My last stop in the South Island on this trip was in Greta Valley in North Canterbury. I was visiting a family member. Our dog Benji, the townie, was back on the farm whilst we travelled around.
I stop in myself when I’m passing and try to be helpful. This time we headed out tailing. The farmer himself, his three sons, me – and a half a dozen dogs – including Benji. I’d like to think I was helpful but suspect there is an element of, oops Pete’s here, we better entertain him. I love it though, always take my boots and go through the ‘what if’ scenario, the one where urban New Zealanders such as myself consider whether we should have pursued farming as a career. Knowing full well it was never, or should never have, been an option.
I’ve tailed there before and at a neighbouring farm. In spring it always seems to be warm and sunny when I’m there. They should ask me more often. The grass is green, the sky is blue, the animals are healthy, whenever I’m there it looks more like the set of the Telly Tubbies. Simon is the farmer and will swear at the lambs, the sheep, the dogs, his grown up children and of course, me. The verbal jousting is always on. This time I was there two days before Jack the oldest boy was off to Europe and there was an edge to the exchanges, there I suspect just for the boys to remind each other that deep down, they would actually miss each other.
Louis is training up a header dog and set him off behind the mob. He chased them round the fence and into the mobile yard that we’d already set up. Us extras guiding them in with a hessian curtain. We separated the ewes from the lambs and set to work. Louis and Henry competing to lift the lambs up onto the narrow bench. It was an instant assembly line, I was on injections, Jack on ears and Simon on tails. Benji was content to mooch around, he licked the odd lamb on the nose in a friendly rather than appetising manner. Though the Lab in him came out as he snuffled up the bloody ear clippings. If he got frisky he was sent to jump up on the Ute with his best mate Doug the huntaway, who occasionally has behavioural issues.
We dealt to the lambs in two batches that took two hours to finish two hundred or so. The grass was lush after an overdue wet winter and in stark contrast to how it’s been in the previous three years of drought. Prices are up and this will be a good year, not before time.
We headed back for an undeserved lunch, well by me anyway. Then I jumped in the car and because of last years Kaikoura earthquake had to take the inland route up and over the Lewis Pass. Five hours later I caught the early evening Cook Straight crossing for Wellington.
Benji stayed behind and will follow us up in a couple of weeks. He loves it down there, hanging around with proper farm dogs but close enough to the farmers to be regarded as family himself. He sleeps outside, but on an old sofa outside the masters’ bedroom not in the wood block away from the house where each dog has his own kennel.
I like to flatter myself that Benji and I are at roughly the same level of usefulness when it comes to farming. After all I’ve helped out other friends round up beasts in Australia and in the UK as well as NZ. Delusional as usual, if it came down to a pick. They’d choose Benji over me any day of the week.