100 years of dairy invention – from bucket to smartphone

21 December 2018

It’s no secret that inventiveness and ingenuity are stimulated by difficulty. Ancient Greek philosopher Plato knew it, and so did the mediaeval English who were fond of saying ‘need taught him wit’.

New Zealand’s world-famous dairy sector effectively had its beginnings in 1814 when missionary Samuel Marsden landed the first milking cows (and a breeding bull).

From those early colonial days when the milking cow would be tied up on a rough piece of cleared land with the farmer or his wife, crouching or sitting to squeeze the milk by hand into a bucket, this country has been a leader in farming innovation, much of it driven by necessity.

It’s 100 years since Kiwi soldiers, having fought for King and country in World War I, returned to New Zealand and turned their hands to farming thanks to the ‘soldier-settler’ scheme.

To honour their determination, hard graft, and No. 8 wire ingenuity, DairyNZ has curated this pictorial collection showing some of the important innovations from the early 1900s to today when dairy farmers can, quite literally, herd their cows using a mobile phone app.

The unsung hero of New Zealand dairying is a Wairarapa dairy farmer, Norman Daysh, the inventor of the vacuum pump milking machine that revolutionised the dairy industry. He experimented with early machines on a cow, Daisy, in his Wairarapa farmhouse kitchen.

Norman Daysh secured more than 20 patents for his machine before travelling from Wairarapa to New York in 1913 in the hope of finding a global company interested in helping him perfect the machine he had designed.

In New York, the DeLaval company recognised the potential of Norman’s machine and his innovative spirit. Together they fine-tuned the machine, and then in 1917, launched it to the world. The world never looked back.

The herringbone dairy configuration (1952) and then the rotary dairy (1969) were also designed by Kiwi farmers keen to put behind them the back-breaking business of stooping to milk, and the time-consuming business of moving cows in and out of the shed that existed with walk-through dairies. Their designs are still popular in New Zealand and around the world.

New Zealand is the leader in most areas of dairy – from efficient milking and yard systems, and profitable grazing systems using specially bred grasses, to cows that are so superior that even Queen Elizabeth approves (having a long-term connection with the Waikato based Ferguson dairy farming family and their Ferdon Genetics), effluent management systems, and riparian planting along fenced waterways to lower the environmental footprint; or in dairy processing and products…What’s a pizza without mozzarella, especially mozzarella produced at one plant alone in Canterbury which produces enough cheese to top 500 million pizzas a year.


Click on the photo below to open gallery.

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Lee Cowan
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