The Great Dairy Farm Experiment: an Oral History

As mentioned previously, we spent two weeks on a dairy farm that turned out not to be the setting for an IRL horror movie. Instead, it was a seaside operation with 850 cows, 7 horses, 2 cats, and a border collie mix named Cloud. It marked the first time Nate was on the clock for CLEARLINK and Veronica was working 10-hour days. Needless to say, our perspectives varied.

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Green acres and blue skies all the way to the ocean.

Veronica: When we first reached out to the dairy farm, Nate and I were going to split the workload between us, so we’d only have to work 4-5 hours a day. By the time we reached Lowcliffe, Nate had agreed to work full time for CL and I had to make up for it on the farm.

Nate: Which, in decidedly unethical fashion, we neglected to tell our hosts until we were on their doorstep and it was a lot harder to turn us away. Like all the dwarves showing up in The Hobbit.

V: Yeah, we started to really freak out about getting turned away on the drive there. We pulled over to have a high-strung chat before we turned onto their street. It was like two criminals trying to get their story straight.

N: High-strung is putting it mildly.

V: Anyway… our host family handled it well, but they were somewhat skeptical that I could handle the work.

N: It didn’t help that you showed up to your first day of farm labor wearing pink tights and Nike Frees when Mrs. Dairy Farm had on mucking boots, a muddy brown jacket, and a denim baseball cap.

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Veronica on Day 2 in her best approximation of farm wear.

V: I definitely toned it down the next day. But our first night there is when they got really nervous about who they were stuck with for the next two weeks. We barely stepped out of the car when we were invited to a Guy Fawkes celebratory bonfire down at the beach and thought, “Oh this is cool, such a great way to get to know everybody,” but we didn’t realize that it was a party for basically everyone in the surrounding area. We were just two more people at a huge event.

N: Our hosts didn’t have time to chat with us (they were throwing the party), and everyone else knew each other so it was kind of awkward. It would’ve gone better if the first conversation I had with everyone wasn’t declining alcohol. It simultaneously made us aloof and super weird. Every rejected offer, however polite, put an instant halt on further dialogue.

V: So we basically hung out with one of the dogs that a neighbor brought along until the bonfire—OH, the bonfire! It was enormous. A bunch of trees from their windbreak had blown over a few months back so there were two or three full trees for the fire on the beach. It was so big that it caught the grass up the coast on fire and they had to get a tractor to bury the flames. No pictures, sadly–we didn’t want to bring the SLR to our first introduction to the neighborhood.

N: Before the tractor got there we were trying to beat back the flames with sticks, which was completely useless in the face of a giant brushfire, but it got me out of conversation duty, which I was failing. I was happy to get my arm hairs burned off because it gave the guests and I something to bond over. It’s a lot easier to get to know someone when your common ground is facing down a wall of fiery destruction…

V: …that was barely a foot high and patchy. Don’t get me wrong, it was crazy how fast the fire spread, but let’s not pretend you’re a Smokejumper or anything.

N: Fine. Fine. So the party went reasonably well after we put out the brushfire, which leads us to actually working on the farm. Here’s where our perspectives diverge, because I sat on my butt in a recliner doing CLEARLINK stuff while you were…doing basically everything else. 

V: Their property was enormous so you needed a four wheeler to get anywhere. They wanted me to paint several fences around the place and then weed their garden, which sounded pretty easy at first.

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The seaside paddocks are to the left. The dairy shed is hiding behind the giant hedge to the right.

N: But when she says garden, she means, “Two plus acres of random plants completely indistinguishable from the weeds.” Apparently it hadn’t been cared for in a couple years and our visit was perfect because we were too inexperienced to actually help with milking cows and the horses had the month off from work.

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Meet Biscuit (left) and Cookie. Sadly, we’d only be spending a little bit of time with these two.

V: I thought it would only take me a couple days, but I barely finished it all before we had to go. It was great though, I liked being outside all day–working out in the sun and by the sea. It was really peaceful and gave you the space and quiet to just kind of putter around in thought.

N: I sometimes suspected when I’d come out to help I was interrupting her calm–now I know the truth!

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Nate interrupting Veronica’s calm. The green carpet is weeds.

V: The painting was a little less enjoyable because it was tedious–they gave me a tiny brush to paint all the fences! It took me hours to paint the first one with it, so I eventually snuck into town (20 miles away) to the hardware store to buy myself a roller! Things went much more quickly after that.

