New lambs at Tongariro Prison.The timing of lockdown was far from ideal for the farming team at Tongariro Prison, with COVID-19 Alert Level 4 announced at the beginning of their lambing and calving season.

During Tongariro’s time at Alert Levels 3 and 4, around 3,000 new woolly arrivals were welcomed – a total of 4,000 lambs are expected this season. Calving also kicked off three weeks ago, with 350 calves expected.

Under normal circumstances, the farming operation is geared up with six staff and up to 30 men to care for the stock, but the change in alert levels meant staffing and men resources needed to be reassessed and ultimately reduced.

Luckily, this didn’t faze Principal Instructor Luan Kloppers who was left holding the fort with Farm Instructors Don Parkes and JP Potgieter, and Instructor Claire Goddard who volunteered to lend a hand. The team was later joined by Forestry Instructor Willie Tulloch who traded his forestry loader for a tractor.

“We were heading into our busiest time of the year with lambing and calving, then all of a sudden, we had a limited number of instructors and no men,” says Luan.

“This work is around the clock, so there were some really long days and nights, but we pulled together and just got on with it.”

To add to the workload, the site had just received 20 calves from Waikeria Prison in the week before lockdown.

“We’ve got a unique situation here in that we have a small 15-acre farm inside the wire where we do a lot of the training. Every year we get four-day-old calves from Waikeria to hand-rear on the internal farm – 20 calves arrived only days before lockdown.”

“We were so lucky to have Claire who came in every single day to take care of the internal farm and feed the calves.”

Now at Alert Level 2, men are still unable to work on the external farm, but all instructors are back on deck to help care for the thousands of lambs and calves populating the paddocks.

“I’m so grateful to have our staff back, it has really taken the pressure off,” says Luan.

“I’m just so incredibly proud of how the whole team has responded to COVID-19 and what we’ve been able to achieve.”

Even though working under the alert level restrictions has been extremely busy and at times stressful, Luan describes it as “an overall positive experience".

“This situation has been great for team building, it has really bought us closer together – COVID-19 has been good to us in that respect.”

“It has really lifted our culture because we have got to pull together and do all the mahi ourselves, but most importantly, we’re having fun doing it.”