April 27, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 1. Importing exotic sheep breeds

Introduction to Blog series
Early sheep imports to New Zealand

Renewed interest in 'exotic' sheep breeds 
Disease concerns
Recent imports
Why the need for new sheep breeds?
Where are the official records? 
The national archives

By Dr Clive Dalton

Introduction to Blog series
This is the first of a series of blog posts on the importation of exotic sheep breeds to New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s. The stimulus for the blogs was to record what I consider to be an important bit of New Zealand agricultural history - which I have grave doubts will ever be prized out of official government files, if anyone today would even know where to look.

Early sheep arrivals New Zealand
All sheep are ‘exotic’ to New Zealand, but for some reason, the sheep breeds imported in 1972 and 1984 are always referred to as ‘exotic importations’ or 'exotic breeds'.  Over the early history of New Zealand and the arrival of the first Europeans, long before there was any concern about introducing diseases, an amazing array of sheep breeds was brought here from all parts of the world, but for a variety of reasons they didn’t survive. The early flock books of the New Zealand Sheep Breeders’ Association record the importation of 30 different breeds.  There seemed to have been no problems with Scrapie arriving in New Zealand with any of these sheep. Sheep scab was a far greater threat which was eliminated by 1894.
Old references show that between 1893 and 1914 the following breeds were imported:
  • Border Leicester
  • Leicester
  • Cheviot
  • Cotswold
  • Dartmoor
  • Dorset Horn
  • English Leicester
  • Hampshire
  • Lincoln
  • Merino
  • Oxford Down
  • Romney Marsh
  • Roscommon
  • Ryeland
  • Scottish Blackface
  • Shropshire
  • Shropshire Down
  • Southdown
  • Suffolk
  • Tunis
  • Wensleydale
Scottsh Blacface - came to New Zealand in the late 1800s but didn't stay.   The sheep in this photo with mottled brown faces are 'mules' or 'greyfaces' - Border Leicester or Blue faced Hexham Leicester  x SBF.  Photo by Don Clegg.

Renewed interest in 'exotic' sheep breeds
In the 1970s a wave of enthusiasm gained momentum to bring more  breeds to New Zealand that we didn’t have, and a whole range of people and organisations got very animated about the benefits they would bring for the economy. 

I was an interested observer at the time as I had arrived from UK in 1968 to do hill country sheep and beef  research, and because of my involvement with Sheeplan (see my blogs), I started trying to remember bits and pieces about the ‘exotic sheep importation saga’.

More questions than answers
I seemed to dredge up more questions than answers, so I had to dig out some of my old MAF mates, (for some sadly it was too late) who were closely involved at the time, and it was interesting trolling through their memories.  Some scored well and some badly – but they all could tell me who they thought would probably still remember – if they were still above ground! 
So I’ve had a big catchup with many old Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) former colleagues, and they have all been supportive of my attempts to find out as much as possible of events, as there’s no doubt that in years to come, after all of us have been collected in the final straggle muster, somebody will want to bring more sheep to New Zealand, and they’ll want answers to three obvious questions:
  1. When was the last sheep importation to NZ?
  2. What happened?
  3. Where is the information and will Mr Google be able to find it
This is not some hypothetical dream for the distant future.  New Zealand could get Foot and Mouth disease tomorrow, and if livestock in large areas of the country had to be slaughtered to contain the disease, importation would be a logical option.
So that’s why I’ve blogged what I’ve been able to find about what happened with the exotic sheep imports.  Clearly there’s a high risk of error as the human memory has its limits, especially for events that happened three decades ago.  So I’d be very grateful for any corrections of the blogged material that I have missed, and especially for new material.

The big worry - where is the official record? 


Dr Neil Clarke
When I visited my former MAF Ruakura colleague Dr Neil Clarke, he had pulled out a couple of the many cardboard boxes he took away with him when he retired from MAFTech Ruakura Genetics.  If he'd left them, without doubt they would be in the dump as the Genetics section wound down to near extinction.

