Thanks to lockdown and a frustrated digger operator, Chris Biddles’ farm now has enough water. But it hasn’t been easy!

Lockdown and bubbles – I think most people have had it up to their ears reading about this. For we farmers of course there was very little change. In our case we just continued to spend half a day every day delivering feed to our animals that had nothing to eat other than what we delivered. As a result of the longer dry periods of the last few years we have invested in about 15 hay racks. These allow us to give our young stock several days’ feed at once, which is a good time saver.

As with Covid-19, people have probably had enough of drought and the commentary on it. As I write mid June (about two days after the article’s deadline!) we are well out of our drought. I am writing from the very pleasant Wallis shack at Rotoiti, our family’s 98 year-old holiday home. With me are three Hawke’s Bay people. They are still in serious trouble and I feel for everyone in that area.

Being the dickhead that I am, I was late in accepting that we would not have enough hay and balage to get through the drought. Once I did make the decision that we needed to buy feed it was far from easy to find. The Rural Support Trust was great in locating hay and balage for us. We went as far as Marton to get our last lot of very good quality hay. It has cost us $50,000 in feed to get through and we will only just have enough for the winter. The worry is how many pregnancies we may have lost since our January scanning.

We are fortunate to have pretty reliable water in our sand country but this year we became quite nervous about our supply. By lockdown all our water holes were dry as they had not been cleaned for years, mostly because our digger driver (Gavin) is a good mate and he tends to put us off when things are busy. I find it hard to complain as the lazy bugger sometimes has a Sunday off. Four days into lockdown Gavin, at age 72 and having worked six or seven days a week for the last 50 years, was not working and not a happy chappy. He was nearly a cot case. This was my chance, so I emailed him a Fed Farmers essential worker letter. His son’s digger was next door so we had Gavin on farm very quickly. He was happy and so were we. Once cleaned, all our water holes had water.

After two weeks his son took over. Our last job was to dig in some peat that normally holds water but was dry. This was to provide a supply with a back-up diesel pump to our water ram. We found water, as expected, but at a cost to Glen – his digger went down. By nightfall the water was up to his tracks, next morning it was through his cab. With two more diggers and eight hours of work we got a very dead digger extracted. Not the best for Glen but, thankfully, insurance came to the party and the digger has been written off. So the positive for us out of Covid-19 was that we got a digger on farm for a month and got a huge amount of work done that was years overdue.

To finish this I guess a short update on my physical difficulties. I got my new knee in February and it all went well. Unfortunately things went a little south a couple of weeks later. I ended up with a blood disorder and generally the body did not seem to appreciate its sixth surgery in 12 months, which included 20 hours of anaesthetic. I got quite crook and had to really struggle to stay positive.

For some reason four months in a wheelchair, and all the other drama of my accident 12 months before, was far easier to handle mentally than the discomfort after the new knee. I really have no idea why but it sure as hell was. The day the Prime Minister announced the lockdown I got away from home to my daughter and son-in-law in Mangawhai. The afternoon of lockdown Megan asked me my intentions for going home. I suggested (as a smart arse) I may stay with them till after midnight, which meant spending the month with them. Megan looked me closely in the eye and said, “I love you Dad but you will be in your truck and f…..g off home before midnight.”

Why was I not surprised at this?