Thursday, August 20, 2009

House with a view

Here's the view from my kitchen window. Are you jealous yet? Also pictured is the view from the living room. In this part of the country, there's limestone rocks that stick out of the ground, and something they call tomos, which are sudden holes in the ground where rain water flows to. Apparently the person I'm replacing accidentally drove into one of these tomos and hurt himself. I went from crazy steep hills to crazy big holes.

So I arrived at the farm owner's house, which is just down the road from the farm. The farm owner, Deryk, got me settle in and told me to wait for his wife, Marian. Their house was so cute! An old farm house that was redone, and had a country cottage feel to it with old family photographs on the wall and antiques places through the house. I quickly learned they were very proud of their Dutch heritage.

When Marian arrived, I was informed I would be living in her son's house, just down the road. I gave her a strange look, which she quickly understood, and assured me that he doesn't actually live there. He spends all day at the farm and eats meals with his parents, so we would never actually be living together. It does sound like a weird arrangement, but it is nice to have my own space to hang out in without feeling like a guest.

The house is pretty new. It doesn't have a lot of furniture, and it certainly doesn't look lived in. Too clean to be a bachelor pad! It didn't take long fro me to spread all my crap everywhere.

The farm has 500 cows and milk in a 40 stall rotary parlor. Unlike the house, the farm wasn't much to look at. I was told that their son, Harvey, recently took over sharemilking, and was his first year. Also, these cows were bought this year, so they were not used to the farm and some were not used to a rotary parlor. Also, all cows are fed minerals through drenching, which none of these cows had done before. So they were having quite a time adjusting. Along with the fact that their hired help got hurt, the family had quite a lot on their plate!


Two mornings ago, after we finished up the morning milking, David mentions in passing, "Job called last night, they want you on another farm."
"When?" I asked
"Straight away. Tomorrow I suppose."

Wow, thanks for the warning. I left Job at Marvin Farms a
message wondering the details, and he called back saying that he thought I knew what was going on, and was surprised that Dave never said anything to me. Apparently, Dave called Job a week ago, and wanted a replacement. He wanted someone with a little more strength for pulling calves, drenching cows, pushing up cows, etc, as well as someone to handle the tractor driving. I was a little surprised that he never said anything to me, or tried to find another way to use me on the farm. Another thing that bothered me was I was supposed to be replacing Nicky to take over for her while on maternity leave, yet I was never taught or told to do her tasks on the farm, like feeding calves.

I think Dave knew I knew the entire story because he wouldn't even look me in the eyes after I told him I was leaving the next day! It was a little uncomfortable. I was not upset that i
t didn't work out, but disappointed in him that he couldn't man up and let me know what was going on. It was alright since I wasn't happy being the only employee and not really talking to anyone for long periods of time.

I packed up my stuff and headed to Matamata to meet with Job. When I got there, he explained that this happened before. The last female on the farm was a tall blonde from Finland, and Dave called Job at that time too after a few weeks saying that it wasn't working out. Job said it had more to do with me being female more than anything. I had to shrug and laugh because it's not like anything was going on! But I think it was for the best.

The farm I was scheduled to be on is near Te Kuiti, which is directly south of Hamilto
n. Their seasonal help recently got into an accident and needed someone to fill his place for a few weeks. I asked Job if being a female was going to be a problem, but he said they preferred one because they're a little better with the cows. I know that's a fact with calves, studies show women are far better at taking care of calves than men.

Anyway, I got to take a scenic trip to the central part of the north island. So I was coming around a bend, and on the other side, I couldn't help but exclaim, "Holy shit,
a volcano!" Unfortunately, I was descending a rather steep hill on a rather curvy road behind a slow semi, so there wasn't much time to stare and get any pictures. But wow, that was quite a surprise to see. It had the crater in the middle, so I'm pretty darn sure that's what it was.

I did have a chance to snap a picture while driving. I basically held up the camera and didn't look through it (so don't worry, mom!). This is probably the flattest land I've seen so far. This photo isn't of the volcano I saw, and I'm not sure what huge mountain that is in the background. Also, check out the car behind me. I was going exactly 100 km/hr which was the speed limit because I don't want any trouble while I'm here!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Funny Food

Here's some "different" food I've eaten or seen.

Chicken flavored, you say?

It's EXTRA delicious. Also,it's 55% of your daily intake of sodium.

