Party On: Harvest Festival At The Hops

A pile of hops waiting to be picked.

Take 30+ curious beer aficionados and a bumper crop of hops. Throw in a delicious barbeque and a keg of Altitude Brewing’s best thirst-quenching brew. Mix with a dollop of music and you have yourself a recipe for the Garston Hops 2019 Hop-Picking Party.

The Big Hops Harvest Problem:

200 hop vines on two farms —  all of them covered in ripe, cone-shaped flowers. A tiny window of time in which to pick them —  and only two busy farmers both trying to juggle multiple farm jobs. The big hop companies have this process all mechanised, but we’re a tiny outfit, just starting out.

What to do?

The Brilliant Solution:

James, as usual, had an idea.

“Let’s get a sponsor, a couple of experts and a whole lot of people who would love to know more about hops and throw a Picking Party,” he suggested.

So, that’s what we did.

Waiting For The Harvesters

The day dawned damply. River mist shrouded the paddocks, evaporating our plans for an early start to the hops harvest.

Just as well, really. We’d all been flat out preparing the woolshed —  aka the hops harvest zone — for the last two days. Rarely has a working woolshed looked cleaner.

Waiting for the sun enforced a last minute calm before the storm of activity set to come. That’s why, after the final job was done, we gathered for coffee at the Garston Hotel and waited for our workers guests to arrive.

And, suddenly, there they were:

  • Eliott the Altitude brewer, with his vanload from Queenstown
  • Richard – our expert from Nelson
  • Ian – courtesy of our sponsor, Ricoh
  • Andy – an unexpected American  
  • and a whole bunch of local family and friends.

The sun shone bright and warm. Finally, it was time to begin.

Gathering At The Hops

The convoy wound its way to the vines. For many, this was the first time they had seen hops growing and I must admit, even our small plantation makes for an impressive sight.

Hops will grow as high as you let them (in our case 4 – 5 metres) and produce copious amounts of flowers, all filled with a distinctive-smelling resin. This is the gold that flavours the beer.

At the top of the ladder, Eliott cuts the first hop vine.
Eliott mounted our specially-modified hop-picking ladder and ceremoniously cut the first vine. Nearby pickers held out their arms to catch the leafy giant as it slowly collapsed and carried it to the waiting trailer.

The party was underway.

Picking Off The Hops

It would be highly impractical to try to pick all the flowers off the vines while they’re still standing 5 metres tall. I’ve picked them off the top several times while getting samples for testing and, believe me, the novelty soon wears off.

A better idea is cutting the vines at the top and bottom and carting the whole vine to the processing room. That lets you lay them flat on a table and have multiple people plucking the flowers from each vine.

So that’s what we did on the tables set up in Hamish’s woolshed.

Picking the hop flowers at the woolshed.
With Mac’s favourite shearing music (60’s classics) booming in the background, conversation buzzed as we got to work on the 2019 hops harvest.

Garston Hotel Makes The Best Barbeque Lunch

It wasn’t long after the Garston Hotel cooks appeared before delicious smells filled the woolshed.

They had brought an incredible array of delicious rolls, salads and food to barbeque. And after several hours of steady picking, everyone was more than ready to gather outside in the sun for lunch. Eliott had provided a keg of light, delicious beer from his brewery and that went down a treat.

We All Learn More About Hops And Beer.

Richard Schneeberger was our invaluable expert who was taking a busman’s holiday from his day job as a hop adviser in Nelson. Up until now, we’ve been going on guesswork and advice from afar, so it was wonderful to have Richard right there to answer our questions.

After lunch, both Richard and Eliott spoke and gave highly interesting and informative glimpses into their hop-and-beer worlds.

But, hops won’t pick themselves, so we up-ended our beer glasses and went back to work.

Next Stage: Drying Begins

Between our plantation and Hamish’s we had four hop varieties to harvest and keep separate from each other. They were all destined to go straight to Altitude Brewing so Eliott could make his 2019 version of a Garston Green Hops beer.

Or so we thought.

