Written and posted 10:25 PM Saturday, October 2, 2010
Today dawned clear and gorgeous, a beautiful day to be a farmer in New Zealand!
We are working two full days, today and tomorrow, so that we will have Monday and Tuesday off. This was at Lyn & Kate's suggestion, as the weather is supposed to be great all four days and they want us to go exploring while the sun is out. We spent the first half of the day today over the back of the hills here, “doing up” the lambs at two different sections of Lyn’s family’s farm. Not for those of weak constitution, this involved “docking” the lambs’ tails by putting super-tight rubber bands around the base of their tails, to make them deaden and fall off.
I never thought I'd post a photo of a lamb's nether regions on my blog, but this is part of our work here...
For the boy lambies, it also meant having the same procedure done on their testicles, to turn them into wool sheep rather than breeding rams. They also all got their ears punched (the sheep version of branding), the goriest part of the procedure, and inoculated against a form of kidney disease.
We were deeply involved in the whole procedure from the start, with Don, Lyn’s father, directing us all as we went. Kate was kind enough to be the photographer for a little while, so here is the evidence of one of our first ventures into animal husbandry (in spite of what sounds like a form of torture for the lambs, this method is in fact one of the most humane ways to dock lambs, and once past the in-the-mud-and-sheep-sh*t, a-little-bit-of-blood aspect, we all had a great time. I hope it doesn’t reflect badly that we were all grinning while wrestling the lambs into position and getting them “done up”- we did do a lot of sympathetic snuggling of the lambs and some groaning as they scootched around on their sore hinds ends afterwards and looked at us as if to say "but it hurts!"):
This is me catching one of the littlest ones and wrangling it into position (isn't this an event at American rodeos?)
Matt did a lot of the wrestling with the larger lambs. Doesn't he look good?
Our first batch. These are Suffolks, with the black faces.
The second batch, Romneys and Cheviots. Two of these lambs escaped into the field and we never could catch them...
Lyn and lambie sharing a joke.
We also drenched the Suffolk ewes, meaning they were given an anti-worm medicine. My job was to mark with chalk the wool of the ewes who had been treated.
Finally let back out to pasture. Sheep can graze under kiwifruit until a certain stage in the spring, when the new growth on the vines becomes to tempting for the woolies.
We really had a grand time, and Matt and I really loved being involved in this aspect of farming, and the graciousness with which we were included. Lyn and Kate and Don are all wonderful hosts, and there was no “stand back and watch” part of learning for us- we were given tasks right away and got right in with the sheep from the start. Our hosts have confidence in us and trust us to do a good job, which in turn helps us to do a good job! By the time we had done both sets of lambs, we were absolutely knackered, famished, and covered in mud, sheep poo, and a little bit of lamb blood from the ear punching, but it was definitely a job well done, and despite the nature of the job, we all fell in love with the little lambs, and Matt and I would both love to be involved in this chore again. It’s not that we love binding the tails and balls of little wooly creatures- definitely not. It’s that working with animals is something that is very new to us, and any intimidation we have had around them has gone out the window because we are expected to be a part of it immediately, and our hosts have already imparted on us so much knowledge about how to herd sheep (“if you’re not making ridiculous noises, you’re not doing it right,” says Kate), how to hold them still for shots or whatever (under the joints, on the hocks, of front and back legs- see photos), and what they need in order to stay healthy.
We spent the afternoon working on the homestead, clearing and weeding (me) and cutting down a dead cherry tree (Matt). Part of our work today included making dinner as well, which was a nice chance to share our cooking skills with Lyn and Kate.
I'm not sure you can see it in the photos, but we’ve both invested in proper wellies, or gumboots, as they’re called here- an essential for working on the NZ farm. I am also incredibly glad I went to the trouble of bringing my wide brimmed hat all the way to New Zealand- it’s a lifesaver in the harsh sun here (I already have more freckles than I’ve ever had in my life). Kate and Lyn have a couple bins of work clothes, so we are well outfitted for our lifestyle here. Here is one final photo of our New Zealand farmer alter egos (complete with the drenching feeder):