“I’ve got a 100% mad cow for you guys,” said the guy from the Southland transport company. “She should be in Blenheim tomorrow morning.”
“Do you have deer fencing? You’re going to need it for this one,” said his colleague.
“Your very friendly cow should be arriving around 7:30pm,” said the guy from the Nelson transport company.
“I wouldn’t get in a paddock with her,” said his driver. “I’m just glad she’s off my truck.”
Mad, murderous and Scottish... it seemed only natural to name our replacement Highland cow, Lady Macbeth.
She arrived on Thursday evening last week. On Friday, she was quiet and seemed a little dazed. On Saturday, Farmer Wan noticed her staggering, seemingly unable to hold her own weight. We rang the vet in Richmond. He said she had either ryegrass staggers (unlikely, because all our other animals were fine) or a condition that’s uncommon in New Zealand, known as transport tetany. The symptoms are the same as those for staggers but the cause is different: stress from long-distance travel, along with a lack of regular food and water.
Farmer Wan made the two-hour round trip into town to collect a bag of medication. Although Lady M was obviously ill, we still couldn’t risk getting near her. We had to wait.
On the Sunday morning we found her lying on her side. We spent 11 hours in the paddock with her, trying to keep her alive. We gave her the medication, poured almost 50 litres of water down her throat and, with the help of one of our neighbours, propped her up into a more natural position. She struggled hard to get to her feet but her back legs kept buckling. In the end, Farmer Wan built a frame around her to prevent her falling back on her side. There was nothing left to do but hope she’d make it through the night.
That learning curve just kept getting steeper. We now knew how to give our cow subcutaneous injections (cowhide is as tough as, well... leather) and how to make her open her mouth (hook fingers in the nostrils, pull up and back) but we had no idea how to dispose of her carcass. We couldn’t leave it where it was – in the middle of a paddock fronting the road. We don’t own a tractor or a digger and even if we did, our ground is too rocky to dig a substantial enough pit. The vet suggested hooking her up to the 4WD, towing her somewhere less conspicuous and letting nature take its course. That’s what we did. We bought some agricultural lime to spread over the carcass to hasten decomposition and we’ll cover the remains with branches. Vale, Lady Macbeth.
It felt disrespectful to dispose of such a magnificent beast in this way but there wasn’t much else we could do. The meat was no good and we didn’t have the knowledge and resources to remove the hide. Farmer Wan took off the spectacular horns and we’ll use them in future when we convert our conventional orchard to biodynamic. It still seems such a waste, though -- so much energy expended down the long chain of human involvement in that animal’s life. The feed, the transport, the veterinary care... thousands of hours, huge amounts of fossil fuel, just to end as a rotting carcass in a gully. We had a vague, theoretical understanding of what's involved in producing our food before, but now we actually get it. And that’s the biggest lesson we learned from Lady M.
Posted by Farmer Nik
We're discussing fractals. Go away.
Whoever it was, I’d like to take issue with them because our particular, personal ovines are not dumb as stumps, like they're meant to be. They’re smart -- not quite as smart as our dog but streets ahead of our cat (who, admittedly, isn’t that bright and still has to be shown where her food bowl is).
Clever sheep. Just our luck.
The full extent of their intellectual prowess was only made clear to us recently when we attempted to separate Spiderbuilder the ram** from his girls. This segregation was designed to spare us the thrills of lambing during July blizzards. The problem was, we don’t have any stockyards. Or working dogs. Or experience.
The theory was simple: we’d quietly herd them to a fenceline, walk them around it until we got to the gate and then direct them into a pen fashioned from temporary electric fencing. At this point, the theory got a bit hazy but basically involved Farmer Wan rugby-tackling dear Spiderbuilder to the ground, letting the ewes escape and somehow dragging the ram into the adjoining paddock.
The first attempt started well. Aided by our friend Jan, we managed to get the sheep into the temporary pen. Then they panicked and jumped the fence, with the exception of one ewe who managed to get her head stuck through the mesh.
We decided to change the set-up: different gate, more secure pen. Three more times, we had those animals penned up. Three more times they escaped.
They’re good jumpers, our sheep. They have many talents. They're quite possibly Renaissance Sheep.
The weather turned foul and we postponed the exercise until the next day. Reinforcements came in the form of Jan’s husband, Robbie. The game plan was basically the same – no noise, no fuss, just silent and implacable steering along the fence-line to the gate. (Jan has since dubbed this technique “Tantric mustering”.)
We should’ve succeeded this time but we hadn’t allowed for one vital factor: the sheep had learned from the day before and weren’t having a bar of it. They were happy to trot along the fence-line but at the first sign of the gate, they’d bolt. And bolt again. Seven times they bolted. Finally, with sheep and humans all stressed and panting, we gave up.
The solution: a substantial investment in some portable yarding, due to arrive this coming week. Until then, we have to hope Spiderbuilder exercises some restraint -- doubtful. I can just picture him with his three favourite ewes in the collective afterglow, murmuring with the utmost disdain:
“Who said humans were smart?”
