August 13, 2015

Northumberland coal mining history - Hareshaw pit

Clive Dalton

Geology of Northern England
The Northumbrian fells with hidden coal seams underneath.  Photo of Sandy Syke formerly shepherd's cottage and now a summer holiday rental near Hareshaw. Photo by Donald Clegg.
 The geology of Northern England shows the ‘coal measures’ mainly north of the ‘Tyne gap’, which is the boundary separating Northumberland and the Cheviot hills to the north, from county Durham and the Pennines to the south.  The river Tyne flows through the gap before it splits into the North and South Tyne at Hexham.

The coal measures are tilted, so are miles deep under the North Sea off the coast of Northumberland, and become shallower as they go west towards the Scottish Border. In the 1950s, the coal seams at Heddon on the Wall were shallow enough to make open cast mining a viable option, after which the land was fully restored to even better and more level farm land.

Drift mining

The remains of roadway into the pit workings. Photo by Donald Clegg.

The active pit workings.  Photograph by kind permission of the Bellingham Heritage Centre's Collier collection.

Up into the Border hills of the North Tyne and Rede valleys, the coal in places was so shallow that it was mined commercially from ‘drifts’ which were cut into the sides of hills.  In some places you could even see coal deposits showing on the sides of burns (streams) where they had been exposed after flood erosion.

In the 1950s the three mines listed below were the main ones in the North Tyne and Rede areas, and were not nationalised under the National Coal Board (NCB).  
Information from Wikipedia. 

Men underground
Men above  ground
Coal type
Elsdon Coal Co Ltd

J Armstrong and Son
W.A Nixon

Small pits
There were also small drift mines owned by private individuals who sold coal locally.  There was one at Shilburnhaugh near Falstone, the Comb near Tarset and even a one-man pit worked by Ned Jacobson at Hesleyside near Bellingham.  Ned was noted for his occasional break outs to the Bellingham to slake his thirst, and then his failure to make it home again, finding overnight accommodation under the thorn hedge across the Tyne bridge beside the show field .

Hareshaw pit - history

The road up to Hareshaw Head farm on the horizon on the way to Otterburn. 
 Photo by Donald Clegg
The pit was on the right of the road in the above photo, and the miners' cottages and the village hall were on the left. In the far left of the photo is a brick structure which was part of the garage for the coal delivery wagons. It was also where the petrol pump was kept - locked with only one person with they key, but apparently according to Jim Bell, this was not a foolproof way of operating the handle of the pump which he found out in recent years from the clever thief!

There were three pits at Hareshaw after coal was found in the late 1800s.  The first pit was worked from a shaft which was closed due to flooding. The other two later mines were worked from drifts. The final commercial workings only went into the hill  a few miles, but they connected to the earlier drift workings which went up to the hill called 'The Beacon', over which the byroad ran over the fell to Woodburn.

 Out on the fell there were deep holes dug for ventilation of the shafts, and fenced off to keep livestock and people out.  But David Armstrong (son of the manager Bartram Armstrong) says it was a great challenge for the Hareshaw kids (him included) to sneak up on to the fell and climb the protective fence and look down into the scary depths of the mine and listen for movement.

Photo shows the winding gear for the shaft on the first pit.  Men's names unknown.  Photo by kind permission of Bellingham Heritage Centre.

Photos shows winding gear and tubs coming from the shaft on their way to the screens. Photo by kind permission of Bellingham Heritage Centre

Jim Bell
Jim started working at Hareshaw pit aged 14 when he left the Reed's Church of England school in Bellingham.  All the Hareshaw kids were  transported to and from school by Rod Thompson's car. 

Jim worked at the pit for two years before doing  two years military service after which he returned to the pit as one of the wagon drivers until it closed around 1952. Jim remembers the two wagons were an Albion (registration JR 74) and a Commer.

Photo by kind permission of David Walmsley, Bellingham Heritage Centre.

 Hareshaw pit documents
Many of the documents from the pit when it closed in the early 1950s were deposited in the Bellingham Heritage Centre by Jim and the late Dorothy Bell who were foundation members of the Museum.  This historical information from the pit is now being researched by Stan Owen, who can be contacted through the Bellingham Heritage Centre.

Hareshaw coal
Hareshaw pit produced Anthracite and Phurnacite (which was dust that was pressed into eggs), and they used to buy in coke to sell which was produced at the Blaydon coke ovens on Tyneside. The cost of Hareshaw coal in the 1950s Jim Bell remembers was two shillings and seven pence a hundredweight bag (2/7d per cwt).

