Kōrero: Rural language

Whārangi 6. Farm work and workers

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero


More than 20 alternatives have been recorded for the word ‘muster’, which was first used to describe stock-gathering in 1841. There are a variety of vivid terms to describe musterers, including dog driver, hill man, dog-walloper and mutton puncher.

The terms scree-scrambler and tussock jumper allude to the physical obstacles facing musterers in their pursuit of sheep, while gullyraker refers to the need to search gullies and awkward places for lost animals.

The tool of the trade is the mustering-stick, otherwise referred to as a hillpole, hill-stick, dog-flogger, or rākau (Māori for stick). Mutton chops, the usual breakfast fare, are known as hockey sticks, a reference to their shape, or 365s, because of their constant presence on the menu.

In recent years, heli-mustering (using a helicopter to herd sheep) often replaces the hard labour of mustering on horseback.


Musterers from the Nelson or Golden Bay area were called sandyhookers after Sandyhook, a nickname for the sickle-shaped Farewell Spit.

High country mustering

High country mustering has generated many words and phrases. Musterers occupy a bottom, middle or top beat, a reference to the altitude of the area they work on. On a top beat, they might be on marrowbone country – areas too steep for horses. Amongst various dangers, musterers must avoid a smother of sheep, where the animals suffocate in a panicking mob.

High country musterers can be thwarted by weather conditions such as fog-belts (low fog) and blue ducks (days when rain or fog prevents mustering). They must watch out for storms signalled by distinctively shaped hogsback or nor’west arch clouds. They wear protective lammies (raincoats, usually sleeveless), skins or snow leggings (oilskin leggings), and swannies (short for Swanndri, a heavy woollen knee-length shirt). These outdoor garments are especially welcome when snow-raking (rescuing stock from snowdrifts).


In early days, shearing was carried out in a bough shed (a makeshift shelter of tree branches). Shearers who shear roughly, cutting the sheep, are dubbed butchers or smallgoods men (smallgoods are meat byproducts). Those who clip so closely that the skin can be seen through the wool are described as pinkers. If they shear far from the skin, they are said to work ‘up in the branches’ and are told to get ‘closer to the roots’.

Shandygaffed sheep

Shearers object strongly when sheep are shandygaffed – when sheep with wet wool are mixed with others with dry wool. Shandygaff was a combination of beer and ginger beer, and the name was applied to any unsatisfactory mixture.

Hand blades have a variety of names, including jingling johnnies (perhaps describing the way the blades jingled as itinerant shearers walked from farm to farm) and tongs (probably from the scissor action shared by tongs and shears). High country sheep are still shorn with blades, or with machine snow combs or cover combs, which leave sufficient wool as protection against the elements. A blade gang is a team of shearers who shear with hand blades.

Snags, glue pots and gummies (sheep with sticky wool) are difficult to shear. They are likely to be the last animals shorn from a pen, so they are known as cobblers (a punning reference to a cobbler’s last, a shoemaker’s pattern). The last sheep shorn is also called a snob (a slang term for a cobbler) or kapara (a Māori transliteration of cobbler).


Cows were first milked in the field or, later, in a walk-through cowshed. In time, types of cowsheds evolved with names such as herringbone (where the milker works centrally between two queues of cows) and angle-park (where the cows stand at an angle to the milker). Dairy farmers are sometimes called herringboners.

The cream stand was a stand, usually at the farm gate, holding cream cans for collection.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Dianne Bardsley, 'Rural language - Farm work and workers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/rural-language/page-6 (accessed 20 April 2024)

He kōrero nā Dianne Bardsley, i tāngia i te 24 Nov 2008