Notes on New Zealand (1892)/Chapter 2
Mining and agriculture, in the broad sense of the word, have been and are the two great sources of wealth of the Australasian colonies, and New Zealand forms no exception to this rule. In point of importance, gold-mining, perhaps, at one time occupied the first place, but agriculture now holds that position. Under the heading of the latter, therefore, I will now briefly treat of crops, cattle, wool-growing, horses, etc., and will endeavour to give some idea of how these various branches of the subject are pursued in New Zealand.
MISTAKES OF BEGINNERS.
Before doing so, however, I am of opinion that a few remarks upon the obstacles and dangers which generally beset the intending agriculturist are necessary. It is in the nature of a farmer to grumble, and in this circumstance probably explains why we hear more of the misfortunes and reverses incident to this occupation than of any other. The man who engages in farming in New Zealand meets from time to time with various difficulties, but few of these would ever prove insurmountable were it not for his own ill-advised action at the start. The course which is so often pursued with disastrous results by the "new chum," and too frequently also by the man who ought to know better, is to commence by investing the whole or by far the greater portion of his capital in the purchase of land, and then to fondly imagine that his fortune is made. He soon finds that, on the contrary, his difficulties are only just beginning. His land must be stocked, and he has no money left to stock it with, so the farm is mortgaged to obtain it, and is thus ever afterwards subject to a heavy charge in the shape of the interest exacted by the lenders.
Then the "new chum" hardly knows what to do next. He has probably had little to do with farming before, but, like many others, is under the impression that anyone can farm, especially in the Colonies; and his mistake begins to dawn upon him. Then comes a bad year, and further expenses are incurred, while the mortgage company presses for the interest, probably overdue. He is unable to pay; the mortgage is foreclosed, and the unhappy immigrant finds that verily he has come to a strange land and is among strangers.
The intending settler must not imagine that, because he has a knowledge of English farming, he is therefore competent to commence farming "right away" in New Zealand. Doubtless his knowledge will be of great importance and usefulness, but not until after he has learnt the way in which farms are conducted in the Colony. If he has capital, he had better put it in the bank and draw only what is necessary for his expenses. Then let him go about the country and see how things are done, visit various stations, and be willing to receive information. He will find farmers and station holders most hospitable, and ready to assist him. If he has not the means, however, to adopt this course, let him find work on a good farm of the kind that he thinks will suit him best, but he must not expect high wages at first. Let me warn all against the pernicious custom of paying premiums as "cadets," and against being swindled by so-called "labour offices."I might here mention that at Lincoln, in Canterbury, about 14 miles from Christchurch, there is situated a School of Agriculture, affiliated to the Canterbury University and governed by the same Board. Mr. W. E. Ivey, M.R.A.C., F.C.S., F.I.C., is the managing director. The farm attached covers about 660 acres. The school is a very fine building, and has accommodation for some 50 students. The course covers two years, at the end of which time the student receives a final certificate provided he has passed his examinations, practical and theoretical, satisfactorily.
METHOD OF FARMING.
The best plan, in my opinion, for a small capitalist to adopt is to rent his farm. The rent is, as a rule, a far less vexatious charge than the interest on a heavy mortgage. Rents, of course, differ widely, not only according to the quality of the land, but also according to the facility of market, railway freight being high.
The capitalist having rented a small or average-sized farm, of some 500 acres or upwards, according to his means, will find it pay him best to employ as little daily or weekly labour as possible, but to have his ploughing, harrowing, drilling, etc., done by contract. Thus he will avoid the necessity of keeping a number of horses, which, at certain times in the year, he has no work for. On 500 acres a three-horse team and a spare horse are usually sufficient, together with a useful hack. Draught horses cost about £22 each, which may seem, as indeed it is, a low price.
On a farm of this description, it is the general rule to make wheat the main crop, but, of course, in respect to this, the farmer is, or ought to be, guided by the market and the character of his land Oats are largely grown, but in 1890 the price was only 1s. 6d. per bushel, so that it did not pay the farmers to sell, and many cut their oats into chaff without threshing, and fed their sheep and cattle on them. Barley generally commands a fair price, although it is not greatly grown, and turnips form another of the principal crops.
