Story: Rural language

Page 8. Economics and marketing

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Making a living

From early days, arrangements were developed for hiring stock and paying for land. Thirds was a system of flock-sharing where an owner put his sheep into the care of a station owner who received a third of the wool and lambs in lieu of rent for grazing. Sharemilking was working another person’s dairy farm for a share of the profits, sometimes owning part of the herd. Grass money was paid to Māori for the right to graze sheep on their land, while thistle money was a government allowance claimed by settlers developing land in some regions.

Blocks of farmland large enough to be a viable business proposition became known as economic units. Those that failed to make a profit were referred to as being on marginal country or marginal land.

New farm businesses

Diversification into agri-tourism (attracting travellers to farming areas), farmstays (providing accommodation and farm experience to tourists) and farm forestry (combining livestock grazing and forestry) are recent economic ventures. Farming wives can often no longer act as just jobbers (on-call farm helpers) but must earn an income off-farm.

The Kiko

The Kiko goat was bred in New Zealand in the 1980s for meat production. The Māori word kiko means flesh or meat.

Change and continuity

Changes in farming have led to new types of work; increasingly there are advertisements for herd managers (who manage large dairy herds), farm technicians (who record and analyse production data) and equity managers (sharemilkers on corporate dairy properties). However some farm jobs have remained the same over time. For instance, positions continue to be advertised for single shepherds, shepherds-general (who also do fencing and tractor work), married men (labourers who live with their wives in married accommodation), and head shepherds (stock managers next in line to the farm manager).

Farmers are still collectively referred to as the backbone of the country, alluding to their importance as economic producers.


In the 19th century, lamb was one of the few meats available, and was sometimes rolled, stuffed and called colonial goose to suggest variety. Overseas market expectations and concern for healthy diets have been responsible for rebranding a fat lamb (a lamb in peak condition ready for slaughter) as a prime lamb. Although a report in the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture predicted in 1984 that the words ‘fat lamb’ were likely to become very unpopular with farmers, the expression is still used, along with the terms prime and finished. Prime cows and sheep are still known simply as fats, and overfats (overweight animals) are presented for sale in saleyards.

Gypsy farmers

A significant date in the New Zealand rural calendar is Gypsy Day – 1 June, the day that many dairy farm staff and herds move to new properties.

New products

Farmers have used initiative and ingenuity to develop products with inventive names. Shoof is a blend of shoe and hoof, meaning a protective animal slipper; a smitch is an invention that allows an irrigator to be switched on or off by telephone; and a woolover is an animal cover. Cashgora (a blend of fine goat hair and mohair), cervelt (deer down fibre), flax-fur (flax fibre combined with possum fur), and perino (merino wool combined with possum fur) are fibre products. Cervena is a New Zealand term for farmed venison.

How to cite this page:

Dianne Bardsley, 'Rural language - Economics and marketing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 April 2024)

Story by Dianne Bardsley, published 24 Nov 2008