When we go away on holiday, we stress out about our cat George and who is going to feed him. It seems like such a huge responsibility owning an animal, a small furry life entirely dependent on a couple of humans.
But an experience I had recently put our concerns about George into perspective. At the end of the first on-farm sheep-and-cattle sale at Puketoro Station, an hour’s drive inland from Tokomaru Bay, I looked out across the vast landscape and became acutely aware of the myriad of lives – animal and human – that make up the fabric of a farm, all interdependent but ultimately the responsibility of the farmer, or in this case, farmers.
There were yards with 6500 sheep and lambs and 435 Angus steers waiting to be loaded on to huge double-decker truck-and-trailer units to be transported to new homes far away; horses tethered to fences, needing to be relieved of their saddles and bridles after a hard day’s work in the hot, dusty conditions; and teams of dogs lying in the shade, exhausted after rounding up all the stock for the sale.
Beyond the yards on the 8423-hectare property that stretches all the way to the Raukumara Ranges were many more thousands of sheep, cattle, horses and dogs.
And there were hundreds of hungry human mouths to feed too: shepherds, stock managers and station workers who had been on the job since well before daybreak; truck drivers who would have been driving through the night, and those who had travelled from far and wide for the sale; the auctioneer and his team, the stock agents, buyers, friends, neighbours and spectators – all needing to be fed.
The logistics of the operation made my head spin. When an extra person or two show up for dinner unannounced at my house, it causes a modicum of stress. But how do you manage on a remote backcountry station when you have no idea how many people are going to turn up and no supermarket or even a corner dairy to grab extra supplies from? Morning tea, lunch, dinner, providing accommodation for an unknown number to stay the night … and then feeding them all breakfast the next morning.
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