August 29, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. Herd testers. Introduction

 
By Dr Clive Dalton

Find the best cows
The early dairy farmers in New Zealand soon wanted to find out which were their best cows, so weighing each cow’s milk and then taking a sample for a butterfat test was the obvious way to do this, as butter was the main export.  This was called ‘herd testing’ and got underway in 1909.

Skimming stations
Farmers initially sent milk to ‘skimming stations’ where the cream was ‘skimmed off’ after it had been allowed to settle, and payment was made on the ‘butterfat’ content. The skimmed milk was taken back home to feed pigs, which were a major part of farm income. 

With the invention of the milk separator in Scandinavia, its arrival in New Zealand brought about a major change, as farmers only needed to take the separated cream to the many local dairy factories in each area, and the skim stayed at home. 

Pedigree herds 
 Knowing which were the best cows was the start of genetic improvement, as the best cows could become the mothers of future progeny when mated to the best bulls available – which at that time were from ‘pedigree’ herds. 
So pedigree breeders drove the demand for herd testing, but genetic improvement was in a very primitive stage in those early days.
Photo shows the tester reading a butyrometer tube in the Gerber butterfat test.





Government assistance
The NZ government was keen to encourage this genetic improvement in pedigree herds, as farmers knew the ancestry of each animal, and these were assumed to have the best genetics on which to base herd improvement.  All the non-pedigree farmers were expected to use pedigree bulls if they wanted to improve their herds.

Government 'cow testing service'
So in 1909 the NZ Department of Agriculture supported a group of pedigree breeders in the Wairarapa to start a ‘cow testing service’, which allowed them to send a limited number of milk samples to government labs to be tested for butterfat.  This was seen as such a valuable innovation and so successful, that ‘Herd Testing Associations’ were set up by farmers with non-pedigree cows, while the Department of Agriculture continued testing milk from pedigree herds.  

Herd improvement associations
By1926 eight associations had been formed, with 105,227 cows tested and by 1929; there were 29 Herd Testing Associations throughout the country. Administration was then simplified by forming them into six regional ‘Herd Improvement Associations’ (HIAs).

Sir Arthur Ward
Herd testing raced ahead, driven by pioneers like Arthur (later Sir Arthur) Ward who as a cost accountant from UK, modified Burroughs’s adding machines, he said with No 8 wire, for the Auckland Herd Improvement Association Office in Hamilton to speed up data processing. Prior to the machines arriving, an army of women added everything up longhand.

But the success of the whole operation depended on the staff in the field, with a 25-26 day round of farms in each local group, to record milk weight and sample it for butterfat content from each cow.

Ten and 25-pound Sterling Poms 
Young herd testers hard at work - herringbone shed
 Initially herd testing attracted farmers’ sons and young folk wanting to get into farming - but these were not enough.  So in the 1950s and 1960s, through advertisements in the British and Irish farming papers (Farmers Weekly, Irish Farmers Weekly and Farmer and Stockbreeder), a whole range of young men and women arrived in New Zealand.    

Many arrived as ‘ten or twenty-five pound Poms’ as they were called, having paid only a small part of the cost of their passage, with a bond to stay for two years if they didn’t stay in farming, or refund the cost paid for the by the NZ government.  They all arrived by boat in Wellington, and then faced the challenge of New Zealand Railways overnight limited 'express' to Frankton Junction.

 Five weeks at sea
The story of how they saw the adverts, had interviews and medical checks, said farewell to their families, and then enjoyed the five-week sea voyage to New Zealand, as well as their reception on arrival, is told on the following blog posts from interviews I did with them in 2004.  This was for an exhibition I helped to arrange at the Waikato Museum of Art and History in Hamilton. 

Revisited memories
I have recently talked to them again about their herd testing days, and to get more of their memories, which are still very vivid.  Many said that their herd testing days, moving around farms, staying with a different farmer’s family every night were some of the happiest days of their lives. 

Lifelong friends
They all made lifelong friends with farmers and with fellow testers, and they certainly made a major contribution to the genetic improvement of New Zealand’s dairy cattle, because without herd testing, the outstanding gains in genetics through the widespread use of Artificial Insemination could not have been made. 