Lamb Rugan Josh. I wonder what a "Josh" is.

Prosciutto and Brie potato chips. They didn't taste as exotic as the name, but still quite tasty.

This is the only size pizza they had at Domino's. Just goes to show what pigs we are in the US. The sausage was actual Italian sausage links cut into disks. Tasted like Canadian bacon to me. I also noticed the pastas Domno's had available looked like they had more vegietables and less cheese than the ones they sells in the US. Interesting!

Beer pictured to show size of pizza. It was good, almost like Heiniken.

My new ride

After spending three weeks on the farm and not going anywhere, I was going nuts. Turns out, I have every other weekend off, so my first weekend off was spend lounging around my house, cleaning, and doing laundry. I went for a walk and took some pictures as well. I thought I could walk down to the local fish and chips shop for lunch, but it turns out it was 6 km away! Not a causal walk by any means.

To battle my loneliness and craziness, I bought a car. For NZ$1500, the '93 Ford Falcon is mine. It has a big engine, which my boss keeps poking fun at me about, but beggers can't be choosers.

"I see your car has a ball hitch. Might come in handy when you have to pull the fuel tanker behind it." Haha, thanks Dave.

In New Zealand, every car has to have a Warrant of Fitness in order to be registered. Every six months, your car has to go to a shop and inspected. If there's anything wrong, it needs to be fixed in order to be granted your WoF. So when buying a car, a newer WoF typically means it's in good working condition. I picked a car that has a brand new registration and wof. It turns out in order to transfer a vehicle, all the buyer has to do is go to a post office, fill out a form, and pay $9.20. If you have a car's VIN number, you can go and say you own any car really! Crazy! Also, the post offices are also book and stationary stores, so it felt a little weird to be transfering vehicle ownership in a bookstore. In fact, the post office counter was busy, so the bookstore clerk took care of me. It almost seemed a little too easy.

Now that I've spent all my money on a car, I can
't go anywhere until my next paycheck because I can't afford gas, haha.
Here's my car! Never mind that dent in the hood (they call it the bonnet). All I've done is drove from the previous owner's house to the farm, and it seems to run pretty well.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Two weeks later

I'm going to get this blog up to speed. After the first few days on the farm, I got into the routine pretty easily. I work pretty slowly, which is expected, since it's pretty much genetic, haha. I hope I'm worth it to have around though. Typically there's two people in the parlor, but with me, there's three and I don't think I really speed up the process any. Cows only move as fast as they want. Dave could leave and get other work done, but he's much better at being a cow pusher just because he's bigger and stronger than me and Nicky.

Other than being in another country, things are pretty routine and boring around here. Mornings we milk, then break for breakfast. Mid to late morning involves picking up newborn cavles on the pasture.

Typically, the night before, Dave checks the springers and makes note of who has calved, and will mark the calves with the mom's eartag number. In the morning, we'll go out with a 4-wheele
r (quad) and trailer and pick them up. If they've cavled earlier that morning, we'll leave them on the pasture for a day with their mom. To a farmer in the US, this just seems crazy! But it's nice to see mother nature doing her job. Calves are trailered back home, put into a pen, iodine on their navels, and a brass tag in their ear. No calf hutches here!

I remember when I was in Mexico, I saw group calf pens, and the calves looked pretty sickly. These calves are healthy and pretty hardy since they have to compete for their food. I guess if there was a contagious illness, it would spread pretty fast, but Nicky spends quite a bit of time out there, so if something did happen, I'm sure she'd be there to segregate the sick calf and treat it. I guess no matter how calves are raised, it's all based on management and getting things taken care of before they become an issue. In the US, the feeling is keep calves sanitary and sterile. It's like a pig farm in my opinion. In New Zealand, I get the feeling calves are raised to be exposed a little bit to the elements, challenge them a bit to make them more hardy. Since milk production is not a concern, that makes sense.

Anyway, in the early afternoon, I bring the milkers up to the feed pad to eat corn silage for about an hour, and then at 3:15pm, they go up to the shed (aka milking parlor) so we can start milking by 3:30pm. We finish up between 5:30pm and 6:00pm. Nicky and Dave do other chores, but my day is pretty much done at that point.

