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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Puppies grow fast and at 5 weeks these little guys kept busy all day playing around their kennel.
They didn’t stray far from home — until one memorable morning.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
More Babies On The Blog
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.
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There’s nothing quite like crunchy, crisp apples straight from the tree. But if you ask your great-granny about her youth, I guarantee she’ll say, “Apples tasted better back then.”
And it’s true!
Since the 20th century we’ve let many old varieties of fruit and vegetables slip quietly into oblivion — and with them have gone taste… aroma…and diversity. Count up how many different apple names you can see on the supermarket shelves. You might see six, but years ago there would have been dozens throughout the country.
It’s both sad and dangerous for the environment that we’ve lost so much plant diversity in the last hundred years. That’s why we treasure the oldest tree on our farm.
In a quiet gully, far from prying eyes, stands an old apple tree.
Why is she there, far from the houses and sheds on the farm?
The now-dry creek used to wash down through the paddocks and home orchards on the terraces above. Perhaps an apple tumbled downstream, or a bird deposited a seed as it flew by?
However it happened, a seed sprouted and against all the odds, our tree thrived. How long she’s been there no-one can say but she’s old in New Zealand apple-tree-years, make no mistake about that.
A Special Apple Tree
But it’s not just the isolation, nor even her age that makes our old girl special, for she is a heritage tree. Because she has grown from seed this tree is actually unique — the only one of her kind in the world. You can’t be more special than that.
And her apples are beautiful; cooking apples like your great-grandparents grew. Raw they are tart on your taste buds, but cooked they turn fluffy, sweet and delicious. You might find apples like these in a farmer’s market, but never on the supermarket shelves.
Our family loves this old apple tree, and when we climb up the gully each year at harvest time there’s a niggle of worry at the back of my mind.
“What if a fire raced unexpectedly down the dry gully? Would we lose her if disease struck? Even trees succumb eventually to old age…”
The world is losing its unique plants and animals at an alarming rate. I would hate for our old tree to join that list.
And yet, we may have worried, but year after year we stayed stuck in procrastination mode, until one day we met Riverton’s famous tree-saving duo.
Tree-Saviours Arrive On The Farm
Robert and Robyn Guyton are passionate permaculturalists and have developed their once-gorse-covered Riverton property into a food farm which supplies most of their daily needs. They are also the guiding lights behind the Riverton Environmental Centre and are well known in Southland for their conservation efforts and their enthusiasm about saving trees.
One windy, wet Sunday in early spring, Robert and Robyn decided to explore the old orchards around the Garston area. Our son Chris found them peering at some trees near the woolshed.
“These trees aren’t bad,” he told them, waving his hand around the nearby orchard, “but would you like to see the best tree on the farm?”
Of course they would. So he drove them up the gully to the quiet old tree.
So that’s how it came about that when Terry and I drove home from church that Sunday morning, we discovered Robert, Robyn and Chris all dripping wet and happily stowing cuttings into their car.
“What a find!” the Guytons smiled.
One of the Guytons’ missions is to train other people up in the art of tree-saving. So they passed the cuttings onto Robyn Shields, a former student of theirs, who lives not far from Queenstown.
Robyn’s always loved old things so the idea of saving plants that might otherwise disappear for good immediately attracted her interest.
Naturally, she was keen to learn how to graft trees from the Guytons as part of their programme aimed at saving Southland heritage apple trees. In fact, the idea combined Robyn’s two favourite passions: gardening and antiques.
Not long ago the Shields were immersed in running a busy paua shell and souvenir business in Riverton but when they retired to Queenstown, Robyn ‘seized the day’ and set up a tree-saving haven in her backyard.
Grafting Baby Apple Trees
To get a true replica of an apple tree you need a cutting — or scion — from the new growth of your original tree, and a rootstock to graft it onto.
Rootstocks come from trees that are particularly hardy and disease-resistant. They’ll ensure that the new tree has well-developed roots and a good uptake of nutrients. The rootstock also determines the size of the new tree and you can find ones from dwarf all the way up to vigorous (which are likely to be huge.)
When the new growth has hardened up — usually in late winter — Robyn takes cuttings from the old tree, pops them in the fridge and ensures that she’s got enough rootstock growing in her nursery.
When spring arrives it’s time to graft the scion.
First, Robyn carefully makes a split in the top centre of the rootstock stem. The next step involves shaving the bottom of the scion into a wedge and inserting it into the split. She tapes the two together with a special tape which will wear off over time.
