Angus Breeding – Viv MacFarlane

Joyce Barry: Good evening everyone. Thanks for coming everyone, on a cold night. As you’ll see, the male speaker has turned into another species; her poor husband is laid up low with the flu, and badly. But Viv his wife, is confident to come along tonight to tell us about a hundred years of Angus breeding, which is an admirable thing. A lot of it has beautiful photos to follow. Viv, over to you.

Viv: Thank you. Right. So yes, my husband was going to give this talk and I’ve had very little to do with it, so you’ll just have to forgive me. I’m married to Will, obviously; I’m from the UK, originally – been in New Zealand for thirty years now, though. So anyway, I’ll just give you the story of the MacFarlanes and how they ended up in Raukawa, and how we ended up with a hundred years of Angus cattle.

So – the MacFarlanes originated from Luss on Loch Lomond. They’d traditionally been clergymen for generations, and Will and I actually were lucky enough to go to Luss, and it’s a most beautiful little place, and it’s used often for film sets and movies and it’s really, really nice. And so I think we’ve got a picture of the church as well … thank you, Madelon. And so we were lucky enough to go round the churchyard, and it was full of MacFarlanes. [Chuckle] But you know … a lot of young children in there which … that was really sad; it was obviously really tough for them.

But anyway, so they started off there, but with the Clearances from the English they were then ousted out of that area and they moved to the Isle of Tiree in sort of the mid-1800s. I haven’t been to Tiree but Will’s been, and he said it’s got the most amazing beaches. But it’s full of ragwort, he said, and rabbits – not perfect farming. But anyway, the population in … sort of like the 1880s went up to five thousand five hundred people living there, which was … you know, virtually impossible for these people to make a living. [Showing series of slides] So we’ve got a picture of the family. This was the Manse where the family lived. It was I think probably the only two-storeyed house on the island. So this lady here is really important; this is Granny, Mary Flora McLean, and she was from Duart Castle, and she married the Reverend John MacFarlane and they had – and this is what Will says critically – they had the five boys; here are four of them. So we’ve got John, Willy – this is Will’s grandfather Willy, here – there was [were] five boys, anyway – John, Willy, Dougal, Donald and James. So they most importantly, were first cousins to Donald McLean who took over Maraekakaho Station.

So in about 1885 the boys left the island, just to escape the overcrowding and the poverty and of course the lack of opportunity for them. There was just nothing there for them.

So what’s our next picture? This is the only photograph that Will could find … old photograph … and this here is John MacFarlane; that’s at Maraekakaho. But anyway, so they left the island, and en route Dougal drowned in South Africa; and Donald – he stayed in Sydney in Australia, and he became a doctor of medicine; and John, Willy and Jas [James] all arrived at Maraekakaho, and they were mentored by their illustrious and successful cousin, Sir Donald McLean.

So I’ll just give you a quick outline of what happened when they got to Maraekakaho. Within a short period all three progressed into management positions on the station, with Willy having the highly responsible management of the sheep stud. The sheep stud was located in the same valley where we live now. The big station had to be self-sustaining, so in addition to the sheep stud that supplied breeding rams, they also had cattle, horses, pigs and even a chicken stud. [Laughter]

And the early Scots had a considerable empathy with the Māori people because of the Gaelic language – it’s very similar to Māori. They both shared an innate spirituality. Willy in particular … Will’s grandfather … had a particular close friend with the local chief, and that chief was drowned – lost in a flood in around about 1897, and his body was not found; they couldn’t find the body. And of course this was very important for the Māori people and he came to Willy in a dream and basically said, you know, “Why have you not come to get me?” And Willy said, “Well, we don’t know where you are.” And he said, “But I’m here, in this spot.” And subsequently they found the chief … the body. That led to the naming of our farm Waiterenui – now you must … my pronunciation of Māori is not good, so just bear with that -means ‘big fast water’, which … well, we haven’t got any big fast water on the property, but that is where the name originated from. Anyway, Willy’s brother John went on to call his farm Ben Lomond and James called his Glen Aros – both good Scottish names.