Thankfully Neil kept copies of all the material he wrote to go up through the system, but as we concluded - that's where our knowledge ends. Those boxes are a treasure trove - with no known destination after Neil's office finally closes.

We both agreed that none of our offspring would want our 'stuff', and in any case they would have no room to store it in their own homes. They have enough stuff of their own!

And no museum or library wants it, as they claim they have not space either.  And who would digitalise it?

 Question 3 is the big worry, as where would the official files of events be found now? Nobody I have talked to who worked for MAF at that time has any idea where the information went; they all have to conclude that it would go into the big black hole we used to call ‘Head Office’.
Dr Leyden Baker

Other MAF Genetics staff on retirement thankfully took copies of their bits of the story with them, and some like Dr Leyden Baker  told me he'd had a big clean out and his stuff had just gone to the dump. 

The problem is that there have been so many changes from MAF to MAFTech then to AgResearch, with short-term ‘managers’ with no institutional memory or knowledge or appreciation of history.
The old colleagues I've managed to find all assure me that their original reports and copies of data etc were all send up through the MAFTech pipeline, which they assumed ended up in MAF Head Office in Wellington.  So goodness knows where it all is now that MAF has  recently morphed into the Ministry of Primary Industry (MPI) with the Minister about 13th on the caucus pecking order.  You can predict from this that New Zealand's agricultural history would not figure highly in the scheme of things.

The national archive 
MAF used to have an in-house archivist in the Wellington Head Office, and I have been told that all MAF/MPI archival material is now in the National Archive.  So let’s hope the exotic sheep import story is nicely filed and readily accessible in there.  

Prospects do not look good though, as when my former MAF Information Services Director, Geoff Moss recently spent a morning at the National Archive in Wellington to find me a photo of Dr Sam Jamieson (see later blogs), he described the experience as - 'bureaucratic and complicated'! 
A concern now is what’s going to happen to the files of these old retired MAF retainers after their final muster.  Most of them agree that their families won’t want their ‘stuff’, as they’ll have no room to store it - so it will add to landfill and global warming.  Important agricultural history is going down the offal hole I’m afraid, but nobody seems to be able to stop it.

Any historians interested?
I once tried to make contact with the newly appointed head of the History Department at Waikato University, as the University had been built on land which was once a Ruakura dairy unit – so I presumed (wrongly ) that it may have had a bit of empathy for the cause. 
   
Also the University is a major partner of the massive National Fieldays ( photo left) proving their great support for the industry in a major farming area. But making contact was impossible. I have not tried again.

Recent sheep importations 
The importation of sheep into New Zealand from all countries except Australia was banned in 1952 after a case of Scrapie was found (see other blogs), so in the 1970s when interest grew to import a range of different European and UK breeds which were deemed to have desirable traits for New Zealand, plenty of pressure was put on the then Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) to view the request with great caution.
The main reason for the importation was to see how some new breeds, which had shown to have potential in UK and Europe could improve mainly fertility and meat production, as wool was not a priority.

Why the need for new sheep? 
Without doubt, the driving force behind the importation was the Ruakura genetics team of Drs Alan Carter, Neil Clarke (and later Drs Leyden Baker, Howard Meyer and Andrew Parrat).  The Genetics Section was also well staffed with technicians to supervise all stock work and data collection from an importation, which clearly everyone involved saw as no small challenge. 

Finding new ‘genetic resources’ was a fruitful area for research, as national meat and lamb performance in the 1950-60s certainly needed a boost, and researchers knew that their work would attract big farmer interest.  Regular progress reports would be in demand and help fill conference halls for many years ahead.  Then the resulting published papers would help scientists’ reputations and promotion, as well as adding to the great reservoir of scientific knowledge.  It all looked very exciting.

Photo: Dr Alan Carter.  Photo  taken by MAF Ruakura's long-serving photographer, the late Don 'whiskers' McQueen who worked with equal skill  in both laboratory and field. Don was a legend! Photo AgResearch archives.

April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 2. Importing exotic sheep breeds


Scrapie in UK
Cause of Scrapie
Scrapie history in New Zealand

By Dr Clive Dalton

Scrapie was a major importation risk and this certainly worried a lot of people both in New Zealand and in UK.  