But the truth soon dawned: somehow we had not fully computed just how many thousands of flowers we’d actually have. There was no way that Altitude could take them all as green hops. Some would have to be dried.

So we resurrected the drying racks that Aaron Abernethy built for us back in 2017 and Plan B swung into action.

Hops drying in their racks.
The drying process can be tricky to get right. In the days after the harvest party, Hamish and I had a crash course in deciding when the flowers were ready to bag. It was different from previous years because these hops were going to be pelletised. They had to be dry enough to keep – but not TOO dry or they’d disintegrate in the pelletiser. The pressure was on because once the flowers are ready, the heat and air they needed to dry then become their enemies. They must then be completely protected from light, air and heat or the flowers will begin to deteriorate.

Finally Finished And We Give Heartfelt Thanks

At the end of Day One we gathered at the Garston Hotel for a celebratory drink. It had been a wonderful, hard-working and satisfying day.

Our new Queenstown friends, and our local friends and family headed home, happy with their new experience.

Eliott was already busy with plans to begin his green hop brew.

And we were making plans for the next day’s harvest.

In the end, it took four days to pick and process the flowers from our 200 vines. Many local friends and family came back again and again to help over those days and we are so grateful to them for their help.

To all those who came to the party, WE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU.

Thank you, too, to RICOH, whose sponsorship of our event is truly appreciated.

We can truly recommend the Garston Hotel’s delicious barbecue lunches. Thanks, guys, for coming to the party – and for all the other meals we ate at your establishment.

And, finally, thanks to Dwane and Annie Herbert for lending us so many crates. They are invaluable and we needed every one of them.

Your Thoughts

Did you come to the hop picking party? Let us know how you enjoyed the experience in the comments below?

Does a hops harvest on this miniature scale sound like fun? Want to join in on next year’s party? You can comment below or send me a message.

You Might Also Love…

Our 2018 harvest was an exciting, but far smaller affair. You can read how our venture began in

Hops in a hurry

Altitude Brewing is the Frankton Brewery which has so far taken all the hops we can produce. Our aim of supplying small and local fits right in with their environmental ethics so it’s a win for all. Enjoy reading about Eliott Menzies and Eddie Gapper of Altitude Brewing in

Altitude Brewing: The Great Adventure

Aaron Abernethy is not only the valley’s go-to-engineer for all farm machinery needs, he is also a talented metalwork sculptor. Read all about Aaron’s beautiful creations in

Aaron Abernethy: Starlight Metal Art and Sculpture

Dwane and Annie Herbert are staunch supporters of Athol and Garston locals. Even though they’ve now moved their fishing business south they were still more than willing to lend us their new, clean crates.

Dwane Herbert: A Spearfishing Legend

Walnut Trees On The Farm

Walnuts from the walnut trees on the farm.

Planting Our Baby Walnut Trees.

The McNamee family had a few walnut trees planted on the roadside near the home farm, so Grandma always had plenty of nuts to spare.

Long ago, when we popped our transportable house onto its current site, we created a perfect orchard space just over the fence. But while I was still procrastinating over the best fruit trees to choose, Terry decided to plant walnuts instead.

So one afternoon we packed up spades, containers and our four kids and trundled off to Grandma’s. There were plenty of sturdy little saplings growing under the old trees. We dug up a dozen and planted them over the fence.

Hindsight’s a wonderful thing. I wish I knew then what I know now. Back then, I thought all walnuts were the same. Now, I know there are Black walnuts and English walnuts. The difference is important.

Black Walnuts are small and the shells are thick and hard to crack. It’s almost impossible to extract the whole walnut from these tough nuts. These walnuts are mostly used to supply beautiful hardwood for  furniture.

We have many Black Walnut trees in our grove.

English Walnuts are larger and sweeter than their Black Walnut cousins. These are the eating nuts.

We have only a few of these – and how I wish we had more.

They’re easy to open and far more versatile to cook with, so these are mainly the nuts that I collect. The black walnuts we leave for other creatures to eat.