Now the changes in the farming – Will’s just got a little paragraph here about you know, the number of people that were employed, and so we’ve got the employees they had at the time … once they got that nearly established, was two gardeners; a cowman / tractorman – and he milked six cows in a parlour from which they made all their own butter, and the milk and the cheese etcetera; they had two shepherds, a cattle stud manager and a sheep stud manager. The gardeners produced all the vegetables for the station and they also looked after the chooks; and in addition, there was [were] carpenters and fencers on a casual basis, so that at any one time there were six or seven staff.

Now among these were also swagmen – itinerant travellers who would turn up unannounced, with a swag on their back seeking short term work. Some were of dubious character, while others were known to stay twenty years and be valuable staff. Will has a clear childhood memory of ‘Russian Jack’ turning up, coming into the garden and being given his marching orders by Will’s mother, Audrey. There was also another swagman called ‘Sweet Pea’, and he was well-known, but I don’t know anything [chuckle] about him. And it’s extraordinary to think they had all that staff around the property, because now there’s just Will and I, and we’ve got a twenty year old young man, a shepherd, works with us. Back then they were carrying less stock, and of course now we’ve got much more stock. The casualty of course with the lack of staff on the farms, is that the Raukawa School disappeared from the valley. It got to sixty-seven pupils in the seventies, but then closed in the year 2000 when the numbers couldn’t support two teachers.

Anyway, getting back to the history of the farm, Will’s not sure where the money came from – perhaps clergy attracted benefactors, he’s not sure; but all the time Willy acquired various parcels of land through the district, including the land at Hohepa … the land that Hohepa now occupies in Clive; also a house in Waimarama, and two reasonable holdings down Swamp Road, and that was in addition to Waiterenui. The Swamp Road properties and the Waimarama house were only sold in 1988 to settle the family estate after John, Will’s father, and Audrey died. And it’s also likely that Sir Donald McLean had underwritten land purchases as well.

In addition to these investments they were also lenders of money, and it seems pretty amazing that these boys came out – like Will’s grandfather was eighteen, and then he was able to start lending money to people. And so financial accounts from about a hundred years ago have helped – it shows that they helped several people into farming with surprisingly significant mortgages. This is particularly … you know, remarkable in today’s farming environment, you know – we just couldn’t go and lend people money in this day and age.

From 1900 to 1912, Willy and James founded [a] partnership in what is now Waiterenui and Glen Aros, and they called their property Mount Lookout after the big hill behind our house. During this time they’d been short-horn stud breeders; the short-horn was dual purpose and very popular because they stamped their progeny with light-coloured faces that allowed for easy finding in the native bush, so obviously, you know, they go into dense bush and they couldn’t find them.

And Uncle John, the oldest of the brothers, had purchased his Ben Lomond property at Maraekakaho in 1900 and established the Ben Lomond Aberdeen Angus Stud in 1905. It was from here that Willy acquired his first registered Aberdeen Angus females from 1912 to 1915 and the Waiterenui herd came into existence. He then had a massive stroke of luck when the famous Gladbrook herd in Middlemarch came up for sale. Gladbrook was a corporate breeding operation. It was owned by the Murray Roberts Company that had imported elite females from the old country during its forty years of existence, and was the doyen of quality. So Willy was lucky that that came up for sale at the right time. He managed to acquire the top twenty-five lots at the dispersal, and with prudent stockmanship he never looked back and became very successful, The very first female … so this is the first female to win the Royal Show Grand Champion … was ‘Tulip’ of Waiterenui. Previously, the bulls had always taken those honours. And ‘Tulip’ went on to win the same accolade at … would’ve been the Royal Sydney Show in Australia. So she must have been quite some animal.

So – both Uncle John and Willy were instrumental in the formation of the New Zealand Angus Association, which is now called Angus New Zealand. Willy called and chaired the first meeting held in Hastings in October 1917, while Uncle John was elected the first president. It grew to become a large organisation of nearly eight hundred members in the 1960s, and as a sign of the times that figure is down to just a hundred and eighty-two members now, but carrying far more stock. So there’s twenty-five thousand registered females now, versus less than half than [of] that number back then.

