From the early days of European settlement, competitions based on rural work skills emerged. In the 19th century, communities held ploughing matches using teams of horses. In the 1920s ploughing with tractors began, and in 1956 a national championship was established. New Zealand has also hosted world ploughing contests in 1967, 1980, 1994 and 2010.
In forested areas axemen began to compete against each other. By the end of the 19th century, wood chopping was a regular event at sports days and shows. Sometimes axemen’s carnivals were held. By the late 20th century loggers used chainsaws, not axes, to cut down trees, so wood chopping was purely a sport.
Informal shearing matches may have been held as early as the 1860s. Later in the 19th century, especially as shearing machines were introduced, matches were held at A & P shows. In the second half of the 20th century the sport became more serious, and the Golden Shears, an annual competition, began in Masterton in 1961.
Dog trials may have been held as early as the late 1860s, but the sport did not become widespread until the end of the 19th century when trials were held at A & P shows. In 1936 the first national competition was run. In the early 2000s there were 90 sheep-dog trial clubs in the North Island, and 71 in the South Island.
In 2007 Callum Thomsen, a Hawke’s Bay sheep and beef farmer, won the Young Farmer Contest. He took home a four-wheel-drive utility vehicle, a car, machinery, fertiliser, a selection of Swanndri clothing and $5,000 in cash, to the total value of $83,685.
Young Farmer Contest
The pre-eminent farm work competition is the Young Farmer Contest. This grew out of Young Farmers’ Clubs, which began, after some short-lived predecessors, at Palmerston, Otago, in 1932. The intention was for country boys who had left school to meet and learn farming methods. Clubs spread quickly in rural areas in the 1930s and a federation was formed. The clubs began to hold various competitions – for ploughing, stock judging, debating, and eventually in 1969 the Young Farmer of the Year contest.
Now called the Young Farmer Contest, the competition involves 21 district finals, seven regional finals, and a grand final which involves three days of theoretical and practical challenges, climaxing with a televised evening show.