Sheeptopia & Winning the New Zealand Lottery

Perhaps it should come as little surprise that my second day in New Zealand I was recruited to help with a task relating to sheep. The most prevalent mammal in NZ, sheep seem to have secured a solid spot in the landscape. So, mid morning, Alicia (one of my hosts) and I set out on our mission to begin herding one of her four sheep to join with thier neighbor’s for their annual shearing. These sheep we were trying to corral, were not too tame and so what set out was a little bit of a hide and go seek game with the two skittish sheep (a ewe and her lamb) ducking into the brush when we came into eyesight and Alicia and I scrambling up and down the hills by the side of their house trying to coax them out. About 1/2 an hour later, and we could not track them down anywhere. Ian, Alicia’s husband, was called in for reinforcements and with his help we found them hunkered down in a patch of spiny brambles and had them headed in the right direction to meet up with John the neighbor’s sheep. Up the road with those four and rounded up a few of John’s sheep and got them all together in a nice grassy paddock. At this point, John started to explain the next part of the plan. John was a pleasant fellow, 86 years old and keen on the terrain and health of the animals; with a little questioning he was all too happy to talk about the land history, pasture diversity, and of course sheep breeds and uses. Chattering on, his set of top dentures bouncing up and down as he did, he explained to me that his particular sheep were a Perendale breed: a cross between the popular Romney and a Chevriot (sp?). The Perendale was bred for its wool quality by a a professor Peren from Massey University in Wellington. Ah, so now we had to herd all the sheep about 2 or 3k up the road to the barn where they were to be sheared. I guessed we had about 2 trailor loads full of sheep, or roughly 80-100 head (John later told me that he thought he had about 100 head, and this made me pretty tickled with my estimation skills). Anyway, herding 100 sheep up a windy, narrow road with strips of lush greenery on both sides should prove to be a bit of a challenge. Off we went with Alicia and John alternating between car herding and walking and John’s wife and I filling in on the flanks or to block roads or wrong paths, wherever we were needed. This patient process went uneventfully well and took us up to the barn where we ran in the first group of sheep. Derek, the man hired to shear the sheep met us there and at once got to work either shearing or crutching each sheep. Crutching is where the sheep is sheared just around the tail and inner back legs to clean up the crotch area (easiest way to remember what that means, I think it should be called crotching). This is done twice a year, while the full shearing is done only once A YEAR! Lucky me, I picked the right day to be in New Zealand on this particular farm. It was kind of like winning the lottery. Even luckier was me after somehow talking a skeptically smiling Derek into letting me have a go at shearing. At first he guided my hand and coached me through the first couple “blows,” or passes with the shears, but then let me do a few passes on my own. The verdict: Derek with his 50 years of experience made the shearing look much easier than it was. I drew no blood, but my cautious hand drew the blade further off the skin than necessary leaving too much wool. Not bad for my first try, though. Turns out that sheep in New Zealand don’t have a lot to fear from me or much else; they have no natural predators. No coyotes, mountain lions, or bears. The closest thing to predation they experience is the occasional wayward domestic dog. Thus, a strange population figure: 400 million sheep in New Zealand compared to 4 million people. I’d call that a sheeptopia!

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alana
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 03:21:18

    Wow! I’m surprised they had no dog! Sounds like a great day.

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  2. Andi
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 07:04:15

    Wow! What a cool way to start!

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  3. Jayr Fitch
    Dec 10, 2011 @ 16:00:00

    I can’t wait for you to come home to give me a haircut! Shear on Farmer Leda. Jaye

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  4. dbyljs
    Dec 14, 2011 @ 05:56:33

    Leda, have a ball. We really miss you around here. Sound like you are having a ball. Take care

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  5. al
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 23:03:09

    OMG I missed the post– I KNEW you were going to do this–remember our convo when you were at the airport!??!

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