Walnut Trees on the farm.
The walnut trees that took over my orchard space more than 20 years ago. There’s some debate in our family as to the exact year they were planted.

Race For The Walnuts

Northern hemisphere nut-gatherers often have to race with the squirrels to collect their nuts. We don’t have squirrels in New Zealand but there are plenty of other animals who think that walnuts are a tasty treat.

Possums love to crunch them up and we often spot them up in the walnut trees at night. Rats love them too, and the birds will peck holes in the softer shells to eat the nuts inside.

Even the dogs sometimes crunch on a hard green outer fruit, only to spit them out in disgust when they reach the nut inside.

Harvesting Walnuts From The Trees

April (which is Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere) is when our nuts usually ripen and fall from the trees. Sometimes, we feel like we are gazing at those stubbornly attached nuts for days and days. But when the strong nor’wester wind begins to blow, suddenly they all fall overnight. Next morning, the ground under the walnut trees will be covered in nuts.

The first essential of walnut harvesting is having a good pair of gloves. Freshly harvested nuts will stain your hands an interesting shade of greeny-brown which can take days to wear off.

 Two nuts on the tree in their green rind.
These black walnuts are not quite ready to fall. Soon the rind will split and let the nuts fall from the tree branches to join those covering the ground.

On the trees, a thick, green rind encases the walnuts. When they’re ripe, this rind will often split open and let the inner nut fall cleanly to the ground.

Sometimes, however, the whole thing falls intact. Then you have to crack open the rind and pull out the damp-shelled nut inside. That’s when your hands are most in danger of walnut stains.

Next, You Need To Dry The Nuts

At this stage, the inner nutmeat is pale, soft and insipid. So we dry the nuts in their shells for a few days. That allows them to develop that familiar walnut flavour and crunch.

You can’t always tell from the outside how good the inside nutmeat will be. Sometimes we’ll open a perfect-seeming case and find a shrivelled specimen inside. Two years ago we had a terrible season, where every second walnut had rotted away inside. At least, that’s how it seemed to me when I was shelling them.

Nuts still  in their shells, drying in a box.
I bring the walnut shells inside and spread them out by the fire in the lounge. I’ve had some lovely flower arrangements given to me over the years and have saved these very handy long boxes from the florist. They make perfect walnut-dryers.

3 Ways To Store Walnuts

Unshelled

  • Unshelled nuts will stay fresh for years in cool, dry conditions.
  • Keep them in large bins, ready to scoop out as you need them.

😊 if you have plenty of storage space in a shed, garage or carport.

😦 if you’re time-poor and just want shelled nuts NOW!

Frozen

  • Get into production mode and spend a few nights watching TV and shelling all your nuts..
  • Pop them into repurposed plastic bags e.g. bread bags or resealable frozen veggie or cereal bags.
  • Freeze the bags. They stack easily and the nuts won’t stick together.

😊 if you have a large freezer.

😦 if you have a tiny freezer or don’t watch TV.

Vacuum Sealed

😊 if you’re into vacuum sealing and have shelf space in your pantry.

😦 are you ultimately adding unnecessary plastic waste into the world?

I’ve Got My Walnuts — What Next?

In health circles walnuts are now described as a superfood. They’re easy to eat by themselves but delicious in cooking too.

Check out What To Do With A Walnut for recipes and more walnut  tips.

What To Do With A Walnut

Walnut picture montage

Walnut trees are both a valuable source of food and wood and come in several varieties. Some produce beautiful nuts, perfect for eating. Others are much sought-after for their furniture-grade hardwood.

We have both sorts on our farm — but we didn’t realise that when we planted them. Now that I’m older and a little wiser, I appreciate the joys of having these abundant and beautiful trees on my doorstep.

Here are a few reasons why I’m so pleased to have walnuts in my life.

Walnuts Keep You Healthy

Walnuts are a rich source of monounsaturated fats and an excellent source of those hard to find omega-3 fatty acids. We’re always being told how essential these are to keep your heart healthy.

They’re chock-full of minerals too, including magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. What a lot you can get just by eating a few walnuts every day.