Scrapie in UK
Scrapie is endemic in UK, and we budding young shepherds used to see what must have been the disease in Cheviots and Scottish Blackface sheep on my native Scottish Border. Sick sheep used to act a ‘bit daft’ and scrape their wool off by rubbing against stonewalls and fences – hence the name. but no farmer would ever have dreamed of getting a vet to look at a sheep – they would have cost money!  Scrapie wasn’t common in UK, but it has a fearsome reputation for countries like New Zealand that want to claim a ‘clean health’ status, especially for exporting animals. 

(See Wikipedia for full details of Scrapie).

In the UK in recent years a testing programme was undertaken to eliminate Scrapie from the Swaledale breed, so it must have been serious enough to go to all the work and cost involved. 

 In the past, it was not easy to diagnose, as it required slaughter and examination of brain tissue. Brains are still examined today but there are now other fancy DNA diagnostic tools that can be used.

 Picture shows Swaledale ewes in their native Swale dale in Yorkshire, England

Cause of Scrapie
The organism causing Scrapie is a prion, which is a protein, and is most commonly spread from ewe to lamb at birth in all the birth fluids and close contact although a lot of this is still a mystery.  A prion has no DNA and multiplies by simply duplicating itself like the growth of a crystal.

The problem with Scrapie is that it develops slowly and is usually only seen in sheep around 3-5 years of age. So this is the challenge for quarantine which consequently has to go on for years, and greatly increases the cost of importations and especially if in the end, animals have to be slaughtered.

So nobody would risk buying sheep (or goats which can also carry Scrapie) from New Zealand if it was ever shown to become endemic here.

It’s always easy to show that a country has a disease; the hard part is proving that it has been eliminated with a high level of guarantee.  New Zealand’s trading competitors love this and just keep on demanding more data before they will relax their import regulations for New Zealand produce.  We live with this as a daily threat.

Scrapie history in New Zealand

This photo tells a bit of important history in the study of Scrapie.  

Dr R.H. Kimberlin who is the world authority on such diseases visited New Zealand and Alan spent time with him.  He was a valuable resource to check diagnostic criteria on such diseases.

Kimberlin edited the 'bible' on the subject. See reference below:
'Slow virus diseases of animals and man'.  New Holland Research Monograph, Volume 44.

Photo:  Dr Kimberin standing, Alan Julian at microscope.  Photo by Alan Julian


Veterinary pathologist Alan Julian gave a paper in 1996 to a workshop in Australia on a range of nasties called ‘spongiform encephalopathies’ in domestic animals where he reported the Scrapie saga in New Zealand.  Here are the key points:
  •  Scrapie was diagnosed for the first time in New Zealand in June 1952 in two Suffolk sheep in Canterbury imported from England in 1950.
  • Farm was quarantined and all sheep on property were destroyed.
  • All sheep sold from this property in the previous 3 years (a total of 225) were traced. (Presumably they were sent to the meat works).  
  • The farm was restocked 4 weeks after slaughter. 
  • Control measures were not effective as in 1954 an outbreak in Southland in a South Suffolk ewe was traced back to the Canterbury property.
  •   Control measures for this outbreak involved 191 properties, with the slaughter and burial of 4,399 sheep. (Presumed they were sent to the meat works).  
  • The farms had restrictions put on them for 3 years during which time all sheep sold from the properties had to go direct to slaughter. 

 
No other outbreaks were ever recorded so New Zealand was declared Scrapie free.  This saga was well documented and used for veterinary teaching, and it made the profession very determined never to allow it into NZ again!

Picture of Suffolk sheep - the breed that brought the Scrapie to New Zealand from England in 1950.

New Zealand agricultural history. No 3. Importing exotic sheep breeds.

Pressure for importation
Chance of a fast buck
 
By Dr Clive Dalton

When the pressure came on in the 1970s to import more sheep from UK, the memory of the 1952 Scrapie saga was still sufficiently fresh in the memory of a lot of folk to make them very nervous. 

