November 27, 2015

New Zealand farming. Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station 1970. Station photos.

By Dr Clive Dalton

The Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station was purchased by the New Zealand Department of Agriculture (later to be the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) from private oweners when the need was seen  after the second world war by Research leader Dr C.P. McMeekan at the Ruakura Animal Research Station, to have an area of typical North Island hard hill country to investigate the major problems of land development,  pasture production and animal performance.

The farm was purchased in the late 1940s and work started on development in 1950 with the appointment of two key people - Mr Ted Clarke as Superintendent and Mr Joe McLean as Farm Manager.

It was a mammoth task, as the North Island hill country had been initially cleared of bush,  by men (supported by their families) who had been allocated land after the first world war.  Like most of New Zealand hill country, it was left to revert to scrub and gorse by farmers who had to walk off the land due to slumps and lack of capital and technology to maintain what had been developed.

In 1950 when Joe McLean arrived to help his father fence  the major areas, of the station, there was only horse power to pack fencing materials up the hills, and human power to clear fence lines and dig holes by hand.  Fertiliser (superphosphate) was moved by pack horse and spread by hand from a sack carried around the worker's neck.

The 1950s saw the start of a revolution with the development of top dressing from Tiger Moths, the arrival of the Land Rover, tractors and ex-army vehicles for gorse spraying.

I took these photos soon after my arrival at the Station in 1968, when enormous effort was being put into extending the internal fencing to improve grazing control and  to fly on new seed to establish better grasses and clovers.  We used to run a flock of wether sheep to pound the seed into the ground and to eat off rough pasture after cattle had been given first bite.

We scientists led by Superintendent Dr Doug Lang were out there in the summer helping to burn off bracken-fern and gorse.  Joe McLean was still planning fencing, this time dropped by helicopter, laying water supply to each paddock rather than relying on natural creek water which dried up in summer.

New chemical gorse sprays had been developed and a contractor Bill Binder with his ex-army vehicle sprayed went up death-defying slopes and dragged miles of hose through solid beds of man-high gorse.  Bill was permanently pink from the dye put in the spray to show where he had been.

Another one of Joe McLean's great jobs was to plan and supervise the making of the new airstrip and fertiliser bin made by the station engineer Neil Wood.

Further reading
Farrelly, Elizabeth J. (1986).  Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station.  A historical review.  Eljay Enterprises.

View of sheep tracks on Woolshed 1 looking towards office and woolshed

View from Back Range across the Waikato to Hamilton

Long block and Yeomans block

Stock yards from airstrip

Wilson's block

Falls block and Back Range

Falls paddocks

Airstrip and Long block
Cliffs Paddock.  North faces showing erosion caused by goat lying in the sun and digging holes

Back Range

August 13, 2015

Northumberland coal mining history - Hareshaw pit

Clive Dalton

Geology of Northern England
The Northumbrian fells with shallow coal seams underneath.  Photo of Sandy Syke formerly shepherd's cottage near Hareshaw and now a summer cottage for rent. 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 Heritage Centre at Bellingham.  Collier collection.  A Collier collection photo.  The row of stone cottages is in the mid distance - clearly burning pit coal.

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).  
Table below 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 a local character called Ned Jacobson at Hesleyside near Bellingham.  Ned was noted for his occasional trips to 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 conventionally from a vertical shaft which was closed due to flooding.  The pit ponies were drowned in the disaster. 

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 in photo unknown.  Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.

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

Jim Bell
Jim started working at Hareshaw pit aged 14 when he left the Reed's Church of England school in Bellingham.  His family lived in one of the stone cottages at Hareshaw. 

Jim worked at the pit for two years before doing  two years compulsory 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.  He then drove for many years for Hugh Thompson in Bellingham who ran a general transport business.

Photo of Jim Bell by kind permission of David Walmsley, the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.

 Hareshaw pit documents
Many of the documents from the pit when it closed in the early 1950s were deposited in the  Heritage Centre at Bellingham by Jim and the late Dorothy Bell who were foundation members of the Museum.  This covers detailed description of the mine and what it was like to work in it; living at Hareshaw and facets of local life; details of the families who lived there; the school and community hall; and a few reminiscences, especially from Arthur Pick who worked there for ten years

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 from memory 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 the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.

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

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

Hewers (coal diggers)
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 and horses on Hareshaw Head farm)

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

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
? Hymas 

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

Photos of staff

Pit employees of various ranks judging by their dress - names not recorded. This looks like the bank where the tubs were emptied. Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.  Date unknown - c early 1900s?

1916.  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.  

Note the shorts worn by the men underground due to the heat.  Their thick woollen socks were home knit by their wives from wool purchased from Otterburn mill.   Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham. This photo was printed as a post card, presumably for sale to send to friends.

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

One of the wagons to be used for coal delivery in the Bellingham area probably in the early 1900s.  Photo by kind permission of Heritage Centre Bellingham.  The business is in the names of J and EM (Joseph and Edward) Armstrong.
The Hareshaw marketing 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 houses at Hareshaw.  Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.

Family tenants were from left to right: - Matt Hall,  John McClennan, Billy Richardson, .Jack Hutton, George Bell.  By the womens' dresses it looks to be early 1900s.
Five of the miners' houses (above photo) were built of stone and four with wood frame with corrugated iron cladding.  Each house had one main room downstairs used as the living room and
kitchen for cooking.  Hot water came from the 'set pot' heated by the fire on the opposite side to the oven.  On the back of the house, under the long sloping roof was the 'back kitchen' where the stairs went up to the single bedroom.  The washing was done in here in a barrel and poss stick before being put through the mangle. There would be a boxed in area for the coal.  The pantry would be the other half of this area with a door on it.  In some houses there was a loft above the pantry for storing odds and ends.

There was no front door, and the only a door for the house went out from this back kitchen.

 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 village hall was also used as a venue by Bellingham's St Cuthbert's Church of England, and with confirmation classes when preparing children 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 by the Bishop of Newcastle before a spread of local home baking.

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
Special Request
If you have any information about Hareshaw pit, I would be delighted to hear from you.  It's very important that information is deposited at the Heritage Centre in Bellingham for future long-term protection and sourcing for family research by those interested.  Also, the many hard working folk and their families who lived and worked at Hareshaw pit deserve to be remembered.

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!