Before I met my husband he travelled for a year, working on farms in Australia and New Zealand.
In New Zealand he lived and worked for a time with newly married couple Mike and Elaine, helping with the silage, and we’ve kept in contact with them ever since.
They now have three grown up daughters and one of them has settled near Oxford, so they are frequent visitors to England and on a recent visit they came to see us and it was lovely to catch up.
Farming in New Zealand is so different from farming here, especially the sheep farming, where they have bigger flocks and the wool is a viable product. But wherever it is, farming involves hard work, commitment and it’s a lifestyle not just a job.
Mike runs two properties on the south island. The smaller property near Timaru is where he and Elaine (a school teacher) lived for most of their married life, farming fat lamb and beef.
Seventeen years ago they bought a 6,000 acre hill station in the shadow of Mount Cook and ran 13,000 Merino sheep until recently when they down sized to 2,000. The sheep roam over the whole station, although they are brought down to the paddocks for the winter months to be fed with chopped silage.
Mike’s land can be seen in the background scenes of the block buster film Lord of the Rings because their neighbour’s land was used for the filming. Mike was invited onto the set but said watching the filming was like watching paint dry as the time taken to film a scene was incredibly long.
On the hill station he works with the help of several dogs . He says one good dog is worth 20 men. At busy times of the year his sons-in-law and casual workers help. Shearing is one of those times.
The flock is mustered into the shearing shed where it takes a gang of shearers several days to get through them all. A separate gang roll the fleeces which are graded before being pressed into bale bins. A lot of Merino wool goes into premium garments including the Icebreaker brand.