The first cattle
The Reverend Samuel Marsden landed the first cattle in New Zealand at his mission station in the Bay of Islands in 1814.
As more Europeans settled in New Zealand in the 1840s, more cattle were imported from Australia. Most were Durhams, now called Shorthorns. Cattle were useful grazing animals because of their hardiness, and their ability to forage on rough pasture and to cope better than sheep with wild dog attacks. They were also vitally important as draught animals.
Hauling and pulling
In the early years of European settlement, cattle’s most important role was perhaps as draught animals. In 1820, at the Kerikeri mission, John Gare Butler was the first person in New Zealand to use an English plough, pulled by a six-bullock team. Much early cultivation was done in this way. Bullock teams also carted supplies and wool bales. They were used in the forestry industry, even in the 20th century, to haul logs out of the bush.
Cattle in swamp and bush country
In the South Island, as large-scale sheep farming became established, sheep were the most profitable farm animal, but cattle were grazed in swamp country where sheep could not thrive. Before drainage programmes began, some stations in swampy areas, like Longbeach in Canterbury, were solely cattle runs.
During the 1860s gold rushes, hundreds of cattle were fattened and driven to the goldfields to provide meat for the miners.
In the North Island, cattle had an important role in the transformation of the bush country to pasture for grazing sheep. After the forest was felled and burned, the land was sown with English grasses. Cattle were used to trample any regrowth of woody plants, and to control long grass that had gone to seed and was not palatable for sheep.