N: Veeves was very protective of that roller. A Swiss farmhand came out to help and was completely baffled by the technology of the paint roller–it was kind of hilarious how excited she was about it. She had never used one, so at first was a little too vigorous with the whole thing and her face was completely splattered by the time she finished. The rollers sped the whole process along considerably though.

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Veronica doting on her prized roller. Get the look: Trucker Hat by Nevis Bungy Jump; Sunglasses by Ray Ban; Earbuds by American Airlines; Faux Fur Jacket by Walmart; Stretch Pants by Vogo; Gumboots by Dublin

V: Definitely. Nate and I were cruising until we got sick off the raw milk. I remember going up to their dairy shed and watching how they milked the cows. They’re so adorable! They like getting milked so they come from their pasture to the shed all on their own once the gate is opened. They all want to be first so you can see them darting in front of each other. They walk onto this rotating circular platform where they’re hooked up by a dairy worker — some can recognize specific cows in the 850 by name! All the milk gets stored in a ginormous vat under the platform, which I assumed was where the milk gets pasteurized. I asked our host if that was the case and she laughed and said “No no. That’s done after the trucks come collect it from us!” 

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The rotating stalls where milk is pumped but not pasteurized.

N: They weren’t too keen on pasteurization, “Boils off all the good bugs.”

V:  Turns out we’d been drinking raw milk at their house this whole time! As expected, we both came down with some lovely symptoms a couple days later.

N: We had The Mudbutt.

V: Gross!

N: They need to know, V. We had both been suffering “symptoms” for a few days when we–

V: You are not telling this part–

N: THEY NEED TO KNOW! Anyhow… we went out to put the final coat on a few of the fences by the calf paddock and decided to split up and finish the last couple spans. I was feeling so weak and horrible that as soon as Veronica walked out of sight, I immediately lay down on the ground and went to sleep.

V: Big Baby. I was sick too and still managed to finish my job. And yours!

N: I’m not proud of it, and was punished accordingly–SO, I lay down, but it’s too sunny outside so I roll over onto my belly and put the hood of my jacket up. When I wake up maybe 30 minutes later, it’s to the sound of flies and the smell of poop wafting through my hood. Due to my battle with mudbutt, I at first suspected self sabotage–but to my relief–I had just rolled over onto some cow pies and had smashed them all over my chest.

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Nate scouting out which cow poop to sleep in next.

V: And that’s how we spent our last day at the dairy farm.

N: We’d shower and drive off to Picton after that. Let’s finish on a happier note, though. Anything stand out about The Great Dairy Farm Experiment?

V: Yeah, remember how we couldn’t understand a word Colin (the host family patriarch) said?

N: Hahaha, he was nice about it, though. The thick brogue combined with his quiet voice made nearly everything unintelligible. I fell back on the classic “smile and nod” approach, which he tolerated admirably.

V: He really cracked me up the rare time I did understand him, so it makes me think he would’ve been hilarious all the time if we could’ve just figured out the accent.

N: We also ate meat–almost exclusively meat–for every meal. At first I thought that was awesome: bacon all the time?! Finally! But after the fifth or sixth day your body starts to wonder why your arteries are half their original diameter. Turns out that’s what happens when you’re eating bacon bits as cereal.

V:  I never knew how much I’d miss vegetables and fruit until I didn’t see them for two weeks solid.

N: But still, MEAT FOR EVERY MEAL! It was good while it lasted (despite starting to think I had scurvy). What I liked best was Cloud. She’d jump on the four wheeler with you to zip around the farm and looked adorbs when she’d nap in her wheelbarrow.

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A boy and his host’s dog.

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A dog and her wheelbarrow.

V: I really enjoyed getting to know their two girls. It was super fun waterskiing with them at Lake Tekapo (in full wetsuits since the water is only 50 degrees) and hearing all about what’s cool and what’s not here in NZ. For instance, I learned that Lorde is “definitely not cool.” And they were super curious about cheerleading since they don’t have cheerleaders in NZ but see them on the Disney Channel all the time.

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Waterskiing was totes cray with these 2! Disney Channel WHOOO!

N: Finally, some NZ words we’ve picked up along the way:

  • Togs=swimsuit
  • Eskimo=cooler
  • Hire=rent
  • Takeaway=to go
  • Ute=little truck, like a Tacoma or F-350
  • Truck=Semi
  • Tramping=Hiking
  • the Dairy=the corner grocery shop (confusing while on a dairy farm)
  • Jandals=flip flops
  • The wop wops=the boonies, the middle of nowhere
  • Gumboots=rain boots
  • Gumboot tea=black tea

V: That seems like a good place to stop. Next up, Martinborough! Thanks for reading!!

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