In growing grain the New Zealand farmer does not manure, as I understand the English farmer does. It is a mistake not to do so, for the land will not hold out for ever; but in manuring the high rate of wages, etc., has to be taken into . consideration. It would be quite unnecessary, however, to manure to the same extent as in England.
The principle of the rotation of crops is adopted by a great number of the better class farmers, and this saves the land very much. At one time in Canterbury there were people who took up land for about four or five years at a time and simply grew nothing but wheat. Of course this ruined the land for some time to come. When they had finished one patch they took up another, and repeated the operation. From this they obtained the title of "skinners." As regards labour I may say that although it is very expensive, and wages are very high, yet, from what I can see of English methods, one man in New Zealand gets through the work of two men and a boy in the old country. The implements in common use are also of a more labour-saving kind. On level land double furrow ploughs are generally employed, sometimes treble furrow. In the double furrows there are either three or four horses; in the latter case they are yoked by means of block and tackle. In the treble furrows five horses are used. The chief implement makers are Messrs. P. and D. Duncan, of Christchurch, and Messrs. Reid and Gray, of Dunedin. The horses in the plough are put in abreast, and one man drives them and also looks after the plough. There are no boys required to lead the horses.
I will now, having given this brief outline of the subject, take the various crops as they come.
Wheat, as I have already stated, is the main grain crop. It is mostly grown in the South Island; in fact, comparatively little grain is grown in the North Island. The richer land is, of course, best suited to this crop. The principal wheat growing districts are as follows:—Around Blenheim, the capital of the Marlborough Province; around Kaipoi and Christchurch in Canterbury; and throughout the Ashburton district, where we find Mr. John Grig's large estate, at one time a swamp, but reclaimed through the energy of its owner; in South Canterbury and the Methven district, where is situated Messrs. Gould and Cameron's estate; further south in the Waimate district, where Mr. Studholme possesses a large tract of splendid country; in the Timaru and Oamaru districts, where there is some magnificent land for grain, extremely rich and fertile, the yield sometimes reaching 60 bushels an acre; further south, around Dunedin, where the land is more mountainous, thence on towards Invercargill and Southland, a country where the yields are very good.
Throughout all these districts a farmer must be guided by the surroundings and climate, as to when to sow, when to reap, and when to prepare his land, the times for performing these operations to the best advantage being, of course, ascertained by experience. Both spring and winter wheat are grown, but the latter is considered the better crop if the weather be comparatively dry.
Prices vary from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. a bushel, and greatly depend upon the season in other parts of the world.
Oats are grown everywhere and anywhere, the varieties best suited to the soil and climate of New Zealand being Sparrowbills, Tartarians, Duns, and Canadians. Sparrowbills are chiefly grown on account of their large yield and short but sweet straw. The straw is used for chaff; in fact, in some instances the farmer never threshes his oats at all, but simply takes them out of the stacks and cuts them into chaff as he may require. The double-bagger chaff cutter made by Andrews and Bevan, of Christchurch, is a perfect machine for this purpose, and is even imported to Australia by farmers there.
Oats, as I have already stated, were not in 1890 a paying crop, beyond what were grown by the farmers for their own consumption. The want of a market was principally due to the lack of foresight of the farmers generally, who, because a particular crop has fetched remarkably good prices for one year, must needs all take to growing that crop next year, with the natural result of a supply far in excess of the demand.
Oats may be sown, according to the kind, any time from May to the end of September. They are often taken before turnips as a "catch crop," and in this case they are mixed with vetches.
Barley is grown in both islands; cape or six-rowed barley anywhere, malting or two-rowed barley principally in the South Island, on the lighter and drier lands. Cape barley is sown in April and May, and stock are fed on it during the winter, after which the paddock is closed, and the crop allowed to come to ear. The grain is chiefly used for feeding pigs.
Good malting barley generally commands a profitable price. The yield on fair lands is some thirty bushels an acre. The crop is generally taken after peas, and sown in August and September.