So in those days the show ring was the most important marketing activity, with the winner of the championship guaranteed success. Willy was obviously a consummate showman judging by the number of trophies that we’ve got at home; we’ve just got silver cups … just silver cups for miles,[chuckles] and I don’t clean them [laughter] so they’re not on show. [Laughter]

All stock was walked to the showgrounds and back; and we’re sure that many shenanigans resulted from the meetings-up with their mates en route who worked for other studs – notably the Gwavas and Ben Lomond. In those days there was no artificial insemination so stud sires came out from the show ring. So you know, a good bred bull that won the show then became very sought after.

And today we’re looking for genetic improvement using a very data-centric approach, whereas back then it was ‘eye is the master’ and corruption, and … such is short-horn. So they would have a … maybe quite a good bull calf, and they would think, “Oh!” You know … “could be money in this”, so they would put it onto [an] American short-horn mother, and they would leave it on that mother, suckling from that mother, for … sort of … for a year, which you know, sort of … the calf would grow enormous, and then of course would be worth a lot of money. Now, you can’t do that nowadays. Our bulls now, you know, they’re sold as rising two-year olds although we do sell a few yearlings. But you know, back then it was really important to get a yearling calf big and fat. Anyway, by the time we get to the 1960s, the Angus breed was on a slippery slope to oblivion. The importation of American genetics by AI in the 1970s and the 1980s has helped to turn that around.

Willy also had two sheep studs, Lincoln and Romney Marsh, but they were discontinued on his death in 1934; that was when John was just eighteen years old. The sheep in those days were very unproductive animals, but no doubt attractive – full of wool from nose to hock and one hundred percent lambing was considered a top result. Now, you know, we’re looking at double that. And stock were grazed on blocks – the hogget block, the ewe block – there were set stock for long periods of time, and of course nowadays it’s the opposite; we’ve got a systemised approach to growing and utilising grass. There were five haybarns on the property and they were always kept full; there was a huge amount of feeding out went on. And they only had about fifty to eighty stud cows then, whereas now we’ve got three hundred and sixty cows and we only use hay if we’re in a drought, so we have to just utilise our grass. Grain was fuel back then – sort of the modern equivalent to petrol. With barley and oats they could plough fields … you know, feeding the horses; and they could get show cattle up to amazing condition.

The Angus breed has changed shape many times over the years; big in the 1920s, small in the 1950s, and back to big in the ’80s. To achieve production efficiency as a result of AI, the breed is now moderate, but grows to early maturity quickly. Looking at the old photos, it can be seen that the stock has definitely improved.

Now dog trialling was a big sport back with Will’s grandfather in those days; it was really popular. Willy was a consummate trialler and he won many championships, including the national champs and he was very involved in the administration of the Sheepdog Trial Association – that’s what he’s got, and it’s abbreviated – Sheepdog Trial Association. And we recently found a programme from those times, and it was really interesting to read through it and see all the names of the dogs; you know, the same names are being used now as what was used back then. And rifle shooting was also a national sport, and Willy must have been quite a competitor because we’ve got a huge number of trophies for that as well, and for dog trials.

But Willy died unexpectedly in September 1934 when his only child, John, was only eighteen. And in his obituary, Willy was described as “the most enthusiastic farmer the Dominion has ever seen.”

So, the trustees of the estate purchased the top lots from the sale cows, and John took to stud breeding with a passion … so that’s Will’s father. He was a consummate stud breeder as compared to a seed stock breeder today, so he was breeding bulls … big fat bulls … to sell as stud bulls, whereas now we are breeding bulls to supply to the commercial men; so the ordinary beef breeder. So we’re looking to produce an animal that’s going to go out and work for farmers throughout New Zealand, ‘cause they do go to the South Island whereas back then, all he was interested in was breeding stud animals. And in one season, Trevor Melville of Dalgety Stud Stock sold seventeen stud bulls from John, and that was pretty remarkable considering he only had eighty cows; so if he had eighty cows he would have had forty bulls, and seventeen of those bulls went as top stud bulls.

John didn’t marry until the age of forty-two, and that was in 1956, and Will feels his overbearing mother had a lot to do with that. [Laughter] Mrs Willy was evidently a formidable woman.

