They say variety is the spice of life and house sitting is providing us with some seriously flavourful experiences.
A few days ago we said goodbye to the owners and animals of our most recent house sitting assignment and settled back into our routine of perpetual travel.
Over the past two months we’ve been caring for a spectacular home here in the volcanic heart of New Zealand.
Set high in the Papamoa Hills the property boasts a 180 degree view over the South Pacific Ocean and a similarly jaw dropping panoramic of the undulating peaks that line the coast.
While we are well aware that each assignment we undertake is unique, this sit provided quite the eye opening experience to add to our list of life lessons. With the owners away in Mexico we were charged with taking over the reins of their lifestyle farm.
‘What on earth is a lifestyle farm?’ I hear you cry.
Essentially it is a small scale farming operation that is run for enjoyment rather than profit. Land owners, or lifestyle farmers as they are often referred to, choose to engage in growing food or rearing animals simply to relish in the opportunity to do so, and harvest the fruits of their labour for their own consumption.
HOUSESITTING ON A LIFESTYLE FARM
Our responsibilities were varied yet thoroughly entertaining and provided quite the learning curve for a couple of ex-city slickers like ourselves. While we both grew up in the country before moving to the big city, this was a little less lifestyle and a bit more farming than we’d experienced before.
Our brood consisted of twelve furry alpacas, affectionately named after Spanish cities, eight chickens, who decided to go through the moult littering their feathers all over their pen during our stay, two vegetable gardens and around 500 deer.
Ok… so the deer were not our responsibility, but they lived in the fields that surrounded the house and we felt like they were part of the clan!
THE DIARY OF A NEWBIE LIFESTYLE FARMER
So it all sounds very exciting I know, alpacas, chickens, fresh produce and herds of deer and I’ve no doubt you’re keen to hear what we got up to during our two months a semi pro farmers.
Each morning after a cup of chai on the deck we went out to check on the animals. We’d ten girls and two boys in adjacent fields and as with most species the gender interaction followed the usual set of rules.
The boys were constantly checking on the girls, if the girls moved to the top of the field the boys followed. When the girls went over to the corner for their dust bath the boys watched in awe as legs and furry bodies rolled around in the dirt. Although the boys would like to think they ruled the roost they were at the mercy of the long legged and fluffy tailed girls.
After a quick head count we open the feed shed to collect the relevant nuts and hay, I must admit this was my favourite part of the day. As the door slid across tiny little mice would dash from the bags of nuts and run for cover.
If we stood still and waited a few minutes later one rather brave little mouse would pop his head out of his hiding place and contemplate returning to his breakfast. I know they are classed as pests but these little fellows were just so sweet I didn’t have the heart to set traps to kill them.
One morning I made a deal with the cat who lives across the field. I’d provide him with a saucer of milk and in return he would accompany us to the feed shed and catch a mouse or two.
The next morning as I stepped out onto the deck with my tea he appeared with a little mouse clasped firmly in his jaw. He’d kept his end of the bargain and was after a milky reward!
After the mice had dispersed we would portion out the feed and go about distributing breakfast. The first week or so involved simply placing the food in the relevant spot and standing back to allow the skittish alpacas to edge forward and eat.
Before long they were familiar with our presence and we eventually had them eating nuts out of our hands.
With the alpacas munching away on the hay we walked down to the chicken run in search of eggs. I’ve never had fresh eggs before, city living isn’t really conducive for keeping chickens, and it was quite a thrill to collect our breakfast each day.
Often they were still warm to the touch and after filling their feeder and changing the water, and of course chatting to the hens, it was back to the kitchen for scrambled eggs on toast.
Every fortnight a local alpaca breeder made a visit to the farm in an attempt to facilitate the production of mini alpacas.
Bringing with her a very fine male she would phone in advance and ask us to herd the lucky ladies into the mating pen to await the arrival of what one assumes was the alpaca version of Channing Tatum.
So…this is where it got rather interesting.
As you’re probably aware alpacas have a tendency to spit when they feel threatened, angered or just plain grumpy, and herding was an activity that induced all three emotions.
A couple of hours before alpaca Channing’s arrival Ben and I had to go down to the field and attempt to weed out the ladies who would be participating in the morning’s amorous activity.
Each armed with two ski poles to act as extended arms, we approached the herd arms out stretched. After successfully moving them into the smaller of the two fields the easy portion of the exercise was behind us.
Of the ten alpacas only three would be enjoying the company of alpaca Channing and so our task was relatively complex. While attempting to capture the three lucky ladies we also had to get the remaining seven girls back in the larger field.
Ski poles in position we set about breaking up the herd, not a particularly easy manoeuvre as alpacas instinctively stick together and separating a chosen few can prove to be quite a challenge.
For the next ten minutes Ben and I perform a terribly choreographed version of the quickstep, of which I’ve no doubt would receive first prize in the ‘funniest home videos’ category of any Saturday night TV show.
