Wellington Scoop
Network

A second year in the country

farm sunset 2

by Ian Apperley
We are well into the second year of our rural adventure, having left the confines of the city and bought in rural Carterton. While I still (reluctantly) have one foot in the city, travelling into Wellington by train one or two days a week for work, life continues apace at Three Fires managed by my partner K as full time farm manager.

farm mahi and strider

November 2020

It’s a hot day, and K is training the horses. Both have been here for some months, and the re-breaking process takes blood, sweat, and a lot of patience. Strider, the mare, is a hot horse that just wants to open up and run. K leads them around the paddock, kicking up dust, as she explains to them gently what she wants from them.

Eventually, these two will be ready for riding. However, that will be months away as years of habit are undone through retraining while building trust. They are both big, gentle animals that want to do the right thing and fight with their own nature from time to time, just like all of us.

November has been a typical spring month with more rain than usual. Hitting highs in the mid-twenties and lows of two or three degrees. We’ve had nearly 170 mm of rain, and the grass is growing at high speed.

farm new sheep

December 2020

It’s warming up now, with temperatures hovering around thirty degrees. In typical weather fashion, a storm blows through, disrupting Christmas and New Year plans and dumping unseasonable snow on the Tararuas.

New sheep join the farm adding to our Arapawa flock. They are quite striking, of Spanish descent, and arrived in New Zealand with colonists who left them on Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds to fatten up while they went south to hunt seals.

In a roar of noise and fury, contractors arrive to cut the grass for hay. Two paddocks are cut, dried, turned, and baled over the month, yielding seven and a half tonnes of hay. We promptly trade most of it for a heifer, Helen, who joins the farm and will produce calves for breeding when ready.

I ask K to marry me, and thankfully, she says yes.

farm dogs

January 2021

Summer arrives with temperatures in the mid-thirties and no rain of any significance, and farm life goes on. Heatstroke strikes once before we learn to work at the beginning and end of the day, and not in the middle.

Shannon arrives to shear the sheep before it gets too hot, towing a large trailer behind his ute into the stockyards. It unfolds like some rural transformer into a mobile shearing platform complete with small yards. The sheep are shorn in short order, the deal done, and a box of beer thrown in as a bribe to get him back again.

Hundreds of meters of fencing are upgraded to stop the sheep from escaping and keep the ever-curious Helen from roaming. There is much ado about the level of the electric fencing, which K finally gets to bull strength.

Living is nearly 100% outdoors now with the long days, and the kitchen is abandoned for wood fire cooking.

farm swimming

February 2021

The heat is relentless, and the entire month is dry with no rain. We frequent the river to cool down in the evenings along with the other local families. It is as busy as Oriental Bay Beach on a good day. The river is warm, clean, and a great escape from the dusty farm.

The orchard is producing fruit at a rate that is impossible to keep on top of. We offer it to the neighbours who all laugh and tell us they have the same problem. Another lesson learned. Visitors are laden up, whether they like it or not, with the excess.

Wairarapa is in full swing with dozens of events. The small towns are bustling. Over 95% of Wairarapa tourists come from within New Zealand. After the horror show that was 2020, it’s the busiest hotspot in the country. Wings over Wairarapa tops it off with the terrifying B52 doing high-speed laps of the valley with its characteristic jet engine scream thundering across the farms.

farm lulu

March 2021

Temperatures start their slide back to normality, hovering in the high temperatures. Weeks of dry is broken as a series of thunderstorms dumps 40mm of rain in a very short period, kicking the grass into growth mode again.

Another heifer joins the farm, Lulu, who is rehomed from a block in Martinborough. Helen is delighted to have a friend, and the two become inseparable. Lulu has a nose for food, and between her and Helen, they break into the chicken coop, knocking down the door and half the fencing.

Cords of firewood arrive in preparation for winter. The house has no heating other than the fire and wood stove. The oven has given up the ghost, and getting a replacement is weeks away. Despite the heat, we are forced to use the wood stove for cooking, harking back to the old days when it would be fired every day.

farm three horse training

April 2021

K starts working with a new horse, Fizz, an off the track thoroughbred that is super gentle and has zero sense of personal space. Despite having some New Zealand greats in his bloodline, the only time he tends to run is if the mare is chasing him or food is on offer.

The heat and dry continue. Stock are drenched, much to their annoyance. The block gets its annual haircut with trees being pruned, hundreds of meters of shelterbelts cut back to stop stock being injured, and deadfalls being cleared.

As duck season is just around the corner, one of the neighbours captures as many as possible and holds them in his aviaries. An old environmentalist who bred ducks in his younger years, he takes great humour from hiding them away from the hunters in the opening season.

farm stars

May 2021

Warm days and cold nights dominate the month as winter starts to set in. The farm quietly moves into a slow-growth mode, and extra feed is stocked for the cold months when the grass is minimum.

One of our good friends shoots a deer for us on his weekend hunt. We are given a lesson in dressing the carcass, including skinning. It’s a decent-sized beast that we take to the local butcher for processing. It averages about $5kg processed. When you consider that venison backstraps in the supermarket can go for as much as $70kg, you realise that self-sustainability, bartering, and community can make significantly cheaper living.

