February 5, 2014

No 3. Sheep Performance Recording in New Zealand. History - Sheeplan development

By Dr Clive Dalton

Dalton involvement
In 1972, I was a scientist at the MAF Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station, having started work there after arrival from UK in 1968. Because of my involvement with sheep, and with the permission of my Station Director Dr D.R. Lang and MAF Research Director Dr L.R Wallace, I was asked (directed) to help with the revision of the old National Flock Recording Scheme into what became ‘Sheeplan’. 

I invented the title of ‘Sheeplan Technical Co-ordinator, and Mrs Clare Callow who was a MAF Farm Advisory Officer (Animal Husbandry) in Hamilton was co-opted to the role of Technical Liaison Officer.  The titles at least sounded important!  Photo below at 1978 Ruakura Farmers' Conference.

Sheeplan - what had to be done?
My job was fairly simple - I thought, and wouldn’t take up too much of my research time.  That was a wrong conclusion!

I remember my first meeting in Wellington Head Office with John Hercus, MAF Director Farm Advisory Service to discuss what needed to be done, and who would be the best people on his staff to approach to get things done. John outlined the ‘goals and objectives’ (which were not the same!), and how I would have to find ‘the critical path’ through them.

Management By Objectives
I wasn’t up with this jargon, which I later learned had oozed from a programme called ‘Management By Objectives’ or MBO.  This had arrived in the public service from somewhere (probably the USA), and was spreading like rabbits in the high country. Farm Advisors had to go on a course, and some who went on more than one became tutors to keep the torment going.

I had to remember in the public service not to approach staff without the approval of their bosses – as rank was important for salary.  I fell foul once or twice, as regardless of MAF rank, those of us working on Sheeplan were all mates and many staff probably forgot to tell their bosses what they were doing.  I got an earful once or twice and complaints were made to my Whatawhata Director who thought it was a great joke!

So I didn’t waste time sorting out my goals and objectives and looking for a critical path, and soon worked out who were the enthusiastic and dedicated ‘doers’ who wanted to get things moving.  This involved both MAF and University staff who willingly gave up time and priority (without extra pay), to help sheep breeders in the new Sheeplan. After all, we were all ‘Public Servants’ in the true sense of the word, and at that time had not been confused or contaminated by the commercial ethic.  Things took off like a rocket and our MAF bureaucrats were running to keep up the support we needed.

The fixers
There were some amazing helpful office staff – true public servants of the old school.  On so many occasions I remember going to seniour MAF office admin people wanting something or other, and finding out that it wasn’t possible because of some regulation or other over approved suppliers. 

I would register my frustration laced with a few well-chosen expletives and, waited for the all familiar – ‘But hang on a minute – there is a way around this’!  Our support staff at Ruakura, and in the MAF Hamilton office was masters of the art.  A favourite memory when I went to Alex Taylor, Admin Manager in the Hamilton office, wanting to get some light rain jackets in MAF green made in Frankton for our staff so they could be seen at Field Days when we were handing out AgLinks by the hundred.

 Alex checked and found that jackets were classed as ‘clothing,’ so were tied into a special purchasing contract and would have cost the earth from the approved supplier. But Alex was ex NZ Navy and was a master at circumventing reefs, and soon found that ‘fabric’ was not on the list.  So the Works Order said ‘fabric’ and we got them made in Frankton. 

No wheels came off, and I made sure all was sweet by presenting the Director General (Malcolm Cameron) with a jacket, and taking his photo wearing one, sucking on his Sherlock Holmes pipe outside our MAF building, when he visited us at the National Fieldays in Hamilton.

In my Sheeplan role, I realised very early on that in all my dealings with MAF field staff and their bosses, Head Office bureaucrats, and especially breed society members, that the approach I needed was of a quiet, strong-eyed heading dog and not a big noisy huntaway.

The academics - Dry:  Peren:  Rae:  Coop
Without a doubt, a great deal of the drive for sheep improvement in New Zealand came out of Massey and Lincoln colleges, as they were, before gaining University status.  At Massey Geoffrey Peren (later knighted) started crossbreeding work with the Cheviot x Romney for hard hill country, leading to the Perendale breed. I don’t think he would be very popular with Romney breeders at the time for ‘mongrelising’ their breed with the Cheviot!

