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Sheepish in New Zealand

Chapter Six

I know next to nothing about sheep farming. As a matter of fact everything I know I learned in one afternoon on a sheep farm in southern New Zealand.

When we hiked the Abel Tasman Trail two weeks ago we met three couples – two from New Zealand and one from the states. We were all about the same age. One of the couples graciously invited us to stop into their sheep farm when we were in the area. So we did.

Isn’t that amazing?  We were nearly strangers and yet they invited us to their home.

Their home is a 700 acre sheep farm that has been in their family for 140 years.  During that time much has changed on the farm and in the industry but this farm and this family have endured. Endured the depression, world wars, falling and rising wool prices, weather and more.  In 1874 New Zealand was in its infancy. Still today the area around the farm is remote.  The town of Nightcaps only has 180 residents.  Teeny.

The farm has about 2500 sheep and today the majority of their income comes from lambs rather than wool.  Wool is currently not as profitable as it once was. But lamb is.

A lamb is a sheep that has not yet gotten their adult teeth.  They usually go to slaughter between six and nine months. The lambs are culled early in their lives and divided. The ones to slaughter (all the boys and some of the girls) are kept together and fed and prepared for this destiny.  The others are kept for breeding and wool.  They spend their days rotating through the paddocks grazing on the grass  in the winter they also eat a turnip like plant called a “swede”.

Sheep that are not specifically bred for wool produce a rougher texture of wool – mostly sold and used for wool carpets.

Just a few years ago New Zealand had twenty sheep to every human being. Today it is seven to one. Many sheep farmers have switched to breeding deer for venison (exported to Germany) or dairy cows (dry milk exported to India).  Most of today’s New Zealand lamb is exported to China and Great Britain.

I enjoyed my crash course on New Zealand sheep farm and my afternoon tooling around the farm. What a special opportunity to learn first hand from these generous Kiwis.

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