Winter break – Noldy Rust

In my last blog I was busy writing about the winter dry period that was ahead of us. Time has rolled on now and Sam has been stuck in getting things sorted. Covers are ok, cow condition is good, it’s been a bit wet, some heifers have calved early and everything is set for calving …. Ok, that is the update from Te Pahu. Now for the real news…..

One of my hot tips for the winter period was having some time away. I thought long and hard about this and came to the difficult conclusion that seeing as Sam and Alice had experienced a wonderful few weeks overseas in late autumn it was probably only fair that I do the same. Seeing as Sam is contract milking for us now, I’m sure that he wants me out of the way a bit more so he can forge his own way forward without my meddling. Therefore, this blog comes to you from the little alpine village of Kandersteg, high in the Bernese Oberland, in Switzerland. Two of our three daughters cajoled me into joining them on an overseas adventure, similar to four years ago. Only THIS time, they were to pay their own way. Bev was happy to stay home and earn money while I spent it, and Hayze didn’t mind if I went as long as I didn’t take his rugby boots and Xbox with me. Tough decision really…. and here I am.

We broke our journey to the other side of the globe with a three day stopover in Singapore. Great place, plenty to do on Sentosa Island and Chinatown was fun. The city looks great from the gondolas that cross the harbour and the Marina Bay Sands hotel and gardens by the bay must come close to being included in the man-made wonders of the world. The stocking rate in Singapore is 827 ppl/ha, and growth rates are measured in concrete poured per day, as I sure didn’t see any green grass!

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Onwards to the Emerald Isle. We went to join our expat vet friend Paula as she returned to her home country for a visit. After a couple of pints of Guinness in the Ferryman Hotel next to the Liffey, Paula agreed to accompany us on our car journey and act as our tour guide. After the tour of the Guinness Brewery soon after, Paula just about agreed to pay for the whole trip!! The wisdom of our decision in appointing her as tour guide was in question the next morning when she struggled to find the road north out of Dublin! She kept insisting that Mr. Navman was incorrect. Eventually we got on the N something, which turned into the A something, then the M something, and we found our way to Belfast. I must say Paula’s strengths weren’t in navigation and map reading, but she certainly knew a heck of a lot about the pubs on the way. Every second pub we passed (and there are a lot!!) had a story to go with it and was good for a bit of “craic”.

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We checked out Belfast and the Titanic Centre, went to the Giant’s Causeway, and had the privilege of catching up with my past worker Bernard’s brother and mother on the home farm where Bernard grew up in county Antrim. Onwards to Galway and Limerick, where we took in more pubs, I mean sites, did a decent hike in the Connemara National Park, and caught up with our ex de-facto stepdaughter, Steph the vet (see previous blogs regarding Frankie the lamb and high empty rates). Steph is now a practicing vet near Limerick, as her partner has a contract playing rugby for Munster. Real, real interesting hearing about a vet’s life in the little town of Cappamore. We had a great catch-up over lunch in the village. Alas, no cafes in sight, but thankfully Paula stepped up and advised us which of the several pubs in town had the best Guinness, food, craic etc….

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The stocking rate in western Ireland is 54376 rocks per ha, a few cows, and plenty of lush, green grass, although this is one of the hottest summers on record over there and there are water restrictions looming (which is unheard of)! The heatwave we experienced was unprecedented and was a catalyst in getting many of the locals out for a pint!! Or so they reckon… One of the shirt slogans I saw in a souvenir shop was a sheep saying “l love summer, the rain is warmer”! However, the lack of rain meant hay and silage making has been easier. What a great place to visit, I now know much more about hurling, and Gaelic football, and Croke Park, and castles, and things…..

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Now, to the land of my forefathers, the unparalleled beauty of Switzerland. The fact that Switzerland bowed out of the FIFA World Cup didn’t mean that the flags disappeared. On the contrary, one of the features of this beautiful place is the pride that the indigenous people have, as is evident by the patriotic symbol of the national flag flying from flagpoles, on buildings, cafes, pubs, and in all manner of places.

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It’s mid-summer here; the cows are in the alps eating lush grass covered in flowers for the next few months, while back on the home farm the farmer is busy mowing, drying, raking and storing every available blade of grass for the upcoming winter. Maize is evident too as a crop to store as silage for winter. The farmers with cows in the alps still need to milk them, and in many cases they then make alp cheese to sell to tourists and the local market. We visited a family high up in the Bernese Oberland near Häsliberg where the work has only just begun when milking is finished. Making the cheese and then drying, storing AND selling it is a whole other industry in itself! No Fonterra to come take it away and do it all for you! On one particular alpine train we went on, the little train stopped and hooked up a private little carriage with a vat filled with 500 litres of milk and delivered it to the cheesemaker, high up on Rigi mountain.

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The mountains, the scenery, the sounds of cowbells from the cows in the alps as we hiked high above Kandersteg made a lasting impression. Nature at its best, in all its majesty and glory.

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The Swiss love to go hiking in the mountains and the sheer number of cable cars, funicular trains and chairlifts that are stuck to the side of every imaginable slope is mind-blowing. To add to that, the efficiency and punctuality of the Swiss rail network is amazing. We travelled through the new Gotthard Base tunnel, on the main line to Italy. The existing Gotthard tunnel was only 15 km long and was a bottleneck for trains so they decided to build a longer one…. 57 km long in fact. Took us 21.5 minutes to get through it (av 159 km/hr) and it now shaves almost an hour off the trip south by rail. Didn’t take many photos on that particular stretch….

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Anyway, I could go on forever. I now appreciate Fonterra for making and selling our products just a little bit more than previously. I appreciate NZ, where grass still grows in winter, and where our cropping doesn’t involve mowing, raking and handling hay by hand. I appreciate the wide open spaces that NZ provides for pastoral farming, and I appreciate a bit more those woolly, dumb sheep that harvest grass on all our steep land. They have gone up a bit in my estimation. Speaking of sheep, I saw some cool looking black-headed sheep in Galway, can’t remember what they are called…

I need to sign off now as the church bells have indicated it’s 19.00 hr and it’s time for a pint or two of Eichof beer before my dinner of Rösti followed by coffee schnapps. We have another couple of days here prior to spending three days with our good friend Leo in Bavaria, Germany, before flying home. We met young Leo when he was in NZ driving for John Austin Ltd. He’s on a farm too so more learning to be had…. See you soon back in NZ. I’ll be the one with the tan, the memories, the Swiss chocolate and the big credit card bill!!!

Chüss, Noldy

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