Herd testing drove AI genetic improvement
In fact, herd testing highlighted and drove the need to find top bulls, and forced development of ways to spread their genetics around the industry.  Herd testing was the driver of Artificial Insemination (AI) or Artificial Breeding (AB) as it was known in New Zealand (Dalton and Rumble 1985).

And herd testing is still the foundation of herd improvement, but using technology, which would be beyond the imagination of the many immigrant herd testers of the 1950s and 1960s arriving in New Zealand from the northern hemisphere after five weeks at sea for a life beyond their imagination.

Further reading
Bayly, Clare. (2009)
100 Years of Herd Testing 1909-2009
Published by Livestock Improvement Corporation, Newstead, Hamilton.
ISBN:  978-0-473-15126-3

Dalton, D.C., Rumble, Claire. (1985)
50 years of artificial insemination and herd improvement in New Zealand.
Published by the Auckland Livestock Improvement Association.
ISBN: 0-473-00294-9
See for more details.





New Zealand agricultural history. Herd testers. Photo album. Horses

By Dr Clive Dalton

These photos were found in an album in the  Livestock Improvement Corporation library at Newstead in Hamilton when I did the 4WRD exhibition at the Waikato Museum of Art and History in 2008.  It was the only archival material they had from the herd testing days.

It's clear from the photos that the horses were mainly ex harness pacers and trotters.  The style of the carts were interesting too, some with wooded wheels and iron tyres (ideal for the unsealed boggy roads), and others had been updated with rubber tyres for the tar seal.

Horse and herd tester unknown

Charlie Wolf with horse
Horse and location unknown
Horse and herd tester unknown
David Sinclair and horse Dale at Matamata 1962
Horse Tango


Female testers. One is Vicki Etheridge ??
Peter Copeman and his ex pacer Dick

New Zealand agricultural history. Herd testers. Alex Henderson

By Dr Clive Dalton

Alex Henderson
Alex Henderson was born on the family farm, called ‘Barelees’ near Forde in Northumberland, 30 miles from the Scottish Border where he worked as a shepherd for four years after he left school. To earn some money, as farmers’ sons only got their keep but never proper wages, he went to work for six months on the dairy farm run by the Edinburgh University Veterinary School, milking their herd of 40 Ayrshire cows. 
  
He didn’t like the dormitory arrangements living with the young students, so he got a job at Market Weighton in the East Riding of Yorkshire, on a farm milking a herd of Jersey cows. 

Alex was 24 by this time, and had a desire to travel.  Canada was a possibility, but a friend who had moved there advised him to go elsewhere, as the winters were cold resulting in long periods without work.

Herd testers needed in NZ 
While in Yorkshire he saw an advertisement in the British Farmers Weekly for herd testers in New Zealand.  He put in an application which was successful, subject to the required health tests which he had in Leeds.  All went well, and when he wrote home to tell the family that he was leaving for New Zealand, he had the one and only letter from his father (which he still has) asking if he realised how far away he was going!

  
The Captain Cook
Farewell from Glasgow
So on  July 13 1954, Alex set sail from Glasgow for New Zealand on the ‘Captain Cook’ with 1000 immigrants aged 17-30, segregated on board, with females forward and males aft.  But Alex remembers that this didn’t stop them having a good trip!

There were 42 other single men going to New Zealand as herd testers, all of them from farming backgrounds.  They all had a memorable voyage, sailing from the Atlantic into the Pacific via the Panama Canal, and a memorable stop at Pitcairn, where the ship stood off while the visiting passengers were landed in longboats.

Wellington arrival
They arrived in Wellington at 8am on 17 August 1954, with only those going to local jobs being allowed off the ship. Those going North had to remain on board till 4pm when it was time to board the ‘overnight limited stopping train’ to head north leaving at 6pm.  Alex said that the authorities must have taken this precaution incase any new arrivals did a runner. Alex remembers that the train was packed, and it was a fight at stops like Taumarunui where passengers were got off to get a pie and cup of tea before the train moved on.

