It’s not a sight often seen, a contender to be Prime Minister hustling along beside a merry-go-round stacked with goats, trying to get milking cups on to their udders.
That was what National leader Christopher Luxon found himself doing on a sunny Wednesday morning south of Auckland when he visited Oete Farm for milking time.
It was an exhibition in seeing how determined Luxon can be in mastering a new skill. He’d had to do in politics, and he wasn’t giving up easily on the goat milking either.
His botched efforts to get the cups to stay on saw him trying to keep pace with the rotary milking parlour, as an array of udders in all shapes and sizes whizzed past him: big, small, wizened, bloated like balloons.
He’d started the visit by cuddling a week-old kid, and whispering sweet nothings: “amazing eyes, it’s incredible.”
He’d gone into the milking confident, having previously milked cows with some success (and an apron). Alas, goats proved to be fiddlier beasts.
Many went un-milked as his futile efforts continued. He got there in the end and emerged to survey the damage: goat poo all over his hands and his cuffs.
He’d visited the farm to learn about goats and the export business.
He did learn a thing or two about goats, including that they can be a bit whiffy, they nibble your clothes and they poo.
He’d made the stupid mistake of wearing a pristine white shirt for the visit to the farm, home to about 3200 milking goats.
He’d made the stupider mistake of not having a spare shirt on hand, requiring a visit to the menswear shop at Auckland Airport on his way down south.
The education about the goat industry was provided by Robert Milne, the chief executive of NZ Dairy Goats Ltd. Luxon learned milking goats give 3 to 5 litres a day of milk.
He learned they liked being in established herds and got “a bit grumpy” if that was disrupted. “There is a social hierarchy in the herd,” Milne told him. “There’s some eager milkers and there’s some less eager ones that sit at the back.”
Luxon contemplated that and said it was interesting: “I’d always thought of goats as being a bit recalcitrant, and independent and doing its own thing.”
The obvious parallels to a political party’s caucus were pointed out.
Luxon asked what milking life of a goat was (7-8 years). Luxon then asked what happened to the goats after that and Milne delicately side-stepped the question.
Milne also nobly stepped up to excuse Luxon’s fumbled milking efforts, saying Luxon had done better than Milne on his first attempt: “I had to get them to slow it down for me.” He told Luxon the goat rotary went faster than for cows, that the platform heights didn’t help.
He also assured Luxon that even the goats were rookies once: it took them about two weeks to get used to the milking system.
Despite the mess, Luxon possibly also rated it as a more enjoyable experience than his encounters with the media, who again asked him about his tax policies and whether he would ringfence the tax cuts he had promised from post-election coalition negotiations.
Luxon took the seemingly contradictory standpoint of saying National’s tax relief would definitely be delivered, while also refusing to say if that meant it was a no-touch area for negotiations.
Luxon rated himself a better talker than a goat milker. He gave himself a 3 out of his 10 for his milking efforts: a significantly lower grade than the 8 out of 10 he had scored himself in the TVNZ debate the night before.
As far as campaign photo ops go for the media, it was a 10 out of 10.