Keeping the working dogs naturally cosy, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, April 2021.


It was mid June 2020, sleet was falling, and Billy Dowle looked out the window from his cottage in Scargill, North Canterbury to see his mainstay Huntaway, Earl, sleeping in his dugout next to his kennel, rather than on the hard wooden floor. Earl obviously needed a new bed. Billy and his partner Annabelle Chilwell headed out to buy him a new bed, but were disappointed to only find expensive synthetic ones, and nothing offering them a natural product. “So I decided to make one myself,” Annabelle says, who grew up around wool and sewing machines as her mother had a woollen clothing business in Boyup Brook, Western Australia.

Before long, they’d headed down the path of researching canvas and wool-fills. It was a bit of a case of trials and tribulations to find the right canvas, to ensure it was one that did not create condensation inside the kennel. In a matter of weeks, the team of working dogs Pip, Nui, Earl, Floss, Gin and Squirt all had their own canvas wool-filled beds, and loved them. Both Billy and Annabelle were casual farm workers in North Canterbury, and were moving to Benmore Station in the MacKenzie Basin where Billy was taking the position as stock manager.

They’re now the proud owners of dog bed and dog coat company, Natural Hound. Launched in December 2020, the first couple of months of production have been scary, busy, full of lessons, and most of all, exciting. “We’ve had a lot of support from farmers which has been really cool,” Annabelle said. Billy said gaining confidence in what they do has been a major factor. Early days saw them questioning whether to buy three metres of canvas to test a few out, now they’re looking at bulk orders. After buying the first canvas he had 10 cents left in his bank account. He said to Annabelle, “We are really going to have to make this work!” The first few orders were from friends, and they still remember the buzz they got from the first website order received in mid-December. The word about Natural Hound has mainly been spread through social media, and they’ve been rolling out 10-20 beds a week ever since. This keeps Annabelle busy as she’s a part-time casual farmhand and part-time dog bed manufacturer. She cuts the canvas in Scargill and sends the items to Christchurch to be sewn. These are returned to her and she fills them with a wool-polyester blend. “The little bit of polyester in the inner enables the bed to maintain its loft and stops the wool from compacting. It also makes the beds a bit lighter to move. We’re looking at natural alternatives for this, like bamboo and hemp.”

The market is mainly around the South Island at the moment, although they would like to look into the North Island, and eventually Australia and the US.

The other part of their business is the woollen felted and canvas dog coats, which they launched at the local A&P Shows in March and April around Canterbury. Annabelle sewed these herself. Beds range in price depending if they come filled or not; $90-$120 or $110-$160. The coats will range from $75-$85. They offer a 15% discount when buying three or more. They didn’t share their cost of production but did say if they put them into retail stores they would have to up their price by 100%.

Billy said it was a great feeling to be supporting the strong wool industry, because it’s a quality resource that has so many uses. He remembers about a month ago when a farmer placed an order for one bed for his bitch who’d just had a litter of pups. He contacted them soon again afterwards to ask for a bulk order. “That to me is saying a lot. If you get your dog a bed and they really love them, you know you’re onto something.” Animal welfare is becoming a big thing on farms and nearly gone are the days where work dogs live in cold drafty kennels. Farmers are also starting to realise the long term benefits of dog health by looking after them. “Products don’t need to be a designer label made from wool adding to the price tag. Our products are locally made and filled/lined with New Zealand strong wool and we still manage to be price competitive against synthetic products and maintain a high NZ quality standard.” With autumn around the corner and the air temperatures soon to drop, they’re both looking forward to launching the coats. “It all goes back to that moment when we said to each other ‘Are we going to do this?’ And we’re so pleased we did,” said Billy. •

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Keeping the working dogs naturally cosy | With Belles On

One Step At A Time, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, April 2021.

Andrew and Penny Zuppicich took on a run down sheep and beef farm called Kilmarnock in Hurunui, North Canterbury last year. Annabelle Latz spoke with the couple to find out how they bought Kilmarnock and their plans to bring the farm back to its former glory.