Kiwi Farmer

July 28
I met with Job at Marvin Farms to get all my paperwork set. He talked about the island, where the different ethnic groups are, and whatnot. He went on forever, and I didn't want to tell him that I still had to buy a bus ticket, open a bank account, buy work clothes, get a cell phone, internet, and buy a car all before getting on the bus at 1pm. Also turns out I forgot to pay the hotel, so I had to walk back to pay them! I'm so used to giving the hotel
a credit card beforehand, I completely just walked off without paying!

In two hours, I got the bus ticket, cell phone, paid the hotel,
bought NZ$300 worth of work clothes (yikes!), and opened a bank account. I was pretty impressed. I told Job I couldn't believe how fast it took, and he replied, "This is New Zealand."
"I guess I'm just used to all the red tape in the US," I said.
"Just like in Holland, that's why I left," he said. Humm interesting.

Off to the bus stop in Tauranga. I waited a while, and I actually ran into a Maori with the traditional face tattoos. The indigenous people, the Maori,
are pretty integrated into modern society, but still keep many of their traditions. In fact, New Zealand is a bilingual country, English, and Maori. Just so happens that it was Maori Language Week when I arrived, so some TV shows, including Spongebob, were in Maori. Anyway, he was a little intimidating with his tattoos and 2 inch spacers in his ears. But he was wearing a suit, so it was a little strange to see. This picture I stole off the internet, but should be a good idea of the guy.

A farm truck pulled up- that must be him! The guy introduced himself as Brett, I secretly call him Crocodile Dundee. I guess I just take him for a typical Kiwi, crazy accent, tall, stocky build, blonde, somewhat of a wildness about him. So I learned he's the farm owner, and Dave and Nicky are the sharemilkers. The owner owns the land and cattle while the sharemilk does he day to day managing and decisions. Typically, farm owners are an older couple that were once the sharemilkers on the farm, and pass the farm on. In this case, Brett is an ex police officer probably in his 40's. He he drove like a crazy man at that! He even made a note of it, saying he drives like a typical Kiwi. Ha!

After meeting Dave and Nicky, we briefly chatted, and got ready for the evening milking. The first thing that stuck me was how simple the milking shed was. A simple block building with a lean-to roof attached that contained the parlor, or shed, as they call it.

First huge difference was cow prep, or lack of. I asked what the protocol was. Nicky said to just put the milker on. She explained that apparently in New Zealand, they feel that stripping contaminates the milk. I didn't ask about milk let-down or dirty teats. But if they do have mud on them, they do spray them with teat dip beforehand. Dave also quipped, "If you ask a Kiwi to strip a cow, they wouldn't have a clue what the hell you're talking about."

I also noticed the smell. You could definitely smell these cows were on pasture. And the milk had a very strong smell as well. As I write this on Aug 9th, I can say that I can't even tell the difference anymore, but those first couple milkings, it was strong! I was a bad smell at first, but it's growing on me.

The cows are mostly Holstein Jersey crosses. There were a few bigger Holsteins, but most of them were quite small. All had decent feet and legs (which I'm sure if they didn't they'd cull themselves out pretty fast), and another thing with the Kiwi crosses is the wide front teat placement. Dave said that's the problem with the crosses- that you can't keep a milker on them. Because they aren't his cows, he can be critical of the breeding program.

So a very busy day!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ok, ready to get out of the city

July 28
I had to be on a bus at 9:30am that will take me to Matamata. After lugging my bulging suitcase and backpack through downtown Auckland, I made it to the bus stop at 9:15am. After some confusion and standing in line behind some sloooow people (literally, one lady ahead of me stood at the counter for one minute and then looked at them and said, "Oh I forgot what I was going to ask.") I found out that my bus had been cancelled. I called Job at Marvin Farm Services and he didn't know what to do because this has never happened in all the years he has done this. Great, count on me to be difficult. So the bus driver is waiting for me, the two ladies at the counter are trying to figure stuff out, ugh! Not a good experience.

So I decide to take the 1:00pm bus to Taupo. After paying NZ$10 to store my luggage, I had a few more hours in Auckland. I really wanted to get out of the city. Back to window shopping... so I headed to a bridal shop I saw yesterday. I tried on two dresses that I really liked, and they have shipped internationally before, so definitely a possibility. The lady who helped me was originally from Japan and we were discussing wedding traditions. Apparently it's customary in New Zealand and Japan to only have 2-3 couples in the wedding party. I told her some people have ten! It made me feel ok to only have my three sisters.

