Sunday, April 21, 2024

ACROSS THE RAILS: Lambs take flight

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It isn’t just birds and pigs that can fly, now lambs have taken flight in a history-making journey from the Chatham Islands. On June 3, Air Chathams Ltd operated the first trial flight of a bulk volume of lambs from the islands into Hawke’s Bay airport in Napier, in what proved to be a very successful venture. Air Chathams chief operating officer Duane Emeny says they were approached by Chatham Islands Shipping Company with the idea of flying lambs to the mainland.
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“They came to us with a pretty unusual request – to fly some of their client’s lambs to Napier,” Emeny said. 

“We are a family-owned business and thought ‘why not’? Our Convair 580 aircraft are coming to the end of their running life and so timing-wise it was a good opportunity to give it a go.”

The plan was put into action by Emeny’s father Craig, assisted by his other son and Chatham Islands general manager Matthew. 

Craig piloted the flight, which took the 160 lambs from Kaingaroa Station to Hawke’s Bay Airport. The lambs were off feed for 12 hours prior to the flight and the flight itself took 1.5 hours – far less time than the two to three days to ship.

The cargons (cargo bins that were specifically developed for Convair 580 aircraft) that carried the lambs over were originally used to carry mail and freight, but were adapted by Air Chathams Ltd to accommodate the lambs. The metal crates were converted into mobile stock crates, which were double layered with nets over the top and met regulations for live-animal carriage.

For the first trip each pen held 20 lambs, at an average of 28kg liveweight. At the Chatham Islands airport, the stock truck was on the tarmac and a forklift was used to hoist up each cargon. Lambs were loaded directly from the truck into each cargon and then forklifted into the plane. At Napier the cargons were loaded onto a truck and taken to Napier Port where the lambs were unloaded onto a stock truck using the facilities there. Plenty of time was spent on logistics planning to ensure the lambs arrived in Napier safe and well. 

The lucky lambs to take the first bulk flight came from Kaingaroa Station and farm manager Levi Lanauze was on hand to see them take to the sky. Kaingaroa Station was chosen as the trialist farm due to their proximity to the airport, as well as access to weighing facilities. Lanauze says the weight limit was very tight.

“We drafted off all the lighter lambs to get an average of 28kg over the 160 head. Each cargon pen held 20 lambs of that size, though we could have put on a few more as we were not quite up to the maximum weight,” Lanauze said. 

When Lanauze was approached about the trial he said there was no hesitation.

“We have an open mind and since getting lambs to the mainland can be an issue, we take every opportunity we can – this time it just happened to be by air,” he said.

“The shipping company paid the extra cost over and above the standard cost to ship lambs over and so we had nothing to lose. This was a trial flight, but we are already looking to weigh up more lambs for the next flights, since this one was so successful.

“The lambs travelled 50 times better than any other stock leaving the island – the shorter time period of transporting meant they arrived in Napier under two hours after leaving the Chatham Islands in the same condition and weight that they left, and so there was no need to add on a few weeks grazing cost to bring them back up.”

As there was no delay in bringing the lambs back up to condition, they were able to be sold on landing and the first load headed directly out to their new homes.

The interim plan is to carry out 18 trips in total and Duane Emeny from Air Chatham’s Ltd believed they would be able to do at least two loads a day. After the success of the first flight it is looking likely that there will be more to follow.

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