Before the advent of refrigeration, almost all of New Zealand’s dairy products were consumed locally, with only a small amount of butter and cheese exported to Australia. From the early 1880s refrigeration made it possible to export more dairy products.
The first dairy factories in New Zealand were opened in the mid-1880s, in Taranaki and Waikato, to process whole milk. Henry Reynolds developed the Anchor trademark, which later became known worldwide. Farmers took their milk to the local factory in metal cans on the back of horse-drawn carts. The factories became places for farmers to gather and chat.
However, many farmers were not convinced of the benefits of sending their milk to factories, although it was generally recognised that it was better for making cheese. In more isolated districts, milk was processed into butter on farms long after factories had been established elsewhere. This butter was often taken to small packing stations, where it was blended for local markets.
Cheese and butter factories
In the early 1880s the most successful factories made both butter and cheese, and could adapt to changing supply and demand. Twenty factories had been built by 1884. At first they used traditional farmhouse methods, and only slowly began to use larger, steam-driven equipment.
Early factories were mainly built through the efforts of individual and corporate entrepreneurs. They played an important role in the development of dairying and showed how useful technology could be to farmers.