Recipes

Like most nuts, walnuts can easily be added into your diet.

The easiest way is to simply eat a handful raw each day. Or chop them up and add a handful to your favorite salad, vegetable dish, fruit, or dessert.

But if you get bored with that, or someone in your family doesn’t like eating them raw, here are some of my favourite recipes to try.

Mixed-Grain Salad

Apricot Balls

Candied Walnuts

Walnut Wood

Black Walnut is the variety many craftsmen use to build beautiful, richly-coloured  furniture. But it is by no means the easiest of woods to use.

Walnut trees have a lot of branches and a thick layer of sapwood between their bark and the inner wood which is called the heartwood.

All those branches plenty of knots in the wood which may or may not be a problem for you.

At worst the knots might shrink and fall out, which could weaken the wood. At best they’ll add texture, variety and beauty to your furniture. Often, it’s simply a matter of taste.

Walnut wood can have many variations in colour too. That, and the wide, lighter sapwood ring can make it tricky for a craftsman to work with walnut wood. That’s why some people prefer to layer a walnut veneer on top of another base wood. Many harvested trees actually go to veneer makers rather than being sliced up for timber.

One day, when our trees are past their fruiting best, I hope that we’ll preserve them as a lovely table or dresser.

Can You Really Do This?

I tried this with both a freshly picked nut and a dried nut. The dried nut didn’t have any effect on the scratch on my table, but the fresh nut did reduce it a bit. Not quite as well as in the video, I must say.

New Zealand Walnuts

Walnuts are becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand and the NZ Walnut Industry Group has an interesting website.


Buzzstop Honey Centre: Loving Our Bees

The beautiful Buzzstop Woolshed

The little Buzzstop honey sign sits on Queenstown’s busy state highway. The traffic streams past unaware that just over the paddock lies a sweet, rural delight. Recently, I went to visit Nick Cameron of Buzzstop Honey Centre to get the buzz on his latest venture.

A Tale Of One Woolshed

The old girl was sagging at the seams. 70-years worth of bird droppings encrusted every beam. An ancient smell of sheep wafted up through the open floor grating. Even in the thin winter light, Nick could see the thick piles of dung below. He kicked at the thin, slippery boards which covered the floor.

“Whose crazy idea was this, anyway?” he grumbled.

“Yours, mate” the others chorused, hoisting the wheeled scaffold through the gaping doorway.

Nick clambered up the ladder, heaved the first bucket of hot soapy water and disinfectant up behind him and took out his scrubbing brush. It was time to start work.

Buzzstop’s Restoration Begins

Not everyone can take a derelict building and realize its possibilities. But Nick Cameron had a bee business idea buzzing in his brain. In fact, he’d been looking for the right place for months.

When he spotted the old woolshed Nick knew his search was over. Covered in grime, sure, but the rural location was perfect. And it was only 2 minutes drive from Queenstown’ s international airport. Now he just had to muster up the courage to approach its owners.

Perhaps the Grant family were surprised to find a complete stranger knocking on their door asking for their woolshed. But Nick’s enthusiasm is contagious so they came on board.

Flooring Matters

Looking at Buzzstop’s gorgeous wood and concrete floor you’d have no idea of the work that went into it.

In winter, it was horrible. To clean this I was in here with no power, in the middle of winter, with the wind just charging through. On my hands and knees with a hammer and chisel.

The grimy grating of a woolshed floor.
This is where the sheep stand while they wait to be shorn. That’s why the floor is a grating, so their dung can fall through the gaps. But the grime grinds into the boards. I would hate to try and clean this grating in our woolshed.

But cleaning was only the first part of the job. The whole expanse then had to be lined underneath with plywood.

The renovated wood and concrete Buzzstop floor.
Nick and his helpers poured the concrete by hand.  Next came the sanding, then grinding. They took the whole lot back to the hardwood before finally coating and polishing it.

“Looking at it now,” says Nick, “you’ve got no idea of the hard work that went into it. It was epic.”