The biggest group of future herd testers got off at Frankton Junction to work for the Auckland Herd Improvement Association, but Alex and his six herd testing mates stayed on the train for Auckland, arriving there at 6pm on Friday 18th August.

They were allowed a day to recover, spending a night crammed into small hotel, and finally arrived by bus at Whangarei to be met by Mr Taylor who had arranged their accommodation in a local boarding house.

Start work in Northland
Because the herd-testing season had already started in Northland a few weeks before the new staff arrived, there were no jobs available, so Alex and the others got work on local dairy farms. Alex worked on a farm at Kaiwaka where part of the condition of employment was that he had the morning off when the herd tester arrived, to get some practice using a pipette to learn how to suck up (by mouth!) Sulphuric acid and amyl alcohol for the Gerber butterfat test, and see what was involved in the process.


Kawakawa
Alex stayed on that farm until the 1st of November, when a herd testing vacancy became available at Kawakawa.  He was met there by a supervisor and taken to a farm for the first night to start testing where the 30 cows all had names. He tested the herd evening and morning, and had his work checked by the supervisor who had also stayed on the farm. He decided Alex was competent so was to be on his own.

Horse and cart 
Horse and cart ready for the day's action
Alex collected his horse, cart with rubber wheels, and all the gear needed, before he went on his way to the next farm. The gear included buckets, lids, a hand-cranked centrifuge, Sulphuric acid and amyl alcohol in large containers, butyrometer tubes for fat testing, scales, bottles for samples, crates and much more. A cover was provided for all this gear in the cart, but not for the driver Alex said.





After the first test on his own, Alex was told not to tip the next morning’s milk as the supervisor returned to check the work. Everything was found to be in order, so he was given a map and list of 26 farms for the month.  He never saw a supervisor for the next 2 years, and only contacted him by phone if necessary. As it was November, Alex worked through until December 23rd, and then had time off until January 3rd. From then on, work was continuous until the end of March as February was a short month.

Walk-through milking shed
Walk-through sheds
Milking was done in double-up walk-through sheds, and on his first farm there were 120 Jersey cows to be milked and recorded.  This was a much bigger farming operation than Alex had worked on in England, and he said that he was amazed at the large amount of milk produced which had to be weighed, sampled and tested for butter fat night and morning with the two tests added together.

The milk was separated on the farm, where the cream went to the factory and the skim milk was fed to pigs, which were kept on all dairy farms and added greatly to their income.

Alex says he worked one week each month on a back block at Mototau with no telephone, and sometimes no power, so the herd was milked by hand. These were mostly Maori farms and again, and Alex said they couldn’t do enough for you – welcoming the tester into their home and Alex was treated as one of the family. He worked in the Kawakawa group for 2 years which stretched from Towai in the south to Kaikohe in the north, Kawakawa being the centre.

 Challenges of roads and weather

Transport challenges facing herd testers
 Alex said it was mostly metal roads and has travelled them since by car wondering how he did it, but others were similarly employed. There were floods in the spring and droughts in the summer. Alex’s largest herd was 120 and the smallest 20 cows – all of them making a living and raising a family. It was the people he met who made the job.

Alex left herd testing to work on a dairy farm at Maromaku, (near Towai) for two years – again, the family made the job so satisfying, and treated me as their immigrant son. He remained in contact with them during all his years in NZ, spending every Christmas with them, and now continues in contact with their extended family.

Alex remembers the home-made pikelets for afternoon teas, and he knew that once he started on his round of 26 farms, he’d have 25 roast dinners ahead of him for the month.  Some farmers took the opportunity when the herd tester arrived for them all to go to the movies in the local town.  One night he remembers telling the farmer’s wife who was helping with the milking that he was going to the movies at 7.30 with a neighbouring farmer. So she rushed home to cook an early tea, and even ran a hot bath for him!

No TV
There was no TV in those days, so Alex played cards every night, with 500 being the most popular game.  The farmers and their families always enjoyed a bit of new company so there were plenty of late nights.  Herd testers were a key part of the farming community and their social life included most events including Christmas parties. Lifelong friendships were made.

Alex did two seasons at Kawakawa and then worked on farms before going back on the Rangitoto to England in 1958 for one year, returning to New Zealand on the Rangitani in May 1959 where he got a job as a builder’s labourer at Pukekohe for six weeks. 