Hareshaw pit – staff
Jim Bell has provided an extensive list of men employed at the pit over a number of years, according to their duties.

John Riddel (Blakelaw farm), Edward Armstrong, Benson Coulson, Edward Milburn.
The role of these men is not recorded.  They were maybe business Directors.

Photo by kind permission of Bellingham Heritage Centre

 Owner and manager of last pit: Bartram (Barty) Armstrong. Son of the original founder.

Deputies (men who were responsible for work and safety underground)
Jack Hutton (also Hewer)
Arthur Pick (also Hewer with highest production and earnings)

Hewers (men who dug the coal)
Bob (Shafty) Armstrong
George Bell
Harry Young
Billy Dodd
Adam Armstrong
Teddy Hay
Tommy Scott
Douglas Young
Binner Wright
Ossie Young
Chic Brown
Josey Dodd
Jackie Stevenson (killed in pit accident)

Putters (men who filled the tubs after the hewers)
Ken Pick
Harry Wilson
Dennis Benson
Thomas Armstrong
Tommy (Gally) Storey

Pony drivers (men who drove the 4 Welsh ponies pulling the tubs)
Jacky Brown
Harry Armstrong
Norman Armstrong
Harry Wilson
Jeff Little
Matt Hall (in charge of ponies)

Wagon Delivery Drivers
Tot Dixon
Albert Dodd (Albion JR 74)
Jim Bell (Albion JR 74)
Bill Dodd
Bill Richardson
John Armstrong
John McLennand

Banksman (men who worked tipping the coal from the tubs on to the screens for grading)
Jack Hutton
Jack Hutton
Tommy Little

Jack Mason
Edward Elliott (Joiner)
James Ridley

Office clerk (responsible for office work and wages)
Mary Potts

Photos of staff
Photos by kind permission of Bellingham Heritage Centre.

Pit workers of various ranks judging by their dress - names not recorded. This looks like the bank where the tubs were emptied.

The first four from the left in the photograph are William Dodd, Edward Elliott, Jack Hutton and James Ridley.  Jack Mason is at the right-end.1916.  Note the shorts worn by the men underground due to the heat.  Their thick woolled socks were home knit by their wives from wool from Otterburn mill. 
Photo by kind permission of Bellingham Heritage Centre.

Getting to work
Very few miners had their own transport which at best was a motorbike.  Others got to work by pushbike or were collected by the coal wagon if it had been kept overnight in Bellingham.  On many occasions some like Tommy Little would walk to work over the fells past Blakelaw farm, Callahues crags and Hareshaw House farms to the pit.

Pit baths
There were none!  Pitmen went home and bathed when they got home in the long bath in front of the fire.  A highlight for us Bellingham Noble Street kids was  to sneak along and watch Tommy Little get bathed after arriving home from the pit. 

We knew every detail of the ritual. Ella would take the long tin bath off the nail on the wall at the back door and put it in front of the fire. She would then fill it with cold water kept in buckets in the pantry as there was only one tap in the street for all ten houses to share. 

Tommy would arrive and take his outer pit clothes off sitting on a cracket (small stool - see my blog on 'the Geordie cracket') as he was not allowed to sit on a chair with all the coal dust. Ella would then use a large enamel jug to lift hot water from the 'set pot' on the left side of the grate (the oven was on the right) and heat the bath water up to a good warm temperature.

Tommy would  then remove his underclothes and hop into the bath taking care to cover his vital parts so we kids couldn't see, and then wet and soap his head and body.  The water only came up to below his navel so there was no risk of an overflow onto the fireside mat. When finished Ella took the jug and poured warm water over Tommy's head down over this upper body.  He was 'home and hosed' and climbed out of the bath to get changed.  When dressed Tommy and Ella carried the bath plus dirty water and tipped it into the drain that ran along our back lane into the main sink by the tap. Where this went nobody knew!

There was also a 'hip bath' that some folk had with high back and front and low sides so you sat with legs outside the bath and only your lower body in water.

Pit accidents
Jackie Stevenson of Bellingham was the only person to be killed in Hareshaw pit.  It is reported that the accident occurred because he failed to follow safe practice under direction of Deputy Arthur Pick when propping the roof, and a stone fell and hit him on the head.

Customer service
When householders wanted coal, they didn’t contact the pit to order it directly by phone or letter, as there were few coin phone boxes around and local folk were not phone users.  And there was no central office or shop in Bellingham village for example, which took orders for coal. 

