We arrived in our hosts home in the late morning to a bit of a mix up. The email conversation and texts we had had with our new hosts had said that we could come Tuesday or Wednesday. Even Monday had we really wanted to. Somewhere along the line our arrival went from being either Tuesday or Wednesday to arriving Wednesday or Thursday. So we arrived when our host and hostess didn’t except us. In all fairness, we texted early that morning, so their shouldn’t have been so much confusion.
Malcolm, our host, was warm and welcoming despite not expecting us. His wife was a little bit more put off by our arrival. I can understand why, she normally had yoga and dance and he normally had Maori. Neither of them on a normal Tuesday afternoon/ evening would have been home. Oh well, they managed to get over their surprise. Since both were going to be busy, we had to day to ourselves to read!
Malcolm and Margaret have been hosting WWOOFers since nearly the beginning of WWOOFing. I don’t know how long ago that was, but its been a good number of years. So they estimate they’ve hosted at least a few hundred WWOOFers. Before they joined the WWOOF community, they hosted exchange students through another program. That is a good sign in my book!
We have WWOOFed in a few places now (three to be exact, this is our fourth). None of them have been an actual working farm. This is an actual working farm. The farm is over 100 years old and has been in Malcolm’s family the whole time. He has been running the farm since he was 15 (the age is father died of throat cancer). How old is Malcolm, one might wonder. Well, Eamonn and I heard two different numbers, he is either 78 or 82! And he is still running a farm. Alone. Except for WWOOFers. Oh, he claims he has downsized, but he still has over 100 hectares of land. He doesn’t grow crops anymore, but he still keeps some bee hives and sheep. He has his own sheep and he lets other people put their sheep on his land to graze. I have asked Malcolm and he has 300 sheep of his own and in total there are 800 more sheep on his property.
On our first working day, Malcolm took us to one of his many sheds. This one was full of bee hives (the box type) and bee hive making equipment. In each bee box were 10 to 11 wooden frames. Each of these frames had three small holes drilled on each side. It was our job to thread the holes with wire. Once the frame was threaded with wire, so that there were three taught rows of wire across the frame, we had to melt a thin sheet of bee’s wax onto the wire. This was the base for the bees to build on. Without the frames and the wax, the bees might build their combs of wax diagonal across a box, making it hard to harvest the honey. That was a long day in the shed, but it was out of the wind! All in all over the few days we ended up in the shed, we probably wired and waxed 300 frames! Go us!
Our second day we moved dairy cows that had spent a few months on the farm putting on weight. There were about 60 of them. He drove around herding cows on his quad bike while Eamonn and I held onto the platform attached on the back. We would hop on and off to open and close gates. After lunch that day, the owner came and picked up his cows. The owner, of a dairy farm, had a crew of his own on motor bikes to herd the cattle along the road to their normal abode. After the cattle pick up, we then shifted some sheep to fresh pastures.
Malcolm has two incredibly intelligent and well-trained sheep dogs, Tess and her daughter Belle. They are marvelous to see at work. It is like a dance. The intelligence that they display is uncanny, especially with Tess. She seems to know what Malcolm wants without him giving any instruction. We rode along on the back of the quad bike and opened and closed gates more gates. We did a bit of herding, but the dogs did the majority of the work. I am sure if he could train his dogs to quickly and efficiently open gates, he wouldn’t need WWOOFers!We unfortunately found one dead lamb, but everyone else seemed to be doing well.
A few of the sheep we put into the sheep shed and there we had to sort them into different groups. It was interesting because we were up close and personal with the sheep, pushing and pulling them around. The hardest part was keeping Belle out of the pens and Tess quiet so that the sheep didn’t bolt!
One big thing I noticed while doing this was that sheep cough. That shouldn’t be strange because cats and dogs cough, but sheep’s coughs sound very human.
The whole experience was fun and left my coveralls covered in sheep poo (compliments of dog paws jumping on me.)