August 27, 2014

Agricultural history in New Zealand. Herd testers. Peter Copeman

By Dr Clive Dalton

Peter Copeman
Peter Copeman was born in Chichester and moved to Mellor to Basingstoke, Watford, Briston and then Mellor near Blackburn in Lancashire before he was 11 years old. He had been a member of the Air Training Corps since he was 13 so opted for the RAF when he was called to do his national service from 1956-58.
 He always had an interest in farming, especially the technical side, and to further this he did a National Diploma in Agriculture at the Lancashire County Institute of Agriculture at Winmarleigh in 1961.  He realised that he needed more practical experience, so  thought that going overseas for a  few years would improve his CV.  

Advert in Farmers Weekly
While working for as a fill-in job at the grocers Wm Tattersall and Son in Blackburn, he was offered a job at the UK Grasslands Research Institute at Hurley in Berkshire.  But  he saw an advert in the British Farmers Weekly for herd testing jobs in New Zealand, which seemed a better opportunity to advance his farming prospects.

SS Remuera
So after making application and having the necessary interviews at Preston, and being provided with all the information for immigrants intending to work on New Zealand farms, medical checks were completed before Peter packed his entire worldly goods into two holdalls and headed for Tilbury docks to board the NZ Shipping Company SS Remuera on 1 June 1962, on its maiden voyage to New Zealand.  It wasn't much of a maiden as she'd previously been the P and O vessel RMS Parthia, and later the SS Aramac, so had quite a maritime history. She sailed via Curacao, Panama city, through the Canal and then Papeete, arriving in Wellington 4 July 1962.

Twenty five pound Pom
Peter  was a ‘Twenty five pound Pom’ (he still has the payment receipt), bonded for two years, with the proviso that if they left farming, they had to repay their travel costs to the New Zealand government. 

Peter and the other prospective herd testers who arrived on the same boat, then headed for the railway station to board the ‘limited overnighter’ arriving at Frankton Junction at 6am, and after being met, they were directed to the offices of the Auckland Herd Improvement Association office in London street for the standard briefing that all herd testers got from Ken Stone and the manger Selwyn Sheaf.

Peter remembers that in Ken Stone's briefing comments, he said he was aware that there was a trend in the UK for young men to sport beards, but as yet this hadn't spread to NZ and was quite frankly to be discouraged among herd testing staff.
Te Kowhai area 
Peter was allocated a testing round of 26 herds at Te Kowhai for his first year in 1962-63, with mainly Jersey cows, and only one Herringbone shed. 
 As his mode of transport, he was allocated a horse and cart with rubber wheels which he expected, as he’d read in the blurb, words to the effect that - ‘only the Auckland Association use horse drawn transport to any extent’.   
 This didn’t make sense to Peter, as it was a bigger area than all the others put together.

The photo shows  Peter Copeman at McBride's farm in Te Kowhai with his horse called 'Dick' and McBride's dog called 'Mac'.  Peter got Dick (a failed pacer) from trainer Kelvin Primmer in Te Rapa, and on his first mission to McBride's farm, Dick's speed and lack of consideration for all the gear in the cart (including Sulphuric acid) gave Peter a mighty scare.  Dick was even used to carry Santa to the Te Kowhai Christmas party one year.

1936 Vauxhall car
But then after January in his second year (1963), Peter was able to buy a 1936 Vauxhall car and trailer from David Roberts who had been the previous herd tester at Te Kowhai.  Peter was then able to exchange this in for an A70 truck purchased from Adrian Naish who had been the relieving herd tester in the area, who along with Charlie Linewebber acted as relieving testers and dealt with any problems – that’s when Peter said Charlie’s attention could be prized away from ‘Best Bets’!

Like all herd testers, the routine was standard, arriving at the farm for the afternoon milking, weighing and taking a milk sample, which was added to the morning milk’s sample, before the 30ml of milk was mixed with 70ml of Sulphuric acid and 2-3ml of amyl alcohol before the two dozen were placed on the rack to be centrifuged and the fat level read up the stem of the butyrometer tube.

Peter remembers quite a few characters on his round, one lady who always cooked curried sausages for his visit.  One month she had changed the menu and at Peter’s protest, as he really looked forward to them, she realised her menu had been rather routine so he never got them again.

He had been warned about a single pedigree Jersey herd owner whose standard fare for the herd tester was ‘rat traps’ which were bacon and cheese on toast.  Peter said these were all right, but he was so concerned about the hygiene that he always cooked tea at that farm.   Peter said that from the meals provided, you could always work on what was on special at the local store.