Coal wagon delivery
The Hareshaw system was simple and worked well where the coal delivery wagon made a regular delivery round and folk took what you wanted.  The delivery round must have been shorter in winter when more coal would be burned than in summer, and this must have been taken into account at the pit.

The coal delivery men were very skilled and had an intimate knowledge of everyone’s coal houses, to carry the one hundredweight (112 pounds) bags on their shoulders from the wagon, and dump it without damage to property and minimal dust to annoy the householder.  Householders then paid cash, which went into the wagon driver’s strong leather bag.  I think receipts were provided.

When we lived at Noble Street, my father had made a coal house under the ladder-like stairs in the back kitchen up to the single bedroom, and getting a bag of coal in there required great handling skills.  There were many coal houses like this in the terraced houses, but thankfully for the ‘coal men’, the new Council houses that some of us who were lucky to move to had proper dedicated coal houses with a full sized doors, which made emptying the bags easier.

The pitmen got free coal as part of their job, and it was dumped at their back door, which they had to shovel it into their coal houses themselves.  This 'pitmans' coal' was a mix of all the different grades of coal and  was always a very generous load!

Coal quality
Everyone expected to get top quality coal for their money, free from dust and small stones, which could appear in some seams and could not be separated in all the coal.  Stones would not burn so didn’t give out heat and there were cases where they were known to explode under the intense heat of the fire.  They ended up as white powder in the grate after burning.

Blame the wagon driver
It was the wagon drivers who copped the flak from anyone who had experienced problems with their coal – so one of their great skills was an ability to humour irate housewives with promises that things would be perfection in future!

Small coal
You could order ‘small coal’ or ‘slack’ which was coal got broken down into small pieces along with dust during the mining and screening process.  It was cheaper and was used to ‘bank up’ a fire overnight. In many standard ranges there was a shelf at the back of the fire where you could shovel the small coal, and pull it down with the ‘coal rake’, which rested in the fireplace along side the poker and small shovel. My father used to use this small coal in the firebox, which was ideal for banking up the small fire that heated the water pipes in his greenhouse.

Aerial pollution from the great clouds of smoke produced by small coal was not seen as an environmental problem in those days, and it gave a good yield of soot to make up a brew to fertilise the show leeks after the annual visit from Geordie Collings the chimney sweep.

Bulk orders
Farmers collected their coal direct from their nearest pit by horse and cart, and later by tractor and trailer which allowed them to travel from much further afield to the pit.  For many years, on the gate post into the pit was a large old fashioned alarm clock fixed to the gatepost with a notice saying 'No Tick' below it.

Sea coal:  This was coal where the seams became exposed by the continual erosion of the tides along the coast north of North Shields.  It was free to be gathered by anyone wanting to make some cash, provided they had a delivery wagon to go to the inland villages and offer their product at a cheaper price.  It's main feature was that being washed by the sea, there was no dust although some customers didn't like burning salt content.

David Armstrong remembers sea coal sellers going around the Hareshaw customers to steal their business and he said that on many occasions, the way they dealt with this competition was to buy the whole wagon load of sea coal off the sellers just to get rid of them.  They were happy enough to get home early!

Railway stations:  The other people who could sell coal were Station Masters. The Bellingham Station Master Donald McKenzie (always ably assisted by his wife Jaques)  had two open topped wagons of coal in a siding from which he bagged it and people came to buy it.  He didn't have a formal delivery service but what the station wagon (driven by Jimmy Wright) got up to would never be questioned.

Hareshaw village

Stone cottages at Hareshaw.  Photo by kind permission of Bellingham Heritage Centre.
 Five of the miners' cottages were built of stone and four with wood frame with corrugated iron cladding. The village hall was built with corrugated iron cladding and was the centre for meetings, social activities, and the Presbyterian church services and Sunday school. Matt Hall acted as custodian of the hall, which included a much prized portable organ which kept at home to protect it from the damp.

The hall was also used by  Bellingham's St Cuthbert's Church of England, and with confirmation classes when preparing for Communion, the Rev W.J (Daddy) flower took me there in his blue Standard car to join Kenneth Pick whose family lived in the village.  We were eventually confirmed at Falstone St Peter's Church.

There was a school at Hareshaw for some years when numbers justified it, but during and after the war years when numbers declined, children were taken by Roddy Thompson's car to and from the Reed's and Council school each day.

