Kaikoura quake cows get storybook treatment

They became international symbols of the Kaikōura earthquake - a story of hope and a happy ending in a time of great destruction - and now the region's most famous cows have their own children's book.

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too, follows the well-known story of the three quake cows who surfed to safety on an island of grass, only this time from the animals' perspective.

Kaikoura quake cows get storybook treatment

It was written by the cows' owner Jane Millton on a sleepless night after they'd been rescued.

"I always think when you can't sleep, you get up and do something practical - go and do the ironing or write a story or something. I always have a pen beside my bed, and on the back of an old calendar I jotted [it] down."

Writing the illustrated book was therapeutic, she says.

No one knew she'd written the "little ditty", so when publishers Allen & Unwin got in touch with a draft of a separate story, the now first-time author suggested she should "have a go first".

The basic story took about an hour to write, and Ms Millton - whose husband Derrick went to cut a path to safety for the cows with a group of others - says it was important the story was factual.

The book takes place in the Clarence Valley. The illustrations show the Kaikōura region with the mountain and the sea, and one of Hereford cows has its distinctive mark on its head recreated. 

"I think with the men who came, their names are correct in the order they came - Willy and Julian, Tony and Ben - and Ben at the end because it rhymes with men, obviously," she laughed.

"I know at the time when the men went up there to rescue them, there was a lot of movement still in the ground, there were a lot earthquakes, we were very jittery. I was very anxious having them up there."

Ms Millton says she's read the book aloud to anyone who'd listen, including those working to fix their farm - whether they cared to or not.

"I've read it a lot of times, and I've absolutely hammered it down my grandchildren's throats and anyone who comes near," she said.

"There were a lot of children who were very frightened during the earthquake and I didn't want [the book] to be frightening, I wanted it to be a happy ending and I wanted to get the message through to anyone who reads it that we do care about our animals."

She says the early morning magnitude 7.8 earthquake on November 4 will be one that will stay with her forever.

"My birthday was the day after the earthquake and it was one I won't forget. I found that day I was particularly emotional, not just because of people or houses because our house was fine, but more about the land; the piece of land has always been a very treasured piece of land and I found it very emotional to think it would never be the same."

The family has been farming at Waipapa for 90 years and Ms Millton says it was a "privilege" to see the whole hillside of their farm come crumbling down.

"My grandparents never saw it; my parents have never seen change like we've seen change.

"It will never be the same and the grandchildren will never remember as it was, and four months later sometimes you forget how it was - some of it - we'll never forget that big slip."

The cows' story went worldwide after a Newshub camera operator filmed their plight from a helicopter.

It spurred creativity in many, a poem, a song, a drawing and a miniature statue on a mini golf course among the output. It also led to letters to the Milltons from around the world.

Ms Millton remembers one in particular from the UK.

"We did get a letter addressed to the farmer who rescued the cows and it was the most lovely letter from a woman from Cornwall, saying how wonderful it was they were saved and wishing us good health and that the stock with thrive and the pastures will re-grass. Those sorts of letters make you feel great."

And as for the quake cows, they are back with the herd and thriving. Both of the cows are expecting new calves in August.

Ms Millton hasn't ruled out putting pen to paper again for a Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too sequel.

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too goes on sale on Friday.