 
Dr Sam Jamieson. Photo: National Archives
So t
here was a clear acceptance by all in 1972 that any importation of sheep from UK and Ireland had to be done right first time, which meant massive veterinary control of the exercise. 

At that time, MAF certainly had the right man to oversee this – Sam Jamieson. Sam left his native Scotland for New Zealand at some stage, to become one of the two MAF Wanganui Vets. The Wanganui district included, Ohakune, Taihape, Marton and Flock House, a large area. It boarded on to Hawkes Bay and Taupo. 

He then rose to be Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) and Director of Animal Health in  Wellington Head Office, where he chaired the MSQAC (Maximum Security Quarantine Advisory Committee) set up to oversee all details of sheep importations. 

Sam made no secret of the fact that he was very much against any sheep importation, so consequently many in the Research Division saw him as a nit-picking, pontificating old Scot - or worse! Thankfully for New Zealand he was, as there was much at stake and no room to cut corners just to keep researchers happy. Sam has long gone but his concerns proved to be right.



Dr Neil Bruere of Massey University Vet School was another exotic disease expert very concerned about risks to the sheep industry if Scrapie got back into the country with the imported exotic sheep. 
  
Many geneticists saw Neil as another stumbling block in the way of sheep importations. 

Emeritus Professor Neil Bruere.
Photo: Words and Pictures


Neil's views against any importations, even from UK flocks with so-called 'Scrapie-free certificates', got a lot of coverage in the farming press at the time which got farmers attention – as in those days there were specialist agricultural journalists and editors of farming papers and journals who understood the risks that disease entry would have to our marketing reputation – and could write informed comment about it.  They did a great job and we’d be struggling to find such like today!

The Director of Agricultural Research at the time was Dr Lindsay Wallace who was one of Ruakura’s most famous scientists on a par with CP McMeekan, so it would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when Jamieson and Wallace were debating the importation proposals and protocols required. 

 Lyn Wallace was one of nature’s gentlemen and always came over as being very informed, and always commanded great respect from those of us on his staff for his logical approach to issues.  He must have won the day with Jamieson as the job went ahead.

Photo Dr L.R. Wallace. 
Photo taken by MAF Ruakura's long-serving photographer, the late Don 'whiskers' McQueen, who worked with equal skill  in both laboratory and field. Don was a legend! Photo AgResearch archives.

Chance of a fast buck
It must also be said that without a doubt, there were more than a few folk at the time with an eye to a fast buck, and who saw these new breeds not just as a boost to sheep production in New Zealand, but as a means of getting in early when supply was short and demand high – building up the hype, and then getting out fast after making a killing before demand and prices dropped.

There was plenty of evidence of this human frailty in New Zealand before and after the exotic sheep saga with the import of other so-called ‘exotic’ cattle breeds from UK, Europe in the late 1960s, the USA and Japan later. 

Add to this list Angora rabbits (pictured), Angora goats for mohair, Boar goats for meat, fitches/ferrets for fur, alpacas and llamas for fibre and as companion animals, and even water buffalo for milk.  

But where are they all now? If they can be found, none of them are part of a thriving export industry.  But at the time – we were all led to believe that they were going to be the ‘bees knees’ in terms of cashing in big time.

New Zealand agricultural history. No 4. Importing exotic sheep breeds


First MAF importation
Selecting sheep for importation
Organising the sheep before transport to New Zealand
Summary of events