Alex then started herd testing again on the 1 August in the Pukekohe Group where he did 1959/60 in Pukekohe, 1960/61 in Pokeno/Mangatauwhiri, 1961/62 in Orini, 1962/63 in Te Kawa, 1963/64 in Piopio, and 1964/65 in Waihi.   Alex said that he certainly saw a real variety of sheds and farmers – all of whom provided memorable hospitality.

Herringbone sheds
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When Alex left for the UK in 1965 there were no herringbone sheds, but by the time he returned in 1966 there had been massive changes away from walk-through to herringbone sheds. Herringbone milking sheds had been developed at Gordonton, and had become very popular and made the job of milking and herd testing much easier for all involved. They spread rapidly through the country and after 1979, Alex noted big changes where herds were increasing in size; farmers could no longer make a good living from 20-120 cows on a 100-acre farm. 
  
After Alex returned to New Zealand in 1966, he returned to the Mark family in Ngaruawahia (where he’d had a base since 1959) and worked for the Hurricane Wire Company in Te Rapa, Hamilton. During this time he met Ken Stone of the Auckland Herd Improvement Association in Hamilton at the Te Rapa racecourse, who invited him to return to herd testing. Alex was interested in training for the newly expanding Artificial Breeding (AB) side of dairy farming, but Selwyn Sheaf the AHIA manager was keen to have Alex back herd testing. 

Photo shows modern (2013) herringbone miking shed, with 30 sets of cups.  After about 50 sets, farmers today would then opt for a rotary - with 80 bail rotaries now common on large 1000 cow herds 

 Alex returned to the LIC in 1966 and worked as a supervisor for 14 years, with trips home in 1969, 1972, 1978 and 1984. His last 10 years of employment were spent as Weigh Station Manager at Morrinsville.  This involved training new herd testers on the farm, keeping a check on their results based on the composite sample from each farm, and dealing with any issues that may arise.

Herd testers conference and ball 

Testers and AHIA staff all dressed up for the Conference
Each year, the Auckland Herd Improvement Association held its annual herd testers’ ball, followed the next day by the herd testers conference, held at their London Street office organised by Selwyn Sheaf. At the end of the conference, the new testing areas were handed out –which Alex says always created a lot of interest to see who got what.  Some testers wanted to swap clients as they had developed such friendships with them, but that was not allowed.

Women in dairy farming
Alex said that looking back, 1954-58 when he travelled Northland with a horse and cart herd testing were some of the best years of his life, due to the warm hospitality and the friendship he experienced on New Zealand farms.  He said that the calibre of the women in dairying was fantastic, and the hard work they contributed to the dairy industry, as well as running a busy house and rearing a family, was never fully appreciated.  They would even wash and iron the herd tester’s clothes!

Alex retired in 1990 and said that New Zealand was a country of great opportunity if you worked hard.


August 27, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history, Herd testers. Peter Copeman


By Dr Clive Dalton


Peter Copeman
Peter Copeman was born in Chichester and moved to Mellor to Basingstoke, Watford, Briston and then Mellor near Blackburn in Lancashire before he was 11 years old. He had been a member of the Air Training Corps since he was 13 so opted for the RAF when he was called to do his national service from 1956-58.
 He always had an interest in farming, especially the technical side, and to further this he did a National Diploma in Agriculture at the Lancashire County Institute of Agriculture at Winmarleigh in 1961.  He realised that he needed more practical experience, so  thought that going overseas for a  few years would improve his CV.  



Advert in Farmers Weekly
While working for as a fill-in job at the grocers Wm Tattersall and Son in Blackburn, he was offered a job at the UK Grasslands Research Institute at Hurley in Berkshire.  But  he saw an advert in the British Farmers Weekly for herd testing jobs in New Zealand, which seemed a better opportunity to advance his farming prospects.