Mangolds and turnips are the principal root crops. The former are grown for feeding cattle; they are cultivated in much the same manner as turnips, but are not of such importance in New Zealand as the latter.
Turnips afford the chief food for sheep during the winter in the South Island. This crop is generally taken after wheat. In some parts turnips are sown broadcast, and this work is usually performed by a machine and not, by hand, but "drilling" is considered a far superior method, especially when the water-drill is used and manure put in to the extent of about two hundredweights per acre. Turnips are sown in November and December, and the yield on good land is generally from 25 to 35 tons per acre. Sheep are fed on turnips during June, July, and August, and are given hay and chaff to pull at in racks.
Peas are generally grown as a preparatory crop for both wheat and barley, and are often taken after oats. The yield is usually good, and the kinds chiefly grown are Prussian Blues, Early Emperors, Black-Eyed Susans, and Duns. They are cut with a hay-mower and raked into wind-rows, and either stacked or threshed at once; the latter, when convenient, is the best method, as the peas shell out greatly when in stacks.
Peas may be sown in June or July, and are harvested in the beginning of January.
Beans are not greatly grown, as they are not considered a paying crop.
There is a fodder crop which I have not yet mentioned, and one which in England is regarded as of the greatest importance, namely, the hay crop. In the making of his hay, there is more risk incurred by the English than by the New Zealand farmer, on account of the extremely unsettled weather which the former has generally to put up with, and which compels him to expend far more labour in the saving of his crop.
In New Zealand the grass is cut when in flower, and allowed to lie for a few days until dry; it is then raked into wind-rows, after which it is stacked, usually in a field intended for turnips during the coming winter, so that it may be handy to feed the sheep when on the turnips, the stack itself being fenced round. Hay is generally cut in the early part of December, and it is advisable to close up the paddocks intended for it in June or July. Hay varies in value according to the crop and the weather in which it was saved.
Although some farmers make ensilage, yet, in a climate like that of New Zealand, there is not much advantage in doing so; the risk of spoiling the crop is as great as in making hay of it, and machines or a silo are, of course, very expensive.
Potatoes, of course, are largely grown by many farmers, both for their own consumption and for the Australian market; this market, however, is very precarious, and depends greatly on the season. Potatoes are comparatively free from blight in New Zealand. But the manner of cultivation is the same as everywhere else.
SHEEP AND WOOL GROWING.
Having thus dealt with the various crops, I will now turn to the live stock; and, commencing with the most important, will endeavour to give some idea of the way in which sheep are farmed and looked after in New Zealand.
Here, again, we find different methods in vogue.
There is, first of all, the farm upon which, as in England, both sheep and cattle are carried and also crops are grown. This is what is generally called a "mixed farm," and, in my opinion, it is a very mixed farm indeed—mixed, in every sense of the word. Cattle and sheep should never be stocked on the same farm, although sheep are of considerable use upon a farm where crops are grown. Beyond condemning it, there is very little to say about this method of farming, except to remark that the men who go in for it in New Zealand are called "cockatoos," so I will now proceed to what is called a "sheep farm."
Upon this farm the main thing is the rearing of sheep for wool and mutton, and now that the frozen meat trade has increased so much, this kind of farming has become very profitable indeed. The class of sheep usually carried is what is called the "half-bred," a cross between a Merino ewe and a Leicester ram. These sheep are reared on account of the fine quality and plentiful quantity of their wool, and the superiority of their mutton for freezing purposes. This line of farming is not gone in for as much as it might be. It is a species of farming that might be carried on very profitably anywhere, provided a market were within any accessible distance.
Of course crops are grown to some extent on such a farm, especially the turnip and hay crops.
A man farming on this principle, if situated in a suitable district, can always supplement his income by becoming a dealer also. Dealing is a business that pays well, provided the dealer understands it and carefully watches both the New Zealand and foreign markets. There is an ever increasing demand for wool and mutton. The frozen mutton trade, however, I would here remark, requires to be better looked after, and English buyers need to be shown that none but good samples will be sent over. Last year (1890) 1,531,901 carcasses were sent to England, amounting to about 39,366 tons of mutton. The process of freezing also leaves room for improvement, and I am of opinion that if the retailers of frozen mutton would give their customers careful instructions how to treat the meat before cooking, they would help to make this excellent article of food more popular. It is advisable to hang the mutton for a day or two in a cool place before cooking.
