Story: Rural language

Page 5. Sheep and dairy farming

All images & media in this story

Sheep farming

In the 19th century sheep farming dominated agriculture, and with it, conversation. Not surprisingly, a wide vocabulary relating to sheep farming emerged.

High country farming

High country farms – usually large sheep runs in the South Island’s mountainous tussock country – are distinctive to New Zealand. The vocabulary which evolved within and around the high country has helped to maintain its iconic status, which is similar to that of the Australian outback or the Canadian prairies.

Some high-altitude landforms acquired vivid names, including:

  • basin – an open or flat area close to the top of a hill or ridge
  • bottom – the lower slopes of a hill or valley
  • chimney or gut – a narrow, high pass
  • office – a ledge on a steep, high face where sheep can get trapped
  • razorback – a steep-sided, sharp-backed ridge or spur
  • staircase – a steep rocky bluff or narrow passage
  • tops – the highest part of ridges or mountains
  • sunny face – a north-facing hill slope.

A paddock is usually a lowland area used for breeding animals, as opposed to higher-altitude ‘hills’ or ‘blocks’, where store stock (stock ready for fattening) are grazed. Paddock shepherds and hill shepherds have distinct roles – one former musterer explained: ‘[T]he paddock men mustered paddocks, the hill men like me mustered hill country.’ 1 High-country farmers usually speak of being on or off the hill – rather than going up or down the slopes.

Farming and conservation

Run plans or retirement plans are conservation plans for large properties, especially where the land is leased from the Crown. In the late 20th century, high-country landholders were encouraged to develop these plans for their land.

Hill country farming

Hill country farms (on mainly hilly or steep land) are found throughout New Zealand. Their terrain might include gullies (small, deep, steeply-sided valleys), pakihis (wet, poorly-drained land) and taipos (dangerous rivers – from a Māori word meaning goblin or demon).

The challenges of this type of terrain led to the invention of implements such as the hustler (a type of harrow, dragged over soil to break it down), the hillsider or hillside plough (a single furrow reversible plough), the swamp plough (designed to deal with sloping or heavy ground), and the tree-dozer (a bulldozer that could knock down trees and push the debris into a stack).

Dairy farming

New Zealand dairy farmers have long been known as cow-cockies, a term with Australian origins. Cocky is short for cockatoo, a name for a small farmer – and earlier for a convict. Dairy farmers are also known as gumbooters after their rubber boots.

The dairying areas of Taranaki and Southland lend their names to some terms. A Taranaki gate is a widely used makeshift gate, while the Taranaki salute means the shaking of dung from gumboots and Taranaki topdressing is dung. Gumboots are sometimes called Southland slippers.

Footnotes:
  1. W. V. Kerr, and John Kerr, High times in the high country. Auckland: Penguin, 2000, p. 73. › Back
How to cite this page:

Dianne Bardsley, 'Rural language - Sheep and dairy farming', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rural-language/page-5 (accessed 14 December 2019)

Story by Dianne Bardsley, published 24 Nov 2008