Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sheep Mustering

Ok Now that I got your attention with the title.....
Written March 14th, 2007
Growing up in an old horse town, I always dreamed of working on a farm and making a life out of working with animals. With the exception of a few cats, we never had any livestock when I was young. This was probably for the best, but it didn’t stop me from dreaming that one day I may own a large piece of land and could make my living from working it.

I just spent the past week working on a farm in New Zealand. I have to say it was probably the most incredible experience I’ve had since my trip has begun.
Hamish gave me the number to his cousin, Tim, on the South Island that owns a farm. He said I should stop by and check out what NZ farming is all about. Sounded like a great idea. So on Sunday I left Kaikoura and took off for the Cloudy Range farm to meet Tim. I show up and instantly he welcomes me to his home and giant property. When I say giant, I’m saying bigger than I could have ever imagined. 22,000 acres to be exact. Big enough to own numerous mountains on the Southern Alps range, multiple streams and one of the South Islands largest rivers that holds trout and Salmon. The property has miles and miles of track. One track extends over 25 miles ending at a hut built to sleep in over night when they go to retrieve sheep at the “other end” of the property. This farm is called home by over 1000 cattle and 7000 sheep. This property is big. Sunday evening Tim offered me a few days of work. I was excited to see what this was all about so I told him I’d stay a few days and move on. I ended up being so fascinated with the experience, I agreed to stay the whole week.
It didn’t take long for me to realized that to run such a large property take a lot of work. Hard, dirty, stinky, muscle aching work. Waking up before the sun, my first task consisted of shoveling sheep shiz for a few hours. I watched, totally memorized as the sun rose from the surrounding mountains as Tim and his farm hand, Cam, Mustered Sheep in from the field. They carried a large mustering stick made of Manuka Tree, a small, native tree favored my musterer’s (sheep herders) for being straight and strong. They used Dogs, commanded with whistles and shouts, to herd the sheep and direct them where they needed to go. This week Tim needed to sell about a 1000 lambs. We needed to go find them, clean them up and get them ready for the market. On top of that, this week, Tim needed to retrieve around a 2,500 sheep to be shorn for the weekend. The week consisted of a large range of tasks. We spent countless hours scurrying about the mountains on the property mustering the sheep back to the “shed”. One day I counted a half dozen mountains that I went up and down on foot. We also blazed up the hills in ATV’s and a super impressive off-road farm truck made by Nissan called the “Ranger”. This thing went anywhere. We went up hills I was almost positive we’d roll back down sideways on. We mowed through bush so thick and tall that it made giant cracks and thumps when the truck went over them. I saw some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

Unfortunately, most of the time I didn’t have my camera. Expect for one day, which was cloudy, but made for some pretty cool picts. Back at the “shed” tasks ranged from drafting sheep, which is separating them by size and age, crutching sheep, which is shaving the wool off their butts that gets all nasty from their dung collecting on it and drying out into little jingly poop bells. We “drenched” sheep, which consisted of grabbing the sheep by the mouth and giving it a dose of anti-worm medicine. And one of the more excited tasks was to spot the sheep with “foot rot” and put them into different pen than the others. This sounds easy, and Tim and Cam made it look super easy, in fact they made everything we did look super easy, but to grab a sheep and put it into another pen is a bigger challenge than you might think. There is actually skill and technique to this. Let me paint you a picture. All the sheep are being held in a large pen, maybe the size of an average front yard. There are a few hundred sheep in there, so they are nicely packed on the other side from where you are standing. They don’t care for us humans much as they have spent most of their lives in the mountains. You walk the parameter of the pen, making all the sheep move and you are looking for the ones that are limping or have really long toenails. These are signs of foot rot. You slowly start walking to the middle of the pen and pick out the sheep you want. Wait until the sheep pile up a bit and then make a full-on mad sprint into the pack and grab your sheep. Simple enough? Right. Once you have your sheep, you need to hold on to it. They weigh about 60-80 pounds and with 4 legs, they want to run. If you don’t have a good hold, you will loose it and have to start over. After you grab it, you lift it up and walk to the fence and throw it to the other side where the rest of the sheep you’re trying to separate are. After making mad sprints in rubber boots and throwing livestock over a fence a few times, you soon gain a lot of respect for the people that work on a farm. Tim and Cam found more entertainment in my efforts to catch sheep than I care to share.
In all is was some of the most difficult work I have done. It was however, and incredible experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. I am very grateful for the work that Tim has given me. It is a farm I would happily go back to. But the difficulty is that Tim has decided to sell the farm and begin a whole new life journey as well. At the end of the month the farm will be sold. Tim says that he will miss this land that he has been so deeply connected to for multiple decades now but is excited for what’s next. He does hope to get himself another plot of land that he can work, just not as big.

I dove away from the farm Saturday morning and stopped to take pictures of the beautiful sunrise and say goodbye to the amazing piece of New Zealand that I was so fortunate to live on for a week.
Here are the pictures:
http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/ryan.mceliece/SheepFarming
My post farm adventures continued with a 4 day trek into the Nelson Lakes National Park. However, due to lack of internet time and slow picture loading, I will have to post them another time. I have to say I’m pretty stoked on them. Today I am off on a sailboat adventure to the Cook Strait with Hamish and Grant for the next 5 days or so. I will make sure to update as soon as possible. Cheers!

1 comment:

Jacob said...

Those dogs look like our Mocha...she has learned to play soccer, which is kind of like herding. I'm sure she could take it too a sheep...those sheep dogs are tough...Nice work Ryan...