 He also said that occasionally in his area, you could sense a sort of Pommie class distinction between herd owners, especially if they were pedigree breeders and share milkers who were further down the pecking order.

Peter said that it was accepted that after a few years, Pommie herd testers would end up marrying a farmer’s daughter – which he did!  They were offered the farm but as it was 40 pedigree cows on 60 acres, it was never going to be viable for the future of dairying in New Zealand.  He tried really hard, even visiting the Minister of Agriculture (Doug Carter) at the time who had gone to school with his father in law - but to no avail.

While herd testing, having the radio on during milking was standard practice, and he heard ad advert for the State Services Commission for government jobs. 

Job at Ruakura 
He went into the office in Garden Place in Hamilton to find there were no jobs in the area he was interested in, which was at the Ruakura Animal Research Centre.  While there he heard the official phone Gordon Douglas at Ruakura, so the next day Peter went to Ruakura and found Gordon – who happened to have a job when Don McKay at Number 1 dairy had just vacated.

Peter was interviewed by Peter Floyd the chief technician at Number 4 dairy, and he was in business, working with the world famous scientist, Doug Phillips whose research, along with that of Dr Watty Whittlestone, revolutionised milking the world over.

No. 1 Dairy, Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre, Circa 1966

L-R: Gerry Phizackerlea, Emoni Navatoga, John Crabbe 
Fijian students
Peter remembers that every two years we had the two top students from a Methodist Mission farm in Fiji come to Ruakura to work in one of the dairies.  One year there was a hitch in the transport arrangements and we had four of them on station at the same time, needless to say they played an important part in the Ruakura rugby team and we almost had an all black back line.

Peter was at Ruakura working on dairy issues from 1964 till his full-time retirement in 2003 from Dexel which was the organisation that took over dairy research from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and then he finally retired after part-time work at Dexel in 2006.
So Peter never went farming on his own account, but his son and family are dairy farming in Taranaki.  Peter’s meticulous skills in attention to detail, allowed him to make a very significant contribution to dairy research at Ruakura.  

Photo shows Peter helping in his son's herd with a herd test.  Note the milk meters which revolutionised sample collection.  Peter is putting the sample pottles from each meter in box to send off for testing.  The herd has 225 cows and is milked in a 30-aside herringbone.
Peter's memoribilia
Peter's pay slips sent to him c/o the Te Kowhai herd testing convener Alison Hodgson

Peter's baggage list on the Remuera

Annual records of herds tested in each district sent to every herd tester


Peter Copeman

Herds 1963-64

No. Cows
J H Biddick
River Rd, Horsham Downs
G T Bond
Powells Rd, Taupiri
R E Brown
Old Taupiri Rd, Hopu Hopu
L Dent
River Rd, Ngaruawahia
A L Dyson
Driver Rd, Taupiri
W D Dyson
 Gt. South Rd, Taupiri
L G Kelly
Old Taupiri Rd, Ngaruawahia
 W P Lovell
Gordonton Rd, Taupiri
W P Moore
Orini Rd, Taupiri
M F Redman
Gordonton Rd, Taupiri
P W H Weake
Warings Rd, Taupiri
N G King
River Rd, Ngaruawahia
Alternate months- Te Puea Farms
L W Pinny
Onion Rd, Te Kowhai
Aroha Farms Ltd
Te Kowhai Rd, Te Rapa
Ralph Sutton
W B & Mrs E O Pinkerton
Gt. South Rd, Te Rapa
Pukete Farms
Gt. South Rd, Te Rapa
Doug & Cedric Holmes, Don McKay – testing officers
D C Jull
Gt. South Rd, Te Rapa
Alternate months - David
I W Croad
Horotiu Rd, Te Kowhai
J E Dean
Ngaruawahai Rd, Te Kowhai
W H & Mrs M I Elms
Onion Rd, Te Rapa
Taffy & Ivy
J Lee Hodgson & Sons
Bedford Rd, Te Kowhai
J H Mead
Bedford Rd, Te Kowhai
D J Couch
Jackson St, Ngaruawahia
Alternate months – Doug
R T Moore
Bedford Rd, Te Kowhai
IC White & AG Stock
Clark Rd, Ngaruawahia
Ivy & Alan


This shows a 'walk-through' shed.  The bail on the left has a single milking machine to milk two cows, one on each side, and the next bail on the right is a 'double up' where each cow has a milking machine machine. The cows exit via the wooden door at the front, opened by a long handle behind the cow. 

Photo probably taken by  Peter Druce in one of his herds in the Ngahinepouri area.

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