Our Baby Heritage Trees
When I went to visit Robyn this summer she showed me a group of splendid, year-old saplings from our tree,. They’re growing strong and straight in her nursery garden.
In winter it will be time for the trees to move on from their protected nursery, so we’ve got until then to decide where to plant them on the farm.
Now that Robyn’s got the tree-saving bug she hopes to be able to replicate other rare fruit trees around the Queenstown area.
After all, there are remnants of old orchards which date back to Queenstown’s gold mining days — especially out in isolated areas such as Macetown, or closer to civilisation at the Chinese Settlement restoration in Arrowtown.
Of course, Robyn would need permission from DOC and other organisations before she can work in those sorts of places. But she is allowed to plant some of her newly-produced trees in a designated area around the lower Shotover. In the future, that could mean that some rarer fruit is available for all to enjoy.
Thanks Are Due
The English and Scottish settlers who came to Southland and Otago brought many trees from their homelands. They have adapted to New Zealand conditions and have now become unique to us.
In these days of mass production where plant diversity is plummeting in the world, it’s wonderful to have people who care enough to work to preserve nature in all its many diverse forms.
Thank you Robyn, Robyn and Robert for your work to preserve our own little slice of apple tree history.
Autumn on the farm is such a busy season. The men are busy harvesting the grain but I’m focused on gathering all the other food that nature is providing. My 2018 “Autumn Harvest On The Farm” series is a celebration of nature’s bounty and the foresight of the farmers who began developing this farm more than 100 years ago.
Shane Matheson trains racehorses — pacers to be precise. I could say he does it in his spare time, but he really doesn’t have any.
I’ve never been to a racing stables before but I’m fascinated by the whole horse training process. So it was thrilling to visit Shane and his partner Lisa at their Balfour stables to find out what makes a racehorse trainer tick.
A Good Trainer Knows His Horses
It’s easy to tell that Shane Matheson loves to train horses.
He speaks about them the way a good teacher talks about the children in their class. You can hear love and affection, frustration and pride. And, most of all, a deep understanding of each individual personality and what makes them tick.
The frustration comes from seeing potential go unrealised.
“I know it’s in there,” he says of one horse. “It’s just how to help him get it out.”
But that’s a skill that Shane has honed over years, and it seemed to me that he is pretty good at it.
Horses And Sheep — Somehow Shane Does It All
Racehorse training is a time-consuming life, and yet only the big guns can afford to make it a career. Smaller trainers have to fit the horse work around their other full-time jobs.
We see Shane several times a year, when he brings his crutching trailer to the farm.
Crutching sheep day after day is hard physical work — and the travel time takes its toll too. Shane and Lisa start early and often arrive home late.
But no matter how full of sheep the day is, they always have time for their horses.
How Do They Do It?
That’s why on most days of the week you’ll find Shane rolling out of bed at four in the morning. His first priority is always feeding the horses. Then, all too soon, it’s time for the truck and crutching trailer to roll out the gate.
Usually the horses are out in the paddocks — they thrive on being outside with freedom to move. It gives Shane extra distance to cart the feed buckets, but less time mucking-out the stables.
However, dishing out up to 17 breakfasts isn’t the only morning chore.
“The horses need to build up their fitness,” he explained, “so they go jogging most days.”
A Racing Stable Needs A Team
Shane doesn’t have the time to exercise the horses in the morning. So, usually, friend and neighbour Jane Orr comes in to help.
“We simply couldn’t do it without Jane,” Lisa told me, and Shane nodded a fervent agreement.
Jane and Lisa are largely responsible for keeping the horses fit.
Separately or together, they hitch the horses to the jogging trailer which tows behind the ute. That way they can lead up to seven horses around the track at the same time.
Each one needs between 10 and 30 minutes of jogging time a day depending on their stage of fitness.
You can see how getting fit could take a good chunk out of the morning.
Lisa and Shane’s son Tristan is another vital team member. With so many of their daylight hours taken up with crutching, Tristan’s often the one you’ll find doing the night-time feeding round.
The teamwork continues onto race days as well. Sadly, for Shane, he often finds himself crutching on racing days while Lisa does the trainer duties at the track. That’s where 19-year-old Tristan comes to the rescue once more, by taking Lisa’s place as chief rousie and sheep-mover.
Training On The Home Track
Of course, Shane would rather be in the sulky than crutching sheep so each day he’s the one you’ll find behind the harness doing the training runs. The horses love their newly-sanded home track. Since Balfour’s so far inland this is the closest they’ll get to training on the beach.
