WE take the train at Bluff and go northward along the east coast. The land is rolling, with valleys and plains. Now the mountains are afar off on our left, and now close to the sea. We ride for miles through fields fenced with green hedges. They contain rich crops and meadows on which fat sheep and cattle are feeding. The farmhouses are small, wooden buildings roofed with galvanized iron. There are no barns, for the animals can graze out of doors all the year round. Here and there is a haystack covered with thatch. Some of the horses have blankets to shield them from the rain.
We pass through small towns not unlike those of our country. Nearly every house has a garden about it, separated from the street by a green hedge. We stop off a day at Dunedin, a thriving city of sixty thousand people. It has all modern improvements, and is on a good harbor. From there we go northward to Christchurch, another good town of about the same size.
How rich the land is, and how fat the cattle and sheep ! We thought the farms good on our way to Dunedin ; but we are now on the Canterbury Plains, one of the richest parts of New Zealand and in the best sheep lands upon earth. New Zealand has many millions of sheep, enough to give more than a hundred to its every family and leave thousands to spare.
The sheep here are different, however, from those of Australia, where the climate and grasses are just suited for making fine wool. The moist air and rich vegetation of New Zealand are better for mutton, and the sheep are reared more for their meat, their carcasses being frozen and sent in cold storage chambers to England. New Zealand leads all countries in its product of mutton. It rears millions of sheep every year for the people of England, and has a fleet of steamers always sailing back and forth across the waters to and from London. Some of the ships go about South America, others about South Africa, and others through the Isthmus of Suez and across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The distance is great, but so many sheep are sent that New Zealand mutton can be sold at a lower price in London than that raised in England itself.
It is a common expression that you can not get blood out of a turnip, but the New Zealanders know how to do so. Indeed, the delicious chops we have at the hotels come from turnip-fed mutton. All the way from Bluff we have been passing turnip fields, in some of which the sheep were eating the leaves and in others where they appeared to be playing ball, the cropped-off turnips looking like thousands of new baseballs scattered over the black ground. After the leaves are consumed, the sheep eat the white roots. They dig them out of the ground and bite away until nothing is left. Some farmers dig up the turnips and feed them outside, burying them in pits or mounds for food when the grass becomes scarce.
Christchurch, where we are now, has great meat-freezing factories in which the mutton is prepared for the market. We drive out to an establishment which kills about five thousand sheep every day during the season. The sheep are enticed into the factory by several old decoy sheep, which are kept to lead their brothers to slaughter. The decoys start the procession, and the thou-sands behind follow them up the roadway to the killing rooms, where the decoys are sent back for more.
The sheep are killed and dressed, and then frozen for shipment to England. We go with the manager into one of the freezing rooms. How cold it is ! The temperature is not far from zero, and the walls are coated with snow. Carcasses of mutton hang in long rows from the ceiling. There are thousands of them here in this room. They were put in three days ago, and they are already frozen as hard as so many stones. Strike one with your pencil. It sounds like a tap on a drum head. Take down a carcass and rest it on the floor. It is so stiff that it stands alone. It is now ready for shipment, and needs only to be inclosed in a bag of white cotton before starting on its long voyage to London.
A few moments later we ride with a trainload of mutton to the steamer and watch the men slide the sheep down chutes into the hold of the ship, which is almost as cold as the freezing room. It is kept so by machinery, and the mutton is still frozen when it is landed in England.