We waltzed left and the alpacas ran right, if we split and paraded around the edges of the field the alpacas ran to the opposite end of the fence.
It was all going rather Pete Tong and clearly the episode had enraged one of the weary ladies as she promptly approached Ben and drenched him in stinky green bile that she’d kindly regurgitated to display her dissatisfaction at the morning’s activity.
Ben crossed his ski poles in a bid to shield himself from another attack. Caught in the moment I’m not sure he really considered the effectiveness of this technique. Two ski poles are never going to provide any form of shelter from green stinky spit.
From across the field all I could see was Ben holding his ski poles like a crucifix to ward off the evil alpaca approaching him with cheeks full of wicked green liquid.
I tried not to laugh but the tears just streamed from my eyes and I couldn’t stop.
Although expletives were echoing through the surrounding valleys the alpaca was clearly under the impression she’d not yet made her point. Ski poles crossed and backing away Ben was looking desperate.
Running over to the ‘emergency feed’ we had brought down with us I rattled the bucket of nuts and distracted the enraged animal.
As she trotted over to me Ben was free to escape and took advantage of the fact that the three lucky ladies we required had miraculously made their way toward the corner of the field. Ski poles outstretched he kept them from the rest of the herd and a full forty minutes after the activity began we closed the gate to the mating pen with our three ladies inside.
THE SPIT OFF
I won’t hold it against you if you’ve no idea to what the term ‘spit off’ refers to.
As we humans have the cheesy chat up line, birds have brightly coloured feathers and dogs have the obligatory bum sniff, the alpacas have the spit off.
A first date of sorts it is the name for the alpaca mating process. As you can imagine it does exactly what it says on the tin and goes pretty much as follows:
Mr Alpaca enters the arena and utters a few sweet nothings into the ear of Mrs Alpaca. If Mrs Alpaca is suitably impressed with Mr alpaca’s masculine prowess she submits, allowing him to have his wicked way with her.
If Mrs Alpaca has a headache, is frustrated with Mr Alpaca for leaving dirty pants on the floor or is just not feeling in the mood she confronts him and spits continuously in his face until Mr Alpaca gets the message.
Ladies this is my idea of the perfect speed dating system. Why waste your time with small talk, cheesy chat up lines, bad breath and sleazy dates when a simple, yet to the point action such as spitting in the face of the below par lothario would save you some grief and allow you to continue the hunt for your Mr Right?!
Unfortunately for Mr Channing Alpaca none of his three blind dates were in the mood for ménage à trois and so the poor chap was bombarded with the green stinky solution that poor Ben had been drenched in earlier on.
The breeder informed us that this was likely because they were already pregnant. She visits for a certain number of times each year to ensure the selected females are impregnated and had already visited with Mr George Clooney Alpaca before our arrival at the house.
A LIFESTYLE FARMING KITCHEN
With so much fresh produce on offer we tried our hand at turning the fruits of our labour into yummy treats to sample after a hard day of herding. We were quite surprised to see a worm farm in the pantry but soon saw the merits of saving all your natural waste for this quirky method of recycling.
The worms munch through the rotting peelings, tea bags and apple cores and produce a nutrient rich substance that when mixed with soil in the vegetable patch produces prize winning produce.
We managed to make use of the courgettes, lettuce, herbs, rhubarb, limes, lemons, figs, fejioas and plums that grow in and around the property and came up with some rather delicious goodies in the process.
In short the past two months have opened our eyes to what we think is a much more fulfilling way to live. What greater pleasure is there than to provide your family with food that you’ve not only prepared from scratch but which you’ve grown from the earth outside your back door?
There are often articles in the media warning us about the chemical content of the food we purchase from the supermarket, e-numbers and flavourings, preservatives and saturated fats.
LIFESTYLE FARMING CONVERTS
We’re fast learning that for us, a healthy lifestyle involves eating well and travelling often, and our two month stint as lifestyle farmers allowed us to eat incredibly well and learn new skills which I hope we can put to good use in the future.
Once again house sitting has provided us with the opportunity to immerse ourselves in local life and we’re thrilled to have had the chance to experience this little piece of New Zealand paradise.
I think I’ll miss the views most of all. Looking out over the ocean and the surrounding hills and valleys was an activity that cleansed my soul. Hearing the roar of the stags in the fields, feeding the alpacas, even making friends with the little cat who lives across the field enabled us to take a step back and appreciate the richness of life and all its gifts.
If you’re interested in becoming a house sitter and opening yourself up to new experiences, cultures and communities have a read of our house sitting guide or check out tales from our previous house sitting assignments.
Lifestyle farming is an attractive way of life and we’re on the lookout for more house sitting assignments that feature the opportunity to get back to nature! Are you a lifestyle farmer, alpaca herder or lettuce grower?
Share your comments with us below.