SS Remuera
So after making application and having the necessary interviews at Preston, and being provided with all the information for immigrants intending to work on New Zealand farms, medical checks were completed before Peter packed his entire worldly goods into two holdalls and headed for Tilbury docks to board the NZ Shipping Company SS Remuera on 1 June 1962, on its maiden voyage to New Zealand.  It wasn't much of a maiden as she'd previously been the P and O vessel RMS Parthia, and later the SS Aramac, so had quite a maritime history. She sailed via Curacao, Panama city, through the Canal and then Papeete, arriving in Wellington 4 July 1962.

Twenty five pound Pom
Peter  was a ‘Twenty five pound Pom’ (he still has the payment receipt), bonded for two years, with the proviso that if they left farming, they had to repay their travel costs to the New Zealand government. 

Peter and the other prospective herd testers who arrived on the same boat, then headed for the railway station to board the ‘limited overnighter’ arriving at Frankton Junction at 6am, and after being met, they were directed to the offices of the Auckland Herd Improvement Association office in London street for the standard briefing that all herd testers got from Ken Stone and the manger Selwyn Sheaf.

Peter remembers that in Ken Stone's briefing comments, he said he was aware that there was a trend in the UK for young men to sport beards, but as yet this hadn't spread to NZ and was quite frankly to be discouraged among herd testing staff.
Te Kowhai area 
Peter was allocated a testing round of 26 herds at Te Kowhai for his first year in 1962-63, with mainly Jersey cows, and only one Herringbone shed. 
 As his mode of transport, he was allocated a horse and cart with rubber wheels which he expected, as he’d read in the blurb, words to the effect that - ‘only the Auckland Association use horse drawn transport to any extent’.   
 This didn’t make sense to Peter, as it was a bigger area than all the others put together.

The photo shows  Peter Copeman at McBride's farm in Te Kowhai with his horse called 'Dick' and McBride's dog called 'Mac'.  Peter got Dick (a failed pacer) from trainer Kelvin Primmer in Te Rapa, and on his first mission to McBride's farm, Dick's speed and lack of consideration for all the gear in the cart (including Sulphuric acid) gave Peter a mighty scare.  Dick was even used to carry Santa to the Te Kowhai Christmas party one year.

1936 Vauxhall car
But then after January in his second year (1963), Peter was able to buy a 1936 Vauxhall car and trailer from David Roberts who had been the previous herd tester at Te Kowhai.  Peter was then able to exchange this in for an A70 truck purchased from Adrian Naish who had been the relieving herd tester in the area, who along with Charlie Linewebber acted as relieving testers and dealt with any problems – that’s when Peter said Charlie’s attention could be prized away from ‘Best Bets’!


Like all herd testers, the routine was standard, arriving at the farm for the afternoon milking, weighing and taking a milk sample, which was added to the morning milk’s sample, before the 30ml of milk was mixed with 70ml of Sulphuric acid and 2-3ml of amyl alcohol before the two dozen were placed on the rack to be centrifuged and the fat level read up the stem of the butyrometer tube.

Peter remembers quite a few characters on his round, one lady who always cooked curried sausages for his visit.  One month she had changed the menu and at Peter’s protest, as he really looked forward to them, she realised her menu had been rather routine so he never got them again.

He had been warned about a single pedigree Jersey herd owner whose standard fare for the herd tester was ‘rat traps’ which were bacon and cheese on toast.  Peter said these were all right, but he was so concerned about the hygiene that he always cooked tea at that farm.   Peter said that from the meals provided, you could always work on what was on special at the local store.

 He also said that occasionally in his area, you could sense a sort of Pommie class distinction between herd owners, especially if they were pedigree breeders and share milkers who were further down the pecking order.

Peter said that it was accepted that after a few years, Pommie herd testers would end up marrying a farmer’s daughter – which he did!  They were offered the farm but as it was 40 pedigree cows on 60 acres, it was never going to be viable for the future of dairying in New Zealand.  He tried really hard, even visiting the Minister of Agriculture (Doug Carter) at the time who had gone to school with his father in law - but to no avail.

While herd testing, having the radio on during milking was standard practice, and he heard ad advert for the State Services Commission for government jobs. 

