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Volunteers help stranded animals

Monday 24 Jun 2013 6:02 p.m.

Hundreds of volunteers have answered the call from Otago farmers to help rescue animals stranded in thick snow.

Drifts of up to 2m deep have left stock stuck high on sheep and cattle stations, but help fought its way to around 40 farms across Central Otago and the Maniototo.

It's slow, gruelling, frustrating work. And snow-raking's a new challenge for the volunteers, stomping out an exit track for sheep stranded in the snow high at Longlands Station.

"It's hard yakka. It's hard on the old quads, no footy on the weekend though," says Sam Miller, Ranfurly snow-raking volunteer.

Taken by helicopter up into the mountains, workers began the tough task of creating a narrow track in the waist-deep snow, cutting and stomping out a channel for the sheep who haven't eaten for days.

"You can't get feed into here. We've got to mob them up first, get them out as low as we can to where they can be fed," says Kevahn Stringer, another volunteer with Ranfurly.

A second team followed behind with sheep dogs, trying to usher the freezing animals down to clearer pastures.

Farmers said they were grateful for the volunteer army.

"Guys have come from all over the show to help, so we're probably more fortunate than other people at the moment," said Longlands Station farmer, Logan Dowling. "By today we should have most of our sheep down and fed."

In nearby Hyde, another crew is flat out "heli-baling", loading up scoop nets with bales of silage, which are dropped by helicopter to hungry mobs of sheep still stuck in remote snowy paddocks.

"Everyone thinks snow's a bit of a novelty, but the novelty soon wears off when you're out here in these sorts of conditions and you've got stock at danger. That's our livelihood," says Philippa O'Neil, of Mt Highlay Station.  

"People that have been here for 70-odd years have never seen it this bad. I think it's breaking records from 1908," said James Peddie of Longdale Station.

The snow is starting to thaw in some places, but with the thick cover and short days, it'll be a while before the grass is truly green for stock.

And now Federated Farmers is calling on hardy snow-raking volunteers further north, as the focus shifts to helping out high country farmers in Canterbury.

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