Returning To His Beekeeping Roots

Nick grew up with beekeeping in his blood. Over 100 years ago his mother’s family began tending hives in Otago’s Ida Valley. And the family’s passion has continued through the generations.

“My grandfather’s 93 and still kicking. He was a beekeeper as a lad and his father was a beekeeper before him. My brother is a beekeeper as well.” But Nick had no ambition to join the “family firm.”

Aged 17 he got his first job as a guide and loved it. That combination of interacting with people and being outdoors was Nick’s dream lifestyle. So he began to travel the world as an adventure guide.  

Eventually, Nick landed in Sydney. He set up business offering Whale watching and rigid inflatable tours. Guiding on the sea sounds perfect, so what brought him home to Queenstown?

A lady, of course.

“I met my wife, Trace, on Manly wharf. She was from Stewart Island. One of us had to give, so I sold up my business and moved back to New Zealand.”

And that was when Nick’s beekeeping roots kicked in, and the Buzzstop story began.

Buzzstop Honey Centre Sign

Building The Buzzstop Concept

Nick’s vision was clear. He could see there was a tailor-made niche for him, combining beekeeping with guiding.

I could see so many shops selling honey, but we wanted to add in experiences … to give people the back story of how the honey got into the jar.

People are beginning to care about where their food comes from. At the same time, as more and more of us cram into cities, we actually know less and less about it.

But there’s even more to it than that. These tiny heroes have a critical role to play as pollinators.  Without them many of our current food plants are unlikely to survive. So Buzzstop’s mission is very much about encouraging knowledge and respect for bees.

Being a parent of young children himself, Nick also wanted a place where everyone could feel at home. So he created a garden for adults and children to enjoy.

Buzzstop garden and trampoline
This was once 2 sheep pens full of 8 foot high weeds and took 6 months to clear and plant out. Hard to imagine now, but easy for everyone to enjoy. Most of the plants are bee-friendly — think manuka, thyme and lavender to name a few — and are part of Buzzstop’s learning experience.

What’s In The Buzzstop Experience?

Nick and his team have such a variety of bee experiences at Buzzstop. Surely there’s something for everyone here.

Beekeeper suits and observation hives.
  • Eat And Enjoy

Buzzstop is not exactly a cafe: they don’t have a kitchen and bring in most of their food from local eateries. But they do have a few specialities which the staff make onsite. Light and tasty Belgian waffles are one, and delicious homegrown salads are another.

  • Drink ROAR Coffee

“We’ve got good baristas and people will go the extra distance to get good coffee,” says Nick. “We wanted something that wasn’t here already so we were ROAR’s first outlet in Queenstown.”

Honey spinning and maker spaces

Thanks To The Grant Family

Nick is beyond grateful to the Grant family who have allowed him to run with his Buzzstop vision.

“They’ve been very supportive… they’re happy and I’m stoked. They’ve been great.”

Buzzstop works beautifully with its next door neighbour, The Barn.

This charming little shop has been on Hansen Road for nine years. Inside there’s an eclectic mix of vintage and new furnishings. Wander in a little further too. You’ll find rooms of clothes, gorgeous knickknacks and more. It reminded me of Aladdin’s cave, alas without the gold.

Nick Cameron in his honey crafts space.
Nick in the Buzzstop Maker space.

Just Getting Started

2018-19 is just Season One for Buzzstop. They’re still growing and getting their name out there. But Nick has big plans.

“So far, we’ve only had bee tours onsite. That’s all I’ve had time for. But over winter we’ll try to get ourselves some wheels. I’ve got some really nice apiaries set up in beautiful scenic spots and that’s where we’d like to take people next.”

Driving out to see the apiaries around rural Queenstown would be awesome, but Nick’s also got some high-end plans.

“We’re also hoping to partner with local helicopter companies,” he says,  “to fly people to our hives in more remote locations such as Mt Nicholas Station, or Halfway Bay.”

Buzzstop Is Keeping It Local And Real

Nick may have big plans for visitors but he’s focused on serving local tastes too.

