Story: Rural language
Page 7 – Farm animals
Animals and humans
Farm animals feature in expressions referring to human experiences. ‘As black as the inside of a cow’ describes something that is very dark, while to be ‘as crook as a dog’ is to be very sick. ‘As lonely as a hermit sheep in scrub’ recalls the solitary habits of a sheep away from the mob. Anything difficult or hindering progress is ‘a fair cow’.
Over 150 terms have been recorded for sheep. Ewes have been known by affectionate or familiar names such as auntie, career girl, dolly, granny, jinny, mamma mia, or old girl.
Before effective fences were built, many sheep escaped the watchful eyes of boundary shepherds who patrolled sheep run boundaries to keep stock from straying off a property, often watching from crow’s nests (platforms on poles or up cabbage trees). Over time, some stray sheep bred in the wild and developed distinctive characteristics. They were named after the areas where they lived: Arapawas, Diggers Hills, Hokonuis, Mohakas and Omahakis.
From the 19th century, distinctive New Zealand sheep breeds were developed. Some were named after the geneticists and researchers who bred them – the Coopdale, Coopworth, Drysdale and Perendale were named for Ian Coop, F. W. Dry and Geoffrey Peren. The Corriedale and Tukidale are named after the place of breeding – Corriedale was an estate in North Otago, and Tukituki in Hawke’s Bay was the place where the Tukidale originated. Some are combinations of existing breed names – Borderdales are a cross between Border Leicester and Corriedale sheep, while Romdales are crosses of Romneys and Perendales. The Carpetmaster and Growbulk breeds have names that describe the type of wool produced.
Town and country talk
Some terms have very different meanings for farmers and city dwellers. On the farm, a double-decker is a sheep that has missed at least one shearing, a station line is a station-bred group of livestock of the same age and breed, and a straight black is a pure-bred Aberdeen Angus cattle beast. Diamonds and crowns are diamond-shaped stock yards with a race at each end and four pens opening from the centre.
There are more than 150 terms for New Zealand sheepdogs. An eye dog, sometimes called a heading dog, controls sheep by a stare. Colloquial terms for dogs include thistle peeper, flea taxi and gravel-scraper (a dog which makes a lot of noise but has little effect). A powder puff is a flighty, noisy, ineffectual dog, often a huntaway. Problem dogs include the chiseller, which worries sheep, and the Sunday dog, a lazy worker. Boundary dogs, also known as dog shepherds, fence dogs and gate dogs, are chained on the boundary of a run to prevent sheep straying.
Sheepdog trials have become a tradition, with many specialised terms. Heading dog competitions are called long heads, and the course itself is the heading hill. The competing shepherd stands in a position known as the casting pole, and sends the dog out from an area called the quad. The sheep are herded back there, or into a hook, an open enclosure on the field. Slippers are officials who release the sheep. The shepherd directs the dog towards the string, the place where the sheep stand, and attempts to avoid a blowout, where the sheep move completely outside the course. When the competition is over, the sheep are kept in the spent pen until it is time to send them to their home property.
On hill-country farms, animals were often contained by fences – in early days, made from whatever material was available. A dog-legged fence was made of sticks and branches held together by their own crookedness. Ponga fences were made of the native tree fern. Stab, stick and stake fences consisted of upright stakes lashed together.
Now most fences are made of wood and wire. These need support, sometimes provided in hill country by a bedlog or deadman (a half-post dug into the ground to support a strainer or corner fencepost). Pigtails (fence standards with a curled top to hold a wire or tape), treadins (narrow graduated metal fence posts used in temporary fencing) and tumblewheels (wheel-like devices for feeding out electric fences) are labour-saving New Zealand inventions. Cattle stops (wooden or metal bars over a pit at a gate) are another way to contain stock.