August 18, 2014

Agricultural history in New Zealand. Herd testers. Tony and Marion Wrench.

By Dr Clive Dalton
Interviewed August 2004

Tony Wrench grew up in Worcestershire in England where he lived on a farm and was always interested in Jersey cows.  He used to write to the New Zealand Jersey Association and they’ send him information and photos which fed his  appetite for the breed.

Then he saw an advertisement in the Farmers Weekly newspaper for jobs in New Zealand working as herd testers. 

RMS Atlantis (photo from Internet)

The job was advertised as working 25 days per month with good pay and travel to New Zealand provided.  So after applying and being accepted for a job, Tony came to New Zealand on the Atlantis in March 1950 when he was 22 years old.
  About another dozen young men with farming backgrounds came on the same ship and Tony had very vivid memories of their arrival in Wellington.  

 He like other potential employees travelled up to Frankton junction by overnight train, and then proceeded to the offices of the Auckland Herd Improvement Association to be addressed by the manager Mr Selwyn Sheaf.

Back to Ohura
But then, immediately after this, Tony was on the train again going back down the line to Ohura in the King Country, to live and work with Doug Watts for six weeks while he learned what New Zealand dairy farming was all about, and how herd testing was part of it. Following this, Tony went to Claudelands in Hamilton for two weeks practical herd testing training.

Tony stayed in the Ohura area for two years and he had kept a letter from Selwyn Sheaf offering him a job in the Waikato with pay of ten pounds, one shilling and three pence per week and a truck provided to do his work.  This was a great improvement as at Ohura he had a Clydesdale horse called Phil and a cart with all his gear on board.  He was sad to leave the Ohura community as he had made many friends.

 The process of herd testing was first to arrive at the farm with all the gear in good time to meet the farmer and set up to test the evening milking.   Then was the job of settling in to stay the night to test the following morning’s milk before going on to the next farm on his circuit.  

Tony Wrench getting help to transfer milk into bucket for weighing. Note the walk-through milking bails. 

Some of the cows were branded but most had a name which had to be entered on the shed book. Tony remembered visiting a Maori farmer in Kennedy’s bay who named his cows from Greek mythology. Tony tested on a round of 27 herds and tested one each day a month.

The routine was for milk from each cow to be put in a test bucket, which was then lifted on to a spring balance and weighed. After that a sample was taken from it before the bucket was tipped into the vat.  The fat content was worked with the Gerber test where milk and sulphuric acid were mixed in a special tube, and after centrifuging; the fat content could be read off.  The herd testing offices were then in Wesley Chambers in Victoria street in Hamilton.

Like all herd testers, Tony said that his herd testing visits were valued greatly by the farmer and family for social reasons, as land was still in the early development stage in Ohura with bush being cleared. Hospitality was good and with no TV, chat and cards were the order of the evenings.

When Tony first started work, cowsheds were four double-up walk-through sheds, but by 1954, the herringbone shed had taking over almost completely. 

The  Auckland Herd Improvement head office

Office staff at the Hamilton LIA head office in London street
Tony met his wife Marion who worked on handling all the herd records in the Auckland Herd Improvement Association office in London Street.  They got married in 1954.  Les Jane was involved with Selwyn Sheaf in managing the herd testing programme in the region.

Tony said that Artificial Breeding (AB) was racing ahead as herd testing progressed, as herd testing was the means by which good cows were identified to be mated to top bulls to produce even better bulls for farmers through AB.

Marion Wrench’s early life was spent with her father working at the dairy factory at Turua near Thames before moving to Hamilton. After she left school at Hamilton Tech she went to work in the Herd Improvement Offices, and she remembers when the office moved from Wesley Chambers in Victoria Street in Hamilton to the new offices in London Street.

There were 50-60 people – mainly women, who worked there with Mrs Baker and Mrs Yates in charge. Marion said they could be tough but generally not too bad! A major bit of progress was when Arthur Ward introduced accounting machines and adapted them to help calculate fat percentage.  These were Burroughs calculating machines which were well advanced for the time.

Marion remembers having fun with other young members of the staff who had parties in the staff room from time to time. They even had an annual trip to Waihi beach.  

The herd testers’ ball held on July 31st was the highlight of each year before the herd testing season started in earnest.  It was always held in the Peachgrove CAC hall.

You can see from the photo below that herd testers certainly enjoyed each other's company when they could get together before the start of the next season.

The late Tony Wrench ended up working at the LIC headquarters at Newstead in the AB equipment store before his retirement.

No comments:

Post a Comment