Friday, September 9, 2011

4 Days in the Life of a Southland Farmer

Sheep farming is tough. We have been here less than a week, and we are both just getting used to the routine. The family is really nice, and they are great about showing us the ropes. Kel and I wake up at 6 and get out to do the first round of checks on the sheep by 6:30. We ride these sweet ATVs (motorbikes if you are from New Zealand… you have to know the context to tell between these and motorcycles).
We then get in for breakfast of farm fresh eggs, toast, beans, and canned spaghetti. The latter was a bit of a shock, but breakfast around here is a bit different. The food in NZ in general is different then home. Its what I would imagine people on that old soap Eastenders ate. Sausages, lot of prepared and fried foods. I guess it is the English influence. The potatoes and veggies are great, and we have had some great stews and roasts. As we live on sheep farms, you would think there would be more lamb. Unfortunately, lamb is sold, and Mutton is eaten. If you have never had the pleasure, imagine a plate full of that piece of lamb that was a bit too “lamby”, but tolerable next too the delicious lamb. Its not terrible,  but I would take lamb if I could. Today we had duck, shot early last month. I asked the farmer what he thought of it, and his response was: “Well, enough plum sauce and its alright, I guess. Its best in casserole.”. I thought it was pretty good though.
I should add that every meal is called Tea. We missed dinner the first night because we declined tea. Its another one of those context things. After first meal tea, we go out and check the sheep again. I will walk you through it:
Things to look for:
  • Pregnant ewes that have fallen over. They are so large they cannot right themselves, which is hilarious.You have to give them a bit of a lift.
  • Unmarked twins. Lambs often have twins, and you spraypaint a number on each of the twins so that you can match them. if you find a lamb with a number on it and no partner or mum, you can then drive around until you make the pair. They are fast, so you need to catch and spraypaint them quickly.
  • Lambs that are looking weak. Sometimes you have to catch the lamb and sheep and bring them in for more careful observation. Other times, especially with triplets or twins, the mum will not be able to feed all the lambs, and you will take one off and bottle feed it, or put it onto a sheep that lost its lamb.
  • Sheep that are having trouble lambing. You end up pulling a lot of lambs. Here are some picks of the before, middle and after. The sheep need help when the lamb is too big, or when the presentation is bad. In these pictures the lambs had come out with their head and one hoof, rather than both, and the leg was catching. It is pretty common. The proper presentation and delivery is front legs first, followed by the head and then the rest of the body. If only one leg comes through with a head, you have to first push it all back into the sheep’s uterus and find the other leg and then pull it all out again. It is also important that that the mother sheep licks all the membrane off the lamb so that it doesn’t suffocate. That is why you bring the lamb up to the sheep’s face after the birth.

Congratulations! it’s a lamb. Most of the time the sheep needs no help at all. It is amazing. There are some sheep that die during the birth, and also lots of lambs. The farmers here have names for all the different conditions that you could imagine: Watery mouth (caused by an abundance of e-coli bacteria in the gut) , watery eye (infection of the eye that can cause blindness), and bearing (a prolapsed uterus) to name a few.
There are over 3000 sheep on this farm, all having lambs. Most of these lambs will be sold after a few months for meat. The next time we see a leg of lamb on sale, we’ll think twice about how hard the farmer worked, and how fair a 7$ leg of lamb is for him. The wool is not as valuable. The finer wools come from the highlands. Think merino. Yes, it’s a hell of a thing. Another crazy thing: When you want a sheep to care for a orphaned or abandoned lamb and the sheep’s own lamb dies, you skin it and put the skin on the other lamb. I wonder if Thomas Harris was into sheep farming…
The farm also has dairy cows, which are calving right now. We have to go find and take the calves, and then bring in the new mums so that they can be milked. Here is a picture of the paddock, with Stewart Island in the back and Kel feeding the cows. The hay has thistles in it, which hurt so hard, and are difficult to get out. This was not intentional, I understand.
It is a good day when we are done by 9. Besides all this, the dogs must be fed, the equipment maintained, and the people filled with tea, the drink and the meals. It’s a very wholesome lifestyle, and if nothing else you get to stand in a field with 300 sets of eyes looking at you like you are god. Or is it 300 ewes…

1 comment:

  1. Wow thats really cool! I love the pictures you need to take more! The little lambs are so cute I hate to think of eating them... maybe ill swear off lamb for a while. Miss you guys lots and am glad they are working you hard! Love you!