June 2021

It’s just after midnight, and the southerly is howling. The wind chill is down around -5, and with the driving rain comes bursts of stinging hail. The horses are standing in the leeward side of the sheds, anxious in the storm; we put on covers to keep them warm and dry.

Wearing full wet weather gear is like wearing a spacesuit or armour; we stagger around in the wind with limited movement trying to tie down the chicken coop roof which is trying to fly away in the wind.

Winter has arrived in force, and the Metservice predictions seem to change every few hours. Multiple weather apps are consulted to make sure we are ready for what is coming.

farm july 2021

July 2021

I’m walking back from the house to the car, preparing to drive into Wellington for the day. It’s very early in the morning, and a wicked air frost with a temperature of -5 is turning my fingers blue each time I walk back and forth.

At night mist and fog creep in from the rivers enveloping the property in ethereal streamers at first, some rising from the ground like ghosts, winding their way across the paddocks and through the shelterbelts.

The ground is soaked now, and the groundwater monitoring station shows that the aquifers under Taumata Island are refilling with each wet day. A primary source of the area’s water usage, the aquifers fluctuate depending on the season.

farm august storm

August 2021

August in the Wairarapa is the month from hell. It’s cold, and it’s wet. The rainfall for the month is nearly triple that for the months either side and nearly 20% of the paddocks are flooded, making feeding out hard work while managing pugging a nightmare, especially through gates.

By now, we are going through firewood like it’s a national sport, with both fires in the house burning twenty-four hours. Thankfully, the house is well insulated, so we’re warm at the end of the day, and the dogs are all spread out in front of the wood burner.

And it’s the same across the district as farmers start to get new lambs arriving. Friends are in full swing with hundreds of ewes producing offspring; the survival rate is high. However, we see a lot of tired faces on our weekly pilgrimage to locals’ night at the Gladstone Inn.

farm rupert lamb

September 2021

On a rare warm day, we are sitting in one of our bottom paddocks having a drink in the sun when K spots a ewe that looks like it’s in distress. We’ve had a few lambs already, but Betty has been a holdout. Sure enough, she’s trying to give birth, but the lamb is stuck.

Sheep don’t look that big and strong, but an animal that weighs fifty kilos is a force to be reckoned with when they need wrangling. K manages to free the lamb and get it breathing. Still, Betty refuses to have anything to do with it, stomping and charging. Our first orphan lamb has arrived.

Rupert – it’s a ram lamb – becomes the focus of attention over a couple of weeks, demanding frequent feeding necessitating a roster through the night for the first few days. The dogs are suspicious at first, then amused at the constant bunting. After finally realising that Rupert is going nowhere, they bring out their nanny tendencies to keep him clean and safe.

farm barbecue

October 2021

With a few days to go until November, I am writing this on a sunny day with the temperature hovering at a balmy 25 degrees. The ground has dried up, and every tree on the property has grown back leaves. K is rotating stock through paddocks where the grass is growing at a phenomenal rate.

Cooler mornings see massive pyres sending smoke into the sky as farmers burn off vegetation piles gathered over the wet months. We see winter off with a bonfire of our own, flames reaching into a cerulean sky on dusk.

It’s warm enough to get the BBQ out finally, and sessions around the outdoor fire turn to K’s AirBnB glamping project (yes, dear readers, you will have an opportunity come to stay and see the farm for yourself one of these days), which has been months of hard work in the planning and execution.

The weather forecasts promise a warmer and wetter summer season than usual, which probably means that it will be super-dry given that those predictions are often changeable.

Our accountant tells us the business that runs the farm is technically insolvent, and I should write a stern letter to the Directors, being us, pointing out this fact.

“That’s the point, isn’t it?” I say to one of my farmer friends.

“F**king lifestylers,” he says, laughing.

Indeed.

Ian Apperley is a long-time freelance writer who moved from Wellington to rural Wairarapa nearly two years ago, escaping the city and buying a small farm with his partner. Ian now writes about his adventures at The End of the World: From Urban to Bucolic.

5 comments:

  1. TrevorH, 29. October 2021, 19:00

    Really enjoyed this Ian. Do you have a spare section nearby where we could put a Lockwood? So refreshing to hear about real people again.

     
  2. Ian Apperley, 30. October 2021, 9:53

    Hi Trevor, thank you. There is a lot on the market here as you’d expect and some good areas, and areas to avoid. Drop me an email if you like. ian@threefires.co.nz

     
  3. Jamie, 31. October 2021, 12:19

    Hi Ian, glad you are enjoying the Wairarapa. You Diary makes good reading and a bit like Clarkson’s farm shows people what our life is like. I love the bit about the ducks. Funny I spend 11 months of the year feeding them and building habitat in exchange for a month.
    I bet there are some classic cock ups that maybe need admitting. Don’t worry we’ve all done them all. Absolutely agree re the weather forecast and you’ll soon learn what the Masterton forecast means for your place and then the weather will prove you wrong again.

     
  4. Ian Apperley, 31. October 2021, 14:00

    Ha ha, you’re right about the weather Jamie! And yes, I promise some classic cock ups. I’m penning something about wandering stock.

    Not to mention a few other things…

     
  5. Benoit Pette, 1. November 2021, 16:25

    So nice to read you Ian. Refreshing and inspiring!