As I was leaving the bridal shop, there were all these Asian people standing in a really long line outside of the mini mall it was located in. I noticed a sign in crazy bright colors with Japanese cartoon characters that said, "Lunch Today $1." I didn't quite get what was going on, but it was bizarre.

Before getting on the bus, I also looked for a bar to get a quick drink and lunch. Bars don't open until 8pm here, so that was a no-go. I settled on McDonalds. When I was leaving the airport the day before, I saw a billboard for a kiwi burger with a fried egg on it (Corral Burger anyone? :-), so I decided to go with that. I saw it on the sign at McDonalds too, and there was a bright red thing on it.. humm.. So after ordering and inspecting, I realized that it was a pickled beet. Yeah.. it was.. um.. ok. I probably won't order that again.

I noticed as we were leaving Auckland it didn't take long to see farms and farmland. Lots of beef cattle though. Later, I learned the land south of Auckland isn't the best farmland, so there's a lot of beefers. It was pretty darn hilly. We drove past a cemetery that was on a very steep hill, and my morbid thoughts goes straight towords wondering which poor guy gets to dig those graves by hand. In fact, there was a funeral going on, and everyone parked on the road and walked up the terraced path to the graves. Well, I guess if someone dies from a heart attack climbing the steep hill, they don't have to go very far, haha.

We went passed some towns and I noticed right away that people aren't big into showing off- simple and small housing, tin roofs, small yards, clothes lines. Also, none of the farms I saw seemed to be suffering from "new paint disease" as an old coworker called it. Somewhat refreshing that no one seemed to be "keeping up with the Jones'" Or maybe everyone is that poor. Ha, either way, it was something I picked out right away. Also, I got the feeling that the only people who lived in the country was involved in farming to come capacity. I didn't see a signle home that wasn't surrounded by fenced off areas and livestock; either beef, dairy, horse, or sheep.

The bus stop building in Taupo was in the shape of a big sheepdog. Sorry no photo, Job's wife was waiting for me when I got there. We met briefly, and when we were getting into her car, I automatically went to the right side of the vehicle. I don't think she noticed me following her to her side to get in, but she seemed nice enough that if she did, it wasn't a big deal. She and her husband had been setting up these international workers for quite a few years, so they've meet people from all over the world. As long as you speak fluent English, they're willing to take you.

Anyway, it was only a 15 minute drive to Matamata, and the scenery was nice. The land was flat, with mountains (I'm sure they were only hills, but they looked like mountains to me!) in the background. There were a lot of Thoroughbred farms and parceled off land divided by wooden fences. We chatted a bit, and we discussed accents. She said from my accent, she would have thought I was Canadian. I thought that was hilarious, considering my farmer/ up nort accent I've acquired from my days visiting farmers north of Hwy 29. :-)

After meeting Job and getting a brief timeline of the next day, his wife dropped me off at the hotel. I walked around Matamata for a few hours before dusk. The stores closed at 5pm, so there wasn't a whole lot to do. The town is about the size of Shawano (7000 people) and it reminded me of it in many ways. I will admit that Matamata has a lot more charm than Shawano, but I kept comparing the different stores to ones in Shawano. I especially enjoyed the big window sign advertising colostrum replacer and milk replacer in the window of a farm equipment store (Ace Farm and Home? haha). Oh, and a lot of the stores were agricultural based. There were a lot of horse shops- saddle shops, general supplies, etc. I felt like I fit more in here for sure.

Since all the restaurants were close, dinner was a TV dinner bought at the "Countdown," a national chain grocery store. When I was in the meat section, right between the seafood and the beef were theses tubes of ground beef. But something struck me funny. The writting on them had phrases like "adult" and different weights on them. On closer inspection, it was dog food in tubes! Right next to the human food! Craziness. I laughed, imagining some person not paying attention and buying a tube of wet dog food for dinner.

I'm fast learning that building are heated by space heaters because when I returned to my room, it was freezing! Oh, and heated mattress pads. They're pretty much standard. I turned on the TV, and it was appreant that the two favorite sports in this country are rugby and cricket. I watched a cricet match brefily, which seemed like fast pased baseball, but had to turn it when I was laughing so hard at the phrase, "he's the country's best baller." Maybe I could learn to like this sport...