** It's a long story. Don't worry about it.
Posted by Farmer Nik
Hamish the bull was lonely. He'd gotten to know us a bit, was happy to let us hand-feed him carrots, but he was a lone bovine in a big paddock and he needed company.
Two weeks ago, it arrived.
The story of how Hamish's new family finally got here is something of an epic in itself. Suffice it to say, it took four days to take the animals by road from their original home in Southland (bottom of the South Island) to Muntanui (near the top of the South Island) and one of the cows died in the process. I should stress that this wasn't the supplier's fault. There were three different transport companies involved and one of them messed up.
It was 9:30pm and pitch black when the truck eventually rolled up our driveway. Farmer Wan directed the driver to the appropriate paddock and, because we don't yet have a loading ramp, the animals either leapt (sheep) or lurched (cows) out accordingly.
We were now the proud owners of the following certified organic livestock:
We've named the cow Senga, the heifer calf Sonsie and the steer calf -- who's destined for the freezer -- Stew.
They've settled in well. Unlike Hamish, the newbies aren't very interested in making friends with us. They seem immune to the seductive allure of carrots. And last week, we got the first inkling that the honeymoon could be over for young Hamish and he might be craving some extra-marital excitement. He spent an entire day at the fence, bawling forlornly at a solitary cow in the neighbour's paddock over the road.
Posted by Farmer Nik
So, we've been here exactly five months today, what have we done?
The veggie garden has gone from this in 2010/11 To this in 2012
Our first livestock (worms from Farmer Bob, an organic worm farmer in Nelson) were purchased and are now living happily in the custom built Wormstead, enjoying all of the sawdust/compost/kitchen scraps/grass clippings and blood & bone they can eat.
The Polytunnel of Love was covered in September with much-appreciated assistance from Davidsons, Foxs, Moriartys and Davidson-Foxs
In October, 'No-Gate Paddock' got a new name and a new gate thanks to the tremendous efforts of the Howards, who came all the way from Australia to celebrate the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup.
J & M were also instrumental in moving (dragging/hauling/lifting) the old chook house from the pond area to its new home in the recently re-christened 'Chook Paddock' where renovations commenced immediately in preparation for our next new arrivals.
Cinderella and the Three Amigos arrived in early November to great hopes of eggs by Christmas (a little bit optimistic, perhaps). Construction then commenced on the new chook run, closely followed by the new Palais des Poulets, an opulent chook house in the style of Rennie Mackintosh (not the architect Charles; his fictitious brother, Arthur, the chicken farmer). There is plenty of room for future flock expansion.
All the hard work paid off and we had our first egg on 6th January 2012. The shriek of delight from Farmer Nik on discovering the first egg could be heard far and wide.
We are now enjoying the delights of our own produce, including potatoes, broad beans, green beans, pak choy, rocket, shallots, radishes, lettuce (various varieties), snow peas, garden peas, raspberries, strawberries, red currants, black currants and gooseberries with more to come.
Hay cutting (by hand with scythes) took place around Christmas, followed by trials of the soon-to-be-patented Muntanui Baling Machine (commonly known to others as a 'cardboard box with some string'). Unfortunately the day after the rustic haycocks were built we had 110mm of rain. We were able to salvage enough dry hay for a dozen micro-bales, let's hope our animals appreciate it when the they're hungry in the winter.
By the end of the Christmas/New Year period we were "Covered in Bees!!!" and loving it.
All these things we've achieved, along with raising vegetables and plants from seed in the polytunnel, building compost heaps, fixing holes in rabbit-proof fences, repairing fences, building gates and windbreaks, mulching, weeding, pruning, scything acres of grass, pulling up wilding douglas fir trees, cutting firewood, helping out with organising the inaugural local festival, having a stall at the local festival, joining the local volunteer fire service and fixing the water supply.
Plus there's been the arrival of our largest livestock, young Hamish, (see below) with more to follow in the next couple of weeks. Keep checking in for more updates on the ewes, cows, calves and the ram.
In 2012 we are looking forward to planting, growing and harvesting our first saffron crop; remediation of our pasture to encourage healthy, happy new livestock in the spring; increasing our water storage options; investing in alternative power sources; meeting new people and welcoming old friends.
Thanks to all who have come and visited in our first five months and contributed to the results we see today. And to all those following our progress: please come and see us, there's lots to do!
Posted by Farmer Wan
About Ewan and Niki
Scottish mechanical engineer with a deep and abiding passion for good food. Outstanding cook. Builder of lots of stuff. Cattle whisperer. Connoisseur of beer. A lover rather than a fighter.
Kiwi writer and broadcaster who hates cabbage, even though she knows it's good for her. Chook wrangler. Grower of food and flowers. Maker of fine preserves. Lover of dancing and wine. Definitely a fighter.