Roddy was not only famous for his taxi service, but also for his fish and chip shop where a specialty of his and Mrs Thompson's was a meat ball in batter that he called a 'doodlebug' after the German missiles that were being fires by Hitler from France into Southern England. Thankfully Roddy's were the only ones to land in Bellingham.

There was a terrible tragedy with the school car when one of the Bell children (John) fell out of the moving car and was died in hospital.  Jim Bell, his younger brother, said the family never got over it.  John was about to take his 11+ exam but this was not to be. No action resulted for Roddy's driver.

75 years on
David Armstrong and I sat together from starting at the Reed's Charity School (Church of England)  in Bellingham in 1939 at the start of WW2.  We are a  bit different 75 years later.  Like all kids at the school with one very rare exception, under the tutelage of head master Joe Lumley, we all failed the 11+ exam, as he assumed that our future was in Hareshaw pit, on local farms, stone quarries and the forestry.  He had no expectation or ambition for any of us.

David  always worked around his father's pit and  learned to drive the coal wagons from regular driver Jim Bell.  He helped to deliver coal and remembers doing jobs like taking the four pit pones to Bellingham on a Saturday morning to be shod by 'Burnie' the blacksmith.  

All coal miners were exempt from military service under the 'Bevan Boy' scheme, so David was not called to do his national service at age 18.  Instead he volunteered and was accepted for the RAF where he learned to fly and at age 81, he still has a current pilot's license.

David Armstrong (left) and Clive Dalton

If you have any information about Hareshaw pit, I would be delighted to hear from you.  It's very important that all information is deposited at the Bellingham Heritage Centre for future long-term protection and safe keeping.

July 18, 2015

Northumbrian poetry - Meeting at the Mart

By Donald Clegg and Clive Dalton
Where livestock are sold at a market or 'mart' anywhere in the world, it's not just a venue for the trading of livestock.  A major function of the mart is for farmers to meet and discuss the problems of the day - even if they are not buying or selling stock themselves. 

Their reason (or excuse) for going to the mart is to 'check on the trade' - and to complain if prices are low, but make sure they are not heard to be too positive if they are high in case some great natural disaster is waiting to fall upon them! 

The mart is a legitimate opportunity to get off the farm, and is regularly viewed by farmers' wives and partners as a  'male creche', to leave the men folk while the ladies go shopping. The women know that the males will not have strayed far from the mart on their return.  If they are not at the mart, they are guaranteed to be in one of the local pubs!
 Lawrence Dagg (Hott farm, left) and Brian Anderson (Brieredge)
Photo by Helen Brown 2004
The above photo was snapped at the last sheep sales at Bellingham mart on 10th October 2004 and it stimulated the authors into a bit of Northumbrian dialect verse from memories of their past days working on North Tyne and Rede farms.

Noo Wattie, what’s yor fettle, Aa’m keepin’ weel mesell
Apart from pains an’ belly wark Aa’m sorvivin’, truth to tell.
What think ye of the stock in heor, thor’s sum Aa wadn’t touch,
Wi’ shot mooth an’ wi brocky fyace, five pund is ower much.

Aye Jock thor bad, there is nee doot,  Aa’ve nivvor seen yowes warse.
Lean as craas wi’ pooky jaas an’ aal wi’ daggy arse.
In this pen heor, just tek a keek, thor’s not yen meks the grade.
Aa’m sorry if Aa upset folk, but Aa'll caal a spade a spade.

Whey nivvor heed man Wattie, yor entitled to yor say,
But howld a bit and think on, afore we gan away.
Hev a look and just stand back, an’ give yorsell a minute
Afore ye oppen up yor gob an’ plant yor big foot in it.
Te find fault and te criticise is often varry fine
But check thor lug marks an’ thor bust
An ye’ll see them yowes is mine!

The lambin'

Clive Dalton

Huw’s the lambin ganin Jack
Mine’s nowt grate see far,
Deed lambs, kebbed yowes and gay few twins
An the inbye’s a foot deep in glaur.

And that tup Aa got frae Lanark
Was just a gud lookin nowt,
His lambs gye-necked and undershot
An Aa paid enuff for him Aa thowt.

Thor’s nee decent growth on the in-bye haughs
And the Northern’s bagged feed’s ower deor,
Aa’m feared that the milk’ll gan off the yowes
We snaa forecast Aa heaor.

An the best o’ the hoggs are gay middlin te poor
Aa’ll flookeed with big pokey jaas,
Sair skittad an’all with dags right ower thor backs
An te the feel thor aall lean as craas.

