Classes are over now and finals season has begun! Finding a spot to study during finals is not easy. With over 20,000 students, every single seat in the library and study centers gets snatched up early in the morning. I have a final in Maori Society tomorrow, Environmental Politics on Saturday, and then I’ll have 3 weeks until my last final in Plant Ecology. I find it strange how spread out their finals schedule is, there is almost a full month for finals. I’m not really sure what the reasoning is, but it certainly is less stressful than our usual one week of finals. I’m hoping to find some trips to tag along on during my large gap in finals, I’ll just have to wait and see what comes up.
In other news, I got to visit a sheep farm! It was so much fun! My friend Vic’s family owns a farm in Cromwell and she offered to take Betsy and I up there to experience life on the farm for a couple days. We left at 6am in order to get to the farm at 8am (Vic’s dad said he would start the rounds late if we could get there by 8am). So we all hopped in the truck, caked with mud inside and out, dog and cages on the back and began the rounds of the sheep paddocks. The back of the truck had a little pen with hay for the lost lambs that get picked up, a larger cage for mama sheep that need to get picked up, as well as a spot for Pete, the dog.
Most of the lambing was already done by the time we were there, only a few of the first time mama sheep hadn’t given birth yet. They do ultrasounds on all of the sheep and split them up into paddocks of sheep that are going to have one lamb and sheep with twins, the first time moms are also separate as they usually give birth a little later. We cruised through all of the hilly paddocks searching for lost lambs and in some paddocks for sheep in labor.
Lambs acquire a scent from drinking their mother’s milk, which is how a sheep knows which lamb is her own. If a lamb gets separated from it’s mother before it is able to acquire a scent it will die, so lost lambs need to get picked up. If they can tell which one it’s mother is (I could never tell) then they pick up the mother as well and put them both in a pen together for a while so that the lamb can acquire the scent from the milk. Lost lambs without a mother are paired up with sheep that have lost a lamb. The sheep is put in a headlock in a pen so that the lamb can drink without being pushed away or the sheep’s original lamb is skinned and the fur is worn as a jacket on the new lamb so that it has the scent of the original lamb. Who knew sheep have such a strong sense of smell?
Finding sheep ready to give birth was really exciting. When they spotted a sheep in labor, the chase would begin. Sheep are shockingly fast, I never would have guessed. They speed around in the truck, bouncing up and down the hills in the paddock, chasing the sheep trying to cut off it’s path. Once there is only one sheep around they yell “go Pete!” and pete jumps off the back of the truck and chases down the sheep. He grabs the sheep by the ear and slows it down until someone can jump out of the car and tackle the sheep. One of the sheep we chased was so fast the dog took a while to catch it, we cut off it’s path and it rammed right into the side of the truck. That slowed it down enough for Pete to grab it’s ear and for Vic to jump out of the truck and grab it. The person that grabs the sheep flips it over and holds it on it’s back while the other pulls out the lamb by it’s front legs. The second time we got a sheep Vic looked up at me and said “pull it out now Julia!” and there was no time to think, so I got in there and pulled out the warm, slimy little lamb! Once birthed, the mama and baby are put in a small pen together for a day to give the baby a chance to learn how to feed and acquire it’s scent.
We got to bottle feed the lost lambs that hadn’t been paired up with new mothers yet. They are super friendly, they like to snuggle up on people;s laps and trot around happily.
Vic keeps one lamb as a pet each year, and this year it’s Mini Me! She’s a super cute little lamb. She follows Vic everywhere like a little puppy, sits happily on her lap, and comes when called.
We also got to herd sheep from one paddock to another, which was actually managed with just the truck and one of the motor bikes. Herding the deer was really different, they’re smarter so you can’t just chase them like the sheep. They would set up one truck ahead of the deer, the person in that truck would do this funny deer call and slowly drive away and then most of the deer kind of just follow along behind.
The other truck is hidden out of sight behind the deer with Diesel, the deer herding dog (they have at least 8 incredibly well trained dogs on the farm each with a very specific job). The truck with the dog tries to scare and chase the deer that get left behind towards the other deer. It was amazing to watch the whole process, they are such a talented family! They know all their animals so well and have it down to a science exactly how to move these huge groups of unwilling animals from one place to anther. The deer were herded to a shed where their antlers were chopped to the appropriate length and then they were loaded onto a two level truck headed to “the works” to be made into venison.
The sheep farm is one of my favorite places I have had the joy of visiting during my time abroad. Vic’s family was incredible. I am in awe of the amount of work they put into their farm and all of the knowledge they have of their work. They don’t even say anything to each other and all of a sudden they’re all jumping out of the car at the same time and flapping things or grabbing sheep.
Thinking about the farm and all the little lambies is getting me through my studying this week!