Today we farm three hundred and sixty stud cows; we have two on-farm sales … auctions on the farm. It’s a completely different approach; it’s now about how much income our seed stock will generate for a client, rather than how much money we can make from a single animal. Electric fencing has revolutionised agriculture, allowing very precise pasture utilisation. We’re also very much data-driven these days, with the likes of Pharmac’s modelling programme and breed plan which we use. Paradigm shifts in thinking seem to come every twenty-five years or so; modern technology is everywhere. There is now a renewed call for balance between production and ecology.

And that’s Will’s talk. [Applause]

Joyce: Viv, you did brilliantly …

Viv: Thank you.

Joyce: At last minute’s fantastic. We need questions though, please, ‘cause Viv is putting herself down a bit – she is actually a farmer, so she’ll know a lot of the questions, too. Fire away.

Question: When you mentioned earlier on that Granny was from Duart … something or other, so would she be related to McLean’s of Duart House?

Viv: I couldn’t say for sure. George is my wingman [chuckle] in case I got stuck.

George: That was John McLean, wasn’t it?

Viv: Well yes, so they would be related – you know, I was just saying earlier that there are so many families still in the district and Maraekakaho, that … they’re the old families that came out, and obviously they’re all relations. George is a relation of ours from that time, and so I would say that yes … that they would be.

Joyce: Viv, if I could ask … the hundred significance; how many other families? There’s very few in New Zealand …

Viv: So we’re the third stud … the third Angus stud to reach a hundred. The first was Turihaua – the Williams family just slightly north of Gisborne; and then Motere, which is the Pharazyns. They had reached a hundred … think it was last year … but they did have a wee gap in the middle that – it’s a lean picking, but they didn’t register their cows, but they still had Angus, so they’ve had Angus for a hundred, and then we have just turned a hundred. We’ve celebrated for a year because the first cow to be registered was … 1914, but the first calf was 1915. So, where do you actually start? When do you start – when you first register your cow, or when you first register the calf that you’ve bred? So we’ve actually sort of celebrated for a year. And for that celebration, for our clients that buy bulls from us – we put them in a draw, and each month for twelve months we drew out a client, and whoever was drawn out won a bottle of malt whisky – and we got a different bottle for each month. So that was part of the celebrations. And then we had a lunch on the farm down at the sale barn, and we had … I think it was about a hundred and ninety people for lunch to celebrate. And now … I hate to say it but now we’re just about over it. [Laughter]

Question: The numbers that you sell each year?

Viv: Yes, so we’ve got three hundred and sixty cows, and we sell … we have a two-year old sale – that’s two-year old bulls – and we sell about fifty … forty-five to fifty in that sale. And those bulls are going to go over mixed-age cows, so sort of mature cows; then we have another sale in September which is selling yearlings, and they are going to go to heifers … smaller. And that’s a line that Will has specifically bred for low birth weights, so that the heifer can produce the calf – it might be a small calf but it’ll be alive and she’ll have it without any trouble, which is what you want for a heifer, for a first calf. We sell about a hundred bulls … sort of ninety to a hundred bulls in a year.

Question: Viv, could you tell us about the farm carrying on, because I know you regard yourself as very lucky in that your children are there, and they’re interested …

Viv: We’ve got two children – we’ve got Archie, who’s twenty-eight, and Kate who’s twenty-seven. Kate’s a shepherd; she works for the Beamish family at Awapai on the Napier-Taihape Road, and she will come back to farm – she’s a farmer – and she will come home. Archie’s an ecologist, and Kate feels that if he comes home to take over, he will plant the whole farm out [chuckles] and have native birds, and she’ll be left with ten acres. [Laughter] So she’s trying her best to keep him at bay. [Chuckles] But he loves the farm and he will come home – he’s coming home at the end of this month and he’s going to stay for the calving and help with the artificial insemination. But he doesn’t read stock like she reads stock; she can see the stock – she can see what’s required, whereas he just sees black cows. [Laughter] Yeah, so that’s continuing on, and Kate comes home and she takes time off work to do the bull sales, so she … coming up to the last sale which was in June, she took the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday off work, and she washed the bulls and cleaned them all up, and clipped their tails and got them looking nice, and put the lot numbers on them. And she takes responsibility for all of that, and then she moves them through into the ring, and shouts at everybody else out the back and keeps them all right. George is one of her workers. [Laughter]

Question: My father worked for John MacFarlane from 1952 to 1957, and he did the sheep work. We lived in the house – it’s still there, I think – at the crossroads where the road goes up the hill. He lived in the house that’s down … the lower house. One goes to Raukawa, and one goes up the hill; we lived in that house for five years; the lower one on the corner.

