A Tour Around Middlemarch

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An ominous cloud hangs with snow topped mountains in the background.

Well, things are quiet on the farm since the family left last week to go up north for Jim’s hockey tournament. A week before that, a new girl arrived from Norway to spend six months here learning about farming. It’s been good for us to be together so I can show her some things around here as well as indulging both of us with my culinary skills.

Bruchetta on homemade rosemary bread, three types of cheese, fruit, raw honey and wine for dinner!
Bruchetta on homemade rosemary bread, three types of cheese, fruit, raw honey and wine for dinner!

By the way, has anyone ever seen broccoli in bloom!?! I hadn’t until the other day and it was quite pretty!

Broccoli flowering
Broccoli flowering

The first day we were on our own, the weather was really bad. She milked the cows and I went IMG_4282with her on the ATV to check on the calves. Opening gates is time consuming for one person so I figured we’d both suffer instead of just her. It was freezing cold and then it started hailing on us. That’s never fun on an ATV. I failed to bring gloves with me too, so my fingers were tingling in a really bad way. However, we survived and the days after that were better.

We ventured out of the house today into Middlemarch. I would have been upset with myself if I hadn’t gone there after all this time. I realize there’s really nothing there, but there was a pub and we felt that it needed to be checked out.

The only pub in Middlemarch
The only pub in Middlemarch

For at least the third time since I’ve been in NZ, I’ve seen my old car around and today was no

My old car! Sniff sniff.
My old car! Sniff sniff.

exception. I sort of hate being reminded about it because I loved my car, but it’s also nice to see it and brings back good memories.

We first stopped in at a little cafe since I saw bakery goods through the doorway. She hadn’t eaten yet so she got a burger and I settled for a chocolate raspberry muffin. It was kind of like being in someone’s home which was a nice change.

IMG_4317We wandered out to the train station, which isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. It’s really just a tour train that comes through once a week from Dunedin and the station was closed so we couldn’t even go inside. Another old truck was sitting outside along with one of those funky sign posts that appears to make Middlemarch seem like it has a TON of stuff to do.

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The town is seriously desolate. I had been told that there wasn’t any type of grocery store but

You know you're down under when there are signs for the South Pole
You know you’re down under when there are signs for the South Pole

apparently there is. It had the basics and then some…even ice cream! Thea can get her potato chip and Coca Cola fix now, which made her really happy. There was also a bike shop which was surprising. Although I think it’s meant for tourists when they come in on the train. We also stopped by the local graveyard and I noticed some names on there who were the parents and grandparents of folks that live around here. It started raining so we left and that was our big day out! We came home and made a huge pot of potato soup for dinner and polished off the completely home made chocolate cake from earlier this week.

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Next to the pub where you can sit outside on a nice day
Next to the pub where you can sit outside on a nice day
Cutest little bank I've ever seen! Don't know that it's still in business though.
Cutest little bank I’ve ever seen! Don’t know that it’s still in business though.
Not even a clue as to what this meant. “Strath Taieri Rabbit Board.” I picture a bunch of rabbits in suits sitting around a table having a meeting.
Lazy lambs!
Lazy lambs!
At the cattle yard on the farm.
At the cattle yard on the farm.
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Life and Death on the Farm

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Another frosty morning on the farm

It’s lambing and calving time here. The dairy cows have been birthing for the past week or so, with a new calf almost daily, it seems. They are mighty cute…one has a little heart shaped white spot on its forehead. They’re soft and perfect, with the shiniest little hooves I’ve ever seen. They like to sleep in the sun and their dark hair absorbs the heat as they snooze silently, without a care in the world.

IMG_3098The calves can, however, pick up something called the scours from the ground by sleeping on it too much. It can end up killing them if you’re not careful. I really don’t want that to happen while I’m here, but Rosa tells me that she sees the signs of it on a couple so far. I’ve gotten some insight into the mass cow production that takes place in the ‘real world’. She told me that calves are taken away from their mothers a day or two after birth just so people can have milk to drink. The little ones then go to ‘the works’ so they can be processed for veal. Sigh….