Then Prof Al Rae became the leading light in teaching the new science of ‘population genetics’, which followed Dr ‘Daddy’ Dry’s ‘Mendelian genetics’ which was all that was known before that.
 (Google my blog for more on FWH Dry and the Drysdale sheep) .

This photo is one I took of 'Daddy' when he visited us at Whatawhata to inspect our Drysdale rams.  He must have been well into his 80s at that time.

Prof Ian Coop at Lincoln was stronger on sheep nutrition that genetics, but he made a great contribution to sheep breeding with the first Border Leicester x Romney trials, which led to a national change in attitude in breeding and the formation of the Coopworth breed, which caused a massive shakeup in sheep breeding for high production.

By the time I was involved with Sheeplan, most MAF staff had been taught by Rae at Massey, so they had a great understanding of how the theoretical principles of genetics could be applied in sheep yards and woolsheds, so farmers could benefit in financial terms.

This drive to improve the genetics of sheep in New Zealand never happened anywhere else in the world, and certainly not in UK which I knew well.  Rae and Coop should have been knighted for their contributions to sheep research and consequently the New Zealand economy.

 Wellington meetings
The Dominion Farmers' Institute Building

Opened in 1920 with money from Wellington Business man Leigh Hunt as a wartime tribute to the pastoral industries.  Hunt’s idea was for the building to provide both office and conference facilities for farming organisations such as the Department of Agriculture, Board of Agriculture, Farmer’s Union and the Royal Agricultural Society.  

The top floor was intended to be a hotel for farmers to stay when in Wellington.  

 During the WWII wool was stored on some of the floors and wool sales were held in the conference room.

 The building was the Head Office of the Department of Agriculture and then the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Only the original facade  was kept in a major refurbishment.  It suffered earthquake damage in 2013.

The building also housed the Reserve Bank.  I had the hilarious confirmation of this, as when you  went through the rat runs from one part of the building to the other, you passed a single-stand urinal, clearly built for the Governor's exclusive  use.  It was clearly not for him to share his ablution needs with his lowly staff!

 It was a work of art at the top of three steps, all quality English glazed tiles that wrapped around you as you stood there - presumably for a few minutes peace contemplating the exchange rate! I used it frequently on my Wellington visits - more for the historical significance than the need. Sadly I didn't take its photo.

Photo shows the foundation stone laid by Prime Minister W.F. Massey in 1917.  Photo: Mark Dalton.

Hamilton to Wellington flights  

The amazing Focker Friendship

My many flights to and from Hamilton to Wellington for Sheeplan meetings in the old Dominion Farmers’ Building (with the stuffed moa and the stone blade shearer in the lobby) were memorable - for many forgettable reasons. 
As a non-smoker, it was impossible in meetings to get agreement to open a window to let in some fresh air to survive the fug.  The participants never seemed to run out of fags, and when they did they just cadged from each other.  Carter and Wallace were the masters at this and their second hand smoke was never seen as a hazard in those days.

I loved the old moa, and was thrilled to learn that it was recently up for sale and had found a new home.  At a low point when MAF was suffering tectonic changes because the new ‘business’ era had arrived, millions of dollars must have been spent on the ‘new image’ and Head Office spawned a ‘Change Management’ section which seemed to breed like feral cats.  Nobody outside of Wellington (and probably inside too) didn’t know what they did!  We had PR companies brought in to redesign stationery and also the old ‘A’ logo with the fish inside which was brilliant. It had been designed in-house by one of our MAF artists at minimal cost, unlike the rubbish that followed it. 

Need for an 'image'
In frustration, I once suggested that the old moa would make a great logo for the new ‘change management’ commercial era about to swallow us up – it was something that was both extinct and stuffed, which is where I suggested we could end up as far as farmers were concerned in our new commercial role!  My suggestion didn’t go down well but history has yet to prove me wrong!

Many meetings flowed over two days, with the prospect of staying in the ‘government approved’ Wellington hotels claimable on expenses.  At least when you were wakened at 6.30am by a lady with a fag hanging from her lip coming into your room (shared of course) with a cup of tea asking – ‘Sugar love’?  If you mumbled  ‘No thanks’, her reply was always – ‘Well don’t stir it’!

