Kylie McIntyre still struggles to watch the video of her cows swimming to safety.
The short clip, which went viral on social media, shows McIntyre calling her cows as they desperately try to escape flooded Waipawa paddocks during Cyclone Gabrielle in February.
The incident captured the public’s attention, prompting donations and messages of support.
But it is still a bit too raw for McIntyre.
“I don’t like going back and watching it. It’s not a nice thing to go through.”
McIntyre, who crop farms with partner Max Buckeridge, has no idea how many views the video has had – “I don’t really follow that sort of stuff” – but it made headlines around the world, with articles appearing as far away as the United Kingdom and United States.
Buckeridge shot the video and the couple were encouraged by friend and veterinarian Anne Rupuha-Gelling to post it on social media.
“They thought it would be really neat to share it with people and give everyone a bit of a positive lift.
“I don’t think anyone expected it to be that popular.”
Prior to the cyclone, McIntyre’s herd of 23 mix-bred heifers and steers – affectionately know as “the Motley Crew” – had been grazing on a leased river flat.
Concerned about potential flooding from the storm, she and Buckeridge moved them to a neighbour’s elevated paddock, but were shocked the next morning to find the cattle standing in water up to their bellies.
There were two swift waterways running through the paddock, which made getting down to them too dangerous. Within 15 minutes the water had risen dramatically and the cattle started jumping on each other trying to get to higher ground.
“That’s when it broke me. You could see them panicking, and I started to panic,” McIntyre said.
One of the animals began to swim, and the others followed suit, but in the wrong direction and towards the raging river.
“Just out of panic I just started calling them, I just called and called and called.
“It wasn’t caught on video, but at the time it was like watching synchronized swimmers. They just all turned at once. They thought ‘there’s Mum’s voice’ and turned around and just started to swim to me.”
Several times the cattle were pushed sideways as they negotiated raging water, raising fears they would get caught in a submerged deer fence. They eventually made it to where McIntyre was standing, a swim of about 500m, but then had to negotiate a steep bank before getting to safety.
“That was the worst part. There was a downed willow tree with some blackberry and they were getting caught in it. They were starting to go underneath the water.
“That noise they made. It was just awful.”
They eventually scrambled up the bank. All but one of the animals survived. When the floodwaters receded the body of a heifer was found trapped under a fallen willow tree.
The cattle, aged between 18 and 30 months, are “ridiculously quiet” and well used to McIntyre’s presence, which is why they responded so well to her calls.
“They hear you coming on a motorbike and they’re just so excited and want to come and chase you.”
Most of the surviving cattle required antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, after taking on contaminated floodwater, but all have recovered well. The video prompted donations to Vet Services in Hawke’s Bay to help cover McIntyre’s vet bills. Vet Services also helped out with payment.
“I wasn’t expecting anything like that and it’s really appreciated,” she says.
“It’s not something you want to accept, either, because you don’t want to be profiting off a crap situation.”
While the cattle’s survival was a positive, the couple’s extensive crops did not fare so well. McIntyre estimates they have lost 1200t of potatoes, 1500t of beetroot and 200t of onions, and the jury is still out on how the maize crop will survive.
“What can you do? We’re lucky because the floodwater never went through our house.
“We’re just grateful for the support from friends and neighbours and everyone else. That’s the sort of stuff that means a lot.”