An the lambin man’s dun a quick flit by the moon
Taen off wi the byre-man’s dowta,
She’s a canny lass an’all and just left the school
Wi  some brains in hor heed ye’d of thowta.

Me owld collie bitch just laid doon an’ deid
So am hevin te work the young pup,
Mind Aa keep him at hand on a gay short hemp rope
Till Norman’s bus has gone up.

Nuw Av ruined the nebs on me Simonside beuts
Burying yowes in holes of hard clay,
So Aa’ll need te catch Norman’s bus the morn’s morn
And a new pair‘ll tek a month’s pay.

But Aa knaa that Am gitten ower owld te farm
And Aa need te spend mare time in the hoose,
But te leave the farm to the eldest son
Am teld is the warst kind of child abuse!


May 25, 2015

New Zealand sheep breeding. The search for improved fertility.

By Dr Clive Dalton

Sheep as land developers
Up to the 1960s, New Zealand sheep played a vital tool in converting native bush to productive pasture, so performance levels and especially fertility were not considered major issues.  The national ‘lambing percentage (number of lambs docked/100 ewes to the ram) was around 90%, and if a farmer got 100% then it was pleasing.  One good single lamb weaned per ewe was very satisfactory.

Things changed drastically in the 1970s when pressure came on to increase flock numbers, along with the drive to improve individual sheep performance and especially the national lambing percentage.  There was no shortage of proposals from scientists and farmers alike at the time.

NFRS and Sheeplan
The first was to boost stud flock performance through the National Flock Recording Scheme (NFRS) started in 1967 by MAF and guided by Professor Al Rae and his students at Massey College.  This was updated into Sheeplan in 1972, again by MAF and with plenty of input from stud breeders and breed associations.

As a scientist at the MAF Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station at the time, I acted as Technical Coordinator for Sheeplan to get all interested parties together, and update the scheme which was greatly helped by the arrival of the government’s first big IBM mainframe computer at Trentham in Wellington. The computer was used to process farmers’ data, which was only a small part of the other government requirements for the machine.

Sheeplan’s main feature was the development of Breeding Values and Selection Indexes for farmers sheep which they had never had before, and explaining all the new information was handled by MAF’s Farm Advisory Officers (Animal Husbandry) and Sheep and Beef Officers who serviced the country from each local MAF office.

Whatawhata breed comparison trial
My main role at Whatawhata was to run our breed comparison trial as the Coopworth and Perendale breeds had multiplied rapidly by the 1970s and their enthusiast promoters were making great claims, but there were no data on the breeds’ performance compared with the standard Romney bred on hard hill country. 

We were careful to start off with ‘good’ samples of 200 ewes of each breed approved by each breed organisations, and from then on the flocks were self replacing from their progeny reared at Whatawhata.  This was a vital feature of the trial, which didn’t happen in other breed comparison trials.

Fertility in many flocks
In terms of improving fertility, there was a lot going on at the time but looking back now, some of it didn’t get the publicity is deserved.  Some did but others did not.

The Wallace Ruakura Fertility Flock
Dr Lyn Wallace was a foundation scientist at the Ruakura research station and started selecting and using twin rams for a number of generations in a small flock of Romneys.

Great progress was shown and the overall fertility of the flock was a highlight of Ruakura’s work, which was highlighted at Open Days and conferences.  Neil Clarke carried on the work when Dr Wallace became MAF’s Research Division director, and then it was terminated as other projects claimed higher priority.  But the Wallace flock fertility genes were not offered nationally, and rams only went to a few interested local breeders, so had no real impact on the national flock.

The Raglan Ward flock
This was a flock of Romneys at Ruapuke near Raglan run by the Ward sisters. Like the Ruakura Wallace flock, they had run a closed flock for many sheep generations by only using their own twin rams, and clearly they had isolated a ‘big gene’ for fertility. 

At Whatawhata, the director Dr Doug Lang and scientist Graeme Hight got some rams from the Wards to use in the Whatawhata high fertility flock established in the 1970s from twinning two-tooths identified and purchased from the Lands and Survey Department at Waihora block near Taupo.  Contact with the Wards was not continued although the performance of the sheep was greatly recognised by the Whatawhata scientists.

The Waihora Lands and Survey flock
This was a large exercise started by Whatawhata staff who were allowed to go through the lambing paddocks at the Waihora block and catch and tag two tooths that had produced a good set of twins.  Of those still present at weaning, then 200 were purchased by MAF to start a high fertility line at Whatawhata.

