Sheep, sheep, and more sheep. That’s what we expected to see in New Zealand. And we weren’t disappointed. The sheep are primarily merino, the kind that Stephen said would provide his next ski socks! At this time of year they have very thick coats, probably more than 3” of matted fur.
They must get very uncomfortable in the summer. On sunny days we were very hot, but we had the option to take off our jackets. The sheep had only the option of using a scratching post.
Thankfully for the sheep, it’s sheep-shearing season. We could have stayed at a B&B&S (bed and breakfast and shearers) but unsurprisingly, it had no vacancies.
Shearing is an art. We were in Queenstown during the Rural Games, a big-deal competition for grown men to demonstrate their farming skills: Sheep shearing (two sheep in 42 seconds), coal shoveling, speed milking (poor cows), gold panning, modern skills like agrisports and fencing (building a fence, not using an epee), and good old fun with egg throwing, gumboot throwing, and cherry stone spitting. This is not a 4-H event for teens. Grown men compete, including a couple former professional rugby players from the All-Blacks.
We just missed a fun event, the resurrection of the Running of the Wools, with 300 merino sheep released to run through the streets of Queenstown. You might think this would be a completely safe alternative to the Running of the Bulls. After all, if you get hit by a sheep, you’ll just sink into the wool. But these sheep do have horns and they’re hard and pointed.
From the rural games results, we know that competition shearing takes as little as 21 seconds per sheep. Maybe the shearers should slow down. Some of these poor guys look like the razor came a little close.
The sheep seem to be foraging wherever they want to go. We saw evidence of their having been around on many hillsides across the country. Note the horizontal lines of travel across the slope. From a distance they look like maggots, don’t you think?
Liz, Chris, Pat, do you remember the Trixie Belden book about their uncle’s sheep farm? The sheep were caught in a ravine and the BobWhites had to save them. Nancy was ready to get out of the car and help this guy, but he scampered out on his own.
Merino wool is used to make a premium product here: merino mink. It’s actually the combination of the sheep’s wool with the hair or skin of an opossum. The sheep are simply sheared and run back to the fields. The opossums are done in.
We looked all over the country for black sheep. Not common. Finally near Ashburton, we found one. Nancy said, “Baa, Baa” to attract his attention. And yes he did have wool, not necessarily three bags full.
Enough about sheep. New Zealand has plenty of cows.
Beef is popular, milk too. In fact, we were surprised at our first motel when the proprietor handed us a pint of milk. Then it happened at the next one too. We thought that it might be a push by the national dairy association to get people to drink more milk. Eventually we realized that all the rooms had pots with electric coils to make hot water for coffee or tea. Providing a pint of milk to put in the fridge was easier than giving a number of one-serve half-and-halfs, and certainly better than powdered creamer. We drank the milk with our Arnott mint cookies.
Venison is also popular in New Zealand. There are white-tail deer (like in the US) in the Lake Tekapo area and on Stewart Island. But the venison found in restaurants comes from domesticated deer. Venison is not the only deer product; velvet is important too. This is the pre-cartilage growth of the antler. It can grow almost an inch a day and of course it comes back year after year. With such unique growth, it is thought to have special pharmacodynamic properties, so velvet is highly popular in Asia for medicinal purposes.
We saw seals and seal pups in the ocean. These have more fur than the sea lions on the US Pacific Coast. Many of the adult seals looked dead, until they twitched. The seal pups were more lively.
Eggs are pretty popular so there must be chicken farms in New Zealand; we just didn’t see them. No wild chickens (like on Hawaii) either. But we did see this bird, a weka. Look closely. See if you can find its wings…It doesn’t have any! It’s a flightless bird, but very friendly, generally traveling in pairs and going to areas with people.
No penguins. We didn’t go far enough south. No kiwis either. There are only 400 left! We did see other birds..
Finally, we found something that Malcolm Gladwell and Natalie Portman would be happy to see, as an outlier or a thing of beauty: a black swan, not very common.
We’ll end with these pretty birds Michael photographed in the Ashburton aviary.