Farmer's-wife life no child's play

Jan Young
Jan Young

Four lambs lay in the warming drawer of the oven, their wool slowly drying out.

Rescued from a soggy paddock after relentless and badly timed rain, the four animals were not doomed to be roasts in the oven - yet.

Instead, their owner Jan Young had found a great way of saving their lives.

"My father came in and said, ‘what's that you're cooking dear?' And there were my four lambs, lined up in the warming drawer of my electric oven."

The daughter of d'Urville Island farmers, Mrs Young moved to Rai Valley in 1960 after marrying Owen, a descendant of the valley's earliest pioneers.

Mrs Young always wanted to marry a farmer, so was happy with her move inland, even though she now had to wear shoes, but initially missed the sea and struggled with the climate.

"I'd never been so cold in my life, I nearly died of cold . . . I wore my double coat inside.

"The frost was like a wire rope, it stuck to the fence for days. Fog every morning, no hot water, no water at all, it was all frozen."

When Mrs Young experienced her first flood, she thought she might be home again.

"I looked out and I thought I was at sea."

The Youngs grew their own feed for the cows and while raising her four children, Mrs Young raised pigs to save enough money to build a new house - which she did.

During their time on the farm, Mr Young "changed the face" of the property. This was the time before rules and regulations, so he shifted the river away from the house and closer to the hill.

Mrs Young said she did not usually help with the milking, besides getting the cows in and feeding the calves, until the time her husband was bedridden with leptospirosis disease.

The area's doctor, Dr Jacobson, provided pills but when Mr Young remained terribly ill, Mrs Young called for him to return.

Unfortunately, the good doctor was in Fiji.

So it was left to Mrs Young to milk while her husband sweated with fever in bed.

It was September and there was much to do.

The Rai Valley dairy factory lent Mrs Young a worker to help.

While she was in the milking shed, her daughters fed her usually picky baby son cold Weetbix and milk - "he was lapping it up" - and the baby tore around in his walker, once ending up face-first on the lawn because of excessive speed.

The neighbours then caught what her husband had and ended up in hospital.

Mrs Young is amazed her husband pulled through alone: "He's very strong."

Her farming days may be over, but Mrs Young is still very involved in her community. She is a member of the garden club and volunteers in Rai Valley's craft shop which sadly is to close after 24 years as customer numbers have dropped and all its volunteers are getting older.

There is less to do now socially, she said. In the early days there were flower shows, concerts in the hall, a theatrical group that put on many plays and movies once a week which gave locals a chance to see who was taking who out.

See for yourself what life in Rai Valley was like back in the day, and what it's like now, at the International Year of Family Farming event at Carluke Domain, Rai Valley, on March 30.

The Marlborough Express