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The sheep are heavy in lamb, as they say around here. Some have had their babies already and others have simply not made it through to birthing. I mentioned before about sheep being cast (fallen or laid down and can’t get up again) and I came across my first few the other day. When I went to look for a new calf in the paddock, I cut through where some sheep were grazing. I saw the calf, then turned to walk back home. I passed a large rock outcropping and there she was…a pregnant sheep on her side, legs sticking out and missing her eyes. The gulls got to her and it was exactly as I had thought it would be from Rosa’s description. Sad, horrifying and depressing. I went around every rock to make sure no others were awaiting the same fate. I didn’t see any that were cast and alive, but I did see the remains of a couple that had been dead for a while.

Today, we went to muster up some other sheep to give them vaccinations. We had to separate the babies from the mob and somehow also find their mothers to keep them nearby. As we were moving them up the track, we saw a baby with a female, but I was told it probably wasn’t its mother. The sheep had fallen over and was too heavy and weak to make the walk, so she was put on the back of the ATV and I got to hold the lamb in the truck. Lambs are hard to catch and when we can’t, a dog goes after them instead, tackling it to the ground and being a little too rough for my taste. That’s what happened with this one. The dog chased it, grabbed it by its neck and pinned it down. The lamb screamed out and I felt the need to be ‘mom’ for a while and comfort it. Bill went over to retrieve it and I asked if I could hold onto it. It was the most darling thing. Soft little chin, fluffy coat and eyes that were barely open. I noticed a little blood in its mouth, surely from the rough up it got minutes before. My hand cupped around the tiny rib cage and her heart was beating so fast, I couldn’t even keep count.

Once we got the sheep to the paddock and a few females in with their babies, I was told to let the little one go to see if it could find mom. The poor little thing walked up and down the fence line, yelling out just waiting to be found. No mom came. Rosa thought that maybe it didn’t have a mom or else they were separated when we were drafting them out. The decision was made to put the lamb back around where we found it and wish for the best. Hopefully it did have a mom and it will live a long, healthy life.

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Goats making a run for it!

As we brought the other mob back home and crested a hill, we saw about 50 goats in the turnip patch. Rosa was not happy. Goats are a pest here and I often hear of Bill and the boys going out goat hunting. The goats sort of herded themselves in with the sheep and ended up in the yard, behind closed fences. We had to vaccinate all of those sheep and trying to keep the goats out of the way was a challenge. Rosa managed to put a bunch into the sheep shed but some stayed in the mob. One in particular got spooked and ran fast toward a gate at the end of the paddock. It looked as if it thought it could ram right through it, but instead it broke its neck and couldn’t move after hitting the ground.  “He just buggered himself,” Rosa said. I walked up to it, already knowing its fate. It was still alive, looking at me from an unnatural angle.  I saw Rosa walking to the truck and I knew what was coming. For some reason, I expected to see her walking back with a gun, but as I passed her, it was a knife she had. I didn’t want to be around but was still within ear shot as I heard the goat cry out with its last breath and then it went silent.

The future of the other goats in the shed isn’t likely positive either. There are too many goats, hogs, rabbits and hares around here for the farmers’ taste. They take food from their stock and are seen as pests. They’ve told me that the hogs will eat baby lambs during the night. One year, they took so many that they had to do a massive hunt to try and curb their population. They had to just shoot them on sight and leave them there. It’s not as bad now, but it’s a loss they have to factor in unfortunately. I can’t imagine how horrified a little lamb would be, but again, it’s life on the farm. One would like to think that nothing bad ever happens, but nature isn’t that kind.

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Prices, Plants and Police

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In keeping with tradition, I’d like to rehash prices of stuff in the store here. I may never again complain about prices in Central America. I took some pictures of the local flyer for the grocery stores here since a picture is way more interesting. Some things that weren’t in there though (and for really good reason) I’ll just have to write about. Keep in mind a kilo = 2.2 pounds and that the NZ dollar hovers around .85 to $1 USD. I’ll quote in NZD below. It’s still hard to swallow, regardless:

1 kilo of tomatoes $24.00

1 red or green bell pepper $3.99 (ad below is a sale price)

1 cucumber $3.99

1 kilo of chili peppers $49.99

Cheapest bottle of wine $8.99

4 bagels $5.00

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Small bag of pathetic shrimp for $18 and SAVE $9!?!?!?