Lands and Survey took up the concept to breed rams for themselves and it grew into a major business as Lands and Survey eventually became the State Owned Enterprise (SOE) of Landcorp. This exercise was one of the largest ‘Group Breeding’ schemes in the country where over 100,000 ewes were screened each season.

Group Breeding Schemes (GBS)
In these schemes a group of breeders (both stud and commercial) identified two tooth ewes under ‘easy care’ shepherding conditions that reared good lambs to weaning.  These were then sent to a central flock where they were mated to the top rams bred in the nucleus, and the next tier of top rams were returned to the contributing flocks at an agreed ratio of usually one ram for four contributed ewes.

These schemes had made spectacular progress in all-round sheep performance for commercial environments, and especially in fertility, and they produced sheep that farmers knew how to manage and which fitted in with market demands.

The Invermay fertility flock
In the 1970s, scientists at the Invermay Research Station near Dunedin led by Dr Jock Allison asked farmers to donate any old ewes that had consistently weaned a minimum of three sets of twins.  Breed didn’t matter and some amazing ewes were found which went on under Dr George Davis at Invermay to eventually isolate some major genes for fertility.  Farmers were delighted to donate their ewes and the project had great potential and at very little cost.  Sadly a business manager cancelled the project and the flock was culled.

The Booroola Merino
We included a flock of merino ewes in our breed comparison trial at Whatawhata but they were a spectacular failure because of the wet conditions.  My director Dr Doug Lang managed to get two Booroola rams from Dr Helen Newton-Turner at CSIRO in Australia but by the time they arrived, our Merinos were on the way out.  Two farmer brothers on the Booroola property in Australia had selected twins for generations and had clearly isolated a major gene for fertility.

So we gave the rams to Dr Jock Allison at Invermay research station to be used on their high country merinos at Tara Hills, and from there they got on to local farms such as Haldon Station in the McKenzie country where they made a major contribution to improving fertility.

Conclusion from these flocks
The conclusion was very clear.  There was plenty fertility genes in New Zealand in the 1970s to drive the revolution needed in the national flock, and the strong point was that these were in breeds that New Zealand farmers knew how to manage, and that produced wool the market accepted. 

But this conclusion seemed to have no major impact on the scientists who then urged MAF bureaucrats and politicians to consider importing sheep from UK and Europe.  The main argument put forward for importing new breeds was that the exercise would produce faster results.


Purebred Finnish Landrace

By the 1970s sheep researchers around the world had discovered the Finnish Landrace sheep, which produced ‘litters’ of lambs with many individuals producing in excess of quads.  These genes were seen as a guaranteed and rapid way to improve the national lambing percentage through crossbreeding.

In New Zealand, scientists at the Ruakura Research Centre’s Genetics Section led by Dr Alan Carter were most enthusiastic for an importation of new breeds, and especially the Finn. So they lobbied government over a long period, backed by their MAF Research Division colleagues. 
But Carter’s proposal was not supported by the then Director of Animal Health, Scotsman Dr George Adlam due to his concern over the risk of importing the slow virus disease called Scrapie with the sheep. His concerns were also strongly supported by Professor Neil Bruere of Massey University’s vet school.

But Carter never gave up and when Adlam retired, along with other bureaucrat changes in MAF, an importation of live sheep from UK (Finnish Landrace, East Friesian, Oxford Down and German White Headed Mutton or Oldenburg) was organised to arrive in 1972, and it certainly created both interest and concern from the different interested parties. All the scientists involved were certainly excited about the scientific papers that this work would produce, and farmer interest and benefits from it.

The sheep arrived into maximum quarantine on Soames Island in Wellington harbour, and then as they multiplied moved to Mana Island near Wellington, with their progeny then moving to Lands and Survey block at Crater near Rotorua.  Sadly a Finn ewe developed scrapie on Mana so the all the sheep were slaughtered and the land (Mana and Crater) banned from running sheep ever again.

A second importation of Finns along with Oxford Downs and Texels was imported as frozen embryos and semen in 1990 and successfully completed quarantine via Somes island and Hopuhopu farm near Huntly and were released to farmers though a joint MAF and farmer investor company called Sheepac.

Fertility of the Finn F1

Purebred Finnish Landrace
There’s no doubt that the Finn caused a spectacular increase in the national lambing percentage, especially in the first cross, which was attributed to hybrid vigour. The F1 was just the average of both parents so if you mated a Finn with 300% lambing to the 90% Romney – the average of 195% lambs born looked like hybrid vigour (positive heterosis) which it was not.

