"Christ they're good looking b******s this year eh?" Says Andy, nudging me in the ribs and jumping out of the pick up. "C'mon then! We got a thousand of these b******s to shift."
So, for the third time that long day, I slide out of the pick up and jump some fences to follow him into the sea of year old lambs in the stock yards. Charlie, his slightly malcoordinated young sheepdog, comes flying over the fence behind me, whining and barking and taking immense pleasure in sending the lambs into a frienzy. "That'll do Charlie!" Andy growls at him. Drool seeps down his jowls as he smiles back at his master and waits impatiently for the next order. My job is to keep the flow of lambs going through the narrow feeder, onto the weighing scales so Andy can sort them accordingly into several pens. This involves a lot of silly noises, flapping, and occasionally hauling a sheep out of the feeder to turn him back in the right direction. Farmer Gary turns up to help half way through, with eyes that only just poke out above a facefull of wiry grey beard, and a lifeless cigarette hanging from his barely visible mouth. I make several rookie mistakes that day - standing in the wrong place when sheep are being driven, lifting the sheep the wrong way, wearing the wrong clothes, opening the wrong gates, driving the quad over a bump too fast causing poor Charlie to fall off and break his leg... It was the most educational disaster of a day I've ever had.
I'm working on a sheep and cattle farm in the Wairarapa valley, south of the North Island in beautiful wine country. Searching once again for some substance to my existence, I've decided to skip the NZ tourist trail for the time being, in exchange for some hard work and country life. I live in a big old farmhouse, that belongs to farmers Coach and Ali. Ali spoils me rotten, creating scrummy meals out of a fridge and pantry so well stocked you'd think we were preparing for a natural disaster. When I go to work sheep or cattle with Coach I bombard him with endless questions about farming, which I think he secretly loves answering. I imagine he's softened a lot in recent years with grandchildren and old age, but he's got the scars and stories of years of hard graft.
I've dreamed of working on a farm ever since I was little, and although, so far, my experience here is a pretty perfect materialisation of those childhood daydreams, the reality is far more gritty than my young imagination would've liked to believe.
Shooting and hunting are a part of everyday life here, whether it's rabbits, deer, pheasant, possum, or even wild horses. One of my first tasks when I got here was to try and ride Katy, an ex wild pony who had only recently been broken in and needed a lot of handling. I got thrown off twice in ten minutes, and when I hobbled back into the kitchen, brewing some bruises and covered in mud, Coach looked me up and down, thought for a minute and said,
"Well, we might take her down to the stock yard tomorrow."
"Oh and shoot her for the dogs?" Ali replied.
My eyes grew wide and I glanced pleadingly at Coach, who much to my relief suggested that I ride her in the yards instead because she'd have less room to bolt. But that's the harsh reality out here. If it can be eaten, it will be shot. If it doesn't serve a useful purpose, it will be shot. If it's considered a pest, it will be shot... or trapped. Another task of mine has been to pry a dead possum out of the trap and feed it to the pigs.
But I wanted to work on a farm - and this is it. I'm bottle feeding a month old lamb in one hand, and letting the terrier outside to kill a rabbit with the other. It's harsh and it's raw, but it's a life like no other... I like it here.
I've got a few more weeks to go and they may well make a half decent farmhand out of me yet... watch this space...