Country Life and the Bright Lights of Dannevirke

The land is sprawling. It is varying shades of green. There may be a pine tree forest (not native to the country). The hills are rolling and steep. No, not Jack-and-Jill-danced-up-the-hill rolling. I mean you definitely need an ATV or wicked dirt bike to make it anywhere kind of rolling. Then, all of a sudden, you have a thousand pairs of eyes looking at you and totally scared of you. Sheep! So many sheep! Little ones, big ones, lambs, rams, you name it. Welcome to a sheep and cattle farm!

I will start off saying that farmland in New Zealand is absolutely nothing like  farmland in the US. Farms in the states are flat and boring and full of corn. The farms on this island, on the other hand,  produce little in the way of agriculture, and instead, the acres upon acres of fertile land used to let the farm animals roam free. It was now crystal clear why the meat imported from New Zealand was the most expensive of all the meat at my Whole Foods. Living in their natural habitat makes happy animals: a novel concept.

That said, animals here are not just raised for meat. In fact, a good percentage of the sheep and cattle are raised for their wool and milk, respectively. Alltwood Farm is one such wool farm and I had the chance to spend a few days running around to chase sheep, literally! John-O, the owner and main man; Bill, John's right hand man; three shepherding dogs names Blue, Rue and Lou; Ted, John's sidekick in the form of a Jack Russel; and about several thousand sheep are ready to go at 5AM. (Not me. I was a big slacker and didn't strap on the gumboots and rain gear until 9 or 10AM.)

Unfortunately, this time of year was wrong for sheep sheering, but the fluffy buggers needed rounding up for medicine and the like. Step one, round up sheep from endless, sloping land and corral them into the sorting facility. Step two, get them into the sorting facility. Step three, use the shoot to sort the sheep. Sounds pretty simple until you realize there are hundreds of sheep who all want to go off in their own little pockets. Perhaps dealing with this gets frustrating if it  has to be done every day, so that means the persons involved in this business need to have a strong liking for animals and paramount patience. John has both in addition to a mean young streak that lets him hang toe to toe with his three rugby-playing Ellingham offspring.

 In addition to getting a taste for the day-to-day farm operations, John-O told me some really useful things about the wool itself. Firstly, there are many breeds of sheep that have varying types of wool. Unfortunately for my sweater collection, Alltwood is not a Merino wool farm; Merino wool mainly comes from Australia but is also sourced from New Zealand. Instead, Alltwood's sheep are a purebred Romney sheep, which have a coarser wool coat ideal for hard wearing use such as carpets. Wool carpeting went out of fashion with the advent of synthetic fibers. However, an interesting advantage of wool is its fire resistant properties. Wool, like human hair, chars but doesn't actually set on fire, an incredible safety feature. Moreover, it is obviously a natural, sturdy, renewable fiber, unlike extruded plastic synthetics that come from petroleum.

Ok, I'll quit sounding like a preacher or a commercial, but in the last few years I've come closer to being a tree hugger than I ever thought I would be. Throwing rubbish out the car window was never my style, but neither was staring at ingredient lists, trying to compare which product had fewer man-made components and I certainly do that now. As a rational person, I realize that my blog or efforts alone will do next to nothing for the overall picture, but from a selfish standpoint, I can limit some of the damage I inflict on myself by reintroducing more natural items into my life, like wool.

 If you're interested in learning more about wool carpets or the wool industry, go to JustShorn. This is a type of co-op, which includes John & Alltwood Farm, that have tried to make a push for New Zealand wool-based carpets in America. Otherwise contact me and I can help point you in the right direction.


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