And so my first season began. With high hopes and heaps of enthusiasm, I launched headlong into what turned into a series of nightmares. It became an endless barrage of deadlines or events or catastrophes I had to overcome. There never seemed any time to recover from one onslaught before the next one struck and each day was totally dictated by the emergency of the moment. Sorting out some fencing was the first problem. My lovely girls had arrived and there was no stock proof boundary fence.

The farm is in a triangular shape with a road on two sides and a river on the third. The river boundary wasn’t too bad as there were massive amounts of fallen willows and gorse and broom along the river bed and this had created quite a natural barrier. One of the road boundaries had a reasonable eight-wire fence with a hot wire (which didn’t work) and the other road fence was partly buried, and mostly wrecked, in a rough row of tatty-looking hedging. The internal fences generally consisted of two wires strung between rather dubious posts placed anything up to thirty metres apart and the wires that weren’t on the ground waved in the wind. There were so many ‘shorts’ in the existing electric fencing that I decided to scrap the lot and run a couple of battery units with electric tape and pigtails and this kept most of the cows where they should have been for most of the time. But for that first season, it was a bit of a free range. Poppy and Peppermint continually ducked under or over the electric tape put along the hedge boundary but they always ate their way along the roadside to the tanker track and turned up at milking time. That fence was the first to be done. There were no small paddocks to contain the sheep or the pigs and they had a free range as well, and with the calves needing to progress from pens to grass, some small paddocks had to be organised next.

In the meantime, I was learning to milk in a milking shed, the cows were learning to milk in a different milking shed, there were newly calved heifers that had never been in a milking shed and the weather wasn’t helping. September that year had the worst wind storm ever recorded. Roofing iron blew roly poly down the driveway like grocery bags, trees toppled, an old truck the previous owners had left behind was picked up and thrown through the stockyards smashing down one side, and you took your life into your own hands if you dared to go outside.

The girls were tucked up in the river boundary paddock with plenty of shelter from the gale and the two people helping me suggested it would be a very good idea to leave them there. It was too dangerous to bring them in for milking. All sorts of objects from other places were flying across the farm … and the dairy shed, being exposed to the norwester, was impossible to stand up in.

Most of the roof had gone and the milking cups had been blown off their hooks and were spinning at a 45-degree angle. The power was off and on and the only safe way to get anywhere around the farm was to crawl. I agreed with my helpers and spent the next twenty-four hours fretting about the girl’s udders.

At the end of the big blow, my lucky stars added up again. There was no damage to the house, the trees that had come down were not blocking anything important, the main barn had survived, a lot of the rubbish that was still waiting to be moved had done so by itself and the dairy shed and the old piggery were now quite light and airy. The cow’s udders were fine, the cows were fine and, miraculously I had power – one of the very few places in the district to be still connected. This meant that the little dairy spent the next few days working 24/7 as the neighbour milked his big herd of Friesians through twice a day until the damage at his place had been repaired and the power restored to his milking shed. The milk company worked overtime to help everyone out with the extra milk collections and changes in the vat cleaning schedule, friends came in to lend a hand with the clean-up, the insurance agent was marvellous, the girls fitted easily into a different timetable as we worked around the neighbours herd, and watching the neighbour milk his cows taught me lots of ways to make life easier in the shed.
I had come through the nightmare of the 2004 floods in the Rangitikei and this reminded me of the resilience shown by everyone and everything at that time. I figured that as I had managed this one as well, the rest of the season would be a pleasant dream. Hmmm.