How to be a Farm Girl

Kia Ora Koutou!

I survived finals and I survived goodbyes to my international friends departing back home. I have passed my courses, moved out of my room, and left Ilam Apartments. It was a little sad seeing my room suddenly bare, leaving felt like I was scrubbing my personality off the walls but in the end a room is just a room. It’s not the space itself that I will remember.

Soon after my last final I had my things in suitcases and bags, neatly tucked under Mackenzie’s bed, ready for the next big adventure. This “next big adventure” is WWOOF NZ. WWOOF is an international organization which stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms”. After applying I received a booklet listing hundreds of farms throughout New Zealand. The idea is that, after contacting a farm, I can go and work for them, 4-6 hours, in exchange for room and board. If you want to know more about the WWOOF organization please check out their website: http://www.wwoof.org/. It really has been a fantastic way to travel around New Zealand not only financially but also culturally. Life in the university, as well as travel, is a great way to experience a country. However living and working with kiwi families in the rural areas of New Zealand has given me a deeper understanding of the history and culture of this place, and a perspective that I would not have had otherwise.

For two summers I worked on New Field Farm, helping to produce organic vegetables, in Temple, NH. That was 2009 and 2010, years ago. Because it has been so long, in the past month I have had to re-learn how to be a farm girl. For the first three weeks I travelled with Ben Daut to a farm he chose called the Island Hills Station, in northern Canterbury. Island Hills Station is a 17,000 acre high country farm 90 minutes north of Christchurch. They have 1,000 sheep, 700 cattle, a private walking track with huts, and 400 bee hives for Manuka honey. Mandy and Dan Shand own the farm, which has actually been in the Shand family for generations. The sheep and cattle are sold for meat and the bee hives are processed on site for their honey, branded under the Shand’s brand: “Everything NZ”.

This farm was absolutely amazing but I do have to admit that I didn’t have anything to do with organising our arrival there, credit goes to Ben. I just got into the truck when it arrived at Ilam Apartments.

Island Hills Station

Island Hills stamp in the wool shed

But I am getting ahead of myself. First step was to pack my bags. I read about a minimalist traveler who only owns 20 items. At first I tried this, but in the end I just filled my bag.  My final count was something like 33 items, with the toiletry kit counting as one. I did over pack, but now I have learned. Leaving Christchurch for the second time, heading to Auckland for ten days, my bag only weighed 10 kilos. (22 pounds) I carried significantly less.

Ben and I spent three weeks at this wonderful place, with Mandy, Dan, and their two small children (Amalia and Hugh). The entire experience would have melted into one constant blur of sunshine, rain, mountains and sheep. Luckily I made a habit of recording things that went on every day.

My three weeks at the Island Hills Station:

24th-14th of July

Our usual schedule went like this, wake up around 7:00, breakfast of muesli granola mix, tea and sometimes toast, work starts at eight. Lunch either at the house or brought to us in the field by Mandy. Work went until between 2 and 4, sometimes earlier or later, free until dinner around seven. We would help clean up after dinner, socialize, and then crash for the night.

Day One, 24th: Arrival day. Ben and I got picked up at Ilam apartments sometime in the early evening. It was actually very lucky, Mandy and Dan were returning from a trip to Fiji/Auckland. Their airport of arrival was Christchurch International, so Ben and I just managed to catch a ride with them on their way home. 90km drive north and arrival at the station. We met the two kids (ages three and six) the older one, Amalia, gave her dad a big hug and said “I love you more than presents!” which was pretty much the cutest thing ever. We moved into our room, got set up, and crashed.

Fish eye view of our shack.

Day Two, 25th: Fed out with Dan. This entails loading a bale of hay onto a trailer attached to the ATV, probably using the tractor, then driving out to the calves, horses, and bulls to unload. This isn’t necessary in summer because there is plenty of grass to eat, but in winter they need supplementary food. Later we took a look around the property riding the back of the truck.

Trailer out in the high pastures

Day Three, 26th: Today was snowy. Ben and I fed out by ourselves! Then dragged brush and fallen tree limbs off and on throughout the day, but it was so miserably cold that most of the day was inside keeping warm.

Day Four, 27th: Fed out. Moved and separated bulls. There were seven in total, but seven bulls is too many for this size farm so some of them were being sent to the slaughterhouse. Pointed fences posts via chainsaw, moved posts, cleared some paddocks of fallen brush. I drove a bull dozer!

Batten fence

Carolyn drives a bulldozer! How scary is this?

Day Five, 28th: Fed out, cut old fence, removed staples from posts, lunch out in the hills, mustered sheep in the front paddocks, separated rams from ewes, and wrestled several sheep!

Morning in the hills

Old quarter round posts, they are recycled from a vineyard then we point them with a chainsaw so that they can be reused for fencing. They are less strong but significantly cheaper.

Cutting wire off of an old fence.

Ben standing on top of one of the trailers.

Ben herding bulls, with help from Biddy the dog.

Mustering sheep

In order to sort the rams from the ewes we had to chase them into a chute so that Dan could then move certain sheep into one pasture. This is me, totally surrounded, trying to move a bunch of frightened large animals into a confined space.

Moon rise

Day Six, 29th: Fed out, mustered sheep in the back of the property, ran over the hills chasing a group of 100 or so sheep (proving myself), later we watched Dan shear two of the sheep.

Hanging out on the ATV in the morning.

