Home > life in pictures, visiting > better late than never 6: NZ sheep

better late than never 6: NZ sheep

You can’t talk about New Zealand, especially the South Island, and not mention sheep. According to NZ government stats, there are about four and a half million people and over 30 million sheep in the country.

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One day we were driving up a country road toward the trailhead for our day’s planned hike, and we had a lengthy delay when we came across a huge herd walking along the roadway. They weren’t afraid or even particularly interested in our car as we creeped very slowly through. We decided it to consider it a free tourist attraction, like one of those wildlife parks you can drive through, and just enjoyed our leisurely outdoor petting zoo tour :-).

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Another day, we visited a working sheep ranch and got a live demonstration of how sheep are sheared. I wouldn’t say the sheep “enjoyed” it, but seemed resigned and more-or-less about as comfortable as one of our dogs getting a bath!

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By fortunate coincidence, we happened to be in Wanaka at the same time as it was hosting the National Sheepdog Trials competition, so we spent one afternoon watching the events live. As sporting event locations go, this was about as impressive as they get, and so were the performances of the “athletes”, the sheepdogs who had such amazing control over their sheep.

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These are all working dogs, and they use these skills every day. In the rugged landscapes of New Zealand, there is no mechanical or industrial replacement for their ability to go up on the mountain slopes, collect the flocks, and herd them down for fleecing.

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The sheep ranchers themselves are interesting folks too. Standing around listening to their conversations during the competitions, apart from their delightful accents you’d hardly know you weren’t listening to a bunch of “old dirt kickers” (as my dad would say) chatting in the coffee shop :-).

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