Thursday, August 18, 2022

Live and let live

Geoff and Justine Ross bought Lake Hawea Station just three years ago after selling their vodka company 42 Below for a good sum.

Last week my email inbox filled up with people wanting to know what I thought about the Country Calendar episode on Lake Hawea Station.

I hadn’t seen it, but had it taped, so I sat down to watch knowing there was controversy and high emotion around the segment.

To be honest, I wasn’t filled with outrageous righteous indignation like my correspondents, rather with mild amusement. Maybe I’m getting mellow and relaxed in my old age. It’s a good place to be, no danger of a self-induced heart attack.

I have noticed that righteous indignation has become a more common human emotion in recent years, possibly because of everyone’s ability to publish their feelings instantly on social media and get immediate feedback from other equally outraged folk.

Geoff and Justine Ross bought Lake Hawea Station just three years ago after selling their vodka company 42 Below for a good sum.

Of course they don’t have to be as profitable as most of us, can spend money on anything that takes their fancy and can experiment with all sorts of different things.

They were always going to bring a different angle to their business with their creative and entrepreneurial backgrounds and Country Calendar sure showed that.

I was directed to the Country Calendar Facebook page and staggered how much grief and displeasure they were taking over this episode.

More than a decade ago I was rung by the Country Calendar researcher looking to find places to film their next season. 

She asked me, hopefully, if I was organic.

I said no but pointed out that if you watched the show, one might think about half of us were.

Then she asked with bated breath if we had horses and again I had to say we didn’t, but their viewers must think we nearly all have a nag hanging around. 

She sounded disappointed.

Country Calendar might be about us but it’s not for us, it’s for Auckland.

Surprisingly, we did get picked for an episode and I made sure I talked about why we used fertiliser to grow wonderful clover to fix all that free nitrogen in the air to turn it into nutritious and sustainable protein products.

I was intrigued to see the Ross’ sniffing the earth to see whether it was fungi or bacteria dominant and googled it to see whether this is actually possible. 

I couldn’t find any evidence, but now I know that dirt doesn’t smell like dirt, it smells of bacteria. 

The bacteria responsible is Streptomyces, which is the same family that gives us many of our antibiotics and that soil bacteria grows in much the same way and produces spores just like fungi.

Their subsequent little sprinkle of humates on a massively full humate soil will make little difference other than a good marketing story.

Which is what the Ross’ are unashamedly all about anyway.

Much of the online agitation is around the scenes shot in their woolshed while the Merinos were being shorn.

The white painted shearing board was designed to show if any of the sheep had been cut.

It reminded me that when I had a woolshed built 10 years ago, I was so enamoured with the board’s Acacia melanoxylon timber, with its beautiful grain, that I gave it several more coats of polyurethane than I did for the chipboard wool floor.

The shearers turned up and pointed out that I’d turned it into a skating rink along with the grease and sweat. 

Subsequently it took me many hours of sanding to get it back to straight timber. 

Still looks good though.

I was amused by the Ross’ innovation of having a mattress at the bottom of each chute for the sheep to land on after being dispatched by the shearer. Admittedly every couple of decades, I shovel material into the holes dug out by successive sheep but it’s usually red metal. 

Sawdust like the high jump pits of old would be kinder but it would be a full-time job raking it after each sheep.

Their sheep didn’t appear to enjoy the experience of touchdown, which made me think they should just lessen the chute’s angle and hence speed of impact. 

A good example is that someone’s crazy idea might actually lead to a sensible solution.

They forced their poor old shearing gang to listen to the likes of Vivaldi to calm the sheep but up here we let the shearers continue to smash out AC/DC,  but put earmuffs on the sheep to keep everyone happy.

My parents came to this property in 1963. 

He was a London policeman and she was a Christchurch school teacher. 

They were always going to do things differently. 

They thought trimming all the sheep’s feet each year like everyone else was crazy so just culled the limpers instead. 

And frustrated with the woolblind low-fertility bad mother Romneys, took the radical option of crossing with Border Leicesters and stabilising it into a Coopworth. 

The stock agents effectively blacklisted them.

Twenty years later when I took over the farm, I started running Friesian bulls because I couldn’t afford anything else. 

An older neighbour told me that “Hatuma was too good for those black and white bastards”. 

I don’t think there is anyone in Hatuma now that doesn’t have bulls.

I also rapidly erected electric fences, used glyphosate and direct drilling and things like plantain and chicory, which all appeared unusual at the time. 

So radical that the judges of the Hawke’s Bay Farmer of the Year suggested I’d have better luck if I got some Angus cows and replaced my electrics with battened conventional fences.

So let the Ross’ have their fun and experiment with different ideas because you just never know what might work.

And if Auckland likes to believe we serenade the stock with Vivaldi, is that such a terrible thing?

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