The Chores

As far as I can remember crops were grown mostly as extra cattle feed. There was a kind of leafy cabbage called chaumolia that would hold drops of dew on the leaves. This was good to drink. The paddock would be divided into sections by temporary fencing and the animals were allowed to clear one section at a time.

Another crop was swedes that had to be harvested by hand. They were easy enough to pull up as they just had roots in the ground, but on cold frosty mornings it was not much fun. There would be a sledge with boards fitted to the sides and we had to fill it to be fed to the sheep. One day John got fed up with having to take a load out to where the sheep were and instead he dumped the load in the cow paddock. The cows loved their change of diet and munched away happily. Unfortunately the swedes were strong flavoured and tainted their milk for several days, and it could not be sent to the dairy, but had to be fed to the pigs or thrown out. John was not very popular for a while and kept out of Dads reach, as he had a two inch wide strong belt and would use it without much provocation.

I can remember paddocks being ploughed and prepared for sowing. First it was ploughed, then discs were used to chop up the furrows. After that the harrows were used to break up the ground even smaller. When it was fine enough it was hand sown with seed and left to grow. There were no such things as tractors in those days.

There were different types of grass seeds sown; some were for grazing and others were for haymaking. When it was haymaking time every available person was called in to help. It had to be done in hot dry weather. First it was cut with scythes and left to dry, then a couple of days later it had to be turned over with long pronged pitch forks. And again left to dry. When that was done it was gathered up and built into haystacks. That was the part I liked best. There was a special way of building them so they would not fall over or let rain soak through them. The sides had to be made strong and straight first and the centre filled in as we went. We worked by standing in the middle of the stack packing it down as we went until it was high enough, then the top was firmly finished off like the sides .

Baby Animals

Our farm was a mixture of animals and crops; we had horses and bullocks to do the heavy work like pulling a sledge or plough. There were also sheep, cows, pigs, goats and hens with their various offspring in season.

Chickens were not much trouble as long as they had food to scratch for. The mother hens took good care of them. Lambs were sometimes rejected by their mothers and had to be bottle fed. It was fun feeding them, they would suck furiously on the bottle with their tails wagging like flags in the wind. Every now and then if the milk was not coming quick enough they would bunt at the bottle to try and get it faster.

We had to be careful not to make pets of them as they had to go back to the flock when they could feed themselves. Sometimes a mother could be coaxed to adopt an abandoned lamb if the skin of her own dead lamb was put on the back of the orphan. The ewes recognise their lambs by their smell and will reject all others.

Calves also had to be taught to drink when they were separated from their mothers. We had to dip a hand into a bucket of milk and let the calf suck our fingers and slowly lead it to the bucket and into the milk. Sometimes the calf would stop sucking before we got its head down to the milk and we had to start over and hold its head down. They soon got the message and before long they would be lining up for their turn.

Pigs were not a problem as the mothers took care of their piglets. There was one young piglet who was not satisfied with his mothers supply of milk and would wander off to find an accommodating cow. He would sit under her udder and drink to his hearts content.

I do not remember if we had any baby goats but if we did they took care of themselves.


Most of these memories are from between the ages of 3 and 9 years.
At a very early age I learnt to ride a horse by being hoisted up on its back and told to hang on to its mane. The horse was given a smack on the rump to start it moving, and it would follow the other horses wherever they went. Simon was one such horse that none of the older boys liked riding, as he was a big old bag of bones. So when they were sent out to bring the horses in for work I was often taken along as spare jockey. Simon followed blindly wherever the others led, as long as someone was on his back. We took ditches and broken fences in our stride.

We also had a Shetland pony named Dandy, who had a will of his own. He would not be shod, or be saddled or bridled like other horses, but would allow a rope bridle to be looped round his head. He was very cunning and would allow any member of the family – adult or child, to ride him, but if a stranger sat on his back he would very quickly find himself sitting on the ground. The boys would tempt visitors to try riding him by putting me on him to show how quiet and gentle he was. But it always ended up the same way – with them sitting on the ground and Dandy standing placidly by seeming to enjoy the fun.

Dandy was a rogue in other ways too. He learned how to open gates, but not to shut them, and so mix cattle or sheep. One time when the family had moved from one farm to another Dandy took a dislike to the new place, and set about opening gates and leading all the horses back to the old farm.

Early days on the farm at Waitomo

The farm was located several miles beyond the caves toward the west coast of the central north island of New Zealand. It was a rambling neglected old place in a valley surrounded by hills, and had a river dividing us from our neighbours on one side and a track /cum road / on the other. The house was built on a hill about a mile or more from the shed by the road that marked the beginning of the property. It was a long trek down one hill across the flat where the cow sheds were and up another hill to the house.

The river that ran through the valley had a right angle bend in it where we learned to swim. The far side had a shallow sloping bank where it was safe for the non swimmers to play, while the older children dived and swam in the deeper part. They would piggyback us across and leave us to splash around on our own until it was time to go home.

One day when we were swimming, there was a beautiful rainbow trout basking in the shallow water not far from where we played. So Vincent dived in a little below it, crept up and put his two hands under it and flipped it up on to the bank. He was very proud of his catch.