A young bull that was swept into a surging river during flooding on New Zealand’s West Coast has miraculously survived the ordeal, turning up unharmed a week later, 80 kilometres (49 miles) downstream, snuffling about in a blackberry bush.
Deer and cattle farmer, Tony Peacock, said the 18-month-old bull was grazing with 37 others in a paddock in the Shenandoah area above the Maruia River, on 10 February, when torrential rain began falling.
“It’s the highest I’ve ever seen on my farm. They forecast 60mm and I tipped out over 160mm from the rain gauge the next morning,” Peacock said.
He had not had time to prepare for that amount of rain, and while he was able to save some from the rising waters, the young Hereford and two others were swept away.
A week later, Peacock received a surprising phone call from stock-tracking and agricultural company Ospri. “They said a farmer in Westport had one of my bulls and gave me his [ear tag] number.
“I rang him and he said he was getting his cows in in the morning when he heard a bit of rustling in the blackberry and a Hereford bull poked his head out.”
The farmer told Peacock the bull looked like he needed a bit of “rest and relaxation”.
Peacock believes the young bull survived a monumental trip – being swept into the Maruia River, over the 10m-high Maruia Falls, through the joining with the Buller River, under O’Sullivan’s Bridge, and a long winding journey through the Buller River’s rocky upper and lower reaches, and then finally, avoiding being swept out to sea.
“It’s a fairly long trip and amazing he survived. I was quite happy when I got the call he was alive. I think he will get legend status now and be put in a paddock to retire with some cows.”
He is now waiting on the animal to be put on a truck back home. Peacock said “with the amount of interest in him” the bull would have to get a special welcome home party – most likely, a nice paddock full of grass. The pressure is also building to give his new celebrity a name, but what exactly that would be, was “still under discussion.”
The fame could also result in a blind-date for the youngster. “I’ve had a guy ring me today wanting to send a young heifer out to him, to try and get some good breeding stocks,” Peacock said.
The bull is not the only ungulate to make headlines for getting themselves into deep water. In 2019, three cows were swept off an island during the raging storm of Hurricane Dorian and located on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, after apparently swimming four miles (6.4 kilometres) during the storm.
New Zealand’s West Coast is prone to flooding. In 2021, 500 homes were flooded, with 100 of those deemed uninhabitable. The Buller District Council estimated the two back-to-back floods this month had caused between $21.5 – $43m worth of damage.
Peacock’s neighbour lost 70 dairy cows in the flooding, and another neighbour lost 12. He said he was “counting his lucky stars” he lost just two in the end, adding that the community spent hours pulling dead cattle from the blackberry. “It’s pretty gut-wrenching for all concerned.”