Saturday, 6 February 2016

NZ: Woofing on a dairy farm

Sorry for the extended period of silence!!! I haven't really had the opportunity to blog on the farm but today it's raining and I am not milking until the afternoon and Mum is nagging me so thought I'd do a wee update.

So I will pick up from where I left off....

John drove me back to Greymouth, we said our goodbyes and parted ways.  I drove along state highway 7 to my farm in Mawherati, where I arrived just in time to jump straight in with the afternoon milking session.

At first I was pretty flumoxxed by it - there's lots to remember, from the way you attach the cups to the udders, to the codes sprayed on each cow's udder to let you know whether to milk it or not, or which udder to avoid milking.  Me and Toria (the other girl who's woofing with me) eventually got the hang of it.  Essentially the process is:

1) you go out on quad bikes to the paddock the cows are in, round them up and herd them into the milking shed
2) you then have to get about 20 cows on each side of the milking station.  The cows are quite clever and will usually walk into the station themselves but sometimes they need a bit of coercing with shouts of 'come on girls, push up' and if that doesn't work then some clapping or tapping on the back side. 
3) when they're all in line you can cup them - but you need to look at the hoof and udder first, if the hoof has a band on it in red, then you only cup the front two udders and one of the back ones, avoiding the udder on the side of the red band.  If it's blue, you do the same but avoid one of the front udders. There are some other codes but I won't bore you with them.
4) Usually by the time you get the other cows into the other row, the cows on the row you're milking are done, so you bend the hose to cut the suction, pull off the cups and attach it to the cow on the other side
5) Then you spray iodine on the teats to prevent infection.
6) Open the gate and let the cows go - before you herded them into the shed you should have set up a paddock for them to go in and made gates open and shut along the way so they follow the open route along to their new paddock. 
7) When all the cows are milked you then have to spray down the yard and the station and clean it all up

This is at the beginning so no poop yet!

It's not quite the scenario I had imagined in my head, where I'd be wearing a little lacy bonnet and a pinafore, and would sit on a bucket beside the cow and hand milk it.  It's much more of an industrial process and you get absolutely covered in shit and piss - as the cows' bums are facing you (both rows!) if it opens its bowels then it shoots out straight over into the little walkway you're standing in and you have to get out of the way pretty quick.  The cows themselves are often covered in shit and piss and you have to brush your arms against their poopy legs so you get poop all over you.

Toria cupping a cow

Wearing suitable PPE!

I do seem to get the messiest though and have earned the nickname 'poopy' myself now.

One of my less shittier days!!

Anyway after our first milking session, we then headed on down to the local watering hole for a swim - which involves getting into a 4x4, going down a bumpy track, over two big streams/little rivers, and stopping at a deep part of a river.  We splashed around a bit, did a wee bit of kayaking then dried off ready for dinner.

The following day I did the afternoon shift again followed by a quad bike driving lesson when me and Nick (the 16 year old farm hand who's unintentionally hilarious) went out to the paddocks to count the average amount of grass in each paddock - don't worry it's not as dull as it sounds, you attach something to the back of the bike and drive around each paddock in zigzags and the machine you've attached counts it all for you.  I am not great at driving the bikes but it's quite fun and I eventually got up to 4th gear and worked out how to change gear without the entire bike hopping. Poor Nick sitting on the back!

The next day I did the morning shift which was hard getting up at 4.30am but it was also nice as meant the day was done after.  Herding the cows in the dark isn't much fun though, especially when the headlights aren't that bright on the quad and there is so much mist in the fields that it's pretty eerie and I can't tell the difference between a tree and a cow.   When we'd finished, Kelvin, who is the owner, took us on a quad bike tour and made me drive through 2 rivers which was a bit scary, he did have to have several panic cigarettes though with me driving...

The rest of the time on the farm has been spent doing random odd jobs like cleaning the inside of the tractor, feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs, cooking and cleaning, spraying the weeds in the fields.  

One day was Toria's birthday - we celebrated with cake and quiche and christmas crackers in the evening and worked out we could put pickup sticks in Josh's beard for a nice artistic effect.  We spent the day herding young bullocks into a pen for deworming - fun but quite hard work in the hot sun, and they're pretty strong beasts when they're charging at you!!


Another day I had a pretty bad run of it and lots of things seemed to go wrong.  When you're herding the cows you need to make sure that all of the gates are shut into the paddocks and the crop field - if the cows get into the crop (like they have done twice with previous woofers) then it's a disaster as they eat all the crop, which is costly and is their winter food, and if they eat too much then they can die from too much food intake.  We have had this drummed into us many many times by the owners and when herding them to the milking shed or back to the paddock I always have a mini heart attack until I see them heading in the right direction.  

I had successfully got them the milking shed, milked them and sent them back out to the paddock when Nick had told me to follow him on his dirt bike to the paddock to put some minerals into their trough.  I did a 3 point turn on the quad but thought I was still in reverse when I was actually in 1st, so shot forward, which made me panic so I gripped onto the handle bars where the throttle is, ended up pushing the throttle very hard and shot forward even more....into an electric fence.....I was fine as was the bike but the fence was fucked and though I just wanted to cry and shout for someone to come and help me, there was no one around so I had to delicately reverse the bike up the bank I had just shot down, untangle the fence wires from the wheels, and sheepishly drive to the paddock Nick was in and tell him I had crashed into the fence and would he mind fixing it for me......very embarrassing.

Later that day I had 2 sand fly bites on my upper inside thought it would be a good idea ot put tiger balm on them to stop the incessant itching (always looks a bit offputting when you're itching that area!!!).  I forgot how tingly the tiger balm was and I had to walk around with my legs spread for ages so that the tiger balm didn't work its way up to my lady bits.  I won't be making that mistake again!!!

Then the following day I was on morning shift, and I ha forgotten to shut the gate to the field I had crashed into the day when I was herding the cows half of them went into this field and had a field day with the grass in it.  We spent 10 minutes getting them back out which isn't what you want at 5 in the morning.  I am hoping that's the last of the silly mistakes I make, they say things come in threes and that was 3!!

I have my own room in a little out house with a very comfortable double bed, so it's really nice to have my own space.  Josh is staying in a converted bus which is SO COOL and Toria has her own room in the house.  We get fed well too.  Currently the owners are on holiday so their friend and Nick are looking after the farm, which is a lot nicer as the owners get stressed out easily and it makes it hard to get anything done as you feel like you're being watched like a hawk and can never do anything right, whereas now we just get on with stuff at our own pace and get things done.

Last night we went for a little walk around the farm with the dogs which was really nice as we haven't really had the opportunity to wander the farm without cows to herd.  Though the walk ended up with one of the dogs chasing and catching a hare and then eating it on the grass outside my room...poor hare.

Here are some miscellaneous pictures from the farm.

super mario brothers

strangling the dog

driving through the river

a nice clean yard


Toria demonstrating on Josh how she milks the cows


  1. Looks idyllic but I imagine making mistakes is hard, especially when they damage fences! Glad you've found somewhere nice (at least you make it seem nice but I hope you aren't whitewashing!), are you staying there long? Is it a minimum term deal or something? Keep us updated. xxx

  2. I loved reading this one - I laughed at the thought of filthy cows covering you in poo and then was gripped by the damaged fence incident. Plus I knew that you liked dogs :) Love you lots xxxx

  3. Well you wanted a change of scene, couldn't get much different to your London job! And no Bex, she does NOT like dogs!!


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