Herd of sheep. I chased about 100 of these over hills and valleys and successfully got them to the right place without missing any!

Sheep dog and sheep

Day Seven, 30th: Fed out, cut posts, loaded the trailer. A gate had been left open, allowing the neighbor’s merino sheep to come into our pasture and our sheep to go into their pasture. This was a disaster and we spent an hour or so mustering sheep on and off the property.

Mountains

Ben and I on top of the hill.

Jump!

Day Eight, 1st: Drove an ATV out to day one of the walking track in the morning and then walked day 2 and 3 of the track with Ben. Cold, trees in the trail, beautiful views, 15k.

Driving the ATV to the first hut. Across a river!

Hiking through the hills.

Frost is untouched by the sun all day in some areas.

Day Nine, 2nd: Picked up the ATV, moved stuff around the valley Camp (first hut), fixed a frozen toilet before it got to the point of shattering the bowl, and cut bottom two wires on an existing fence to clean brush from the line at a later date. I drove standard for the first time and didn’t actually do too bad, thank you Benjamin!

Day Ten, 3rd: Snowy day, cold, wet. Fed out in the AM, cut posts until the chainsaw stopped working, Ben went and cut fence, and I went for a run.

Snow and clouds

Bee box in the morning

Calves in the field. This is the herd that we feed out to every morning.

Calves in the snow.

Day Eleven, 4th: It’s the fourth of July! Drove posts, drove the tractor (badly), cleaned the house, made an American dinner for the Shand family. Beer burgers and apple pie, unfortunately we did not explode anything.

For the fourth of July Ben and I made dinner. This is my apple pie!

Day Twelve, 5th: Fed out. I tore out old fence next to the house as Ben and Dan went up to the hills to drive posts. We began to wire and staple the quarter round posts together. Soon we were driven inside by the rain. For the rest of the day we worked in the wool shed. The shed is originally from 1914 and upon removing one of the broken gates, motar and tenon joined. Dan shook his head saying “You just don’t see craftsmanship like this anymore.” I spend the rest of the afternoon with a hammer and chisel set proving that you can, in fact, see craftsmanship like that again.

Day Thirteen, 6th: Fed out. Built a fence, worked on the wool shed, mustered around ten sheep, destroyed a fence and created a huge pile of twisted wire.

Morning mist

New mortise and tenon joint in the wool shed. Thank you woodshop (Bill) for teaching me everything I know.

Ben working on gates in the wool shed.

Day Fourteen, 7th: Put in fence by the house.

Shooting skeet behind the house. I actually managed to hit a couple! Ben, of course, hit everything. Well, he missed one, but then hit two clays with one shot so I think that evens it out.

Day Fifteen, 8th: Ben and Mandy went into town to see the doctor because of the nasty flu virus that is going around. Luckily I never got it. I babysat the children, went for a walk up the hill, watched sheep and mountains through the binoculars.

View of the farm house, various sheds, barns, spare houses, etc.

Epic mountain shot with binoculars. Only slightly posed.

Day Sixteen, 9th: Went skiing at Mt Lyford! I made a fool of myself on what Ben thinks was a double black diamond, or at least steep enough to be one. It was a great day, perfect weather.

Mt Lyford ski area.

Panorama from the top of the mountain. The only way to get here was via rope tow, which was not stellar for me (fell off the first time), getting down was also a bit rough but it was worth it for the view.

Ben and I on the summit

Day Seventeen, 10th: Went to Dan’s parents to feed out then mustered some sheep and cows after feeding out around here.

Day Eighteen, 11th: Ripped out old fence along the hill paddock next to the house. Strained and box ties new fence. Went to a local dairy farm to shoot a lame cow.

Day Nineteen, 12th: We chain sawed some brush off of a fence line up where we removed bottom wires on the 2nd, I babysat the children.

Hay bale for the daily feed out.

Day Twenty, 13th: We babysat all morning, walked up to the saddle one last time. I picked up fallen branches as Ben made soup. This was out last full day on the farm.

Sunrise, view from outside the house.

Last walk up to the saddle!

Day Twenty-One, 14th: We had breakfast then drove one of the cars away from the farm and back into Christchurch.

Being put into an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people for three weeks is enough to make a place feel a little like home, and to make relationships with people who you wouldn’t meet otherwise. I really could not say enough positive things about this farm, the people, the work, or the setting.

After returning to Christchurch Ben had less than two days to pack up and get on a plane headed back to Vermont. My turnaround time was a little less severe. Because my plane doesn’t leave until the 30th of July I decided to head up to the north island. I wouldn’t feel right about spending so much time in New Zealand without even setting foot on one of the islands! So I flew to Auckland, and in Auckland I currently reside. I am spending my time first at another WWOOF farm. This one is called Kingfisher Farm and is like the Island Hills Station but on a much smaller scale, they also have an extensive garden.

So far I have been working in the garden, weeding, clearing paths, preparing veggies for market, and running every day. I have been here four days and will stay until for a total of nine. Then I plan on hanging out in Auckland city for the next couple days before heading back to CHCH to pack. Then home.

I board a plane in ten days. This is unbelievable. Ten days is an extremely short amount of time, but the more I anticipate it the longer it seems to take. Time is very strange.

The end of my time here is shaping up to be wonderful. Even though I can’t quite accept that I am going soon, I know that the time in which I must pack up bags and look at New Zealand for the last time is fast approaching.

But perhaps I won’t have to think about that for another few days!

Cheers!

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