April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 3. Importing exotic sheep breeds.

Pressure for importation
Chance of a fast buck
By Dr Clive Dalton

When the pressure came on in the 1970s to import more sheep from UK, the memory of the 1952 Scrapie saga was still sufficiently fresh in the memory of a lot of folk to make them very nervous. 

Dr Sam Jamieson. Photo: National Archives
So t
here was a clear acceptance by all in 1972 that any importation of sheep from UK and Ireland had to be done right first time, which meant massive veterinary control of the exercise. 

At that time, MAF certainly had the right man to oversee this – Sam Jamieson. Sam left his native Scotland for New Zealand at some stage, to become one of the two MAF Wanganui Vets. The Wanganui district included, Ohakune, Taihape, Marton and Flock House, a large area. It boarded on to Hawkes Bay and Taupo. 

He then rose to be Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) and Director of Animal Health in  Wellington Head Office, where he chaired the MSQAC (Maximum Security Quarantine Advisory Committee) set up to oversee all details of sheep importations. 

Sam made no secret of the fact that he was very much against any sheep importation, so consequently many in the Research Division saw him as a nit-picking, pontificating old Scot - or worse! Thankfully for New Zealand he was, as there was much at stake and no room to cut corners just to keep researchers happy. Sam has long gone but his concerns proved to be right.

Dr Neil Bruere of Massey University Vet School was another exotic disease expert very concerned about risks to the sheep industry if Scrapie got back into the country with the imported exotic sheep. 
Many geneticists saw Neil as another stumbling block in the way of sheep importations. 

Emeritus Professor Neil Bruere.
Photo: Words and Pictures

Neil's views against any importations, even from UK flocks with so-called 'Scrapie-free certificates', got a lot of coverage in the farming press at the time which got farmers attention – as in those days there were specialist agricultural journalists and editors of farming papers and journals who understood the risks that disease entry would have to our marketing reputation – and could write informed comment about it.  They did a great job and we’d be struggling to find such like today!

The Director of Agricultural Research at the time was Dr Lindsay Wallace who was one of Ruakura’s most famous scientists on a par with CP McMeekan, so it would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when Jamieson and Wallace were debating the importation proposals and protocols required. 

 Lyn Wallace was one of nature’s gentlemen and always came over as being very informed, and always commanded great respect from those of us on his staff for his logical approach to issues.  He must have won the day with Jamieson as the job went ahead.

Photo Dr L.R. Wallace. 
Photo taken by MAF Ruakura's long-serving photographer, the late Don 'whiskers' McQueen, who worked with equal skill  in both laboratory and field. Don was a legend! Photo AgResearch archives.

Chance of a fast buck
It must also be said that without a doubt, there were more than a few folk at the time with an eye to a fast buck, and who saw these new breeds not just as a boost to sheep production in New Zealand, but as a means of getting in early when supply was short and demand high – building up the hype, and then getting out fast after making a killing before demand and prices dropped.

There was plenty of evidence of this human frailty in New Zealand before and after the exotic sheep saga with the import of other so-called ‘exotic’ cattle breeds from UK, Europe in the late 1960s, the USA and Japan later. 

Add to this list Angora rabbits (pictured), Angora goats for mohair, Boar goats for meat, fitches/ferrets for fur, alpacas and llamas for fibre and as companion animals, and even water buffalo for milk.  

But where are they all now? If they can be found, none of them are part of a thriving export industry.  But at the time – we were all led to believe that they were going to be the ‘bees knees’ in terms of cashing in big time.

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