Otago snow: Farming families' disaster

By Sally Rae

By 5.30pm yesterday, there was just one word to describe 82-year-old Central Otago farmer Rex George.

He admitted he was "buggered" but still managed a grin after a day battling in the snow to feed and save stock.

He also acknowledged the past few days had been "terrible".

"You don't know whether to bloody well cry or laugh," he said.

Mr George's farm, close to Naseby township, received a massive dump of snow, causing major problems.

Naseby might have looked like a picture-postcard yesterday, with the snow-laden rooves and trees, but for farmers in the area, there was nothing idyllic about it - it was a life or death situation for stock.

Mr George's partner, Kath Thomas, herself battling arthritis, reckoned it was as bad, if not worse, than the 1992 snowfall.

She contacted the Otago Rural Support Trust, seeking assistance from volunteers to help out.

With all other farming families in the area affected by the snow, it was difficult to ask neighbours for help, she said.

"Anything like this is a disaster. Everybody thinks the snow is finished, everything's fine. Not in our case it's not. It just doesn't work that way.

"Now you start trying to look after your sheep as best you can. It's not an easy thing to do sometimes," she said.

While they only had just over 500 sheep - a small number compared with most farms in the area - it represented the couple's income.

"It's our living, or has been," she said.

Two days of rain before the snow meant the sheep were "absolutely sopping" when the snow did come, Mr George said.

A team of volunteers arrived from as far afield as Twizel to help the couple and Mr George's gratitude for the assistance was obvious.

Just digging out a road-side gate, to gain access, would have taken him hours, he said, let alone the rescuing of sheep.

It was frustrating because he had "tonnes of tucker" for his animals, but was unable to get it to them.

A neighbour came over on Sunday night with a much larger tractor and managed to get feed to their ewes, but it was Mr George's merino lambs - "his pride and joy" - that he feared for, as he had been unable to get access to them.

But yesterday, he managed to get hay out to the lambs, while volunteers carried those weak animals from their icy tombs, or from wherever they had attempted to seek shelter, and transported them to the warmth of a shed.

John Langley, from Broad Bay, arrived with a pair of skis - not that he had time to use them.

He had been skiing in the Naseby area "forever" and had been thinking about a skiing trip.

When he saw the predicament of farmers featured on television, he got in touch with the rural support trust and offered his assistance. "I thought, 'oh well, if I can help, I will," he said.

Bolstered by a famous mutton pie from McGregors in Palmerston - which he thought was appropriate - to fortify him for the trip, he was happy to stay the night if needed again today.

For those involved in the volunteer effort, just being able to help, even in just a small way, was particularly satisfying.

As for Mr George's farming future? The property is on the market and he reckoned he would "knock off" if he could sell it, and enjoy a well-earned retirement. It had been the toughest year in farming in 40 years, he reckoned.

- Otago Daily Times

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