Being the husband of a farmer’s wife has taught Paul Burt some valuable lessons.

Thankfully, most people are happy with the gender they were assigned at conception. I know there is the odd new age man who, out of empathy, wants to experience childbirth but you won’t find many of them in the country. Life is easier if you are comfortable with the parts you’ve been allocated, and wishing otherwise in my case would transform me into a farmer’s wife – something I just couldn’t cope with.

Even the title has a hint of old fashioned possession about it that wouldn’t do for a Chloe or Jacinda – in fact any woman wearing trousers. At least these days most wives are on an equal footing with their husbands, usually being full business partners and co-owners. Imagine a man in previous generations putting up with being the equally hard working but passive (often non-financial) partner in the farm business. Male and female had their roles but the whys and wherefores were rarely challenged. I recall one old boy at the end of his career putting the farm on the market. The first his wife knew of the situation was when land agents brought prospective buyers through the family home.

I’ve learnt a lot being the husband of a farmer’s wife – admittedly not the old fashioned, silent type. I’ve learnt that this farmer’s job would be immeasurably tougher if he didn’t have a capable farmer’s wife. Hard working, adaptable and multi-talented, they wear many hats and go about their business with good humor and infinite patience. Another thing I’ve learned are the signs of these last two attributes wearing thin.

We had a call from the wool buyer who was talking dag money for quality fleece, hence my decision to dispense with the gang and shear the hoggets ourselves. Of course I expected Louise to help but I can’t remember consulting her about the change in policy. A night pen went in for the following day’s work. With just Louise and I in the shed I got so excited about the money we were saving ($450/100) I forgot that Louise had people coming for dinner and two GST returns to complete.

Hour after hour the wool was sorted and the catching pen was filled but the pressing was a bit slow as Louise is too light to easily crank down the press handle. I suggested wearing a diver’s weight belt but things went a bit quiet. At knock off I staggered home worse for wear, showered and collapsed on the couch. Louise had washing to get in, a meal to prepare and the paperwork to file. I joked the IRD late penalty would come out of her wages if she didn’t get a move on. Again things went a bit quiet. So I shot outside to feed the dogs after suggesting Louise open a bottle of wine. I’m sure the wine helped but we didn’t get to discuss the day as I was asleep before she got to bed.

After a long period out of love and jolted by a sharp dose of reality the public is once again saying farmers are the backbone of New Zealand’s economy. As men do, we bathe in the glory when in actual fact it’s the farmer’s wives who keep things together. Such faithful commitment should never be taken for granted, however, and it’s up to the farmer to set the mood and help where he can.

The odd romantic gesture doesn’t go amiss either. To this end I left a little note on Louise’s pillow: “Thanks for today. I’ll help with the pressing tomorrow and don’t worry if the smoko is a few minutes late. Love, Me.“