Kilmarnock is a farm rich in history, and the letters KILM still grace some of the gates, even if not many swing anymore. Up the Blythe Valley, a stone’s throw from Motunau Beach in the Hurunui District of North Canterbury, the 870 hectare sheep and beef farm was to end its reign with the Deans family at the beginning of 2020. When young farming couple Andrew and Penny Zuppicich, both aged 37, saw it at the start of 2020, it needed more than a lick of paint. Only two gates swung, most of the fences had been bulldozed away with the posts left standing, grass was growing above the homestead’s deck which was flanked by a number of old tractors, and cattle were grazing on the lawn. In 2019, Penny and Andrew were given six months notice that their lease was ending at Kaikoura Inland Road. With enough for a modest deposit, they hit the road, travelling the length of the South Island to seek their first and ‘forever’ farm. By March 31, 2020 they’d moved into a neighbour’s cottage on the Inland Rd, finally moving into their new home on May 5 last year. Their stock went to their lease block while the formalising took place. Because of the Covid-19 lockdown, stock agents could not be on the property, and were reluctant to sell stock. “So I put a message out to some duck shooting mates. Within six hours we had 3000 lambs sold. That was a huge mental relief.” If moving onto your first farm with three young children was not challenging enough, add in a lockdown, and you’ve got a real task on your hands with significantly less help at your disposal. With help from grandparents, Penny and Andrew spent a week moving, and were allowed two extra days to get off their lease block.

“We had to leave our house and lease during lockdown which was extremely stressful and (it) was hard to get help. I was having to turn the pillow over several times during the night as it was soaking wet from stress,” says Andrew. This farm was on the market for quite a while, and would have not been affordable if it wasn’t run down. No paddocks were fully stock proof, 90% of fences will need replacing over time, and to date 700 hours have been spent grubbing or spraying tussock. “The bones on this place are unreal. The setting is good, the yard locations are great. And I’ve never run over so many worms in all my life. I hope we can give the property what it deserves, bringing it back to its former glory,” says Andrew. Year one is getting the stock water sorted which means six kilometres of piping, year two is getting the fencing back in while year three will be applying capital fertiliser. They own a drill and spray unit so all tractor work is done in house.


They started making a list of jobs to do, but realised there were too many. It was important to break down the work and chip away at a manageable rate. “It reminded me of a conversation in a pub I had in the back of Kenya. The guy had just walked the length of Canada – he bought a map when he started but after two weeks he realised he wasn’t making a dent in the map, so he threw it away and bought another one when he was getting closer to the end,” said Andrew. Penny was born and raised in Christchurch, and with a professional background in banking she knows her way around asking for a loan. “Persistence beats everything, you have got to follow your gut instinct if you like a place,” she says. Andrew agreed, and says if they didn’t have three young kids they may not have pushed so hard, but there was no other option. Although they are very busy, Penny and Andrew also celebrate the good bits. “The last six months has delivered an amazing growing season, we sold all our lambs pre-Christmas, they were weaned by the end of November,” said Andrew. He compared this to farming on Inland Road, where they weaned on January 20. “It sometimes feels like we’re working less,” he says. For the last four years they’ve had an additional 1535ha lease block in North Canterbury, and it works well for the stock numbers they’re running. In 2020 they wintered 1350 half bred ewes, 1000 one year old Romney ewes, 400 half bred hoggets, 270 MA cow, 50 in calf heifers, 65 R1 heifer replacements, 210 R1 trading cattle, 90 R2 trading cattle, and they also winter grazed 775 dairy cows. Andrew has mainly been a one man band, with the help of a casual worker once every two weeks for the yard work.


Andrew lived the last 25 years up Kaikoura Inland Road, and for six years he and Penny managed it, and a block next door, when they returned from overseas. “It was a wicked opportunity.” Six years ago the farm was sold, and Andrew along with his siblings were given a 20% share, in which they could borrow against for whatever business they ventured towards. Holding off on a farm purchase for a while, they had already been leasing the neighbour’s farm for a year, so continued on with that. Penny said they’d heard the farm owner was looking for a new farm manager. Andrew rang the farm owner from a Trade Me advertisement and asked if he’d be interested in taking them on. “He (the farm owner) agreed to the lease on the condition that he kept the best 100ha to grow and harvest barley,” said Penny. That lease ran out in 2020. Andrew said although leasing is extremely stressful, it is one of the only ways to move into farm ownership. “Sadly, banks don’t look at your CVs and what you have managed – they look at accounts, and what assets you have.” He said leasing is 95% communication with the owner, and 5% stock work. “All good leases are never advertised. Go and ask a neighbour or a guy down the road. And never look at the whole picture, look at how it will best suit the owner as it is their property they take pride in. Offer to leave some land for him or a stock equity, more consider all odd options. Because at the end of the day it is their property, so make a business plan you think will best suit them as well as you.” That is exactly what happened with the lease block they have now. Andrew got talking to the new farm owner, who is a travelling businessman and has the farm for hunting, forestry and honey, and asked if they could lease it. “It’s about building up,” said Andrew. “Build up your asset value. Start by leasing, then buy a motorbike.” He says a $2 million farm can become a $3.4 million farm. Turning to diversification, Penny says it will be interesting to see what impact Covid-19 has on wool prices. At Kilmarnock they can sell stores or take them through, and run a high ratio of cattle compared to sheep. It’s a good work life balance too. Casuals ring up looking for work which “would never have happened at their old place,” and Andrew has joined the local Surfing For Farmers group, who meet each Thursday at the local Gore Bay. “I’ve never been a surfer in my life.”

