February 5, 2014

No 6. Sheep Performance Recording in New Zealand. History - Field note books.


By Dr Clive Dalton

The Field Notebook
I have vivid memories of this book, as I took on the job of collating all the suggestions from breeders and MAF staff, for a notebook to record lambing data in the front and room to record weights in the back. 

In the MAF Research Division we thought our ‘lambing book’ produced by the Government Printer was pretty good, so it became the basis of a new ‘Field Notebook’ which Sheeplan users needed.

But you could bet your bottom dollar, that as soon as the Government Printer produced another hundred new-version Sheeplan books, somebody would come up with more suggestions, which I had to take to the Technical Working Group for consideration.  There were plenty ridiculous suggestions too!
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I remember getting so frustrated at one breeders’ meeting that I assured them that the next version would have a pocket inside the back cover to hold a hammer, 20 staples, a spare horse shoe and seven nails, as well as the fencing pliers, wire strainers and a chocolate bar!  I felt a lot better after that, and some may even have believed me!
Perendale stud breeders David and Jean Welch tagging and recording lambs in the yards
Memorable issues: 
  •  Waterproof paper.  Our old MAF lambing books were not waterproof, so we devised all sorts of tricks to write on the paper inside a plastic bag on wet days, then we had a bit of cardboard to rest our wet hand on so the page you were writing on didn’t get soggy.  Ballpoints were useless but even so, there’s a limit to what a pencil can do writing on dung-stained paper pulp.
  •  We always carried a towel around our necks on wet days to dry hands and help save the notebook paper.
  • The top priority was for the new Sheeplan notebook to have waterproof paper, which we learned about from surveyors’ notebooks and from underwater divers use.
  • When the weather was really bad, at Whatawhata we used a bit of white painted hardboard to write on with a pencil which didn’t wash off easily. 
  • Cover colour.  In true government style we made the first books dark government green, which we thought looked good. But it was not until some farmers told us that they’d spent days looking for their book that they’d lost off the bike, that we took Tony Parker’s suggestion to make the darned thing ‘air-sea rescue orange’ – which we did.  
  • Then somebody suggested a different bright colour for every year – avoiding green and again using bright colours. 
  • Recording other data.  Farmers wanted more pages in the back to record other things like fleece weight and hogget liveweight – which we did as the book was so easy to carry around. 
·      So the Field Notebook became the Sheeplan breeders’ Bible, and I remember breeders always bringing theirs with them to meetings, to show us and skite about individual ewes and so on. Coopworth breeders like the late Ron Cocks and Kerry Dunlop were classics, and I think they must have slept with their Field Notebook under their pillow and never let it out of their sight.  Their notebooks were like today’s smartphones.

Tape recorders
It was suggested that to avoid all the hassles of the Field Notebook, and especially in wet conditions, that we should encourage the use of tape recorders in the paddock. Some breeders did this but most of us felt that there were too many risks involved with the recorders available at the time, and we didn’t encourage their use.  It took up more time having to listen to the recording before filling in the master sheets, than reading the data from the book.


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