We now leave the smaller class of sheep farms and come to the large "runs" or "stations" as they are called. On some of these, as many as 60,000 sheep are carried, but 20,000 to 30,000 is the more usual number.
Here we find the far-famed merino in all its glory and wildness. It is unnecessary for me to describe a sheep station further than to say that it is an immense tract of open country either in the bush, among the mountains, or upon the plains. Of course, the boundaries are known, and generally fenced at the expense of the owners of the adjoining stations. There are also fenced paddocks, mostly near the homestead, woolsheds, or sheep yards. The term woolshed may not be understood by everyone; it is an immense shed in which the shearing takes place, the wool is baled up and stowed, and the sheep are left over-night for the shearers to start on early in the morning.
The merino sheep is kept entirely for its wool upon these stations. The wool is of first quality and commands the best price in the market. This sheep is also far better suited to these large "runs" and mountain fastnesses than the more domesticated half-bred or any of the English breeds. The general impression is that the merino is essentially a small sheep, but this is not correct, as anyone who has received a butt from a wether can testify. The ewes are rather on the small side. They have not, technically speaking, the "body" on them which the English butcher's sheep have. The same difference exists between them and the butcher's sheep as exists between a dairy cow and a bullock bred for beef.
A man requires, in order to take up a station of this sort, a thorough knowledge of wool and sheep breeding.
Of course, the work attached to a station is inconsiderable compared to the large tract of country which it covers, as there is very little to be done during the greater portion of the year. The busy time is the shearing season. There are on a big station generally from twenty to thirty shearers; besides these, there are the boys to pick up the fleeces, one fleece picker to every four or five shearers; then there is the wool classer with his assistant rollers, who number five or six, and the wool presser and his mate to bale up the wool. Then there is the "shed boss," who looks after everything, sees the sheep are shorn properly, takes the tally, looks after pressing, etc. Outside there are shepherds who bring up the sheep and take away the shorn ones.
Thus, at shearing time, there is plenty to see to interest the stranger who pays the station a visit. Previous to the shearing, there is the general muster, which means the rounding up and bringing in of all the sheep, good and bad, on the "run." To accomplish this, all the shepherds go out with their dogs, and, on large "runs," additional hands called "musterers" have to be engaged. This general muster sometimes occupies three weeks, and the work is hard and the hours long while it lasts, but the pay is good, the musterer receiving ten shillings a day, and all found, all the time he is engaged on the "run," even should he be compelled to remain idle on account of rain or mist. This work requires good and trustworthy men; men who will not sit down when out of sight, and come in at night with no sheep. The wages of the shearers vary from 16s. 6d. to 20s. per hundred sheep shorn, according to the remoteness of the station, and as many men do from 120 to 140 sheep per day, they are able to make out a good cheque in a short time.
The shearing is the only important expense I might say attached to a "run" besides the rent of the land. Very little money has to be laid out in other ways once it is stocked, with the exception of buying new sheep occasionally to improve the breed.
After the shearing is over all old "weeds," badly woolled, and otherwise defective sheep are culled out and sent to the nearest market to be sold for whatever they will fetch, and the ewes are generally purchased by the "cockatoos" before mentioned for lambing purposes.
On the whole a sheep station is a very paying concern if properly managed, and, as I have pointed out already, after the first cost, there is very little further expense.
Of course, on all the various farms in the Colony on which sheep are kept the lambing season is really the most trying in the year. But the lambing in New Zealand is not attended to as on English farms. In England I believe 120 lambs to 100 ewes is what is expected on most farms. In New Zealand we consider on smaller farms above 90 lambs to the 100 ewes good, and over 100 per cent, very good indeed. On the larger "runs" over 80 per cent, is considered good. From this fact it will be seen that the New Zealand farmer does not pay the same attention to his sheep that the English farmer does. For, in the first place, the former has to consider the cost of labour, which is considerable, being at the rate of 20s. to 25s. a week per man, and everything found. Then there is to be taken into account the comparatively low value of sheep per head in the Colonies.