There are many things for a pacer to learn, but the most important is to love the whole experience.
Keeping The Horses Fed And Happy
Every trainer has his own magic mixture to feed his horses. Shane’s includes crushed barley, Betabeet, various oils and plenty of seaweed.
Seaweed is said to prevent mud fever* in horses. Shane can’t swear that’s true. But he can say that the horses haven’t had mud fever since he started them on seaweed.
The horses may be lucky enough to spend much of their time in paddocks but they’re still fed morning and night. And not all the horses get the same mixture.
What they eat depends on a whole lot of other factors. This one’s ready to race; that one’s looking off-colour. Another horse is pregnant… each one has a different brew.
And occasionally a new horse will arrive with some interesting foibles.
Shane pointed to the farthest-away tree in the paddock.
“One horse would only eat over there when he first arrived,”
It’s the coldest, windiest spot on the farm. But every morning Shane had to lug the heavy feed bucket across the wet grass to that chosen tree. In every other spot the horse turned up his nose.
“We got him out of that habit pretty quick, Shane admitted. “He’ll eat anywhere, now.”
Where Do They Come From?
It’s expensive to own and train a racing horse and many people want their horses to win early on. So quite a few of the Matheson’s horses are ‘cast outs’ from bigger stables.
Shane, on the other hand, takes a longer view.
We went to see another horse who’d lately arrived at Shane’s stables a little depressed and refusing to eat. Now, he gobbles his food along with the best of them.
“The potential’s there,” Shane said.
“But this year my priority is getting him fit, healthy and enjoying himself. We’ll give him lots of joyful experiences now so that he’ll be raring to go out and reach that potential.”
We watched as Shane harnessed him into the training sulky. “I’m not sure how he’s going to go,” he admitted. “This is his first run in a while.”
Shane must already be working his magic. Two minutes later that horse was flying around the track and loving every minute of it.
2004 — A Race To Remember
When you’re running late something is bound to go wrong. Take the day that Happy Gilmore was entered into the Tuapeka Cup.
“We got a speeding ticket dashing through Clinton.”
That’s enough to put anyone in a tizzy, but worse followed on the Dunedin motorway. Happy Gilmore began rearing in the box.
You can’t scream to a halt in a horse box, and by the time Shane had pulled over Happy Gilmore’s leg was completely stuck, and his stablemate was not impressed.
“So we had take the other horse out — with cars zooming past — so we could manoeuvre the leg back out.”
It was no easy task.
“By the time we finished he was holding up his leg, looking really sorry for himself. And I thought ‘Damn, we’ll have to scratch him.’”
But they still had another horse — and his race came first.
Gradually, Happy Gilmore seemed to improve so into the sulky he went. Horse and driver galloped off down the course. Enough was enough! Shane decided to go for a drink.
As it turned out, it was just as well he did.
Happy Gilmore refused to settle. The stipes (stewards) decided that Shane would have to withdraw him from the race. So the call went out over the loudspeaker: “Shane Matheson, report immediately.”
In the bar, Shane was oblivious to the fracas holding up the whole race.
Eventually the driver took matters into his own hand and galloped the horse back to the start. This time, as soon as racing got underway, Happy Gilmore paced beautifully.
And, in the best of horseracing traditions, after all that, he won the race.
What’s Next For Shane
Shane’s cautiously excited about his current team — both horse and human.
He can’t say enough about Sheree Tomlinson, his regular driver, and with good reason. Sheree’s the top junior driver in Australasia, and Shane thanks his lucky stars that she’s an integral part of his racing team.
The horses are pacing out of their skins too.
Hurricane Banner set the scene at Gore on February 9th with a come-from-behind win in the last race of the day.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Reading More On The Blog
Shane’s day job is running a busy crutching trailer business. He’s an expert who makes our farming lives easier by doing the job quicker and better than we ever could. You can read more about life on the farm here.
Our communities are full of people who bring great things into the world by following their dreams. Some create beautiful or useful things. Others – like Shane – bring joy through sport or entertainment. Still more own small businesses which serve others with useful and innovative products. You can read some of their stories here.
Summer is haymaking season on the farm and I love to reflect on how making hay has changed over the years. We still use dried grass but our ancestors wouldn’t believe how we can make hay now.
