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  • Day17

    Feb 7 - Walter Peak High Country Farm

    February 7, 2020 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    We are heading out on Lake Wakatipu tonight on the TSS Earnslaw, a 1912 Edwardian vintage twin screw steamer to go to a special. It is one of the oldest tourist attractions in Central Otago, and the only remaining commercial passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere.

    Our destination was Walter Peak High Country Farm. The original homestead house of this 64,000 acre spread is surrounded by gorgeous gardens. We enjoyed a fabulous buffet dinner with food as far as the eye could see - there was beef, fish, lamb, chicken and pork - all raised in the area. There was even a candy bar in the dessert sector with huge glass jars full of jelly beans and marshmallows and chocolate treats.

    There are three species farmed at Walter Peak. The Merino is bred only for its wool which is some of the finest, softest and most luxurious in the world. The Romney, a distinct New Zealand breed, produces meat and coarse wool ideal for textiles. The Corriedale, a cross between the merino and other long-wool breeds, is a dual-purpose breed also.

    After dinner, we enjoyed a sheep shearing demonstration - this one wasn’t quite as glitzy and hyped-up as the one we saw at the Agrodome. The farm is a working farm with 20,000 sheep and some cattle. Our host gave a sheep her very first hair cut. Sheep are sheared twice in their first year, and then yearly after that. The first shearing encourages the animal to put on weight to replace the warmth of the fleece. Since these sheep are raised both for their wool and their meat, double shearing is an important step in staying financially viable in a market where wool prices can vary greatly from year to year.

    Then we got to see Ace and Leo herd some sheep down from the side of the mountain. Merino sheep are happier on mountains than on flat plains. Different breeds of dogs have different abilities. Ace, a border collie, is fast and able to bound up the mountain side to get to the sheep and then to start heading them downhill using eye contact instead of barking. Leo (a huntaway) is a loud barker and is best in smaller, tighter quarters. He was able to get the sheep that last little distance into the pen. A farm will typically have 8-10 working dogs - they are critical to the success of this high country farm.

    We got back on the steamer and plied our way back across the lake. Some people joined in the loud, raucous sing-along. Some of us were partied out. It had been another good day here in NZ.
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