A lamb is never fostered; if it has lost its mother it is generally killed. The sheep are never housed at night, so that in severe weather some of the weaker lambs are generally carried off. Of course, on a "run" it would be simply impossible to look after the ewes in the same way as on small farms, nor do the merino sheep, which are chiefly kept on the large stations, require any looking after or assistance.
The "tailing" of the lambs is done in the Colonies in the same way as elsewhere, but the same care is seldom taken over the operation, though there are very rarely any casualties as the result.
In short, it will be gathered from what I have said that everything being on so much larger a scale, labour so much dearer, and the value of stock per head so much lower, it would not pay to be so particular and careful in these matters of detail in New Zealand as in England.
Having now endeavoured to describe the ways in which sheep are managed on the various kinds of farms in New Zealand, I cannot take upon myself to give advice to any intending sheep farmer as to which of the different lines he should take up without knowing the means at his disposal. I can only say if properly managed and understood by a man with a large or small capital, sheep raising, for whatever purpose, wool, mutton, or stud, is a very paying business in New Zealand.
Next to sheep in order of importance we must place cattle. Beef is frozen in New Zealand, but not to the same extent as mutton. The exportation of beef in 1890 showed an increase of 12,937 pieces over that of the previous year. Notwithstanding this increase, however, the price in the live market in September, 1890, was very low, beef selling at 18s. per cwt., whereas, in order to be really profitable to the farmer, it should sell at 21s. and upwards. This fact I can only account for by the increase of stock in a proportion even greater than that of the demand. Cattle in New Zealand cannot be said at present to pay as well as sheep, for, in the first place, they produce no wool, and, in the second place, they will not fetch as good prices proportionately. Thus a lamb some five or six months old, according to prices in the spring of 1890, brings 8s. to 10s., and a fat bullock at three or four years £8 to £10. A calculation based upon these prices will show that the percentage of profit to the farmer upon the sale of the lamb is about three times as great as that upon the sale of the bullock.
Cattle, however, are bred to a considerable extent in New Zealand, more especially shorthorns; Herefords are reared in Auckland. John Dean, of Christchurch, is a noted shorthorn breeder, also Menlove, of Oamaru. There is as good stock in New Zealand as is to be found in England. Stock was, of course, originally imported, and new blood is being continually brought into the country by the breeders, and it follows naturally that when a man takes stock across 16,000 miles of water he brings nothing but the best that money can buy. The two breeds I have mentioned are essentially beef producers and not milkers, and they have been crossed with other breeds for various purposes. For dairy cattle we have in New Zealand Ayrshires and Jerseys; in fact, there is no lack of variety, quality, or quantity.
Cattle are kept on many of the large stations such as I have already described, and are let out loose on the "runs." On the small farms also cows are always kept for milk, etc. Sheep are able to thrive well upon the native grass, but cattle will not fatten upon it. The heavier lands about Oamaru and Timaru, and those in Taranaki and about Gisborne are more suited to cattle than those surrounding Christchurch.
Cattle are reared to a great extent in Otago, the climate and the soil being especially suited to them.
New Zealand beef, fed entirely upon grass, hay, and mangolds, is, generally speaking, very good, and far less greasy than that fed by English farmers in stables and upon oil cake.
Cattle are scarcely ever housed at night, except in the case of prize or stud stock. Mangolds and hay are given them during winter, in the fields, when the grass is short. They need very little attention, and are not liable to so many diseases as prevail amongst them in England, the climate being very well suited to their healthy growth.
Cattle may pay well where a man has made his name in regard to his breed, and can always ask a certain price and get it; for instance, a gentleman in Christchurch asks ten guineas for his Ayrshire heifers, and always gets it; but for the ordinary farmer, cattle grazing or dealing is rather a risky line to take up. Of course with increased population and export we shall soon be able to work off this dullness in the cattle trade. Australia at present produces sufficient beef of her own, but England will be in a few years our great market. Perhaps when the Chinese become Christians and give up their rice and chop-sticks we may also find a very large market amongst them, although at present the feelings of the colonial labourer towards the "heathen Chinee" are the reverse of friendly; but time works wonders, and so does Christianity.
