Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Land of Grazers

I’ve just spent the last few days in the Canterbury Plains area of New Zealand – a land of sheep, cattle, flatlands, very tall windbreaks, and monstrous irrigation systems!  Actually, the number of sheep in NZ has been diminishing with quite some rapidity as farmers move to the more lucrative dairy industry - there are merely 40 million sheep to the 4 million people compared to what was once near 70 million! (as I was told by a retired farmer).  This is still farm country though, without question, but now the cow reigns supreme (though maybe not yet in numbers).  They are definitely herded tightly and I understand that they are moved from paddock to paddock over the course of a few weeks allowing each area to recover and then be chomped down again.  I wouldn’t be surprised, quite frankly, if New Zealand is among the top dairy producers in the world.  They have huge processing facilities where they turn their liquid gold into powdered milk and ship that to many Asian countries (no, they don’t cut it here, that was done in China – after they received their shipment!)

But back to the sheep: for the “fibre floozie” in me, this place has been close to heaven!  Most of the sheep that are raised for their wool seem to be Merino (softest fleece on the planet, I think), Corridale, and maybe some Romney. The garment of choice in NZ seems to be the “merino” which basically describes a long-sleeved t-shirt made from 100% (remarkably non-itchy) wool.  The term can refer to other garments made from the same fabric including undergarments and lots of different styles of sweaters (a.k.a. “jerseys”) etc., including some garments where the merino wool may have been blended with something else, usually a synthetic like nylon.  The fabric is often very lightweight and the garments can be found in almost any shop.  They’re a bit on the pricey side but absolutely delightful.  Scarves, hats, mitts, and socks are often made of a blend of merino and possum fur - making the merino even softer than it is on its own.  Possums, although perhaps endangered in their native Australia, are overwhelmingly considered to be a very unwelcome pests here. They, like other mammals have been introduced to the islands and have a tendency to wreak havoc.  They have ferocious appetites for both the native trees and the indigenous birds and this has the kiwis tied up in knots. They hunt it whenever they can and the skins and fur are widely available.

So, That little segment was for my "fibre floozie" friends (you know who you are!).  Now I'm off to Oamaru and Dunedin for a bit of time along the east coast of he South Island to see some art, and hopefully a few penguins!

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