From the gloom they appeared as dark shapes covered in steaming breath wisps.
Some were in a hurry, briskly trotting along, while others, older and wiser, knew it was going to be a long day so they set their own pace.
It was eight o’clock last Sunday morning. The rain was slight and the clouds so low they blocked out most of the early morning light as 500 ‘‘Lone Hill’’ cows belonging to Lachlan Johnston began an almost six hour long trek from one side of the Clutha River to the other.
“Normally, we have had clear frosty conditions that usually help the cows walk faster, but today, with the recent rains, their hooves are softer so it will take them longer to walk the 20km to their wintering paddocks,” Mr Johnston said.
Starting on Pannets Rd near Clydevale, the herd walked the back roads leading up to Clydevale before crossing the one-lane Clydevale Bridge, then ambled through Greenfield and after a right turn moseyed on their way to Tuapeka Mouth.
All in their own sweet time.
To help them cross the narrow bridge, a group of keen horsewomen have been helping move the Johnston family’s herd for the past three years.
Danika Tairua said they were just a group of women riders who stepped up to help their neighbours move their dairy herds during the national dairy Moving Day.
“The presence of our horses seems to settle the cows. It makes them easier to manage and we have a lot of fun driving them slowly along the roads to their winter grazing paddocks,” Mrs Tairua said.
This year, the group was joined by two younger riders, Caitlyn Steel and Savanna Waller, who said they were enjoying the ride with the women.
“It’s a lot of fun moving the cows along,” Caitlyn said.
Once across the bridge, the journey for the herd became a little bit more stressful as the road opened up and more cars and trucks were about.
But Mr Johnston had called in favours and his extended family had turned out to help him.
His grandfather, Gilbert Tweed, used to come every year but was getting on a bit so he just helped out where he could.
His father, Owen, monitored the situation from the rear while Lachlan’s wife, Livia, slowed traffic down at the front.
Lachlan and farm assistant Kesike Tatireta played leapfrog for six hours, racing about blocking off driveways and gates and fencing off residents’ neatly mowed lawns so that the cows would not ruin them.
He even had friends rush out and deliver more cabling when he ran out of supplies on one particularly troublesome section through Greenfield.
He said the annual walk was very stressful for him and his family but it was no bother for the cows.
“I’ve had little sleep these past few days worrying about everything and planning on how to keep both the cows and my family safe on the roads as we walked to the winter grazing paddocks,” he said.
“The worry was about getting it all wrong. If the cows were to cause a mess or havoc through Clydevale, then I’m on display as a farmer in quite a negative way.
‘‘I could make a very bad name for myself really quickly if that happens,’’ he said.
“I’ve been thinking about this since April and I dread it in some ways, but I’m happy when we all get there safely.”