Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Gypsy day

The Drovers "Gypsy Day"
Another significant event in the New Zealand farming calendar is almost over. We call it Gypsy Day but the reality is that it stretches out over two to three weeks. The beginning of June marks the start of the new dairy season. We see farms changing hands. We see sharemilkers taking up new contracts. And we see herds moved to winter pastures.

A sharemilker is a person who lives on a dairy farm milking the owner's herd for an agreed share of the profits. Sharemilkers often build up their own herds at the same time. So when a new contract comes along, it's time to pack up the household possessions, the kids and the cows and move to the next place.

It's not just the sharemilkers moving their cows. Around this time most dairy cows are dried off ready for calving. They are moved off nutrient rich milk platforms to leaner winter pastures. The vacated fertile soils are then prepared for spring regrowth in another 3-4 months.

The reason why Gypsy Day is a significant event is that there are so many cows in New Zealand. As at the end of 2011 there were an estimated 4.82 million cows in the national milking herd. Compare this with the national (human) population estimate of 4.43 million as at 31 March 2012. You can see why it's such a big event.

Stock are either transported by truck or walked to their new homes. Most herds today are reported to be four or five times the size they were 20 years ago. The number of cars on the road has also risen dramatically. Here in the Wairarapa I've gotten used to looking out for handmade signs on the road saying "stock", especially around this time of year.

Photo courtesy of author possumgirl2 under Creative Commons licence.

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