A Different Kind of Traffic Jam

A Doug's Life

Our progress driving along the gravel road had been reduced to nearly a full stop by a wall of wiggling white buttocks.

At a 5 to 1 ratio of sheep to human New Zealanders, the sheep have you outnumbered down here. So, when the farmer starts to drive them down the road, you make way for his woolen wave. Yessir, Mr. sheep farmer, sir!

They were hemmed in by the yips and yelps of the working dogs and fence lines. I couldn’t have counted them all (that puts you to sleep they say, and I was driving after all), but an initial guess would be that there were close to a thousand. In the world of New Zealand sheep census, this was a drop in the bucket.

It was just fascinating to watch the dogs do their work so effectively. They dart about like furry arrows keeping every last one in line as per the farmers’ special whistle. When one of the sheep slips away from the pack, then it's game on. The dogs have been waiting for this moment and know the drill. The little fuzzy renegade doesn’t have a chance.

I got the feeling they could have guided our car all the way back to Wanaka if they had our address. If only the farmer could spare the smartest one to jump in the driver's seat to take over for a bit, I would have loved some relief from all this wrong-side-of-the-road driving.

Eventually the farmer let us pass by (he had the serious look of someone gathering lost dollar bills in the wind), not minding that there were still hundreds of his flock still milling about, confused and unsure of which side of the road they prefer. They kept crossing in front of our car willi-nilli. My foot began cramping while hovering over the brake.

Slowly they closed in, and we became surrounded. Our borrowed black Subaru (talk about a strange black sheep!) crawling along within a mass of off-white.

And speaking of serious sheep farmers, they are indeed in quite a bind these last years. The price of wool is at an all-time low and many multi-generational farming families are considering pulling up the stakes.

Most consumers like the lower price of synthetic polymer-based materials over wool clothing, carpets or other fabric around the home. Too bad we only look at the price tag when considering our purchase. It’s time we dig deeper into what we get - and support - when paying extra.

Although more expensive, anyone in these parts (especially the farmers) would have you consider the advantages of wool over cotton and polyester. Having started to add wool base layers and socks to my closet, I can attest to its warmth, breathability, resistance to stains and odors, and course admire that it's sustainable and has chemical free processing.

Ahead we could see the parade was making an exit through a break in the fence onto a greener pasture. Keeping the vehicle on the road, we separated from the pack. Sadly, none of the ninja sheep dogs came nipping at our hind quarters. I was hoping for a private demonstration!

Back home we’d be grumpy from a typical traffic jam. But out here somewhere between Wanaka and Aspiring National Park, being part of a sheep drive is just another wonderfully slow day in New Zealand.

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If you've made it this far, thanks so much for reading to the bitter end.

If you've got questions, comments or your own stories to share, use the comment form below. The comment password is: life is good

Comments (3) -

Mona Hoffman
Mona Hoffman 3/12/2024 9:14:37 AM

Love your adventures! Keep moving and taking in all the world has to offer! Time for your Sierras trip! Hiking in the snow!!

Take Care Doug😎

Elizabeth Kathryn Gindroz
Elizabeth Kathryn Gindroz 3/12/2024 9:22:57 AM

Good thing I wasn't there, I'd be out of the car  and trying to pet them and the dogs! I'm sure the driver would have been highly annoyed. Love the read and the photo keep it coming!

Anthony Mikkonen
Anthony Mikkonen 3/12/2024 5:06:39 PM

Hysterical writing Doug. I really enjoyed this read and laughed several times.

Keep it coming

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