“For a long time Queenstowners had no way to access local honey but now they can find it here,” he says. You can too — the shelves are full of honey jars from small, family-run honey businesses all over Otago.

He has other local initiatives too.

There are plans afoot to open a Community Apiary in Spring, 2019. How good would that be? You could keep your hive there and get help whenever you need it.

Nick and his team are doing a great job of bringing bees with a difference to Queenstown.

Next time you’re there, buzz in and check them out.

Local honey sold at Buzzstop
One of many shelves full of local honey products at the Buzzstop Honey Centre

Address and Contact details

Address: Hansen Road, Queenstown, New Zealand

Website: https://www.buzzstop.co.nz

Email: tours@buzzstop.co.nz

Phone: 021 942 808

More Honey Stories To Enjoy

The Garston Hunny Shop: Bene and the Bees

Athol Valley Market: A Delightful Day Out

The Athol Valley Market is a welcome addition to the summer scene in the Upper Mataura Valley villages. I went along to talk to local organiser Amanda McMillan about her latest venture.

Athol Valley – A Community Market

At the heart of a local market is the sense of community. People want to come together and support their local artisans and businesses. It’s less about dashing in and out to grab groceries and more about lingering to chat and chill.

And that perfectly describes the laid back vibe of the Athol Valley Market and its host The Hide. In fact,  Amanda and Hide owner Meegan have a shared goal to support local enterprises and the diverse community found within the Upper Mataura Valley.

Meegan, Amanda and cheese at the Athol Valley Market.
Meegan and Amanda with The Hide’s latest delicious offering. You can buy Gibbston Valley Cheeses at the Athol Valley Market on Sundays and at The Hide every day of the week.

This cosy market is for all the locals of Athol, Garston, Kingston and beyond as well as the passers-by who know a good thing when they see it. Most Sundays you’ll see tourists, as well as locals, browsing the stalls, and relishing the opportunity to stop and shop.

Indian bags at Hillary's Athol Valley Market stall.
Hillary’s an Athol local. When she left India she stocked up on sturdy, beautiful Indian bags which she now sells at local markets. These colourful bags are hard to resist.

Talented Locals Offer Their Wares

The stall holders are a varied bunch and the goods on offer change from week to week. You never know quite what you’ll get at the Athol Valley Market.

Vegetables for sale at the Athol Valley Market.
Gardens Without Borders: Recently relocated from busy Queenstown to laid-back Lumsden, Josie’s just starting out on her gardening dreams. I love the philosophy behind her passion and her produce was so fresh and inviting, I wanted to buy the lot!

Fresh food stalls are the stars of a local market. The fruit, vegetables and eggs stalls have come and gone as summer became autumn. Some gardeners’ produce is coming to an end but Matt Menlove has been a stalwart, bringing his sweet honey and garden vegetables to sell every week.

Stall holders Brie and Matt with their local honey for sale at the market.
There’s no shortage of honey around the Upper Mataura Valley, thanks to an enthusiastic group of local beekeepers. Matt Menlove and young Brie are often found selling their sweet jars at the Athol Valley Market.

The local children have had their first taste of business this summer, too. They’ve industriously set up a wide-ranging variety of stalls over the season.

We’ve seen honey, vegetables, flower bulbs, cakes, sweets, toys, face painting and — winning the prize for most unusual child stall — painted rocks, kina and paua shells for sale.

Hunter manning his stall at the busy Athol Valley Market.
I’m not sure which is more winning, the produce or the kids’ beguiling smiles but they all seem to have gone home happy.

All In It Together

One thing that Amanda’s learned while organising her first market season is that market people are a helpful lot. She’s been chatting to market organisers from markets around the area and they’ve given her many tips of the trade. She’s incredibly grateful for their help, because organising a weekly market is no easy task.

Rob, Jan and slippers at the Athol Valley Market.
Kozi Toez: Handcrafted Footwear for the Whole Family
Rob and Jan from Dipton sell their handcrafted, sheepskin, wallaby or possum-fur slippers online and at markets all around Southland and beyond, They inherited their pattern from its 92-year-old creator and are proud to be able to continue his tradition.