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My newest favorite food in the world: Creamed Clover Honey.

Cost: Priceless

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Oh, and I almost forgot to mention about the price of internet. Being out here, I have a USB stick with a sim card in it to connect. Are you sitting down? My surfing has been severely limited as never before. At least I can say it’s not dial up speed like it was in Puerto Viejo. I am paying $30 per GIGABYTE. Hardly doing anything per day is adding up to at least 40-50MB. I blew through my first gig in about 10 days. So I’m only doing what I have to…I have no idea what’s going on in the world which is fine by me. I check email, process orders, pay my credit card bill and sometimes check my investments. I upload photos to the blog on a free connection in Dunedin. I’ve completely taken internet for granted until now. I did find a new plan that will give me 500MB for free each time I top up but the cheapest I can buy is $20 (for 500MB) so we’ll see how that works for me.

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I was put in charge of planting the first batch of veggies: lettuce, broccoli, squash, onions, cauliflower, pumpkin and cabbage. The little kids started popping up a few days later after sitting in a sunny window!

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I sat outside and the black cat, who can find joy in playing with a clump of dirt, was out there with me. I decided to entertain him so I plucked out what appeared to be a weed and swatted it around for him to catch. Upon closer inspection, the leaves were tiny hearts! I felt kind of bad after that, but figured I should take a picture since they were so darn cute!

I was thumbing through the mail and there was a newsletter of sorts for Middlemarch.  I saw this blurb in there which was too funny to not include here. What are the odds that this would happen in a major city in the U.S.? I’m sure the police would not find it amusing.

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There’s an old house on the property here which was built by a man for his wife in the late 1800’s. Allegedly he came from England and to farm here. He lived in a cave nearby for over a year while this house was being built. I’ve tried to go in the house but it looks a bit rickety and I can’t actually get the door open all the way. I caught the sunset in the window one night and thought it looked cool.

It was Father’s Day here this past weekend and we all had a nice lunch. Kate made a Pavolva which I had never had before. It is a meringue type cake with a nice crunchy outside and soft lower layer. It looked really huge but it was so light, it practically flew off the table.

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Bill got a lot of nice presents and I framed the photo I took of him and his dog one day out in the paddocks.

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Out in the Middlemarch of Nowhere

 

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Staying true to my M.O., I find myself once again, living at the end of a road in the middle of nowhere. But this is REALLY out there. Probably the farthest I’ve been in nowhere. I am volunteering on a sheep farm on the outskirts of Middlemarch, which is about an hour 1/2 inland from Dunedin. When I inquired to my hostess the name of the town she was in (since she said they were about 20 minutes from Middlemarch), her reply was, “We don’t live in a town. We live at the end of a gravel road.” I just smiled to myself and thought back on all of the times I’ve found myself in places like that.

We arrived after sunset so I really had no idea where we were or what it looked like.  All I knew was that it was dark and there were no lights anywhere in sight. When I woke up in the morning and looked out the large kitchen window all I saw were fields, tall rolling hills and to the west, a long mountain range with snow on the top of it.  “Wow,” was all I could say. It was beautiful.

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I was taken out to see where the chickens were fed and she threw out warm boiled potatoes and kitchen scraps to them, as well as ‘meat’ of some kind and a bit of grain. We also tore out tufts of grass in front of their pen and laid it out neatly in front of them, as if it were a delicacy. She said it made the yolks more yellow, which is how you can tell free range eggs from caged.

I was given the task of lacquering the wood around the front door and windows and after I was done, she came in and asked if I had ever stuck a needle in an animal before. I said, “Only an iguana!”  We rode on an ATV out to the barn where a very large flock of silent sheep looked at me with nervous eyes.  I see where the term “sheepish look” comes from now. I was amazed at how silent they were. There must have been at least 300 of them, which was just a fraction of the 5000+ they own. She rigged up two bottles on hooks with big syringes. One bottle was a milky white and the other looked like blood. I had no idea what was going on here. Turned out the red one was B12 and the other was a vaccine of some sort which they get once a year.