By Dr Clive Dalton

 Summary of events
  • Importation date: 1972.
  •  Breeds: Finnish Landrace, East Friesian, Oldenburg (German White Headed Mutton) and Oxford Down.
  •  Where located: Animals selected and purchased (or leased) in UK and Ireland, and mated on their farms of origin.
  • Mode of import:  Purebred pregnant ewes and some rams from UK to maximum quarantine station on Somes Island in Wellington.
  • Multiplication. Imported purebred rams joined with purebred ewes to produce purebred offspring for second lamb crop.
  • Imported purebred ewes then moved to further maximum quarantine on Mana Island, 10 km north of Wellington with balance slaughtered on Somes.  
  •  Romney and Coopworth ewes were taken to Mana to be mated to purebred sires to produce crossbred progeny, each generation increasing the proportion of exotic genes. 
  • Work on Mana continued for 4 years.  
  •  In June 1976, sheep from the expanding flock on Mana were transferred to the Lands and Survey ‘Crater’ block near Rotorua.
  • Routine histopathological monitoring of sheep brains on Mana found Scrapie in one East Friesian ewe in 1974.  Decision made to slaughter all East Friesians, but retain their progeny along with other breeds but extending quarantine another 5 years.
  •   In 1978 continual brain monitoring on Mana sheep confirmed more cases of Scrapie. 
  •  Slaughter of 1900 sheep on Mana and 5192 at Crater ordered in 1978.
  • Release date:  None.  
 
Selecting sheep for importation
 
Dr Neil Clarke
Selecting individual sheep as a representative of a breed is never an easy task, as differences within breeds are always greater than differences between breeds. Sadly this is a much-ignored fact in animal breeding.
The task of selecting sheep for the 1972 importation fell to Dr Neil Clarke from the Ruakura Genetics Section. His first job was to find suitable flocks in UK and Ireland that would have sheep for sale, and this Neil said took hours of work from New Zealand by letter and phone calls through our night. The Internet was not firing in the 1970s.

Then when that was sorted, Neil spent over a month in UK and Ireland, along with a Kiwi veterinarian who was the offsider for the NZ Veterinary Liaison Officer resident in the NZ High Commission in London. The vet assigned to Neil had to help inspect flocks that had sheep available with the required performance data, structural soundness, and health clearances to meet NZ standards. 

Neil said it was a full-on job with much evening homework sorting out the day’s data, writing reports and keeping in constant touch with colleagues and bureaucrats back in New Zealand. This was all during the UK night of course.

Neil said that he could have well done without his vet mate in the evenings when he had work to do, as the Kiwi vet was clearly relishing the chance to get out of London on to farms, and sample local hospitality at NZ government expense.   After the northern hemisphere sun went down well before 5pm and it was rising in NZ, it was time for Neil to start his night shift!

Organising the sheep before transport to New Zealand
Neil Clarke remembers this as a massive job although he had left for New Zealand before it started.  The ewes had to be assembled at one location in Ireland and at the Farmers' Weekly farm in UK, to be treated with the required hormones to get them all into a similar breeding cycle to be mated to lamb within a limited spread in NZ.   

This involved a massive input involving hormone treatment protocols, and he reckons that without the enormous assistance from Dr Seamus Hanrahan of the Irish Dept of Agriculture who was a master at getting top results, the show could never have got on the road to meet all the deadlines.

Then there was the genetics to sort out to avoid close matings, and ensure the genetic base of each breed was as wide as possible to maximise breeding potential for their future in New Zealand.

New Zealand agricultural history. No 5. Importing exotic sheep breeds

General attributes of breeds on the import wish list
Priority list 
Within  versus between breeds 

By Dr Clive Dalton
If you read the breed promotional blurb provided by breed organisations,  you have to wonder why we bother to have different breeds at all, as according to their promoters, all breeds are good at everything and can provide everything a farmer would ever want or need!

New Zealand's shopping list
The sheep breeds listed below are what the New Zealand sheep industry was supposed to  ‘want and need’ urgently in the 1970s, to boost the agricultural economy. 

Farmers were continually being told that the breeds they had were not capable of increasing production at the speed needed to meet the expanding export needs, so urgent action was needed.  This urgent action could only come through  the importation of 'exotic' sheep breeds from Britain and Europe.

Priority list
I’ve listed the breeds in what in the 1970s was a rough order of perceived need.  Maybe it would also be accurate to describe the breed order as being the ‘most talked about’ at the time - and it's remained that way since.