Unintended consequences
Looking back now at the contribution of the Finn, there were some clear unintended consequences which the enthusiasts at the time seem slow to admit now.

1.     As litter size increased, lamb birth weight decreased which led to higher lamb mortality, especially under the NZ traditional system of ‘easy care’ management.
2.     Rearing extra lambs (triplets and quads) removed from the ewe was never economic because of the price of milk replacer and the labour involved. 
3.     These smaller lambs from large litters were slow to grow and hence were on the farm for longer adding extra cost in animal health, crutching, shearing, fly control and dipping.
4.     The wool of the Finn added no great advantage to the national wool clip. Some enthusiasts claimed the extra lustre was of value and the wool trade didn’t agree.
5.     The carcass characteristics of the Finn added nothing of merit to the export meat market.

One noted Cambridge Coopworth breeder (Edward Dinger) who purchased Finns from Sheepac to incorporate into his flock, as the Coopworth Society officially allowed adding up to a quarter of Finn genes, now says that it was the worst decision he ever made, due to most of the points made above.

Where is the Finn now?
Finn genes can now only be found in composite breeds with a quarter Finn being the most you will find.  The wool trade never welcomed them, although enthusiasts at the start claimed that the extra lustre could be a good feature for some markets. It didn’t turn out that way.

It’s impossible to work out the overall cost-benefit of importing the Finn, as no account has been taken of the cost of both the 1970 and 1990 exotic sheep importations with the Finn being a major driver for both. 

Sheepac directors are adamant that they as a company made money, but this again is invalid, as they didn’t have to pay the importation costs.  The taxpayer paid!  Sheepac only bought the sheep off MAF and sold them, and MAF would have had no idea about the cost.

As one of my former colleagues said – nobody worried then or subsequently about the cost of the importations’, as ‘it wasn’t real money’!  It was taxpayers’ money!

May 13, 2015

New Zealand sheep farming. Missing sheep – where do they go?

By Dr Clive Dalton

How many of these sheep will disappear without explanation?
Accurate records
The first requirement of any researcher is to make sure that all records are accurate, so the resulting conclusions can stand peer review and are reliable for when the outcomes are used in practice. 

Breed comparison trial
From 1972 to the early 1980s when I ran the breed comparison trial at the MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station, looking at mainly Romney, Coopworth and Perendale breeds, I got very frustrated over the regular problem of sheep we had on the records from birth,  then just disappeared over time from the farm. 

Tallies never tallied
Our tallies never fully tallied over the year, and nobody could work out why.  It was particularly vexing because the farm was fully fenced, and there was no scrub on the grazed areas for sheep to hide.  It was standard practice as our technicians and stockmen had to bring the tags into the office of all dead sheep they found so the records could be updated.  We had a foolproof system - so we thought!

The problem I suspected was not unique to us at the Whatawhata research station. I was sure that other research stations had problems too, but we never discussed them as we were all very competitive and didn’t like to admit failure - and inaccurate records were certainly a failure.

Massey University research
So I was most interested to read recently that a team of veterinarians at Massey University were going to research the problem of ‘wastage in sheep flocks’, and were taking detailed records in a few fully recorded flocks to find out why sheep died, and how big the wastage problem was.  But what caught my eye in particular was that they had already found that sheep just went missing and could not be accounted for.

Dobbie–Dalton survey
What got me into trouble at Whatawhata was because I started to talk about the problem, and soon realised that it was one of those ‘don’t mention the war’ issues, and you never raised the problem openly. So I enlisted the help of my MAF colleague John Dobbie to collect some data, as he had spent many years as a Farm Advisory Officer in the MAF Hamilton office specialising in sheep and wool, so he knew what went on in the North Island hill country really.

A few local farmers  were willing to talk to us about the problem and give us their honest tallies of sheep losses they couldn't explain, and it was clear that if you had 3% disappearance you could rejoice, but when it got to 5% and even up to 9% on some farms, you kept very quiet and when asked, you always quoted 2-3%!  In Scotland it’s called ‘the black loss’, and you can’t imagine many Scottish shepherds saying much about their unexplained losses and giving anyone their tallies!

Table of data from survey

Possible reasons
We used to go around in circles suggesting possible reasons why we had sheep that were never seen again after their last recording. All ewes were weighed pre-mating, pre-lambing, and at weaning.  Lambs were weighed at birth, weaning and monthly after weaning up to June (7 weights on each lamb/hogget).

Our biggest Whatawhata loss was in weaned lambs from December into the New Year until about March, and among the breeds, the Perendales were the best at turning up at each muster.  The reasons for this were never worked out.