The barn had about three large holding pens and the job was to herd the sheep (with the help of a great dog who knew exactly what to do) into different pens. It was fun watching the dog jump effortlessly over the high gates, barking constantly and keeping the sheep in order. There was a narrow run that held about 45 sheep at once about two sheep wide. They were stuffed in there so they couldn’t move easily and with a swift and careful jab in the neck, they each got two shots. I watched the routine a few times before she had me do the B12 shot and she followed behind with the vaccine. Once we got down the line, I swapped out the needles and the herding started again. By the time we were done, I was a lot faster and more confident. She smiled and agreed when I exclaimed that I had gotten the hang of it.

I was then given the task of picking up one of the boys at the bus stop.  Oh man…driving on the left and a right side drive truck! Really my only hurdle was the right side drive, as it was just down a stretch of road with no cars, so at least I could practice there instead of in traffic. It felt very strange, instinctively grabbing for the seat belt to my left and finding only air. Thankfully, it was an automatic (something I never thought I would say). Last thing I need at this point is to drive a standard in the opposite direction. The pattern still being the same as if you were a left hand drive but yet opposite since first gear is away from you, not next to you.

I passed over the low water crossing, which I was told on the way in, can have you stuck at the house for days on end if it floods. The truck crept up the steep hill, feeling as if I would tip end over end. I really should find out how to use 4WD, I suppose. The scenery on the way (8km) was beautiful. Large rock outcroppings with grazing sheep around them, endless sky with perfect clouds hanging over the mountains and even an old truck, just begging to have its picture taken, all caught my eye. I swore I would come back the next day to photograph it all.

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Oyster Catchers

The following day, we had to herd some sheep down to the house so they could be scanned for babies. We rode up the hill on an ATV early in the morning. It had frozen overnight, and ice covered the puddles that we crunched through while riding slowly. The wind IMG_2602stung my face as we scanned the land for sheep lying down. If they are pregnant and can’t get up, they will die there and birds will come and poke out their eyes. Her older dog sat next to me on the ATV, shivering. I held her close to me before we had left, trying to warm her up.

Frost covered the grass and the other dogs ran beside us and the puppy sat on my IMG_2551lap. It was a winter wonderland as far as I was concerned. The air was crisp, the sun tried its best to warm the earth and I attempted to keep my face warm by wrapping the scarf around my mouth and nose as we continued to ride.

As we got higher up, she stopped at a spot and said she would leave me here for about an hour as she rounded up the sheep. They would come down and I had to keep them on the road and get them through the gate. She said they tended to want to go up the hill and to make sure that didn’t happen. I got off the ATV and watched the sun slowly come over the mountain top and made my way into the light. I took advantage of the time to take some photos of this special place where tourists simply do not go.

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About 45 minutes later, I could hear the ATV in the distance. A flock of sheep were coming down the road! I ran into position but then they stopped, as they tend to do when something is in their way. I ran beside them to get them going again and yelled, “Go! Go! Go!” They started to walk faster and then I noticed that some were getting into the field…the same one I was supposed to be protecting. I ran down and herded them toward the gate. It was all easygoing after that. They marched through the gate and into the pasture. More came and I was amazed at just how many there were. It was a steady stream for at least ten minutes. “C’mon girls! Come! Come! Come!” The last few trickled down and I was happy they all made it through ok.

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Sheep going through the gate into the pasture

We continued to herd them through on the ‘bike’, as they call it here and the dogs ran on either side keeping them going. Even the puppy did a good job, running in back of them silently. The herding dogs are worth thousands of dollars and are an integral part of this business. They respond to voice and whistle commands and do a damn good job at it. The puppy will become one of the crew, but she’s just watching at this point and understanding what’s going on. Some of the dogs only use eye commands while others bark. They are all well behaved and quite friendly.

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On the final stretch home, I noticed narrow paths etched into the ground. I was told they walk single file and tend to follow these paths back home.

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Later in the afternoon, I was asked to drive into Middlemarch to pick up the kids from hockey practice. A longer drive than the bus stop and a new route for me, I did alright driving on the left and on actual pavement this time. I didn’t even get lost! A miracle in itself. On the way out, I came across this traffic jam. Certainly another first for me.

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No road rage here!
One Tree Hill on the way to Middlemarch
One Tree Hill on the way to Middlemarch