Cows will be on the move on June 1 – but the language used to describe the occasion can raise hackles

Federated Farmers, the Ministry for Primary Industries, FMG Insurance and DairyNZ were all busy trying to work out how best to manage Gypsy Day, Rural News informed its readers a fortnight ago.

In a  report headed“COVID-19: Trying to sort out Gypsy Day”, the newspaper explained that this is the day, on June 1, when share milkers, contract milkers and staff traditionally move to new properties.

The chairman of Feds sharemilkers section, Richard McIntyre, was reported as saying Gypsy Day is complicated enough for the farmers involved, without the added problem of COVID-19.

According to Rural News:

He’s been getting numerous phone calls from sharemilkers concerned about how the day will run. 

McIntyre says part of the problem is that no one knows what Alert Level will be in place on that day.   

The group working on the project are having to come up with a range of solutions to meet some unknown eventualities. McIntyre says it is not just the physical moving of people and animals to new farms, but also the associated paperwork and the checking that previous contractual arrangements have been met.

McIntyre says the aim is get an agreement that causes the least disruption but also meets the COVID-19 requirements.

A similar report had been published by Newshub on April 1:

Uncertainty surrounds plans for the farming community’s annual Gypsy Day should the COVID-19 lockdown be extended. 

The traditional moving day, held on June 1, allows sharemilkers who own cows but not the land, to change farms to begin new contracts.

It involves thousands of cattle across the country moving to new pastures for winter grazing.

Good news.  The government has come up with a way of enabling Gypsy Day to go  ahead, albeit under conditions aimed at keeping COVID-19 in its place.

Except that Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor calls the day something else.

In his press statement, he says:

Moving Day will go ahead as planned this year, but with strict controls to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced today.

On June 1 each year, the first day of the dairy season, a large number of dairy farming families, sharemilkers, contract milkers and employees move to new farms to commence new employment and milking contracts. This movement of people, their possessions, livestock and machinery is known as ‘Moving Day’.

Mr O’Connor wasn’t alone in  preferring to call it Moving Day.

An article prepared by DairyNZ earlier this month advised that farmers had a few more days

” … to offer input on Moving Day under COVID-19 restrictions.

Moving Day is a complex issue and again we’re working together to get clarification on what this might mean under COVID-19.

We urgently need your input – please complete the Moving Day survey by this Sunday, April 12 so we can submit a plan to government with our partners on how the sector can manage this critical event. 

We need to understand all business and people movements – so please take 5 minutes to do the survey and ask others to do the same.   

In his statement today, Mr O’Connor said: 

“This annual movement is a critical part of the dairy industry – an industry that contributes over $18 billion dollars a year in exports to our economy and provides jobs for around 46,000 people in our rural communities”, Minister O’Connor said.

“It’s also an industry that will play a critical role in New Zealand’s economic recovery after COVID-19, so it was vital that Moving Day went ahead. Since the Alert Level 4 lockdown was announced, and dairy farming was deemed an essential service, the Government has been committed to finding a way to enable it to proceed.

The Minister explained that the government had been working with sector leaders to find solutions which work without jeopardising anyone’s health and safety.

The Ministry for Primary Industries had then worked with the Ministry of Health and MBIE

” … and found solutions that allow Moving Day to proceed under any alert level.

“Activities need to be restricted to just those that are absolutely necessary though and any movement around New Zealand must ensure people’s “bubbles” are maintained”.

DairyNZ said the announcement would be a great relief to farmers.

There will be relief in some circles, too, that the Minister has preferred not to describe the day as Gypsy Day.

But former Northland rural report broadcaster Goldie Wardell will be disappointed.

He was reported to be amused, but slightly miffed, when a term he introduced to the country’s farming lexicon was being called derogatory, and was banned in some circles.

In an article in 2017, the New Zealand Herald said:

It’s Gypsy Day. There, we’ve said it (while we still can).

“I’ve come in to confess,” Wardell announced not too penitently. “I started the expression.”

Wardell’ recalled how, back in the 1980s, he coined the phrase Gypsy Day for June 1, the traditional day sharemilkers pack up their cows and households and move to a new farm.

One day he was driving along a metal road in Northland when he saw a farmer walking in front of a herd, heading toward a farm gate on the side of the road.

“As soon as I saw the farmer I slowed right down because I knew there’d be a herd of cows coming along the road and sure enough, there they were, ambling along. There were a couple of children quietly walking alongside the cows, just pushing them along the road with no fuss.

“Next, behind them all came mum, driving the car towing a trailer behind it, full of the family’s belongings. The car was overflowing, the trailer was packed high with furniture and boxes and buckets, everything you could imagine teetering on top and hanging over the sides.

“I thought of Gypsies, packing up their home and moving to another farm.

“It was a sight I’ll never forget, but also one you used to see many times.”

Next day on National Radio, Wardell described the scene and said Moving Day or Sharemilkers’ Day could just as well be called Gypsy Day. It stuck, and it spread.

But the Otago Regional Council at that time ruled not to use the words Gypsy Day in its documents or conversations because the expression was offensive.

Council chief executive Peter Bodeker told Stuff  at the time:

“The term ‘Gypsy Day’ might be still in common use within the farming community as a short-hand term for the mass movement of stock, but it has undertones that aren’t in tune with New Zealand society today”.

“ORC won’t be using the term in the future.”

The regional council a year later reverted  to using the term Gypsy Day.

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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