The Easy Way To Make Hay
At its simplest, hay is just dried grass stored for the winter. Cousin Matt, with just five sheep to feed, has haymaking down to a fine art.
At some point during the summer, when he’s cutting a paddock of hay down that way, Terry will run the mower along the grass verges near Matt’s house.
A few days later when the long grass has dried Matt simply picks it up and dumps it into large sacks (called fadges). Hey, presto! Winter feed is done and dusted.
But of course when you have 3000+ mouths to feed the process becomes a bit more complicated.
Back In The Day
Once upon a time, skilled farm-hands would have cut a paddock of long grass with sickles — those wicked-looking long curved, super-sharp blades. Others would follow behind and hand-spread it to dry.
A few days later, the hay was pitchforked into huge piles called rucks.
It was all slow going and hugely labour intensive. No wonder that farmers began to embrace the new technology of tractors and hay-makers when it began to surface.
Square Baling On The Move
By the time I came onto the farming scene, haymaking had become rather more sophisticated. One person could mow the grass with a tractor and mower, turn it over with a tedder or a hay rake, and tie it up with a baler which moved with the tractor. (Nowadays we call them square bales, although of course, they’re not actually square at all.)
The baler pumped out the bales and dropped them onto the ground ready to be stacked. Usually we towed a gatherer behind which slid the bales along the paddock until there were enough to make a stack.
My job was building the stacks. No need for a gym membership in those days — freshly-made bales made great weights! And of course, since the finished stacks were always head-height, I needed an extra bit of oomph to heave the last bales on top.
Introducing The Sledge aka “The Man-Killer”
Another way to build the stacks was on a sledge which towed along directly behind the baler. You stood on the sledge and picked up each heavy bale as it pumped out of the machine. Relentlessly, every 10 seconds, another bale to lift and stack. No wonder we groaned when the sledge came out.
“Grab the covers,” ordered Terry. “It’s going to rain.”
So I dropped everything and loaded the car up with the dusty covers piled in a corner of the workshop. (In later years I had to add kids and the latest baby as well.)
Nowadays, there’s not the same panic if it rains; the big modern round bales are reasonably waterproof. But the small bales would rot if they got wet so we had to protect them if we didn’t want to lose the lot.
There’s an art to covering a stack in the quickest time possible — and sometimes we did have to be quick! I lost count of the times we had to dash down to the hay paddock because of looming rain clouds.
Working together, two people could cover a stack and dash onto the next in a couple of minutes and it was actually pretty fun to race the rain.
Folding — and unfolding — the covers correctly so that they were quick to use was one of the first things I learned on the farm. I can still almost do it in my sleep.
Keeping Up With The Times — Technology Moves On
But although haymaking had become easier and faster than those earlier times, we still needed a lot of hands on deck to make it happen. Nowadays, just as winter feeding out has become a one-man-band, Terry can also make the hay all by himself.
Cutting the Hay
Modern mowers are huge, noisy and fast. Ours is by no means the latest model, but it can still turn a huge paddock into long, flat rows of mown grass in just a few hours.
Turning the Hay
If the weather-gods are kind and the sun shines bright, the grass will be ready to turn in a day or two. Often, the rows are so thick that the grass dries on top, but stays wet underneath. Then we have to turn them over (called tedding.).
Later, he’ll go round again with a “haybob” which fluffs up the hay and puts it into defined rows which are easy for the baler to pick up.
Ready to Bale
In a few days, the hay will be ready to bale, and that’s when the big round baler swings into action. (Of course just as the “square bales” aren’t really square, “round bales” are actually cylinders. Who knows how they came to be called round?)
So, around the paddock we go for the 4th time. This time the baler chomps up the fluffy rows of grass and spits the hay bale out the back like a hen laying an egg.
Each bale is the equivalent of a whole stack of square bales and there’s no stacking or stooking to do. The tractor simply picks up the round bales and carts them off to the hay shed.
A Bountiful Summer
In Garston, we have to feed our stock in winter. There are months and months where the grass doesn’t grow, and our sheep depend on hay, balage and grain to survive.
And the weather in spring and summer is a crucial factor in the cycle of winter feed.
This year we’ve been blessed with plenty of rain — but not so much that we’re drowning in it. There’s plenty of grass in the paddocks, and lots to spare for haymaking.
Last summer — in the middle of our two-year drought — Terry managed to shut off two paddocks for hay and their yield was miserly. One paddock managed a measly 19 bales in total. Yesterday that same paddock yielded 19 in just two rounds.