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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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Importations and Breeds

Cattle were early arrivals in New Zealand. S. Marsden (1765–1838), the founder of Christian missions to the Maori, is generally credited with being responsible for the arrival of the first cattle in New Zealand. In 1814, the year of the establishment of the Maori mission, a bull and two cows of the Durham breed (subsequently called Shorthorns) landed at Kororareka, now the town of Russell, in the Bay of Islands. They were the gift of Lachlan Macquarie (1761–1824), Governor of New South Wales, and had originated from the royal herd. These and later importations were kept for their milk rather than for meat purposes. Their introduction into Canterbury, and the development of cattle farming, is typical of, if somewhat earlier than, that in other parts of the country. The first cattle, brought from Sydney by Captain W. B. Rhodes, were landed in Akaroa in 1839. At the time Akaroa was a busy port with 20 to 30 whaling ships calling in each season. The following year a team of working bullocks was landed at Oasbore (Birdlings Flat) and was used by Heriot and McGillivray to cultivate land at what later became Riccarton, near Christchurch. The French who had settled in Akaroa imported working bullocks from Sydney in 1841. The Deans brothers, who settled the abandoned farm and named it Riccarton in 1843, imported some 61 head from Sydney in that year. By 1844 they had 76 and in 1845 increased this to 130. Hay and Sinclair, after transporting both the Deans and the Greenwoods from Wellington in 1843, settled in Pigeon Bay with two cows and one calf. The following year they traded their boat (which they had built in Wellington) with W. B. Rhodes for 18 cows. It took them several weeks to cut a track through the bush from Akaroa to Pigeon Bay and drive the cattle overland. The Greenwood brothers had 50 cattle at Purau in 1844, and the following year Gebbie and Manson, who had come from Scotland with Deans as stockmen, established themselves at the head of Lyttelton Harbour, each with 14 cows supplied by Deans. From 1845 onwards all these farmers were producing fat cattle, butter, and cheese, for which there was a ready market in Wellington and Akaroa and with the whaling vessels which called into Lyttelton during the season. The general opinion was that cattle were an investment for immediate returns while sheep were for the future. When the Canterbury pioneers arrived in 1850 there were already some 1,400 cattle in the Banks Peninsula–Christchurch area.

During the early European settlement of New Zealand, cattle numbers rose slowly in spite of numerous importations. The highest concentration of cattle was in provinces like Otago with its large human population during the period of the gold rushes of the sixties. Milk, butter, and cheese, as products from cows, were all needed by the settlers, while mutton formed their main meat as it was plentiful and cheap in comparison with beef. By 1861 the cattle numbers of the South Island had reached 97,000 head, which was 1,000 more than the North Island total. Ten years later Otago-Southland had 143,000 cattle, while the Province of Auckland had the next highest number of 80,000. With the advent of refrigeration, in 1882, Auckland Province soon became the largest producer of butter, cheese, and beef from a cattle population which by 1886 had reached 205,000 head. Its lead in cattle numbers at that date has remained to the present day.

Apart from supplying milk, cattle were needed to haul logs from the bush and for other draught purposes. The bullocks, whose parents were of dairy type, were used for this work and when too old they were slaughtered for human consumption. Milking ability, docile temperament, strong shoulders and body were the qualities most needed in those cattle, and accordingly the early settlers chose the Durham which had been evolved in England to meet these requirements. Furthermore, Durham cattle were numerically strong in Australia and many importations were made from that readily available source.

The production of dairy produce and of beef became specialised enterprises once refrigeration demonstrated that perishable foodstuffs could be safely shipped to markets on the other side of the world. When the dairy export industry was established, the Jersey replaced the large-framed Shorthorn cow. Animals of the Jersey breed are small in size and they are more efficient than the Shorthorn in converting grass to butterfat. They were, of course, quite unsuitable for draught purposes. Beef Shorthorns, as opposed to milk-type Shorthorns, became popular as single-purpose meat animals, but these gradually lost favour because they lacked hardiness under the rigorous conditions prevailing in many areas. In most districts the Shorthorn lost ground to the two single-purpose beef breeds–the Hereford and the Aberdeen Angus.