They were in the thick of the activity for the November 2016 earthquake that rocked the Inland Kaikoura Ranges. A few of the farming families around the Kaikoura Inland Road hunkered down in one farm cottage for the emergency’s initial duration, to save the use of multiple generators and ensure everyone was safe. During this time Penny was heavily pregnant with their second child Evie; subsequently she and their eldest child Hugo were heli-evacuated to Christchurch. “We all felt it was too hard to look after the farm and make sure the family was safe,” says Andrew. He added that the family unit has always, and will always be, top of the priority list, with Hugo, 5, Evie, 4 and Beau, 2. “No matter how busy the day has been, we’re always both at home to help each other with feeds and bath times, although sometimes easier said than done.”

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One Step At A Time | With Belles On
One Step At A Time | With Belles On

Vet Farmer and Athlete, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, April 2021.

Taihape vet, farmer and family man Anthony Oswald finds adventure racing takes his mind off the everyday as well as being good fun.

Annabelle Latz tracked him down to find out more.

Multi day adventure racing means entirely removing yourself from society. Your entire focus is about getting to the next checkpoint. All you think about is eating, navigation, and when you are going to lock in your next three hour sleep. It means no phones, and none of the day to day pressures of being a busy vet, farmer, father and husband.

Taihape-based veterinarian Anthony Oswald was gearing up for GODZone Adventure Race. This took place in Rotorua on March 6. He says that the longer the race, the better. “I usually finish these races physically drained. But mentally I feel like I’ve hit the reset button – I think this is a result of the mind operating with a simple focus and a good dose of sleep deprivation.” Self-described as a jack of all trades within his veterinary profession, Anthony works mainly with sheep, beef and deer, but also has quite an interest in orthopedic surgery on working dogs. “I just try and avoid cats and small white dogs.” Creating good relationships with farmers is a priority, as well as a favourite part of his job. Anthony says this is imperative to forming a sound partnership between advice delivery for key topics like internal parasites, flystrike and trace elements. It quickly became apparent early in his career that the business model of rural veterinary practices is heavily reliant on the sales of animal health products for a sustainable business. He said a good vet must also have great knowledge about animal health products that are at least part of the solution for animal health issues. “It’s about creating good relationships with farmers so they would first trust, then value my advice.” He finds the vet profession rewarding when he is able to work with clients to change management practices that lead to increased farm performance, and finding solutions to problems both stock performance and animal health related. In addition, he still gets a kick out of the likes of calving a cow and getting a live calf, or doing surgery on an injured dog and getting it back to work. “Not a week would go by I’m not learning something new – a new surgical technique, a new synchrony programme for artificial insemination (AI) in cattle or a different treatment for a disease.” Born and raised on the family farm Duntroon up the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, Anthony has sheep and beef farming running through his blood. Becoming a sheep and beef vet “seemed a good idea,” with local vet Pete Anderson being an inspiration. Anthony and his wife Charlotte with their two young children Pippa, 8 and Jonty, 6, farm 50ha close to Taihape where they finish 280 weaner stags and a small Texel stud.


Anthony gets a lot of satisfaction being part of an industry that has a great track record in increasing performance but is also in a good space environmentally. He makes a point of noting the performance of sheep farming during the last 30 years in New Zealand. Total sheep numbers have decreased by 30.6 million (53%) yet lamb production is only down by 9%. This increase in performance, a result of a 31% increase in lambing percentage and an increase in average lamb carcase weight of 5.2kg (37%), is “nothing short of amazing.” Over this period greenhouse gas emissions from sheep have also reduced by 41%. While the heat has been on the rural sector from an environmental perspective, he believes sheep and beef farmers are generally doing a good job and responding well. Around the Taihape region, farmers have been very proactive in fencing waterways off. More recently local catchments groups have been set up, one outcome being the testing of waterways. Most of the early results are highlighting how good the water quality is around sheep and beef farming. “Greenhouse gas emissions for the sheep and beef sector are 31% lower than 1990 levels. People in the sheep and beef sector preaching these type of facts have little impact in changing the public perceptions about farmers’ impact on the environment. The key going forward is to get others to be telling our story.”