If you haven’t taken the chance to chill out at the Athol Valley Market over the past few Sundays take heart. There are still a few market days to come. Amanda and Meegan are hopeful that the sunny days will hold and the market can continue till Easter.

The Robinson Family with Robbies sauces and pickles.
Robbies Pickles and Preserves
Josie Robinson, from Tuturau makes pickles, relishes and sauces — mostly from organic ingredients. First-time customers quickly become raving fans. You can find Robbies online or at many of the markets around Southland-Otago.

So pick up your purse and cruise on down to the Athol Valley Market this Sunday.

Take in a little food, chill to the music, soak up the sun – or shade – and take the chance to buy fresh food, art and crafts or that little luxury you’ve always wanted.

We’d love to see you there.

Update: Motors At The Market

Amanda’s been experimenting with themed days at the Athol Valley Market over the summer. She had a great response from restored vehicle enthusiasts for her Motors at the Market Sunday in March. Here are just a few of the beauties on display.

More Athol Stories To Enjoy

Craft Keepers is a cute little container store full to the brim of locally-made crafts and The Coffee Bomb is even tinier – a trailer selling delicious coffee, burgers and snacks. Both businesses may be in Garston but their owners are Athol locals. You can read Tabatha’s and Kylie’s stories here on the blog.

Living The Dream At Craft Keepers

You Can’t Beat A Great Coffee Bomb

Athol’s Graceland: A Hand-Built Home Infused With Love

Dwane Herbert: A Spearfishing Legend

Puppies On The Farm

Puppy and toddler on the farm.

Kids and puppies are inseparable when they’re young and they inevitably end up teaching each other a few valuable life lessons.

Even though our kids have long ago grown up, our son decided that I needed to keep honing my puppy-raising skills.

So, here’s a quick look at some of the cutest babies currently on the farm.

Rose

Rose, the heading dog and mother of ten healthy puppies.

Rose is the undisputed team leader of Chris’s dogs. The first pup he ever raised, she’s become a classic heading dog: small, slender and sassy.

When you put her with sheep she’s all business. You’ll see her crouched low, eyes fixed on her target, ready for business the moment Chris gives the command.

She’s got her eyes fixed on the Muscovy ducks too, so I keep them well apart. Rose would probably have duck for dinner before I had time to shout “NO!”

Time has sped by since Rose first came on the scene and already she’s 6 years old. In November, Chris decided that if he wanted to breed from her the time was now. So he played matchmaker with a friend’s equally talented dog… and we waited… and waited.

It seemed a long time before Rose began to show signs that she might be pregnant. But as she went from scrawny to roly poly we got the feeling that she had plenty of puppies inside.

Puppy Haven

Chris built a secluded puppy-raising sanctuary under the walnut trees, far from all distractions. With a spacious kennel and a ramp for when the pups were ready to climb out it had everything a new mum could want.

“I hope she doesn’t eat them,” Chris remarked the day they were born. Well, that gave me something new to fret about.

But we needn’t have worried. Over the next few hours, Rose gave birth to ten gorgeous puppies and proved herself to be an exemplary mother.

Rose looks out of her kennel, guarding her puppies.
Rose watching out for danger during her first few days of motherhood.

All The Babies Are Growing

Rose was very much on guard for the first week. Even Chris only approached her at mealtimes; the rest of us kept a respectful distance. Eventually she calmed down enough to let us “raid” puppy headquarters.

Two 10-day-old pups curled up on a sheepskin rug.

At ten-days-old the pups were little more than squirming sausages. Eyes tight shut, feeding and sleeping were the only things on their little minds.

A week later their eyes were open and they were just starting to toddle. Now they were the perfect size to meet the farm’s other beloved toddler — our grandson, 19-month-old Harvey.

Harvey looks delighted to meet the tiny puppies.
Harvey soon learned how to be gentle with the puppies.

Puppies grow fast and at 5 weeks these little guys kept busy all day playing around their kennel.