The near-by Public Service building was another venue we used, and had great views of the harbour and airport. This was useful as from mid afternoon you could scan the horizon and listen for plane engines to predict what your chances were of getting home that night.

Friday meetings
Friday meetings, for some unknown reason were beloved by Wellington bureaucrats and were a major worry, especially in winter as when fogged in you could be stuck in Wellington for the weekend unless you could face the train journey north taking all day Saturday. My South Island colleague, the late Bruce Binnie from Timaru, was often stuck in Wellington for the whole weekend and could only get home on Monday!   That really must have been the pits for him and his family.

The delays in leaving Wellington because of ‘weather’ and ‘servicing requirements’ were legend, sitting on hard chairs in the ‘airport lounge’ (what a joke!), watching the sparrows flitting from girder to girder up in the corrugated iron roof and topdressing the passengers, before they enjoyed the thrill of a Focker Friendship wind-assisted liftoff. I don’t remember a Coro Club, and in any case at my rank, membership would not have been allowed.

Who was to be in charge?
It was declared that the officers of the Ministry of Agriculture would be the custodians of Sheeplan in the field. These were Farm Advisory Officers (Animal Husbandry) who had degrees, and Sheep and Wool Instructors who had diplomas. Then Sheep and Beef officers were invented to cover all the needs of NFRS/Sheeplan as well as Beefplan.

 Alan Marshall tells he remembers the trips to Massey for two weeks of theoretical population genetics with a bit of obligatory stats thrown in.  He says that ‘Prof Rae had to use all his wisdom and ability getting it down to the basics for practically orientated guys like us, and it must have been a challenge that he never thought he’d have to face.  He must have seen a lot of glazed-over faces at times but this didn’t faze him’.

The 34 who attended stayed at Linton military camp and Alan Marshall remembers the ‘after-lecture antics are another book’.  He hits the nail on the head when he says – ‘all I had to do was to put it into my own words and get people enthused, encouraged and supported’.  That really was the goal of all our MAF field staff – and they were the best in the world at that.

Massey short course
 Lindsay Galloway explained to me how the Sheep and Wool Officers had to do a short course at Massey (34 in total) with Prof Rae to get updated on the finer points of population genetics in relation to Sheeplan and Beefplan. 

John Dobbie
At the end of the course they had to submit a short assignment, which John Dobbie remembers was on how you would use what you had learned on the course in your area.  Lindsay said I had marked his and he got an A+ which peeved off some of his mates. The marks were supposed to be confidential but they were leaked by error in true modern form!

Lindsay seems to remember them being called ‘Animal Breeding Officers’ in their new guise, but SBO was probably their official status as far as pay went.  Their expertise in wool was certainly needed in their new role, and was widely called upon by others who had not been through Massey or Lincoln’s wool department.

These MAF staff were asked to examine the LITAC report with breeders and their clients in view, and Mrs Callow was given the job to act as Liaison Officer in this very large and complex exercise to make sure Sheeplan never lost focus on serving the sheep farmers of New Zealand.

Farmers' conferences
MAF field staff were all involved in publicizing and promoting Sheeplan, and they were experts at the challenge.  We used to think of ways to make the talks memorable, as it was easy for tired farmers to nod off in a warm room, especially after lunch.

For the Beef and Sheep Farmers day on the Tuesday of the main Ruakura Week, it was my turn and at our MAF Information Services workshop at Dey Street in Hamilton which I managed, I got the boys to make a cutout of the weird looking sheep that we chose as a logo for Sheeplan. It was based on a wild merino, as we didn't want to insult any official breed - or breeder!

I made a trolley for it to stand on, and got a mate hiding behind the curtains at the side of the Farmers' Hall stage to pull it on with a fishing line at the appropriate moment.  It has no testicles at this time, but another mate hiding at the other side of the stage pulled his line, and the rams testicles swung down to reveal the letters BVIx - his Breeding Value and Index.

 My son Mark had fun with it afterwards playing at being a budding shepherd!  I wonder where it went?  Some folk still remember the ram act but not what my talk was about.

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