The star of the show - Finnish Landrace with lambs to spare!
Photo: Internet
  • Finnish Landrace: Range 260-270% lambing; ewes 50-70kg, rams 66-93kg; clean points and britch, lean carcass; wool very white, lustrous, good bulk, 26-32 microns. 
  •  East Friesian: Range 230-240% lambing; ewes 75-95kg, rams 102-125kg, highest milk producers 500-600Litres/210-230 days; large body size; lean carcass; clean points and britch; wool bulky medium white, 35-37 microns; staple length 120-160mm; mean fleece weight 4.5kg.
  • Oldenburg (German White Headed Mutton): large body size, Range 180-200% lambing; wool fiber diameter of 37- 41 microns and good crimp.  Fleece weight is 5.5 kg for ewes, and 7.4 kg for rams.
  •  Oxford Down: Large body size; ewes 65-80kg, rams 86-106kg; brown points; typical down type wool; mean fleece weight 3.8kg. Lambing % not quoted. 
  • Oxford Down in quarantine at Flock House. 
     Photo: Jim Essen
  • Gotland Pelt: Valued for the pelt from young lambs and fleece from older sheep for craft market.  Lambing % not quoted  
Gotland Pelt.  You have to wonder why anyone would put this sheep on the list. Photo from Internet.

Within  versus between breeds

When ever you consider breed differences, remember that differences within breeds are always greater that differences between breeds.  The environment (mainly feeding) has such a massive effect
on performance, that the performance levels quoted have to show a wide range.

New Zealand agricultural history. No 6. Importing exotic sheep breeds

Finding sheep in UK and Ireland
Purebred ewes on Somes 


By Dr Clive Dalton

Finding sheep in UK and Ireland
Without going back to the official MAF Research files (if anyone would know where to look), this is what Dr Neil Clarke, previously in  Ruakura genetics remembers about the flocks he located that had sheep for purchase, and which agreed to have the required health tests done for importation to New Zealand. Most of the flocks were small so in many of them Neil said the choice was very limited.
  • Finnish Landrace (UK):  Cobb; Cadzow; Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO)' Farmer's Weekly farm (100 ewes).
  • Finnish Landrace (Ireland): Department of Agriculture (200 ewe flock).
  • East Friesian (UK).  1 flock. (Mummery breeder)
  • Oldenburg – White Headed Mutton (UK).  1 flock.
  • Oxford Down (UK): ABRO Cold Norton flock. 
  • Oxford Down (Ireland): 1 flock.  
  •  
     
 Texels were high on the NZ shopping list when researching prospects from NZ, but from the flocks Neil visited when he got to UK, the chance of getting a decent sample of the breed was extremely low as the sheep were so poor.  So with much overnight communication back to NZ, he persuaded colleagues and bureaucrats to be allowed to purchase some Oldenburg White Headed Mutton sheep from one flock in UK as a form of compensation.

Also, his father the late Ted Clarke, former Director at the Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station and then Director of MAF’s Sheep and Wool Advisory Service before he retired, always thought the Oldenburg had potential for New Zealand, because it was very similar to the NZ Romney.

Neil remembers arriving at the single source flock in the west of Ireland to inspect Oxford Downs, and the farmer was busy gathering up hay around the paddock left by the baler - on to a donkey cart!  The donkey was delighted to stop work while his boss went to call the sheep.

Purebred ewes on Somes

Somes Island 2014.  Some old sheep pens still there. 
 Photo Jim Hammonds
Somes Island in Wellington harbour is about 3km from Petone and was set up as a maximum quarantine facility for cattle importations, so it didn’t need much alteration (smaller pens and wooden grating) to cope with sheep. 

 Livestock officers from MAF’s Animal Health Division’s Wellington region did the stock work on Somes, and were joined by MAF Research technical officers Tim Harvey from MAF Tokanui research farm near Te Awamutu, and Bruce Trust. 

The challenge was to get the 104 imported purebred ewes to lamb safely, and then rear their lambs successfully on their main diet of concentrate feed as there was very little outside pasture on Somes.  It was by no means a natural life for a sheep in New Zealand!

