February 28, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history – sheep breeding on the Chatham Islands

Dr Clive Dalton

Looking north across the harbour and bay
The Chatham Islands are 800 km east of Christchurch and cover a total of 966 square km, almost all of which is in the two main islands.  There are 10 islands in the archipelago. Farming has always been important but it has always been a challenge due to the rugged climate, lack of infrastructure, and massive extra costs of getting stock to and from the islands.

In 1968 the Director of the Advisory Division of the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Russell Scott, asked Sheep and Beef Officer, Lindsay Galloway to travel to the islands to assess the following options:

 Production standards – lambing percentage, wool weight and style, and lamb slaughter weights.
·      Wool preparation and handling standards and shearing standards.
·      Stocking rates.
·      Stocking rates
·      Animal health and sheep and cattle condition.
·      General farm practices relating to livestock.
·      Farm building standards

Production levels
The old woolshed on the south coast looking west

This is what Lindsay found: 

Stocking rates far too high for the country and farming methods.
·      Animal health was very poor with bad lice infestation and poor drenching policies.
·      Large numbers of wethers farmed only for wool.
·      Not enough ewes to maintain a viable flock and allow for any culling.
·      Lambing percentage – 65% lambs docked with 20% lamb deaths in normal seasons.
·      Lamb killing weights – very few lambs made killing weight by weaning (17.5kg).
·      Sheep body well below standard to achieve good profits.
·      Fleece weights – 3.5-4kg.
·      Shearing, wool preparation and classing of low standard.
·      Farm buildings in poor state of repair.
·      Ram imports – NZ stud breeders provided poor quality sires at high prices. Half the rams died before 5 years of age due to climate and lack of care.
·      Cattle in very poor condition and local bulls used a great deal.

MAF's Galloway goals
 These are the initial goals set by Lindsay – and they were achieved.
·      Increase lambing percentage to 120% on better farms and 110% for others.
·      Achieve 80-90% calving rate.
·      Increase lamb killing weights by at least 5kg
·      Achieve fleece weight of 5kg/head on better farms.
·      Achieve NZ farm standards for animal health.
·      Raise wool preparation standards to market requirements.

How was this done?
1. A sheep Group Breeding Scheme was formed.  An elite flock of 800 top young Romney ewes was selected from the flocks of four top Chatham stud sheep farmers supported by Island Federated Farmers. Ewes were recorded on Sheeplan with data entered vetted by Lindsay before processing.  The scheme worked successfully for 20 years with Lindsay’s involvement in October and February each year, to select replacement ewes and attend the Island ram fairs.

 Lindsay also started to run courses for both ram breeders about the basic principles of marketing - and they were very successful. It was strong on defining clients' needs, arranging appointment, preparing a ram sales budget, explanation of Sheeplan records, closing the sale - and much more.  The picture shows the cover of the manual Lindsay produced. There was a charge for the course.

2. The 70 Chatham and Pitt Island farmers were encouraged to move from farming wethers to running ewes to increase lamb returns and provide more scope to select better 2th ewe replacements, and use terminal sire breeds on the poorer ewes allowing more prime lambs for sale.  This work proceeded under Lindsay’s guidance for the next 25 years.

3. As disposal of stock on the Island was the major problem in the 1970/80s, it was essential that the local meat works stay open against political intentions to close it.  Lindsay lobbied hard and the works stayed open until an alternative was found in the form of better shipping to the mainland.

4. Negotiated with the NZ Wool Board to make a shearing instructor available to him who for10 years ran shearing and wool handling courses with some owners of bigger properties gaining their own wool classer certificates. On Lindsay’s first visit he took Godfrey Bowen and they set up the Chatham Island Shearing and Wool Handling Championships, which continues.

5. Sheep breeds.  After the Island Romney sheep population had been set on the improvement road, Coopworths were introduced to improve fertility, and then Texel and Suffolk was used to lift carcass weight.  There were major improvements in wool quality by removal of face cover (which improved mobility) and hairy britch.
Rams bred by Doug Linauzes being mustered for inspection by Lindsay before sale.

  6. Cattle breeds.  Improve the quality of bulls used on the Island by selecting bulls from mainland herds with high performance records. Angus and Hereford were the breeds best suited to the environment.

7. Animal health.  Over the 1960-70s, representatives from the pharmaceutical company M.S.D. introduced programmes to control lice and worms in sheep which were the main problems.

8. Farm infrastructure. Lindsay arranged for experts in fencing, water reticulation and design of sheep and cattle yards to visit the Island.  Lindsay himself was a recognised authority in design of woolsheds and sheep yards. MAF eventually appointed Sam Henry as a full-time Farm Advisory Officer on the Chathams.

9. Bees and horticulture. Through MAF, Lindsay arranged for many visits to the Island by apiarists to set up bee colonies around the Islands.  Similar arrangements were made for horticulture specialists to visit to develop production of vegetables and trees.

10. Farm business management.  It was important that the changes to farming systems on the Chathams resulted in solid economic returns and Lindsay arranged for regular seminars by MAF economists and tax specialists.

11.  Farm training.  Lindsay saw that education was vital for the agricultural future of the Islands and encouraged and arranged for interested farmers’ sons and daughters to attend courses at Telford Agriculture Centre and MAF’s Flock House Farm Training Centre at Bulls. Some went on to graduate from Lincoln College.

Royal Honour
For his services to agriculture and especially to the Chatham Islands from 1968-2010, Lindsay Galloway was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM). Lindsay continued providing technical support to Chatham farmers at no charge for ten years after his official retirement from MAF.

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