Puppies playing from Lyn McNamee on Vimeo.

They didn’t stray far from home — until one memorable morning.

Puppy Adventure

Racing down the ramp came the hoard of yapping puppies. Pushing and squirming, they dived into their two big bowls of breakfast milk and biscuits, while Terry tried to count heads.

1, 2, 3…8, 9.

He counted again — still nine. Hmmm!

“One puppy’s missing,” he reported. I choked on my cereal. This would happen the week Chris had gone mustering and left us in loco parentis.

We levered up the kennel to see if he’d burrowed underneath. Nope!

“People drive past so fast,” I thought. “They wouldn’t notice a puppy…” I dashed out to the nearby gravel road, praying.

“Please don’t let him be squashed.”

But there wasn’t a puppy in sight — thank goodness.

Rose had wandered off. Chris had left her untied because caring for ten rough-and-tumble infants was taking a severe toll on her limited supply of patience. Could the pup have followed his mum?

I searched the other dog kennels… under the trees… over by the tunnel house… in the long grass.

Surely he’d be crying if he was lost and far from home?

I was almost ready to admit defeat when:

“Yap!”

Just one little bark came from the patio rose jungle beneath our lounge window. Thorns scratched my hands as I peered into the murky undergrowth. One brave puppy stared back.

“Come on, Tarzan” I laughed. “I’ll make you some breakfast.”

A cute looking puppy.
Puppy number ten, AKA Tarzan.

The Puppies Are Weaned

Puppy number ten  must have told his brothers and sisters about his adventures in the big, wide world because after that we found puppies everywhere.

There were puppies on the carport… puppies chewing the boots. Puppies in the garden… puppy poop on the lawn… puppies chasing the ducklings.

And driving the car down the drive became a task fraught with danger.

Rose feeding 10 big puppies.
Rose has the haunted look of a mother dog who’s had enough of feeding this many mouths.

And Rose wanted nothing more to do with them. She had taken to spending most of the day sleeping on our carport couch — well out of reach of her mischievous brood.

“Build those pups a pen or I’ll shut them into a dog motel,” I threatened.

Do you think they’ve stayed in the spacious pen that Chris erected next to his dog kennels?

Of course not! There’s always a puppy or two pushing under the netting. We spot them sleeping with Archie in his kennel, or visiting their mum for a surreptitious snack.

But they’ve stopped wandering far and wide, for now, and ten pups always turn up for meals, so we’ll count that as a win.

Tails in the air, the puppies crowd around their dinner bowls.
Milk and puppy biscuits – yum!

Why these pups can’t be pets

It’s natural to love cute little babies — and at this age the pups are adorable, so people often ask, “Can I have one as a pet?”

But, the answer is always “No!”

These pups aren’t suitable for a town environment, and here’s why:

Working dogs are the backbone of a sheep farm, and a good heading dog saves a farmer hours of work.

They rarely bark — it’s the huntaway that makes all the noise.  These pups will control the sheep with stealth, position and sheer willpower.

Heading dogs are bred to run for miles and to think for themselves. What’s more, the herding instinct is in their DNA. Lacking sheep, you’ll often find young dogs rounding up chickens or even attempting to herd small children.

With their energetic heritage and herding DNA these pups are bred for farm life — that’s where they’ll be happiest and do their best.

Close up of a puppy running in the grass.

More Babies On The Blog

The McNamee family always had plenty of ducks and chickens on the home farm back when Terry was a lad, but they’ve been gone for years now. Do you think that we were pleased when Chris surprised us with a collection of Muscovy Ducks one spring? Discover their “ducky habits” in Muscovy Ducks On The Farm.

There are always plenty of babies around the farm at springtime. After all, breeding sheep is what we do best. So Spring tends to be happy, hectic and sometimes harrowing at lambing time on the farm.

Find out more in: Lambing Time On The Farm and Lambing 101

Do you have fond tales of animal babies too?

We’d love to hear them. Post them in the comments box below, or contact me if you’ve got a longer story to share.