5 days on Te Rohenga Farm between Levin and Shannon on the North Island
11.04.2011 - 11.09.2011 55 °F
Fortunately for us, a family connection accepted us into their home for a few days and we learned all about the different varieties of sheep and farming practices in New Zealand. Our bedroom overlooked a paddock (pasture) of sheep which dramatically lifted the ‘sheep I win’ game to a whole new level. The unusually wet weather for this time of year limited most of our time to taking down electric fences, feeding the deer, moving mobs of sheep, and herding cattle from one paddock to another… but fortunately we had a break in the weather for a solid day of lamb docking and a foggy morning of worm drenching. To spare the gory details, look up ‘lamb docking’ and ‘lamb drenching.’ The lambs we had to carry were only about a month old but had the strength, size and weight of an English Bulldog. They have all formed strong bonds with their mothers and follow them around everywhere, constantly calling out to each other when separated (we have a video of lamb calls if anyone needs a new ringtone, sweet as).
The farm is the 2nd oldest Registered Perendale breed Stud farm in NZ and covers over 2,000 acres and has about 8,000 sheep, 450 cattle, and 70 deer (which will increase to 100 once the fawns are born next week). The farm is a wee midsized farm compared to the large farms in the En-Zed (New Zealand) but seemed humongous to us. It took our hosts (Heather and Rob) three poster sized topographic maps just to show us all the land!
Also very interesting was that Rob kept a clear line of genealogy for the animals to avoid inbreeding and show authenticity for the stud (pure breed) Perendale. We learned more and more everyday about how little we know about farming and are extremely impressed with how efficiently the farm is run with just a father and son duo and a few hired hands when needed. The biggest eye opener to us was that livestock farming is actually all about harvesting and nurturing grass. All the animals graze on picturesque green grass and the paddocks are rotated to give the grass a chance to regrow. To keep the grass at the optimal height for sheep, Rob puts about a dozen cows in each paddock to keep the grass from over growing. Conversely he lets the grass get nice and tall in the red deer paddock so that the deer feel more comfortable giving birth under cover of grass. This tall grass is then harvested green and stored in sealed plastic bails to be fed to livestock in the winter.
Each farmer has at least 2 dogs, a ‘speaker’ that uses barking as a tool and a ‘seer’ that uses glaring and approaching as a tool. Each of the dogs had their own specialty and were a total highlight to watch! They made mustering the mobs on a steep grade, possible and enjoyable. The oldest and smartest dog we met (Evo) was smart enough to tackle a lamb, pin it on its back and hold it in place for one of us to come pick it up. All of the dogs were absolutely knackered when we used them for docking and totally deserved their big chunk of sheep reward.
We also accompanied Rob to an agricultural and pastoral show (similar to a County Fair, but in the countryside). Rob brought some of his studs to the fair and won first and second in the hogget competition for Perendale sheep. We saw some of the best local sheep shearers, who can amazingly shear a whole sheep and end up with a full body ‘rug’ in 45 seconds…. a task that would probably take us an entire day. Sheep shearing and wool handling are way harder than they look and are prized skills; if you are good enough you can tour the world off of competition prize earnings. Pictured below is a perfect wool toss and the junior sheep shearers.
Our stay on the farm was short, and definitely leaves us interested in more, perhaps another farm stay in Australia or England… maybe on a lifestyle block in the future? Now it’s off to Christchurch to meet up with Damon, Justin, and Anya for our South Island campervan adventure.