Sheep Rescue — Winter 2013

Part I Annandale

Following the big snowfall in late June in inland Canterbury a midday farm session on national radio alerted me to the stranding of sheep in the hill country of north and south Canterbury. When I rang the number they gave, I was told that neighbouring farmers were helping each other in their local area so help from a tramping club was probably not needed. Just in case, they took my number. Days later I got a call at 7pm asking for help in North Canterbury and could I round up a few trampers and be there by 0900

Merv, Gary, Stuart and I answered the call. An early start avoided the weekday traffic and got us to Annandale, near Waiau with 20 minutes to spare. Eleven farmers were there with their dogs and long poles. Some had drenching packs to give weak sheep a dose of energy drink. At nine a Hughes 500 chopper disturbed the still, sunny morning and landed on the farm drive. The pilot gave us an overly stern lecture about putting poles through his rotor and closing the chopper door as we alighted. Four at a time with dogs were whisked away to the high land and dropped near clusters of huddled sheep. Stuart and I worked with three other shepherds to extract sheep from deep snow and force them down-hill along tracks that we had to compress. With their small hooves the sheep tended to sink in anything but firm snow.

We were a long way from the low land on dissected limestone country. The topo-map shows funny little round features which Stuart told us were sink-holes in the limestone. He’d been regaining in the area. We were told not to go down the plug-holes but the previous day a dog didn’t listen and went into one and had to be rescued by helicopter! We managed to get a mob of fifty sheep together but they were quite weak and the best we could do was put them near a grove of manuka and hope they’d feel energised enough to follow the path we beat up a spur, across a gully and over to a vehicle track which had been cleared with a dozer. Merv and Gary’s team had managed to get a mob onto the vehicle track and down to the flat where hay could be fed out. As the sun was going down all the musterers walked out along the vehicle track to the road where all fifteen of us piled onto a farm ute for a quick ride back to base. In the dim remaining light the team downed a few beers and set off home. We got a real buzz from our adventure and knowing we’d helped save sheep from a chilly death, though some were already frozen mutton. On our drive home we compared notes on each team’s experience. In tramping terms it was a hard trip though the chopper saved us a 2hr up-hill hike and gave us a quick thrill.

PTC helpers were: Gary Huish, Merv Meredith, Stuart Payne and Kerry Moore

Part II Craigieburn Station

A week after the big snow we weren’t expecting any more requests for help but got another call saying there were more than a thousand merino hoggets on Craigieburn Station needing to be mustered to lower land. This would be a Saturday operation so it was easier to get working-people to help and six PTCers assembled at the Sheffield pie shop. The late 10am start was to allow the fog to lift and as we drove past Lake Pearson we saw spectacular valley mists. By noon we were at the base having a lavish late morning tea to get us started.

Gary, Bruce and Kerry went south in a ute, with two shepherds and a dog. We were to muster the low hills in the south-west corner of the station. A fly-over a few days before placed a big flock of merinos in this area. I stayed low and pushed fifty up to a little plateau expecting to see the others but no-one was visible. They had gone a lot higher in search of the big mob. I pushed my merinos to flats but without dogs wasn’t able to push them over a tiny stream. They seemed happy to be grazing some tussock that was now visible so I left them and walked towards the road. I learned later that left to themselves they would climb back to high ground to sleep. Their instinct is to avoid wolves. Meanwhile back at the ranch, fifty merinos were descending a steep slope in single file with Bruce at the rear. I returned to my mob thinking they might be willing to cross the streamlet and join Bruce’s mob but no such luck. As I headed towards the road again the farm manager walked my way with his dogs. Together we pushed the merinos to join Bruce’s mob and on towards one of the house paddocks, aided considerably by a bulldozer which was sent to “rake” the snow. I had to do almost no snow raking that day thanks to healthy sheep and only 30cm snow. The temperature plunged at sundown so we were happy to be back at base by 6:30pm.

Stuart, Sue and Chrys were sitting by a roaring fire. They’d had a good day. With the help of two shepherds they got two mobs off the lower slopes of nearby Magog. Now we were waiting for word of Gary and the shepherds. The farm manager drove along the road looking for sign of the three. At 8:30 they appeared cold and weary, to the relief of all. Gary had found a mob in a patch of trees but couldn’t shift them without help. After hot soup and Sheffield pies the three thawed out and our convoy of three vehicles headed along the frozen road with its many gates, onto the main road and eastward. PTC musterers were Gary Huish, Sue Piercey, Chrys Horn, Bruce Cameron, Stuart Payne and Kerry Moore P KM

Both PTC teams got messages of thanks from the Annandale and Craigieburn owners.