April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 11. Importing exotic sheep breeds

Second MAF importation 1984
Background to importation
Summary of events

By Dr Clive Dalton

Background to second importation 1984
After the disaster of the first importation in 1972, you would have thought that the graves on Mana and Crater would still have been fresh enough in the minds of members of the Maximum Security Quarantine Advisory Committee (MSQAC) ,to kill any thought of having another go at bringing in more sheep in 1984. 

But the pressure persisted from the boffins at Ruakura Genetics that New Zealand’s sheep were still in dire need of new genes for fertility and meat, and that we especially needed the Texel as a terminal sire and which was missed out on last time.

And in the 12-year interval, new faces were in the bureaucratic upper layers, and reproduction technology has advanced a lot. Results from artificial insemination to help speed up genetic gains had also improved.

Picture of 1978 burial hole at Crater for 5192 sheep.
Photo by Ken Seecombe

To the delight of most in the Research Division, Sam Jamieson had retired by this time and George Adlam had taken over as Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO). 

The Director of Agricultural Research in Wellington was the late Dr John Hutton who made his name in dairy cow nutrition at Ruakura.  John had a very acute brain but (in my view) was no sheep man, and I know what little he thought of us wild hill country sheep scientists at Whatawhata from his regular caustic sniping.  He specialised in this art!

For some unknown reason, Hutton and Adlam hit it off (some suggested it was a mutual appreciation of a good malt), and the two of them ended up touring Scandinavia to discover that Denmark and Finland were free of Scrapie - the main problem in importing live sheep from UK and Ireland where the disease was endemic. This was convincing enough evidence to speed up plans for a second importation.

Peter O'Hara. Photo by Words and Pictures
Adlam retired in early 1984 and Dr Peter O’Hara took over as CVO and was in charge for the first couple of years of the quarantine programme.  Peter then moved up to become Assistant Director General of Agriculture so inherited the big challenge of finally marketing the imported sheep's offspring though a company called Sheepac (see later blogs).

So in 1984 the show was on the road again, but this time there was one major difference – no live sheep were allowed to arrive on our shores.  All the new genetics would come frozen as embryos and semen.

Summary of events
  • Importation date: 1984.
  • Breeds: Finnish Landrace, Texel, and Oxford Down.
  • Embryos collected in Denmark and Finland by NZ team.
  • Mode of import:  Frozen embryos and semen.  
  •  ET done on Somes Island into Romney ewes in April and May 1985 and 1986.  
  • Lambing on Somes – two crops of purebred progeny.
  • Purebred progeny moved from Somes to secondary quarantine at Hopuhopu farm near Ngaruawahia.  
  •  ET work continued with purebreds and top crossing with purebred rams  to produce crossbred offspring from both Romney and Coopworth ewes. 
  •  Release date for purebreds and crosses via Sheepac: 1990   

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