DAIRIES AND BUTTER FACTORIES.
In connection with the subject of cattle, we have dairying and butter making. Up to the present I am of opinion that sufficient importance has not been attached to this branch of farming in New Zealand. A great deal more might be done in the direction of the manufacture of butter and cheese with a view to exportation. Such manufacture might be carried on in any part of the Colony within easy reach of a port. We can now send butter to England from New Zealand fresh and in good condition by means of the chilling process lately brought out, which, in the opinion of men in the trade, is superior to the freezing process. There is a great quantity of Danish butter brought to England and sold at a comparatively low price; but since we find that butter can be bought retail in New Zealand at fivepence to eightpence a pound, according to the time of year, there can be no reason why it should not be exported to England and sold at a lower price even than the Danish, to which it is equal, if not superior.
Of course, to make it marketable the samples and the supply should be regular, which at present cannot be the case to any very large extent, as the butter exported is chiefly what has been made by various farmers who have nearly all a different process of making it, are probably on altogether different land, and keep all classes of cows.
It should be so arranged that all butter for exportation be factory made, then the samples would always be the same and the supply regular.
A dairy factory, now that the cream separators have been so perfected, is no very formidable undertaking for a man in a good district and with a small capital; he can keep cows of his own and arrange with his neighbours to have their milk sent in every day at so much per gallon, as is the custom in the cheese factories in England. If a factory were started solely with the idea of exporting the butter, and competent, skilful men and women were employed, it should in a very short time make a good market for itself in London or other large cities.
New Zealand butter is not, I regret to say, greatly sought after at present, chiefly on account of its very varying quality; but when a brand becomes known it is always bought regardless of the other samples on the market.
A factory, moreover, opens up a large and profitable business in pigs, a class of stock which is comparatively highly valued in New Zealand. When kept in connection with a dairy, pigs pay far better than on an ordinary farm, as all the skimmed milk, etc., is consumed by them.
The manufacture of cheese might also become a profitable undertaking. It would be necessary to obtain first-class men, however, from England or the Continent to superintend the work, but with a little enterprise and foresight at the start in the setting up of the engines and machinery, cheese might at any time be added to the productions of a dairy factory already in existence.
We will now turn our attention for a moment to the "gintleman that pays the rint," He is to be found in New Zealand in all stages of life and society. We have first the wild pigs originally introduced by Captain Cook. These are to be found in the bush upon the hills, and the old boars among them are called "Captain Cooks," after the esteemed founder of their order.
The wild pig is of no use for domestic purposes, even when caught young and stye-fed, as he takes twice as much to keep him as the well-bred pig, and then does not give the same weight when killed.
The wild boar is a great nuisance to the station holders and farmers in the hills and back country, as he disregards all boundaries and takes a delight in making gaps so that the sheep of adjoining owners may make neighbourly calls upon each other. He also roots a great deal; I have seen land simply turned over by these boars as if it had been done by a plough.
For these reasons as well as for the sport it affords he is often hunted with knife, spear, and rifle. These hunts usually take place on days when it is too wet to do ordinary work on the stations or farms.
The wild pigs are generally long nosed, lob eared, yellowy red coloured animals, the boars wielding tusks of no small dimensions and strength.
But the domestic pig is an animal of considerable value and importance. We have, as in sheep and cattle, all or nearly all the different kinds of English breeds. The Berkshire, however, is the one most generally reared, as it is considered the best paying and most adapted to New Zealand. Mr. James Rowe, of Canterbury, and Mr. Clarkson, of the same place, are well-known Berkshire breeders, and their stock is often imported to various parts of Australia for the purpose of improving the breed there.
