Friday, February 11, 2011

Sheep Rustling! (Cue the 'Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave' References)

Today's exciting event: mustering sheep! Oh, yes, I was right in the thick of it today (I won't tell you what the "thick" actually was, but I bet you can figure it out).

This morning around 9am Glen, Ivy, Kiko, and I hopped into Glen's car (the glorious 1982 Honda Prelude) and drove down the road to his neighbour Cliff's house, to muster his sheep. Cliff is about 83 years old, has severe Parkinson's, and children who desperately want him to move into Christchurch, but Cliff loves his sheep and refuses to leave the farm. As such, Glen offered to help with the mustering of the sheep, and we all came along for the ride to live and learn.

I imagine mustering sheep would be a lot easier if the paddocks were level; unfortunately, seeing as we are located within the Little River Valley, the paddocks are all on the sides of hills, and require constant climbing and running both up and down slopes. I've never run so fast downhill as I did today heading off a ram; I thought I was going to go head over heels and break my neck.

Sheep are interesting creatures; they're definitely not cuddly, and don't like being approached by humans. As such, to muster them we would first walk up to the far corner of the paddock, gathering sheep as we went in front of us, and then push them along the top fenceline and then back down the near fenceline to the open gate and into the bottom paddock, to be put eventually into one of the covered pens in the sorting shed. To keep them from bolting and running back up the hill (where we'd then have to run up and chase them back down again), we spread ourselves into a line, and walked slowly, so as not to spook the sheep. To complicate matters, several of the paddocks contained thickets of shrubs or depressions where the sheep liked to hide, forcing us to walk across, calling out "Hey, hey, hey! Hey sheep! Hey hey!" to startle them and make them get up.

Sheep definitely do exhibit that herd mentality; when one starts to go one way, they all go that way (I had the song "All We Like Sheep" from Handel's Messiah running through my head for most of the morning.... All we like sheep / Have gone astray... ). They turn and look one way, and then run in that direction, which makes their movements often easy to predict. Armed with sticks, we would block their intended direction with our bodies and by waving the sticks back and forth until the sheep turned away and headed back the way we wanted them to.

Because my English is better than Ivy's and Kiko's (and because I'm not as timid as either of them) Glen had me doing a lot of the physical running up and down the hills, and heading off the sheep when they started to "go astray" from the flock. I only really had one mishap when a large ram escaped from the rest of the flock running up a hill after passing over the stream, and I had to chase him down the hill and across at a different spot, and then make him rejoin the herd. Sheep can really move quickly when they want to!

Once we had all the sheep corralled in different pens, we went across the road to the final paddock to fetch the last twenty-nine sheep, which involved forcing them to cross a creek (which they loved), and then driving them down the road to the paddock. Yes, I have now driven sheep down a country dirt road with a stick. If that's not quintessential, stereotypical New Zealand, I don't know what is.

When we returned to the sorting barn Cliff was there, having ridden his mobile scooter across the paddock, and was armed with coloured chalk and spraypaint (pink for ewes, blue for bulls). Using the races, he and Glen systematically appraised and sorted the sheep into different pens. He put his best rams in with his best ewes (to encourage high-quality stock), sorted out the sheep that needed to be sheared, and set aside another twenty-five or so to go the market to be sold on Monday. After each sorting, Kiko, Ivy, and I were responsible for taking the sorted sheep back and putting them in one of the paddocks. (This usually turned into me driving the sheep and doing most of the work, while Kiko and Ivy trailed along behind). By the time we had finished, we definitely all smelled like sheep.

When we got back to Glen's place it was almost 2pm, and we were all starving; we settled for the "quick, tasty, and nourishing" (and quintessentially British) beans on toast. This afternoon the wind picked up, so we stayed inside, absolutely exhausted from all our running around after sheep. I started writing up two more blog entires for the Milford Track, Kiko wrote in her diary, Ivy had a nap, and Glen surfed the net. Around 3:30pm Glen and Ivy went to down, and while they were away a giant gust of wind came up, winged the front door open, and shattered the bottom pane of glass! Kiko and I cleaned it up as best we could by picking up the shards and then vacuuming up the smaller splinters, and when he got home a understandably pissed-off Glen scraped out the window frame, and then Kiko and I taped over the hole with newsprint. Here's hoping the rats and possums and stoats don't try to crawl through it tonight, as my mattress goes down right in front of the door, and I really don't want them running over my head!

For dinner tonight Glen made potato and leek soup, and zucchini frittata, all made using veggies from the garden. It was simply delicious; I wasn't really a big fan of zucchinis before I came to New Zealand, but I'm starting to love them.

Anyway, between this and the two Milford Track entires I wrote today, I've spent far too much time typing, so I'm going to end this here. Goodnight!


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