Fieldwork–or more specifically, participant observation–has always been what I love most about my research, and event-based fieldwork has been an important part of my current project. This year’s National Agricultural Fieldays gave me a thorough introduction to agricultural technology and rural computing in NZ, and the Merino Shearing and Woolhandling Competition showed me a new dimension of human-animal relations. But I’ve been waiting all year for the 149th Canterbury A&P Show, and that’s where I’ll be Wednesday-Friday this week.
Today’s NZ Herald has a story about The Show that does a great job of conjuring the event:
“Look at the power in this Angus bull. It looks like a Mac truck and there’s a tonne o’ meat in him. He’s got a nice expression on his face, a calm temperament, a fine pair of testicles. This is a helluva good-looking bull.”
“This South Devon cow, she’s bright-eyed and feminine. And she has nice feet, firm on the ground, and a pretty, chubby calf. There’s a good udder set on her, too.”
Six judges for the Beef All Breeds competition have made their winning choices. They talk about the animals with knowledge, enthusiasm and humour. I’m a city slicker and had no idea that an Angus bull could be so interesting or cattle judges such showmen. The judges, and most of the male onlookers, wear their R.M. Williams boots and belts, their best jeans and town-shirts – cotton, ironed nicely, sleeves rolled up and the top two buttons open showing a tuft of chest hair.
I’m at the Canterbury A&P Show. A&P means Agricultural and Pastoral so this show is all about things rural; the country comes to Christchurch. There are no competitions for sewing, baking or growing and arranging flowers that some shows have … The focus is animals.
In the livestock pavilion, a vast, covered area, I inch between myriad pens, starting with cattle, moving on to goats, pigs, llamas, alpacas then, finally, sheep. It smells of hay, lanolin from wool and coconut sunscreen from the people walking by. Some animals have rows of ribbons tied to their pens. Others haven’t been lucky and sit, blink and chew, waiting to go back to their fields.
The show is on for three days and these hundreds of animals must be fed and watered; 30 tonnes of grass is trucked in and an enormous amount of hay. There is even a milking machine to which dairy-cow owners dutifully take their prize cows twice a day. The logistics behind this (and the mucking out that must go on because the pens and animals are all immaculate) is impressive.
I find a shady seat near farmers who are drinking Speight’s and yakking with their mates in a low-toned rumble. Some hold their winning certificates and happily accept congratulations. It’s convivial and friendly in a blokey way. As I leave I notice I’ve had a nice sit-down in the Sheep Exhibitors’ Club.
The Sheep Maternity Ward is nearby and I, with a flock of wide-eyed children, watch a lamb being born. It’s a grunty, messy, bloody process and the floppy, dazed lamb that slides out seems to be yellow. Mum is licking it in a jiffy and when I return half an hour later the smart wee thing is staggering around its mother’s wool looking for a nipple.
I, too, need food but the A&P Show is no place for a vegetarian. Avenues of food stalls are selling pies, hot dogs, burgers, beef sandwiches, beef noodles and lamb kebabs; nothing, anywhere, that is remotely vegetarian. I settle for a ham roll and pull out the ham.
The Canterbury A&P Show has delighted visitors for 149 years; the first one was held in 1862. It’s a fun day out and a rare insight for townies – these days that’s most of us – into heartland New Zealand.
Yes. My animal and meat-loving self is super excited. Stories and photos to follow!