November 21, 2008

Lands & Survey: 3. Sheep & cattle breeding in New Zealand

History of NZ Lands & Survey Department Angus & Romney breeding schemes - Part 3

By Dr Clive Dalton & Dr Doug Lang

Dreams versus reality
Alf Tinkham was Superintendent of Land Development for the Rotorua district of L&S at that time, ably supported by Lloyd Bedford. Alf was nearing retirement after many years of loyal service, and as Doug Lang remembers, he gave a very frank description of what he though of the idea of forming a nucleus of twinning ewes to breed rams.

However, after a long and heated discussion, he yielded a bit and turned the project over to Lloyd Bedford who could see the advantages of the scheme to L&S, along with providing the few sheep Whatawhata wanted for their research. Doug and Graeme were delighted that their idea was accepted, but it was a case of "you can have the twinning sheep if you can catch 'em!" Note that the Directors of Ag Research at Ruakura were kept in the dark on this developing project. Doug & Graeme needed to be further down the track – and catching their sheep they wanted was the challenge.

Catch 'em
The challenge of catching sheep in the paddock was up to the technicians at Whatawhata to make it work. The Whatawhata team was led by Chief Technician, Jock Clayton (and his steady bitch Maid), and with two other shepherds they started in the flocks of two-tooths in the blocks around Waihora. The paddocks were big and the two-tooths flighty, as they were not used to close shepherding as in research flocks where men and dogs didn’t bother them. The days were long, the dogs tired, and it was not exactly tropical with the wind off the mountain. Their healthy look was caused by wind burn and not sun tan.

To their credit, by September 1967, they had managed to catch and mark 840 two-tooths which were then run on the Waihora block to form the nucleus of the future breeding scheme. Whatawhata took an initial 40 or so sheep, and were allowed to take further supplies in future years.

The aquisiton of the ewes for Whatawhata was covered by a MAF “Research Project Proposal” so Dr Wallace did know of our antics, but only as far as what went on in our own patch on the station. These ewes, with all the twin lambs at foot were a sight to see on the Raglan hills as they were so different to the local-bred sheep.

Seen the twins at Waihora?
The twinning two-tooths from the blocks around Waihora were all gathered up into one “nucleus flock” which had a massive visual impact on a lot of people, especially office-bound L&S sceptics and carefully chosen farmers. To see all these two-tooths mothering and rearing their twins so well, made them realise that they had greatly underestimated what could be achieved on developing country if you had the selection potential.

The whole concept of "screening" was accepted with a vengeance because they were looking at commercial L&S sheep, bred and produced on the newly-developed pumice country. We pointed out that they were their sheep - and they were "blardy good ones at that". We knew we were starting to win when many folk asked, why hadn't this been done before?

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