Pigs always command a good price in New Zealand, and as bacon is dearer than mutton they are valuable stock for the farmer to keep. On grain farms they are the consumers of all the "thirds" of wheat, oats, etc., which, otherwise, would be useless. If the Berkshire be kept and good stock obtained at first by a breeder situated in the back districts, he can generally ask his own price for his young pigs, say 10s. for a "weaner barrow" for bacon, and 20s. to 25s. for a boar eight or nine weeks old, and as they are hardly any expense to him to rear he makes a very excellent profit indeed.
Bacon factories have now been started, and this will eventually raise the price of pigs still further, and the market will be far more reliable. These factories are carried on in connection with freezing works, so that bacon can be cured at any time of the year without risk. They will also have the effect of improving the quality of the bacon, as the farmers of New Zealand vary greatly in their methods of curing it and fail to keep the quality up to a proper standard. In this respect they differ from the English farmers, who have fixed and well proved rules to go by, and whose home cured bacon is consequently reliable and universally preferred to any manufactured elsewhere.
The general weight at which pigs are killed for bacon in New Zealand is from 120 to 140lbs. In England, I believe, considerably heavier bacon than this is preferred.
Horses, as I have before mentioned, are in most cases far cheaper in New Zealand than in England. Where a farmer in the latter country would pay £40 to £60 for a draught horse, we, in New Zealand, would pay £20 to £30. This fact is chiefly owing to the ease with which they are reared and bred, and the cheapness of oats and other fodder in New Zealand. But, notwithstanding these seemingly low prices, horse breeding pays very well, and nearly all farmers, who are in a position to do so, go in for it to a certain extent and get remunerative prices when the foals come to maturity.
Our chief breed in draught horses is the Clydesdale; it is considered the most serviceable, and when a lighter horse is required it is crossed with a strong hack. New sires are imported every year by the stud breeders, and the breed is thus well kept up. Although there are light draught horses in New Zealand, yet I have never seen a pure Suffolk Punch in the colony, and I am of opinion myself that, if this breed were imported, it would be of great service and come into large demand.
Hack and saddle horses are to be found in great numbers, and there are some splendid sires of this class in the colony. They are bred, to a great extent, on the large stations where the brood-mares, together with one or two stallions, are allowed to run wild. They are mustered once a year, when the three and four-year-old foals are kept in, and the rest turned loose again. These foals are either roughly broken in at the station or else driven down in a mob to the town, and there sold at current prices. The breaking in on most stations is conducted in a very rough-and-ready fashion. The horses are put in a stockyard, and there roped or driven into a crush, the headstalls and breaking rollers are put on, and the bits placed in their mouths. After a couple of days of such treatment, they are saddled and mounted by rough-riders, who let them have their fling till they are tired, and then take them for a good gallop of an hour or two, by the end of which time they are considered fit for anyone to ride. The smaller farmer, however, takes a good deal more pains with his horses, and handles them more before mounting, which makes them far more reliable afterwards.
The horse muster and breaking on a station is considered one of the most attractive sports of the year, as it is always attended with the greatest excitement. Galloping over rough country at top speed after wild horses, and using a stock whip, requires good riders and sure-footed animals, as a false move means a bad accident. Then there is immense fun, to say nothing of danger, to be found in a stockyard amongst a mob of young horses.
Of course, the horses, after being sold in town, are very often carefully broken to saddle and harness again when required for town work, by the same means as are generally employed in England.
The Wanganui hacks are famed throughout the colony, and large numbers of good horses are bred in that district. The New Zealand saddle horses are not, I think, so large as the English, nor do the Colonials want a horse to mount which it is necessary to have a ladder, but one which they can jump on in a moment.
Carriage and coach horses are also plentiful, and of a very fine description, as a rule.
The thoroughbreds of New Zealand are of the first-class order, and are admitted to be superior to those of any other Colony. For this New Zealand is indebted partly to her climate and other natural advantages, and partly to her having obtained that splendid sire Musket, who had a full strain of the good old Touchstone blood in him. I learned recently that the Auckland Sylvia Park Stud Company had sold out and wound up, and I should imagine that, from a racing point of view, this will be a considerable loss to New Zealand. At the sale 5,600 guineas were given for Nordenfeldt, a son of Musket, and brother to Carbine, who won the Melbourne Cup of 1890 in the shortest time and carrying the biggest weight on record. However, the loss of this stud may prove more beneficial than otherwise to the Colony, as horse-racing cannot be regarded as amongst the desirable amusements for a new country; it is a sport, nevertheless, of which Colonials are very fond, every little township having its yearly race meeting, even if it has to take place in a ploughed paddock.