Viv: 1013 Valley Road, that is now. Yeah – so what is your name?

Answer: Williams – it was Williams. Sid Williams.

Viv: If I’d realised that I would’ve been very careful what I was saying! [Laughter] I’ve been talking as if nobody has any idea [laughter] so I could say anything …

Question: What year was Will born?

Viv: So Will was born in 1957 …

Answer: Dad drew a farm after that up at Tutira. Well, I went to Raukawa School, same as my sisters, for two or three years, and they went there to Raukawa School when it was up on the hill on the corner.

Viv: It moved three times, I think. Is that right, George?

George: It was originally at Raukawa Station and then it moved up to the hill.

Viv: And then it moved to where it is now, Valley Road. So that would’ve been past the Raukawa Hall, heading towards town? And then it went down the valley and onto Valley Road.

Joyce: What’s happened to it now, then?

Viv: Well actually it’s really interesting, because it’s been bought by Sandy Mouat. Now Sandy’s mum and dad own Torran Station and the school comes right next to Torran; it’s between Torran and Waiterenui. Sandy has bought it, and he’s turned it into a home – into two houses, and it’s amazing. And he has got … when I called in to have a look to see how they’ve done it, Sandy said … he’s got a table, and he goes, “And this is where my desk was.” You know? And he’s got the table there – I just think that’s so funny. But he’s done a really nice job of it, and he’s just a young guy. He’s made a great job of it. And they’ve planted it up beautifully – he’s a tree man, and he’s got trees all through it and … yeah, the playground’s all planted up, and … yeah, it looks really, really nice.

Joyce: So your son would agree …

Viv: Well there was a schoolmaster’s house there, and Sandy owns that as well, and that’s rented out. And then Sandy has turned the actual school buildings into his home.

Question: Just want to ask, would Waiterenui Station have a record of all its staff over all the years, including your domestic staff?

Viv: Possibly, because there’s a heap of old accounts and … you know, they were meticulous. We’ve got books that start when the farm first starts, you know – it’s all in great big ledgers, written down, so the … you know, wages will be in there, I’m sure.

Answer: My mum worked there, in … be the early or mid-1920s. Her [she] and another lady …

Viv: And what was your mum’s name?

Answer: She was Chrissie Burfield ‘til after her marriage. So it would be just be interesting for me, just … if I could know what years she worked, and more detail about that. Other than mentioning that she worked there, I think they were reasonably happy times, and … quite like to … would I be able to have access to something like that, somehow?

Viv: In the house, there were two rooms at the back off the kitchen which were the maids’ rooms, which is now an office and Archie’s room. But I always thought that was interesting – that they had actually living in maids.

Question: My dad used to bike from Hastings – bike out there to court her. And it worked. [Laughter]

Question: Yes, I worked for Waiterenui from 1959 to 1977, for John. I was the head shepherd there for John, and then I was the sheep and stock manager.

Viv: What is your name?

Question: Jim MacIntyre.

Viv: Oh, Jim! [Laughter] You should have been up here, Jim, ‘cause you would know. I went to Waiterenui in 1983, I think. I first visited in 1981 and then I went back home. And then I came back out again in, I think it was 1983.

George: 1984.

Viv: Thank you, George. Thirty years.

Question: Going back to old Mrs MacFarlane, like the mother of these boys who came out – was she the sister of Sir Donald McLean?

Viv: She must have been. Yeah. Because they were cousins of Donald, so … she was the sister of his father.

Answer: And yet those boys would be a lot younger than Sir Donald if they were first cousins. He died in the 1870s … [inaudible] Or are they the cousins of Sir Douglas … son of Sir Douglas?

Viv: I don’t know.

Joyce: Well, Viv, thank you very, very much – you’ve exceeded yourself although you probably didn’t realise, but you have.

Viv: Oh, thank you.

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Landmarks Talk 15 July 2014


  • Viv MacFarlane

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