Job at Ruakura 
He went into the office in Garden Place in Hamilton to find there were no jobs in the area he was interested in, which was at the Ruakura Animal Research Centre.  While there he heard the official phone Gordon Douglas at Ruakura, so the next day Peter went to Ruakura and found Gordon – who happened to have a job when Don McKay at Number 1 dairy had just vacated.

Peter was interviewed by Peter Floyd the chief technician at Number 4 dairy, and he was in business, working with the world famous scientist, Doug Phillips whose research, along with that of Dr Watty Whittlestone, revolutionised milking the world over.



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No. 1 Dairy, Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre, Circa 1966

L-R: Gerry Phizackerlea, Emoni Navatoga, John Crabbe 
Fijian students
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Peter remembers that every two years we had the two top students from a Methodist Mission farm in Fiji come to Ruakura to work in one of the dairies.  One year there was a hitch in the transport arrangements and we had four of them on station at the same time, needless to say they played an important part in the Ruakura rugby team and we almost had an all black back line.


Peter was at Ruakura working on dairy issues from 1964 till his full-time retirement in 2003 from Dexel which was the organisation that took over dairy research from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and then he finally retired after part-time work at Dexel in 2006.
So Peter never went farming on his own account, but his son and family are dairy farming in Taranaki.  Peter’s meticulous skills in attention to detail, allowed him to make a very significant contribution to dairy research at Ruakura.  

Photo shows Peter helping in his son's herd with a herd test.  Note the milk meters which revolutionised sample collection.  Peter is putting the sample pottles from each meter in box to send off for testing.  The herd has 225 cows and is milked in a 30-aside herringbone.
 
Peter's memoribilia
Peter's pay slips sent to him c/o the Te Kowhai herd testing convener Alison Hodgson


Peter's baggage list on the Remuera

Annual records of herds tested in each district sent to every herd tester

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Peter Copeman

Herds 1963-64

Farmer
No. Cows
Address
Notes
J H Biddick
28
River Rd, Horsham Downs
Joe
G T Bond
50
Powells Rd, Taupiri
Gavin
R E Brown
55
Old Taupiri Rd, Hopu Hopu
Ron
L Dent
95
River Rd, Ngaruawahia
Len
A L Dyson
90
Driver Rd, Taupiri
Arthur
W D Dyson
54
 Gt. South Rd, Taupiri
Bill
L G Kelly
45
Old Taupiri Rd, Ngaruawahia
Len
 W P Lovell
40
Gordonton Rd, Taupiri
 Bill
W P Moore
40
Orini Rd, Taupiri
Wallace
M F Redman
55
Gordonton Rd, Taupiri
Martin
P W H Weake
128
Warings Rd, Taupiri
Phil
N G King
150
River Rd, Ngaruawahia
Alternate months- Te Puea Farms
L W Pinny
100
Onion Rd, Te Kowhai
Len
Aroha Farms Ltd
125
Te Kowhai Rd, Te Rapa
Ralph Sutton
W B & Mrs E O Pinkerton
90
Gt. South Rd, Te Rapa
 Winston
Pukete Farms
200
Gt. South Rd, Te Rapa
Doug & Cedric Holmes, Don McKay – testing officers
D C Jull
45
Gt. South Rd, Te Rapa
Alternate months - David
I W Croad
110
Horotiu Rd, Te Kowhai
Ian
J E Dean
60
Ngaruawahai Rd, Te Kowhai
Bill
W H & Mrs M I Elms
45
Onion Rd, Te Rapa
Taffy & Ivy
J Lee Hodgson & Sons
65
Bedford Rd, Te Kowhai
Jim
J H Mead
65
Bedford Rd, Te Kowhai
Jim
D J Couch
70
Jackson St, Ngaruawahia
Alternate months – Doug
R T Moore
105
Bedford Rd, Te Kowhai
Bob
IC White & AG Stock
100
Clark Rd, Ngaruawahia
Ivy & Alan

Average
80




This shows a 'walk-through' shed.  The bail on the left has a single milking machine to milk two cows, one on each side, and the next bail on the right is a 'double up' where each cow has a milking machine machine. The cows exit via the wooden door at the front, opened by a long handle behind the cow. 


Photo probably taken by  Peter Druce in one of his herds in the Ngahinepouri area.