Trotting horses are in request throughout the Colonies, and people are really beginning to admit that, after all is said and done, trotting is the most serviceable pace. A good fast trotter that will go either in saddle or harness will always fetch a large price, and I believe that to breed this class of horses would prove very remunerative. Hunters are likewise to be found, and hunters that will jump bare wire, the terror of many English riders. Of course, in many respects, they are not up to the Irish hunters, which are famed all over the world. These latter are sometimes imported, but as there are only hares to follow and no foxes, although foxhounds, not harriers, are generally used, first-class goers are not so much needed as in England.
New Zealand horses of all descriptions have splendid staying powers, and thoroughly sound hearts and lungs.
Finally, I may repeat that a little horse-breeding, combined with other agricultural pursuits, tends to swell the income of the intelligent farmer in New Zealand.
I must not conclude the subject of agriculture before alluding to an important item in connection with it namely, rabbits. These pestiferous little animals are cordially detested and feared all over the Colonies. They infest various parts of New Zealand as they do Australia, but in the former country they are not so unmanageable, partly because the islands are so much smaller, and it is consequently more easy to confine them to certain corners, surrounded, perhaps, by the sea on one side and a wire fence on the other; and, partly, because the efforts to exterminate them were begun before they had obtained such a hold on the country as they were allowed to obtain in Australia. Then, again, the laws concerning them are very strict in New Zealand, and the penalties severe, on account of which their depredations have not increased to any great extent of late years, though some land has been greatly reduced in value by their presence.
In those parts of the islands where rabbits exist or are even suspected of existing, inspectors are appointed, whose duty it is to journey through the districts under their supervision and compel the settlers to take stringent measures to clear their land at once. When an estate is discovered on which there are rabbits, no matter how few, the inspector informs the owner that he must, during the coming winter, put on so many men, according to the size of his place and the number of the rabbits, to exterminate them by poisoning, shooting, snaring, dogs, or any other conceivable method. The men so employed are called "rabbiters;" they provide their own weapons of destruction, and the estate owner has to pay them each 20s. to 30s. a week, besides which they receive from the Government a premium of three-halfpence to threepence a skin, so that there is a fine opening in this direction to men of sporting tendencies, and the dogs used for this purpose are free from any tax. If, upon the return of the inspector, his orders have not been carried out, the owner is fined and the men are put on by the inspector, the owner, of course, having to pay all the original and extra expense. By these means the rabbits are kept under, but I am afraid that they will not be rendered harmless until New Zealand is more thickly inhabited, for they do not molest the populous districts.
There is, in the South Island, a rabbit proof fence, made of small meshed wire netting, sunk into the ground to about eight inches, below which the rabbits do not burrow; its height is about three feet. This fence is between the infected parts of South Canterbury and the clear parts of North Canterbury. At various distances are placed men, whose sole duty it is to see that the fence is kept in proper order, and inspectors likewise go along at different times of the year.
So far, all attempts at total extermination have failed, though numberless experiments have been tried. Large rewards have been offered by the different Governments, for which even M. Pasteur has competed without success, as his proposed remedy was considered unsuitable on account of the danger it involved to stock. Weasels and other natural foes of the rabbit have been imported to no purpose; indeed, they have only added to the misfortunes of the farmer, for they have turned their attention to the young lambs, evidently a more easy prey in their opinion.
Let us hope, for his own sake and for the sake of the Colonies of the Antipodes, that the man who can invent a perfect remedy will soon appear. His fortune will be made, again and again, by the rewards of Governments and the gifts of a grateful people, and his name will be handed down from generation to generation, as that of one of the greatest benefactors Australasia has ever known.