2014 photo of inside animal house on Somes Island, showing the cattle pens which had to be adapted for sheep.  
Photo Jim Hammonds

 After their first very successful lambing, the purebreds were mated again with their own breed rams that came with them, to produce a second lamb crop. So only purebreds were kept and multiplied on Somes and everything went well with the dedicated care of the staff involved.  In fact things went too well and got ahead of themselves.


Tim Harvey
Tim Harvey has many memories of Somes.  He said that the three Oxford Down rams were especially memorable as they were too big to fit into the weigh crate so they couldn’t be weighed. And one East Friesian ewe was named ‘Big Bertha’ for the same reason.   

She also had an udder like a cow so one of LOs made her a bra to prevent injuries. Sadly her out-of-control udder led to her forced demise which was such a shame after the old girl had come from the other side of the world to do what sheep are meant to do!

New Zealand agricultural history. No 7. Importing exotic sheep breeds

Quarantine on Somes Island
Sheep moved from Somes Island to Mana Island
Sheep moved from Mana Island to Crater Block

By Dr Clive Dalton
  
From Somes Island to Mana Island

Somes Island 2014.  Former buildings used to house livestock.  
Photo Jim Hammonds
 Tim Harvey remembers that when the Somes Island quarantine flock got to around 500 sheep, the proposed move to Mana became urgent, even though the ink wasn’t dry on the lease agreement, and staff moving there had to live in old sheds in awful conditions till they got accommodation organised.    

John Dobbie also remembers the  work involved getting this underway with some massive movement of shingle off the beach to form a 2m deep base for the woolshed and yards.  He had the job of sorting out the contract for suitable tractors to do the work, with prime emphasis on safety and the power required. Choice at the time was restricted between Russian and Italian models and the Russians lost!

About 70 of the purebreds from the 104 that arrived on Somes eventually got to Mana, the balance including all the East Friesians ending their days on Somes.

Work to prepare Mana 

Mana Island - view from mainland at Mana. 
 Photo Jim Hammonds
 It was obvious that there would be a massive amount of work ahead on Mana, needing enormous attention to detail. Tim Harvey from Somes was already on the job at Mana and Dr Alan Carter Head of the Ruakura Genetics Section headhunted John Dobbie to help out. 


 
John had been a MAF Sheep and Wool officer in the Farm Advisory Division and like Tim, they were legends for their attention to detail in the sheep and wool world. 

With all the work that had gone into the exercise this far, any stuffups over collecting data would have been the final straw!  The job required MAF’s ‘top guns’ and the Harvey-Dobbie team were the men for the job.




The first challenge on Mana was to produce purebreds from matings of the purebred ewes and rams that went from Somes to Mana.  These were superovulated and the resulting embryos put into Romney and Coopworth ewes sent to Mana as recipients.

Dr Robin Tervit very proud of the first  purebred Finn (left) and Texel (middle) and Oxford Down lambs (right) from the  embryo transfers done on Somes Island.  
Photo: Robin Tervit
 And then the Romneys and Coopworth ewes were mated to the purebred rams to produce F1 crossbreds, and these F1’s in future years were subsequently used to breed F2s and F3’s for mass supply to the industry which took over 3 years.  After all, that was the prime aim of the whole project - to get these genes to farmers in a hurry.

So the procurement of the Romney and Coopworth ewes was another very important job that Tim Harvey and John Dobbie had to arrange. Tim Harvey remembers the Romney ewes coming from MAF research stations at Woodlands, Tokanui and Whatawhata as well as from Lands and Survey flocks at Waihora near Taupo.  Tim and John can’t remember where the Coopworths came from. 

Embryo transfer on Mana
MAF reproductive physiologists Drs Robin Tervit, John Smith from Ruakura and Dr Jock Allison from Invermay did all the ET work on Mana, and Tim remembers some good social evenings after a day of looking down laparoscopes.

