"What do you want to be when you grow up ?" is a common question, which later becomes a more urgent ," what are you going to do when you leave school?"
My early years living on a farm up a valley north of Gisborne leaned me towards work outdoors. My options changed as most young folk do. When heavy machinery were upgrading our road I aspired to driving that Komatsu bulldozer.When the big mobs of bullocks walked past our place each year I dreamed of droving life with horses and dogs. After 5 years boarding school my first job was back on the family farm mustering, dagging, fencing, dipping, lambing, docking and it was great to work beside, and learn off, Dad and Mum. I also rousied in the local shearing gang and there picked up many valuable skills. Woolhandling gave me opportunity to earn good money, which was handy in university holidays.More importantly I gained essential getting-along-with-people experience working in teams for which I am ever grateful.
Shearing and woolhandling are great careers offering excellent income, travel opportunities and job security since sheep are always growing their next fleece. You meet interesting people, see different country, visit new farms, and gain satisfaction from every shed cut out.It may be hard work but it is very well paid. Our son Johnie is shearing well now, getting tallies up over 200 with every sheep down the porthole making him $2:15 richer.Brilliant for an 18 year old who aimed to be a shearer when he left school, has taken opportunities and enjoys the work and lifestyle.
So we were happy to recently host a course in our shed training local school students in the art of shearing and woolhandling. The Shearing Contractors Association employs tutors through a company called Te Ako Wools.They travel to woolsheds teaching skills to both first-timers and experienced operators improving technique. Shearing is tough to learn and a real challenge to body and brain. It involves footwork, balance and physical effort plus animal handling skills as you can't fight the sheep. Vital lessons involve setting up the handpiece and learning to grind gear to maintain good cutting. I admire anyone who takes on this challenge and these students were keen and enthusiastic. To start they tackled dagging, progressed to belly crutching and finally fully shorn ewes went down the porthole. The girls learnt about different breeds of sheep, what wool to sort into fadges, how to press bales and not to drop their "sweep".
Cooking for the team was my job and knowing how I appreciated good food when I was in their position, looking forward to smoko and lunch breaks, I tried to give them good memories too.
Be great to see some of these students back in our shed taking up this wonderful career when they do leave school.
All fine folk who produce food to feed peoples of the world please put your hand up. Then bend it behind your head and over your shoulder, then with a backwards and forwards motion of the wrist give yourselves a well deserved pat on the back. In a Fieldays speech farmers were encouraged to call themselves 'food producers" and become "louder and prouder" at telling our good stories. The presenter was Primary Industries Minister, Nathan Guy. Rather than preaching to converted at an agricultural gathering he's in a prime position to loudly spread that message of pride in food production and tell this great story along corridors of power and city streets. Championing all the committed people diligently producing food for both local and overseas consumers through all cycles of weather, challenges of changing expectations and undulating prices would be mighty encouraging.
Agriculture exports last year earned $38 billion for New Zealand. That is a big number with 9 zeros. The population of our country is now 4.6 million which means that food producers and foresters earned $8,300 for every man, woman and child living here. That is an amazing contribution, made even more incredible considering that a mere 1 % of our population are actively involved in agriculture. But there's more, because that production has increased 2.4 % on last year and is forecast to go up another 9.1% to $41.6 billion next season. This is real money earned by producing something real . The 70 million sheep which grazed NZ farms in 1982 has dropped to only 28 million sheep now. In those 35 years sheep paddocks have given way to dairying, grapes, hops, horses , spreading lifestyle blocks and houses. Now 24 million lambs are grown off 16,000 farms and we are proud to be one of this highly productive story. We create value and value creation.
Over the last month big well grown lambs have been leaving Kaihoka bound for the works. Then the company, Alliance Group Ltd, takes the primary product and processes it into over 2000 products which are exported to 65 countries. It is all a complex puzzle which depends on which market is being sold into what the product mix is, but to know that good meat from many cuts feeds many mouths is satisfying.
In the Collins dictionary farming is defined as "the business, art, or skill of agriculture , engaging in agricultural work especially as a way of life". Farming requires important skills like growing grass efficiently, genetics, soil science, fertiliser use, animal health, dog handling, crop management, food budgets, and much more. We sure are proud of the meat grown here but being a food producer is only part of what we do. I still proudly call myself a (? underline farm ?)r}.
One of the most useful tools on our farm simply hangs on the wall.It's value is in being in that prominent place in our kitchen for easy consultation. Having a scenic picture and big blank squares for each number is a bonus.It doesn't rule my life but it sure helps me to organise it.As I turned another page over today all those notes, squiggles and highlighted dates showed that this past month has been quite full . Board of Trustees and Rural Women meetings, lines showing when someone is away, youth group camp, power cuts for 2 days, a funeral, Pink Ribbon FUNndraiser lunch at the local hall and a trip to Nelson for a gathering of women shareholders from our meat company.Interesting to hear market and business updates, enjoy a delicious lamb lunch, and learn about new initiatives and how to sharpen a knife. Four weeks of good days and the ones when things don't go so well I'm careful not to label"bad" days since a few of those add up to be a week, and soon becomes an attitude of willing time to hasten so the page is turned to put this "bad Month" behind us.
When people ask how we manage our often busy lives I recall an All Black captain being interviewed after a long overseas campaign. The question was asked how the team copes with all those weeks of travel, practices and games. His reply was valuable advice I try to follow,"We focus on one day at a time".
Our useful item now has a new June photo and squares with things already written in. A 2 day shearing course for school students, scanning booked in, BoT meetings, training and bull sales. Each day is truly a gift and I am glad to have every one.
Our insurance company produces lovely calendars featuring clients in varying occupations. Beekeepers, winemakers, sheep and dairy farmers. We are privileged to be selected , so one entry on our May calendar was for a photographer to visit the usually camera shy Kaihoka team. Unsettled weather with grey drizzly days doesn't make for great photos and pictures interesting and beautiful enough to be hanging for 30 days on walls of homes and businesses. Jock, the cameraman and the fancy equipment headed off in pre-breakfast darkness and fortunately it turned into one of those lovely dawns with morning light on the hills, misty valleys and enough cloud to be picturesque. That made one happy photographer and now we look forward seeing his work and how he sees our place.
So next year on our wall will be one month featuring a familiar and much loved landscape, and maybe in the picture a familiar and much loved man and his dogs. Jock may be Mr May and that will make good month.