We had a wonderful chance happening today. I asked Mike to pull over so I could take a picture of some men loaded a semi with sheep. They were just off the main road so I put on my jacket, crossed the road and tiptoed through the mud tracks to the fence line. I took a short video and a picture and just stood watching when a man started to approach. At first I thought he was going to say, “What do you want? You can’t be video taping this…” But of course a friendly Kiwi wouldn’t say that and he invited me to come through the gate and have a closer look. I waved Mike and Gregory over and we had the best time watching them whistle and whoop and holler as they prodded the sheep and banged on the metal chute to get the stubborn Pirendale (?sp) sheep up the ramp and into the back of the truck. The dogs barked and hopped over the railings of the chute and ran right along the backs of the sheep to keep them moving. I’m not kidding! It was a sight to see.
Trevor (owner of the sheep station) and his helper Morgan were up to their knees in mud and the owner of the semi (who Trevor hired to move the sheep at $.80/sheep x 1,000 sheep = $800) was up on the rear of the truck manhandling the stubborn ones as they tried to turn around back down the chute. If a lamb made it into the chute he was grabbed by the scruff of his wooly neck and thrown over the rail with the other young ones. The lambs would be off to the freezer works while the sheep would be going to Trevor’s other paddock to be shorn after Easter. (We were assured things pretty much close down around here on Easter.) I think Trevor said he gets about $7.00/sheep for the wool but $3.50 of that goes to pay the guys who are doing the shearing. So, what he makes from the wool is nothing compared to what he gets from selling the lambs for their meat. I asked Trevor if with the change in weather would the sheep be able to handle the cold once they are shorn and he said that the day after shearing is the critical day but after that their skin actually gets thicker and that protects them from the cold.
Another interesting point is that he said it doesn’t really matter if different kinds of wool are all bundled together when it is sold. I said, “Oh, so if you have a sweater that says it is made with “wool” it could be any kind of wool unless of course it says 100% merino wool?” He said that was right but he said that the finest merino wool comes when the sheep are actually given very little to eat. So, think about that next time you go to buy a sweater!
The semi was finally off with a full load but would be back for the rest in an hour and a half so Trevor had some free time. He invited us on a drive up the mountain to the top of his property and of course we said yes! We all piled into his Holden pickup truck for a slippery and bumpy ride. Some of his sheep had already been shorn and their bright white bodies fled from the fence lines as we passed. We had spectacular views of the Haldane Estuary and Haldane Bay. Recently purchased, Trevor’s property is a work in progress with much clearing of brush in process and plans to plant seed. He said the brush remains in piles and acts as shelter for the sheep from the southerlies that can come in. He won’t burn because his property borders DOC (Department of Conservation) land and there is too much risk that the DOC land could catch fire. He recalled that another farmer caught DOC land on fire and was taken to court and fined $600,000. These farmers carry insurance but that is still a hefty fine! Trevor said he imagined that was what it cost DOC to do the cleanup.
Trevor recently sold his Central Otago farm (which was relatively flat) to a dairy farmer from the North Island and bought this property in Southland. Times change and you have to change with the times he said. He also said he was too young to retire and had to have something to get up for in the morning. He was raised on a sheep farm and said that he can remember having to pluck the wool from the sheep (versus shearing). Years ago his grandfather came over from England to set up a sheep station in New Zealand and he carries on the tradition. We’d heard that many dairy farmers from the North Island are coming to the South Island for the inexpensive land. We noticed that there are considerably more cattle here in New Zealand than there were 15 years ago. We even heard they are trying to put in a feedlot in Mackenzie Country. Somehow that just doesn’t go with the eco-friendly clean and green image that New Zealand generally exudes.
After saying goodbye to Trevor we put in some miles in the rain enjoying the lush green countryside (you can’t have this beautiful green countryside without the rain!) and the mist that hugged the mountains and paddocks. We made our way to Invercargill and set ourselves up in a caravan at the Lorneville Holiday Park, a farmlet 10 minutes from the city centre with a peaceful surrounding. After hanging the tent up in the caravan, on Mike’s makeshift clothesline, we made our way to town to see the world’s fastest Indian.
Burt Monroe, a Kiwi who was born just 30kms north of Invercargill, set the World Record Class S-A 1000cc, on his Indian motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, with an average speed of 183.586mph, (one way 190.07mph) and this speed record is still held today. If you haven’t seen the movie (The World’s Fastest Indian) with Anthony Hopkins you should rent it today! In 1967, after a partial stroke, Burt sold his record-breaking Indian to the brothers Norman and Neville Hayes who owned a hardware store in Invercargill. He wanted the bike to stay in the Southland. It is on display in the E. Hayes and Sons Ltd. hardware store today along with may other collector bikes. Not only was the collection of motorcycles something to see but the hardware store is something pretty special also! They have a tool wall that is 100m long (that’s 328 feet!) and the store is 4,000 sq. metres (43,056 sq. feet!) taking up a whole city block! We had a great time poking around. With stores closed tomorrow (Good Friday) we picked up some items for Easter Sunday (also Mike’s 47th birthday) and plenty of groceries. Back at camp there were the usual chores of dinner, laundry and showers but it has been nice to be able to get these things done after dark on a rainy night and have a warm dry caravan to come back to.
As in most businesses, those who work with sheep have their own vocabulary. Today shearing is still done by hand using electric shears. Teams of people, called sheep gangs, work and travel together from farm to farm. Here are some of their slang terms:
Blades – hand shears
Ringer – the fastest shearer in the shearing shed
Gun – a fast shearer
Jingling Johnnies – shearers using hand shears
Gummy – an old toothless sheep
Wigs – short bits of wool from the top of the sheep’s head
Smoko – a tea break
Hockey Stick – lamb chop
Hash-me-gandy – sheep-station (farm) stew
(Taken from: New Zealand, Enchantment of the World by Donna Walsh Shepherd)