February 5, 2014

No 8. Sheep Performance Recording in New Zealand. History - Information and extension

By Dr Clive Dalton
Promotion and extension

AgLink information
As part of the overall promotion of Sheeplan, MAF Information Services in Wellington, directed by Geoff Moss, produced a series of information sheets called ‘Aglink’. Here's Geoff's comments:

'In the HO library I came across a Canadian commercial publication which impressed me as in it the recommendations were so practical. That sparked the idea of  producing  simple practical  sheets written by people who understood the needs of farmers and not by scientists to justify their   research . When I was in America I tried out this concept with Professor Hadley Read and his Ag. Communication staff at Illinois University, and they thought it a great concept so after I came home I set up AgLink employing Colin Gardner who had just returned from working in Australia and was looking for work. He wrote the first few AgLinks but he took a very long time about it.

 Photo shows Colin Gardner (at left), former Sheep and Wool Officer who was recruited to Infomation Services in Head Office to start working on Agink. Colin wrote the first AgLink which came out on yellow paper and was the start of the information revolution as far as MAF was concerned.

 On the left is Ian McDonald, our brilliant Head Office  Admin officer who kept the office side of Sheeplan running like clockwork.  He had great rapport with farmers and all of us technical boffins.

AgLink was a great medium for us to publish Sheeplan and sheep recording information, and I was a liaison between the writer with the information, helping them prepare their first draft, and then getting photos and graphics sorted, and our MAF Head Office editorial staff. There must have been 4-5 in Wellington who all had a great understanding of farmers’ needs. When hot off the press, the finished job was sent out to MAF offices in the various districts

Pauline Hunt, our Ruakura graphic artist made a massive contribution to AgLinks, in the days when the stencil, Indian ink and Letraset were the main tools of trade.  I was co-author on many AgLinks which was great fun.

There must have been over a 1000 AgLinks at one time on a wide range of subjects, and thankfully the National Library got a complete set before they were all dumped under the heading of ‘commercial progress’, when some bureaucrat decided we needed to charge 50c each for them.   I was told that it took $2.50 to process an invoice and I never worked out how a farmer could easily send 50c to our Head Office accounts section.  Farmers gave up on AgLink as a result.

Here are some of the AgLink titles used to promote Sheeplan:
  • Identifying and tagging lambs at birth.
  • Identifying lambing ewes without having to catch them using neck tags.
  • Accurate identification of multiple lambs at birth. 
  • Marking multiple lambs at birth to ensure correct mothering.
  • Recording fleece weight from tagged ewes.
  • Recording fleece weight of non-tagged ewes. 
  • Recording live weight of sheep. 
  • Using check lists to avoid duplication when tagging
 WE also had an excellent series of AgLinks on woolsheds by MAF Sheep and Beef officer in Christchurch Lindsay Galloway.  These are still relevant and a copy is on my blog .

MAF had veterinarians in each district and I kept chasing them to help out with titles covering the diseases of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry which were common at the time.  I often wondered what our Head Office chief AgLink editor (Barbara Greenfield) thought when we sent down the drafts on ‘Pizzle Rot’ and ‘Scrotal Mange’!

Ruakura conferences – Home and Away
The annual Ruakura Farmers’ Week in June consisted of a conference for dairy farmers on the Monday, the for beef and sheep farmers on the Tuesday, and on the Wednesday buses took farmers around a series of stands at various points of Ruakura where the scientists and technicians would describe what was going on.  On the Thursday, our Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station was open and we used to get around 1000 farmers risk their lives going up and down our twisty track to the yards where we had our stalls.

The Ruakura bosses must have decided that for farmers who couldn’t get to ‘Farmers’ Week’, that we’d better take a mini conference to them, and a group of us used to take off to various places to carry the good word. I remember being in a carload with Dr Pat Joyce covering animal nutrition, Dr Bill Saunders talking about fertilisers, Peter Mortimer on Facial Eczema and me about Sheeplan and animal breeding.  The local farm advisors who were fantastic folk and new every farmer in their patch guided us around.

Memorable venues were the Kaiwaka Farmers’ Conference in Northland, and the Wairoa Farmers’ Conference.  One of my talks in the Kaiwaka Hall was disrupted by a confused starling flying around in the rafters – and it actually crapped on Harry Mowbray the local FAO, not once but twice.  This was more memorable than the finer points of my explanation of Sheeplan Indexes.

The Massey Sheepfarmers’ Conference in the old theatre in Palmerston North was the other top venue for us to present papers on Sheeplan, where Prof Rae and Bob Barton from Massey were regular keynote speakers. They were both popular speakers at farmers’ gatherings the length of New Zealand, Al being a quiet non-confrontational person and Bob loving a dig at meat companies and breed societies.

Al Rae once told me at one sheep farmers meeting about a very frustrated breeder who stood up at the back of the hall (where stirrers always sit) and his question was this:

‘Mr Chairman – I’d like to ask the Professor how come, that after I’ve been on his recording scheme for over three years now, that still half my rams are below average.  I would have expected Mr chairman, that if the Professor’s predictions had been right, all the rams should have been above average by now.’

Al being such a gentleman was never known to put a farmer down, and always thanked him for his question, providing an answer that always made a questioner feel good for raising ‘such an important issue’.

Flock and  Herd magazine

Number 1, October 1980
So many ideas kept flowing in that our MAF Information Division produced a quarterly booklet called ‘Flock & Herd’. Clare Rumble was editor and she had great sheep knowledge apart from editorial skills, because her father was a noted Perendale stud breeder.  I sent Clare material; photos and diagrams I got from our field and research staff, and the publication went for a good few years.

But the wheels nearly came off at the start, as the long-established ‘New Zealand Farmer’ magazine didn’t like the idea of MAF competing with the commercial publishing world, and not only that, making their publications free!  I well remember a ‘crisis meeting’ in Head Office with Boyd Wilson the then editor, informing us that our job as information gatherers was to ‘dress the bride and bring her to the church door’ – then leave her for others to complete the ceremony, which was the job of commercial magazines like the NZ Farmer.   

 Well, we held out and completed the wedding and enjoyed the reception!  Sheep breeders really valued the magazine, even if the news media were never happy.

 The National Fieldays at Mystery Creek

MAF had its own wooden building, on the Fieldays site.  It was 'acquired' from somewhere with Alex Taylor's admin skills, and erected by members of they Young Farmers Club that MAF provided with some admin services in those days.

MAF had a Display Unit with full workshop facilities in Dey Street in Hamilton which was run from Head Office Information Services under Geoff Moss, and I had the job of being local 'manager.  David Walmsley was our very talented display artist, Ian Taylor our technician who got things made, and Glen Hatwell was our full-time photographer.

We made a feature of promoting Sheeplan at every opportunity.  Picture shows display material being assembled at the MAF Display Unit in Hamilton for a Sheeplan promotion at the National Fieldays.

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