Everybody had a theory for missing sheep which ranged from misread tags, fly blown deaths, escaping through the boundary fence into the bush, and poor mustering which straggle musters never proved to be true.  Rustling came up as the final suggestion, but we could never find proof which would satisfy the police.

MAF Head office auditors
Things got so bad at one time that auditors in suits arrived from MAF Head Office in Wellington with new gumboots to count all the sheep on the station.  The technicians and shepherds thought this was a huge joke to have to muster the sheep, and I’m sure they just ran the same sheep around the yards for the auditors to keep counting.

Multi-million dollar loss
Then things heated up and I was called  to the carpet of the Director of Ag Research at Ruakura (Dr Lyn Wallace) because of the cover of the NZ Journal of Agriculture for February 1972.  I think Gordon McLauchlan was editor at the time.

The designer made a clever picture of sheep fading away into the distance, with the heading ‘Missing sheep - a multimillion dollar loss’.  If you put any sort of value on sheep, the problem certainly was a massive loss for the industry because of the large size of the national sheep flock at the time.
Unfortunately the article was published when Prime Minister Muldoon’s Sheep Retention Scheme was at its zenith – so we were blamed for inferring that farmers were collecting money for phantom sheep. Maybe they were, and there was always plenty of comment that it did go on.

Shepherds’ solution
But in my private inquiries, I learned of a way to successfully hide the problem used by shepherds at the Lands and Survey Department to keep their Field Officers off their backs.  They simply fudged the docking tallies (their first accurate tally) by keeping extra lamb numbers up their sleeves, to be drip-fed into the tallies later on in the season.   

This was an effective way to cover up lambs that simply disappeared without trace after weaning and the reasons could not be explained. Under  Lands and Survey management, shepherds had to tally sheep every time they were moved from paddock to paddock so there was regular monitoring for audit purposes.

There was no conclusion - and I have no doubt that the problem remains today.  Our missing sheep must have left the planet without trace!  I wish the Massey team better luck than we had at researching the issue.

Further reading
DOBBIE, J L; DALTON, D. C. (1972).  Missing sheep - a multimillion dollar loss.
NZ Journal of Agriculture, 124(2):19-20.

April 21, 2015

Northumberland history. War memorial - Falstone (North Tyne)

By Geoffrey Dagg, Donald Clegg and Clive Dalton

1914-18 and 1939-45 war memorial
Today’s small village of Falstone at the top of the North Tyne valley and at the foot of the Kielder dam, was a much larger and busier place before the 1914-18 war than it is today.

Photos of the local school  before 1914 show over 50 pupils, and these numbers of young folk would grow up to work on local farms and estates, go into domestic service and work in the local coal mines, quarries and maintaining the roads in their part of the valley.

The Forestry Commission was not fully in business till much later with the first trees being planted on Smale around 1926.

So when the call went out in 1914 for young men to fight for King and Country, there would be no shortage of volunteers from the Falstone Parish to join what promised to be a great and short-lived adventure, and be ‘home by Christmas’!

Sadly 28 volunteers left and did not return, and after making the ultimate sacrifice were buried in foreign soil rather than in their quiet Border valley.

Nine young men gave their lives in the 1939-45 conflict, when conscription was the order of the day.

1914-1918 fallen
These would probably all be volunteers

Archibald Bell
John Dodd
James Armstrong Elliot
Richard E Harrison
Christopher Inglis
William Little
Matthew Robson
Walter E Sisterson
Thomas Welsh

William Armstrong
George Davidson
Christopher Elliott
Thomas Forster
George Hymers
James Jobling
Roger Robson Potts
John James Rome
David Steele
James Wylie

Frank Armstrong
John Darcy
Walter Dodd
Robert Newton Familton
James Hymers
David Jackson
William Moscrop
David Rolfe
Frank Steele

1939-45 fallen
It's not clear who of these were conscripts and who were volunteers.

Andrew Fletcher
Hector Inglis
Alex Philip Weir
John Lambert Bird

Thomas George Grimwood
Edward Fiddler
James Telfer Cowan
Raymond Terry

Stone masons who made the memorial. 
Beattie and Company of Carlisle

Request for information - The authors would greatly appreciate any information on the lives of these brave men before they went to war.

Grint, A.I. (2011)  In Silent Fortitude. The memory of the men of the North Tyne valley who fell in the Great War.   Ergo Press.  ISBN 978-0-9557510-9-7.