanted, and released the rest.

Problem. The geese had “leveled up”. They could fly. I had seen them fly a bit, clumsily and downhill. No, now they could fly- like hundreds of meters, uphill, across the valley. Ever heard the phrase “wild goose chase”? We lived it for a few hours.

Thankfully they would try “going to ground” and hiding, and all up we managed to catch 5 that way. So those were processed. Late in the day Richard and Selwyn spotted 3 more, and got them with their .22’s. Selwyn discovered that head-shots do not stop geese, an important safety tip in case of a goose zombie apocalypse. By this point most everyone had left, and there were only a half dozen of us left to pluck and gut those last 3 geese. (And our chef neighbour got the dates wrong, and missed the whole thing.) We are hoping in a few weeks do have another de-goosing, and get the rest of them. I will try to win their trust with food in the mean time, to make them easier to catch (oh, the betrayal!).

And in the midst of all this, there was dog drama. There had been an attack down the valley overnight, 2 black dogs killed some sheep on John’s place, but he managed to shoot one. Zane spotted the black dogs chasing sheep across the valley at about 1PM, so 4 of us (3 with guns) leapt in a car and headed over while Tam started calling neighbors. The dogs got away, chased into the forestry block by some cattle (on a hill so steep it makes out back hill seem gentle). One was on 3 legs. On Sunday we heard via the Tawa grape-vine (via Yvonne) that someone had their dogs come home- and one was shot. A pair of pig dogs that had run off 2 days previous. Dogs put down, problem solved.

A very full day! We had 24 people over at peak, if my count was right. Including a red-headed mycologist (whose name I didn’t catch) who brought in all sorts of paddock mushrooms, gave a little identification class, then cooked up the edible ones for lunch! Yum!

At the very end of the day, when burying the leftover “bits”, it was commented that the goose wings look very much like most rendition of angel wings. This lead to the idea of a short story contest for a story starting with the line “the angel cull did not go according to plan.” He. We were a bit tired at punch-drunk at that point, admittedly.

A dog problem

I have an issue with dogs. We have actually had a few, those Greyhounds we fostered a few years back, but too many people don’t understand dogs.

They are hunting and killing machines (like cats) that work with their humans. All dogs have the wolf still lurking within.

The upshot of all of this is we now have one less alpaca. I caught the dog, which was happy and friendly when I came out to see what the commotioin was- a big Rotweiler standing over the body of a 5 month old. (The alpaca and its mother had been in the pen by the house to treat the young ones staggers, I heard lots of alarm calling and went out to see what was going on- the attack had just happened, probably only seconds before. Altun was still alive, he died less than a minute later in my arms.) Animal control came and took the dog away. There were no external signs of injury, and the Animal Control officer was concerned the dog might “get away with it” (which is why most farmers apply the “shoot, shovel and shut up” procedure to any dogs on their land). My post-mortem examination turned up “good news”, multiple sub-dermal haematomas on the neck consistent with the pressure marks of large canine teeth, some torn musculature on the neck, and a broken cervical vertibrae- it snapped his little neck.

I *really* want to know where the dog came from. I don’t know of any neighbor with such a dog. It had collar and tags, so they should be able to track down the owners pretty easily.

So I start my weekend angry and sad. I am struck by the irony that years ago, back in the lab, I used to joke “I’m glad I didn’t go to Med School, ’cause when you have a bad day as a MD, people die.” Now I get to deal with those bad days, except I get to do the post mortem, and dig the grave, too.

Edit: Turns out this is an “everyone loses” situation. We found out today that the log- an 11 month old puppy- had been newly acquired by Kim up the road. She is really upset. They have been dog owners for years, yet this puppy was an escape artist. When the pound called them, they discovered it had been in the pound multiple times before- caught wandering. So the seller knew it was a problem dog, and didn’t tell them.

Kim and Shawneee were looking for the dog immediately after it disappeared- it had run ~1.3 km down the road, and up our drive. They went 1km down the road, but the alpaca we have grazing on a drive up the road were completely unconcerned, so they figured it had not gone that far. Maybe it run past and they didn’t notice, or it ran past and 5 minutes later they were calm again. Just stupid bad luck he came up our drive, and that led right to a pen where we had Altun, who was not at 100% anyways because of his staggers. Mora, his mum, is upset and wants to know where her baby is, but that will pass in 3 or 4 days.

The dog will most probably be left at the pound, and be euthanized. I think they are going to go after the seller for false representation.