Cows standing. Cows with their legs tucked under them, doing nothing. Cows eating. Cows waiting to be milked. Cows milked.

The scenery up the North Island is dominated by their hulking forms, and then there are the calves. We are overrun, and not by migrants.

I was around farms a lot as a kid. I watched my father killing sheep - and hating doing it - without a qualm, and ate the meat for dinner.

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I tramped around paddocks at lambing time and watched dead lambs with dead mothers being skinned. The dead lambs' skins went on to healthy lambs much like sleeveless jackets. With their own mothers dead, the hope was that the mothers of dead lambs would accept them because of the smell of their own child/lamb. Gory as it was, it seemed to work, and none of it made me throw up.

As with human beings, animal births can go wrong. Women died, probably as often as animals do, from similar complications not long ago.

Oblivious, I saw ewes dying, internal organs landing on the grass when they shouldn't be, and felt nothing. This was farming, with its gates to open and shut, animal poo underfoot, excited dogs, bleating sheep, life and death, mud.

Age is a drawback to feeling good about the way we farm. I've had children since, had pets I loved dearly, and then there was the Scott Guy murder trial. Ewen Macdonald was cleared of killing Guy, his brother-in-law, but got a year's jail for bashing calves to death with a hammer on the farm of a person who'd annoyed him.

A farmer later said Macdonald was a "good farmer", which he may be, and he'd hire him. It was then, with the thoughts that cruel slaughter and the attitude behind it didn't matter, that eating meat began to matter to me.

Spring is all about birth on farms, and flowering bulbs in gardens and paddocks, and they're out there now. Bulbs eventually wither away, but they come again next year.

Calves don't. They are only born to keep their mothers lactating, and then they're killed, sooner or less soon. Their mothers bear young year after year, and then go to the meatworks, a scene of fear and blood from hell.

The whole deal makes me uneasy about the dairy products I eat, too, and the great dairy factory this country has become, fouling waterways, even encroaching on the iconic McKenzie Country so someone can make a buck.

Lambs are gambolling out there now, in the dizzy way they have, rejoicing that they're alive, singles, twins, triplets. Their tails are wagging crazily as they drink from their mothers, fruit trees are in pink and white blossom, it's all a pretty sight, and soon the lambs will be served up on dinner plates.

No wonder this country produces gloomy art.

I was never a great one for tramping about in the great outdoors, where it's cold, and it rains, and you skid about on forced school marches with only luncheon-sausage-and-pickle sandwiches and sour apples to reward you. Neither would I have tolerated the cross-country runs schools have been imposing on kids since my day.

Amazingly, teachers seem to have finally realised it is cruel and inhuman punishment for kids who have no liking for, or talent for it, and who can't see the point.

Nor could many of us back then see the point in shimmying up ropes and leaping over gym horses while wearing outfits that made us feel ridiculous.

The cult of the body is a fine thing for those who find it fine, but there is nothing wrong with reading a good book, or - how about this? - just standing still.

Like a cow. Being alive.