Casey and I were entering in our second month of travel in New Zealand. As we made our way south on the north island we were chatting with potential WWOOF hosts. There was a couple who reached out to us about staying on their farm and helping with their livestock, organic garden and food forest. Their profile looked good to us, and they had positive reviews. We set a tentative arrival date and kept in communication as we traveled south towards them.
We eventually arrived at the home of Kim and Karen, late in the afternoon, and were shown to our room so we could get settled. That night they served a delicious farm-to-table meal. We chatted at the dinner table and got to know each other. They were so friendly and instantly made us feel welcome and at home.
We talked about the work schedule. They usually expect 4-5 hours each day of the week of work. You can work more and then take days off if you want to go and explore the area. There was a variety of projects that they wished to have us work on. Kim set a time for the next morning to begin with the daily animal care. Plus to show us what kind of projects that they needed help with.
At first our mornings started off pretty routine. We would get up and feed the animals with Kim. We usually fed the chickens in the hen house and the free range chickens in the food forest. Kim seemed to like feeding Blossom, the pig, in the mornings when he had time. Then we would go back to the house to make coffee and enjoy breakfast before beginning any other tasks.
The reason I say it started with routine is because working on a farm with animals can surprise you. There were some mornings we would go to check on the cattle and they would not be in the paddock.
For a couple of days, first thing in the morning we were herding cattle and trying to get them to stay in the right paddock. There was some fencing issues, and we eventually moved them to a different paddock until the fence could be repaired.
On a separate occasion, Kim and Karen had decided to sell some of their cattle. We helped round up the cattle and move them in the paddocks behind the house. One day after finishing some gardening, I noticed a cow walking down the driveway. Upon investigating outside, I noticed that a couple cows were loose in the yard. I wasn’t sure if they were ours, but Casey and I managed to herd them into a separate paddock near the house. We did some investigating and noticed that a board had come off one of the fences of the paddock where we moved the cows. We made a temporary fix until Kim got home to help us resolve the issue.
I learned many life-skills while working with Kim and Karen. Kim taught me to drive a manual/standard truck and to drive a tractor. I felt comfortable driving the tractor around to mow, but the truck was much more complicated – especially if the trailer was attached to it!
Karen showed us how to care for chickens. We even learned how to de-lice them organically. This was my first time holding a chicken. Some were easier to pick-up than others. I am proud to say that I did not have many issues, and only was pecked a few times while first handling them.
We also helped repair some of the chicken coops that Karen was raising some chicks in. She is a school teacher and had hatched different breeds of chickens at the same time. I found it interesting to see the size difference with the different breeds.
Kim and Karen both helped us learn more about plants and how to recognize them in the garden and food forest. I know I have mentioned food forest above in this post, and it may not be a common phrase to most. A food forest is a food production agroforestry system based mainly on trees. Kim and Karen had planted several types of fruit trees near their home creating for themselves a food forest. The chickens in the food forest were there for maintenance, as fruit may fall and not get picked regularly. The chickens could eat any bugs the rotting fruit attracted. I absolutely love this system, and would definitely plan to use something similar in our own future homestead!
Working with the livestock was my favorite part of this WWOOF experience. Kim was very social with his cattle. There were days Kim would give us the task of taking a bucket of barley out and trying to hand feed the cattle. I was surprised at how friendly most of them were. I could even hand feed their bull!
The biggest life skill I feel I learned was how to butcher a cow.
WARNING: this next section will have graphic content.
My husband Casey has been vegetarian for several years, and while I am not strictly vegetarian, I do try to eat a mostly plant based diet. We do this for environmental reasons, but have made exceptions (wild game or locally raised meat by friends/family). Our hosts were aware of this when asking us to come stay. We had also communicated that we were interested in livestock care. When our hosts asked if we would want to participate in their homekill we agreed that it would be a good learning and life experience.
They had separated the cow that they were planning to butcher in his own paddock. He had been grass fed, lived a good life, and recently was getting a bucket of barley each day as a treat. We were aware of his fate the second day with our hosts. I enjoyed watching his happy dance-trot each day when it was time to eat. Soon the day came and I wasn’t sure how to process what we were about to do. I guess from what I had seen in movies, I expected a gruesome mess – and what did happen was not quite what I imagined.
We brought out the anticipated bucket of barley, and while the cow was happily munching away he was shot in the head. It was quick. Kim went over and slit the cows throat to drain the blood. We had to wait for the mussels to relax and the blood to drain before we could begin skinning. I wasn’t aware that the muscles would still move, and it would make some noise as air was released. I had never witnessed anything like this. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach. I grew up on a farm, but we never “processed” any of our own cows or pigs. They were just rounded up and sent off somewhere distant to become pork-chops, bacon, steak, or hamburger.
Kim began to teach me how to remove the skin. I was holding the front leg, next to the head and standing in a pool of blood. I tried several times to make my first cut but only was trimming off the hair. I told Kim that I couldn’t do this, the head right there next to me. I could look into the eyes. No problem, Kim came over beside me and removed the head completely. He then made the first cut so I had an area to work with.
Along with my husband, Kims’ daughter was also helping us. There were a couple grandkids that also were watching the process. The longer we worked, the less it began to look like a cow. We removed more parts, took out the guts, and eventually were sawing the meat into different sections to be stored in the freezer.
The longer I worked, the easier it got for me. I realized the less it looked like a cow, the less upset I was with cutting. It was an emotional process for me, but something I am very glad that I was able to learn about.
We had first agreed to stay a week with Kim and Karen, to make sure everything was a good fit – but we ended up staying for about three weeks! They were very kind to us, and were great company to be around. Kim in the evenings liked to take night walks down to the stream near the house. The first night he asked us if we wanted to do it I was a little skeptical.
We had headlamps to help navigate through the bush, but once you got to the stream Kim would ask to turn them all off – and it was soon apparent why. The stream had very high banks that were home to many, many glowworms!
Casey and I had paid money to tour Waitomo caves and see the glowworms – but that experience paled in comparison to sitting on the bank of this stream and staring at all the lights from the little critters. On clear sky nights, you would almost lose where the glowworms stopped and the stars began. It was absolutely breathtaking!
After our meditation, we would follow the stream up towards the road. Kim and his friend had created a taniwha legend at the end of the hike. There was a tunnel that you had to cross through in order to get up the bank on the other side and onto the road that lead back to the house. It was customary to sing to the taniwha to keep it sleeping and have safe passage (the legend was originally created for their grandkids).
Karen took us on the same bush walk one afternoon, so we could enjoy the bush in the daylight. It was a fun hike through the stream.
Our hosts gave us a great look into what owning a farm or homestead would be like. When we signed up for the WWOOF-NZ website, this was the idea we had in mind of the experience we were hoping to get. Casey and I are grateful to our New Zealand WWOOF hosts Kim and Karen! We appreciate all the knowledge we gained and memories made (more than I could fit into one blog post!).
Interested in learning about the WWOOF program? Please check out my informational blog post here. Want to share your own WWOOF experience, leave a comment below!
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