April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 21. Importing exotic sheep breeds

Animal Enterprises importation 1986
Live animals imported
Finn, Texel, East Friesian, Gotland Pelt, White Headed Marsh
Quarantine facilities
Business details

By Dr Clive Dalton

Animal Enterprises (AE) importation
 Early in 1986 the livestock exporting company Animal Enterprises (AE) took what was described by Dr Jock Allison as ‘a very bold step’ of importing a plane load of live sheep of three main breeds - Finnish Landrace, Texel and East Friesian from about 70% of the same genetic sources in Denmark as MAF did for their second importation using frozen embryos and semen.

Information obtained from paper presented by Dr Jock Allison to NZ Institute of Primary Industry Management, December 2006

AE also brought in a few Gotland Pelt sheep and a few German White Headed Marsh sheep which were available, and somebody must have decided that they also looked like a good prospect for New Zealand. The ‘Marsh’ was not the same breed as the German White Headed ‘Mutton’ or Oldenburg, which came in the first MAF importation, and ended up in a large pit on Mana Island.
Dr Neil Clarke says they were both basically the same breed.
 Photo:  German White Headed Marsh.  Photo: Internet

 The total importation was made up of 301 ewes and 43 rams which on arrival went into a quarantine facility in the old stock yards of the closed down Southdown Freezing works in south Auckland.

Why were live sheep allowed in?
After all the effort that went into MAFTech’s second importation in 1984 to bring in frozen embryos and semen, the obvious question is why then did the Chief Veterinary Officer and the Maximum Security Quarantine Advisory Committee (MSQAC) approve the importation of live sheep again.  
 Had the rules changed in just two years while all the work of multiplying the MAF imported sheep was in full swing?
Dr Peter O'Hara.  Photo: Words and Pictures
I put this question to Dr Peter O’Hara who was CVO at the time, and he said that there were some practical problems in doing embryo recovery in Denmark and Sweden, not the least of which was the disquiet of the owners of the sheep that surgery was being done on them, as they were considered to be more pets than livestock!  
Given the quarantine protocol and facilities that were developed for an AE importation, MAF and MSQAC let AE bring the donors to New Zealand as live animals, provided they were all slaughtered at the end of the quarantine period.

Breeds and quarantine venue
Gotland Pelt.  Photo: Internet
The potential of the Finns, Texels and East Friesians to New Zealand was obvious, but many people wondered why New Zealand needed the Gotland Pelt?  Apparently at the time,  there was a very lucrative woolly pelt market, particularly for coloured ones.  Somebody must have had a vivid imagination!

The White Headed Marsh was very similar to the old Romney so could have had some value – if you stretched your imagination far enough!

At Southdown the ewes lived on dry concentrate rations and bedded on sawdust without sunshine or pasture. They lambed in February and March 1986, having been mated in the Northern hemisphere autumn in October. The company decided that it would not be possible to re-mate the ewes naturally in the 1986 year, but Jock Allison designed a very successful hormone regime for them, from which more than two thirds of the ewes lambed at 160% lambing.

But MAF bureaucratic protocols were not sheep friendly, and stated that the imported ewes had to end their days at Southdown in that alien environment, where only embryos could be collected for ET work at ‘another location’.  An island location was suggested, where the derived progeny would stay till the end of the 5 years minimal quarantine in February1991.

Business changes 

Dr Jock Allison resigned from MAF in 1968 to join AE, and three MAF technical staff followed him. Grant Shackell was one of them and especially skilled at ET work. 
Jock’s first main challenge was to persuade MAF to be more practical and cooperative, and agree to a secondary quarantine area that was suitable for sheep.  Jock says there were complaints from industry and even the NZ Veterinary Association, none of which were based on logic, and fortunately MAF stuck to their guns.

 Dr Jock Allison. Photo: Otago Daily Times

 Jock Allison said that in 1987 a newly listed company Cashmere Pacific agreed to purchase AE for an attractive price, but with the share market crash of that year, the company literally disappeared.  Fortunately for the company, the NZ Dairy Board (NZDB) took over AE, and the sheep importation project was renamed LambXL.  They appointed a General Manager (Mike Harman) and a Board of Directors.

With NZDB in control, their AI station at Awahuri near Palmerston North was the obvious site for a primary quarantine and ET facility with a secondary one on a farm near Cheltenham. 

Jock reported some wonderful tales of MAF bureaucratic nitpicking with their vets from Palmerston North who had a supervisory role of the station. 

Dr Robin Tervit said he helped with the ET work at Awahuri for LambXL after his employment by a company called Genestock collapsed.  Genestock was in the cattle embryo transfer business.

Photos: Dr Deric Charlton

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