Visitors to Mana
 
The wharf at Mana - departure point for Mana Island. 
Photo Jim Hammonds


 But working on Mana was not only dealing with sheep. This was probably the easiest part. The tricky bit was dealing with the droves of bureaucrats, politicians, scientists, vets, official visitors and plain ‘rubber neckers’ who were involved in the exercise, or just wanted to see what was going on.
I once tried to nosey a trip to Mana wearing my MAFQual ‘information coordinator’ hat, but it never seemed to happen. The advice was always to pick a fine day and not one when the wind was howling direct from the Antarctic ice smelling of penguins. 

Flock expansion on Mana
Tim Harvey remembers the flock (purebreds and crosses) on Mana eventually getting to around 1900 animals. John Dobbie well remembers the strict instructions from Sam Jamieson that no sheep should ever be allowed to die on Mana unless it had been given a final blessing by a veterinary officer, and after death it’s brain removed and sent in formalin to Wallaceville Animal Health Lab in Lower Hutt for examination. Sam  was clearly aware of the need to be alert and act fast if any nasties showed up, especially the dreaded Scrapie.

'There's a moose loose in the hoose' 
 
As well as being out on the limited pasture the Mana flock had to be provided with a lot of concentrate feed, so farm staff had another population to deal with – mice!  John Dobbie said that the mice were so bad that they’d dug burrows all over the place and there was danger of ground collapsing when you walked over it. 


John says this actually happened when the Tim Harvey's house was so undermined with mice runs, that it slipped off it's blocks and slid into the single men's quarters.
John Dobbie said that a trick they used was to cut the lid off a 20-gallon petrol can and arrange a carefully balanced plank for the mice to walk along to get at some sheep nuts in the bottom.  Their combined weight pushing to get the feed collapsed the plank, and the can would be nearly filled with mice overnight.   

Somes Island in its maximum quarantine days. Manager's house on extreme left and woolshed and yards on right of picture. 
 Photo by Ken Seecombe
Dr Robin Tervit remembers the mice.  He says that when he, Dr John Smith from Ruakura and Dr Jock Alison from Invermay Research Centre, together with Tim Harvey and the genetics staff were conducting embryo transfers on Mana in about 1975 the Island was alive with mice.  

Robin says that they  had a daily battle to rid their accommodation of the pests. 'Att night they came back in and skittered across our faces as we tried to sleep! When we went out to check the donor mating at night, as soon as we turned the lights on in the barns, the whole floor took off as the mice rushed away'. 

'Tim and his crew poisoned the animals and I recall them filling at least one 44 gallon drum with mice from a nights kill. And then there were the penguins that constantly called for mates from under our accommodation – not conducive to sleeping' . The native Mana Island Weta were also at risk from these little free loaders.

Mana to Crater Lands and Survey block


Eric Gibson
As the Mana flock increased, stock were then overflowed on to the Crater Lands and Survey block near Rotorua under Superintendent Eric Gibson.  Eric had the responsibility to double fence the property to stop anything getting in or out, while quarantine control and all associated ‘goings-on’ were still under MAF with some MAF Livestock Officers resident at Crater.    
                                              
Eric was a no-nonsense bloke and he was keen on new developments, but like all regional superintendents, he didn't like his territory interfered with.  He had a special warm relationship with the Minister of Lands, Duncan McIntyre. They both liked a wee dram and shooting quail.


Things were going nicely on Mana as the breeding programme continued.  Things were going well at Crater too, where the sheep from the continuing crossbreeding programme were being multiplied in numbers.  The Ruakura Genetics’ boffins were getting some good data for early reports to farmers and papers published in recognised journals, and everyone was keen to hear what was going on.  The farming media was also enjoying covering all this new information.

Sick animal protocol
 Any sick animals at Crater had to be post-mortemed with special emphasis on examining brain tissue for signs of Scrapie.  Up until September 1976, 533 brains were examined at the Animal Health Reference Laboratory at Wallaceville with negative results.  MAF Head Office veterinarian Dr Peter O’Hara told me that the Wallaceville staff got sick of the sight of sheep’s brains!

Wallaceville which made a massive contribution to animal science in New Zealand.  Under 'restructuring' in 2013 it was closed and put up for sale or lease by AgResearch. 
Photo by Allen Heath