Anthony cut his teeth in the vet profession as a locum in Balclutha. His second job was in Alexandra, Central Otago. He quickly realised that while researchers and vets before him had provided a great deal of knowledge he could draw on, there were still many unanswered questions out there. From early in his career, he has presented papers to the veterinary profession on sudden death in ewes due to listeria, veterinary involvement in an animal welfare investigations, copper deficiency and toxicity, plantain – associations with milk fever in sheep and bloat in cattle, bull breeding soundness, fodder beet use on sheep and beef farms, drench resistance, and ectoparasites in sheep. “I knew early in my career that it was important to help answer some of these questions as a way to contribute to the vet profession and to New Zealand agriculture.” Like any profession, with the joys and highlights come the challenges. Anthony says being on call is a real tie of the job that most people don’t appreciate. He adds that the veterinary profession provides a far better after hours emergency service than the human health system in rural areas. Drench resistance is an area of his work where he openly admits he does not always have the answers, and the veterinary profession has changed its message several times over the last 40 years on the best way to manage it. “Now we are dealing with farms on a daily basis that have Trichostrongylus worms that are resistant to triple combination drenches – there is no scientific research to draw on to tell us the best way to manage these situations, so we are having to work with farmers using the best of the knowledge and tools available to navigate through this time.” Anthony’s career has included teaching final year vet students at Massey University, postings in Piopio in Waitomo and Gisborne, and further abroad he practised in the United Kingdom for a year and worked one month as a voluntary vet in Morocco.


Outdoor adventures certainly featured during his travels, one stand out was a month of trekking through the Himalayas. His initial two year stint in Taihape “on the way back to the South Island” has turned into a 16 year permanent stay. It’s no surprise that Anthony has a full plate. Where most would see his commitment to adventure racing as an inconvenience, Anthony sees it as a method of keeping everything level. A ruptured knee ligament in 2006 put a halt to competing in the Coast to Coast and other multisport events. Eight years later a bet with a mate resulted in Anthony taking on IRONMAN Taupo on virtually no training. Apparently it wasn’t pretty but he did finish. This was the start of the competing again and in 2015 the GODZone bug hit. His team, consisting of two other men and one woman, took top podium spot in their first attempt at the ‘Pursuit’ race in the Tasman region, and backed this up with a successful title defence in 2016 in Queenstown. A racing highlight was their win in Queenstown. Their good lead was diminished on the penultimate stage due to some bad navigation calls. Coming into the final transition they thought they’d blown it, only to find they still had the lead but by only 30 minutes. “The last stage was a 50km kayak up Lake Wakatipu – the race had taken about three and a half days, and we won by 15 minutes.” In 2017 they accepted the challenge of the GODZone ‘Pure’ race in Fiordland, which is a slightly longer course that does not allow for support crews. They learned intimately the brutality of that pocket of New Zealand wilderness. “The longest stage took us 84 hours. The last trekking stage was only 21 kilometres but took us about 24. It was tough going but we had some amazing scenery.”

Anthony loves the long length of GODZone, being in the wilderness for up to a week. “The longer the race, the less it is about pure speed and athleticism, and more it is about strategy, navigation, sleep deprivation and suffering – which suits me just fine.” He says GODZone can throw up a lot of situations. You can be tired, buggered, hungry, cold, lost, have broken equipment, and that’s just for starters. It is really easy to fall apart individually and even easier to fall apart as a team, especially if your navigator has had you trekking up the wrong valley for three hours and you have to turn back. “You and the team need to keep it together. In these situations you just control the controllables – eat more food, put on some more clothes, and get moving the right direction as quickly as possible. You can’t dwell on any negatives, I always just say ‘it is what it is’ and just get on with it.”

Anthony says like most, he’s time poor. He knows people must ask why a time poor person takes up adventure racing. His approach is straight forward. He makes as much of his time as possible through quality time. The training he squeezes in is done flat out, as hard as he can go. His theory is to train at a pace much harder than race pace, so his body will find the racing relatively easy and will therefore be able to just keep going – “although you won’t find this training regime in any books.” “I try to take this concept of quality time into the other aspects of my life – whether it be family, work or farming, it’s about not sweating the small stuff, having simple systems and trying to make sure that the time is getting the best output possible.”

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Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On
Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On
Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On