November 21, 2008

Lands & Survey: 8. Sheep & cattle breeding in New Zealand

History of NZ Lands & Survey Department Angus & Romney breeding schemes - Part 8

By Dr Clive Dalton & Dr Doug Lang

Looking back
By the late 1970s the show was on the road and nothing could stop it. More than that - it had now gained international recognition. However, some local breeders were still not keen to visit. They had decided the whole idea was rubbish, you could not breed decent sires from unregistered stock and that government departments should not be doing genuine stud breeders out of business. So why bother to go and see what was going on?

Dr Wallace always enjoyed baiting Graeme Hight about the scheme, knowing full well he would get a spirited response. The head of genetics at Ruakura, Dr Alan Carter, was never very enthusiastic about the scheme as it didn't meet his high scientific standards. He argued that we could truly prove progress was being made in either the cattle or sheep scheme without an unselected random “control” flock and herd. Alan had a good point and his Angus selection lines at Waikeria did have an unselected control herd. This was fixed up later in the Waihora cattle project with Alan's help.

Dr Leyden Baker comments
Leyden was a geneticist at Ruakura with Alan Carter and he provides this valuable comment:

'You stated that Alan Carter did not fully support the Waihora scheme because it lacked scientific rigour - which was probably correct. But you also stated that he wanted a control line included which is only partly true. His original cattle selection experiments at Waikeria never included a random-bred control line, but tried to estimate genetic gain using a bull repeat-mating system. Once BLUP was fully developed (which was not in those days) this is not too bad an approach. However Alan random-bred control lines because he said they took up too many resources.

'I arrived at Ruakura in 1971 at the stage when Alan was designing the cattle selection lines at Waikeria and I suggested that a random bred control line should be included and had to convince both Alan Carter and Eric Gibson that this was important and useful.

'I was helped by a visit at this time by Helen Newton Turner from Australia who had included random bred control lines in her CSIRO sheep selection experiments. I also had to convince Roger Bedford of L&S of the importance of random bred control lines and the hassle of using 12 bulls in the control line each mating!'

The lobbying of Duncan McIntyre
Duncan McIntyre as Minster of Lands had to face enormous lobbying from both Romney and Angus Breeders about the Department breeding its own sires. Political genetics was taken to the very top.

As progress and momentum grew, it was decided to hold the first public auction of rams at Kakaho. L&S “settlers” who had won a L&S block in a ballot were first allowed to buy rams, before sales were open to the public (see earlier blogs).

The ram sale - some came to buy, many to watch

The President of the Romney Breed Association was so incensed at the prospect of a public sale that he went to Duncan MacIntyre threatening to resign from the National Party and taking the whole board with him if the sale was not canceled. The sale went ahead.

But then some members of the Romney Council came up with tactic of buying rams (which indeed they did), to take home to compare with their own sheep, to show how genetically inferior the Waihora rams were. One member said he would do the country a service by buying a ram to take home to feed to the dogs! He definitely bought one but whether the dogs enjoyed it we never found out.

The technical advisor to the NZ Angus Association (Mr Jack Evans) didn't miss the opportunity to make his concerns felt. At one stage, relationships improved as breeders saw the value of the progeny test information coming out of the L&S scheme which could not be generated in small stud herds. This realisation didn't seem to last for long and was worsened when semen from Waihora bulls was offered for sale.

Over and out!
It was both a pleasure and a relief for me (Clive Dalton) when a young, newly qualified student from Massey University called Geoff Nicoll joined the scheme. We handed the entire technical end of the cattle scheme over to Geoff, who later took on the sheep scheme as well.

Geoff then moved from MAF to the new “Landcorp” State Owned Enterprise which became and still is the largest farming operation in New Zealand with taxpayers as the shareholders. It’s future has been in doubt a few times in the past due to political pressures with the urge to sell it all off to commercial farmers. We boffins have always argued that it is a unique genetic resource for the nation and should not be sold off and dispersed after the many years of hard work and undoubted achievement.

It’s future is still in doubt today - you can read my (DCD) opinion on that matter here on Rural if you like.

Doug Lang moved on into farming in 1971 and Graeme Hight had an untimely death at age 41 in 1979, the year Clive moved to the Ruakura Research Centre into scientific liaison work and extension.

For everyone involved, to say it had been an “interesting and challenging” phase in NZ animal breeding would be the understatement of the century. In 2007, forty years after Lang and Hight’s journey up Lake Taupo’s western bays road, Clive Dalton and Doug Lang went to a Waihora Open Day, designed to show farmers and the public what Landcorp were doing with their sheep.

“Landmark” composite rams derived from the Waihora Romney

We two old blokes enjoyed the nostalgic trip down there and thought things looked pretty good. But it was a bit of a shock to hear the chairman in his opening remarks talk about the beginning of the scheme - 40 years ago. We didn’t think we were that old!

Landcorp Ewes and lambs, 2007

No comments:

Post a Comment