History in New Zealand
Devons came to New Zealand with the British pioneers, however the first recorded importation was in 1836 by James Busby, who was British resident for the Queen, stationed at Waitanga in the Bay of Islands.A breeding group of 20 heifers and a bull was sent from England and the resulting progeny formed the basis of the bullock teams which played a vital role in the land development for the early settlers. Devons were also used by Samuel Marsden to break in and cultivate the land on the first Mission Station established at Waimate North, also in the Bay of Islands. These early animals provided milk and meat as well for the early settlers.
Around the turn of the nineteenth century, Devons were introduced into the South Island by John Grigg of Longbeach, on the coast south of Ashburton but these were later dispersed and records were not retained as to their destination.
About this time, James Busby's herd was purchased by Mr. Coates of Matakohe, Northland, and taken to a nearby property, later owned by his sons R. & G. Coates. These cattle were later purchased by G. Smith who lived in the same area. Smith also purchased Devons bred by the Glen Moan stud of New South Wales and these were recorded in the New Zealand Herd Book for Other Breeds.
Descendants of the original Busby cattle were still being farmed in the Rimu stud by Keith Hansen at Waitou, Northland until 1975.
The English breeder Charles Morris began exporting cattle from his Highfield herd at St. Albans, Hertfordshire to all parts of the world and in an article written in 1913 mentions New Zealand as one of the destinations. The 1914 New Zealand Herd Book North Devon section shows entries of Highfield cows China Cup, Vanity, Ladybird 4th and Snowdrop 2nd as being bred by Morris and owned by W.J.Birch of Thoresby, Marton. A bull, Claudius, bred by King Edward VII on the Royal farm at Windsor was also recorded by Birch.
In 1918, Walter Mountain, who farmed a property at Puerua, Bay of Islands, left his Devons to fend for themselves while he pursued a career as a heavyweight boxer in Brisbane, Australia. Before his return, knowing his cattle would be inbred and in need of an outstrain, he consigned two Devon bulls purchased in Queensland on a cement boat returning to Portland, Northland. On arrival in the Bay of Islands the two bulls were tipped into the sea and swam ashore onto an island where they remained in quarantine for two years before joining the herd.
Devon cattle continued to grow in popularity until the 1920's, mainly in the North Island and for use in hauling heavy Kauri logs. With the coming of metalled roads their use as draught animals declined and beef production became their main purpose. The small square blocky type chiller carcase was gaining prominence at this time and since this was not the prevailing Devon type, numbers fell. However, some of the bush working families retained their Devons after the logging and clearing was completed with some finding them very useful for keeping tracks open because of the large spread of their horns.
Their resistance to disease and their tolerance of all weather conditions ensured their survival in small pockets. Devons continued to be imported with the established herds being maintained and new ones created, mainly on lines which could be traced back to the original Busby, Coates and Smith cattle. In 1954 Mr G. Holmes of Rakaia, South Island imported cows from Tasmania to found the Holmslee stud adding several excellent imported bulls from England and Tasmania. Fairnington Orange 43rd, one of several foundation cows imported by Mr W. Kearney and Mr A. Beazley still features in many Northland pedigrees. Later Mr H. Squires of Cannington founded the Squireleigh Herd with both he and his son having good show results. Hedley Squires was invited to judge at the Royal Show in England, and he later imported Essington Buccaneer, a Royal Show winner.
In 1972 Mr D.J. Gilberd spearheaded a drive to re-establish Devons throughout New Zealand. Acquiring Red Devons from every available source he was instrumental in forming the first Devon Breed Society. He enlisted the help of Dr Clive Dalton to find a sound classification system to standardize breed characteristics.
The Devons ability to thrive in hard conditions, its docility and the production of 'more beef per hectare' resulted in increased popularity through the seventies and early eighties. In 1980 performance recording was taken over by the Beef Plan computer system, this is still a mandatory requirement of the Association, the first breed to introduce this rule despite some initial resistance.
Darcy Gilberd imported Bourton Marquis in 1982, a polled bull as this factor was becoming popular with dairy farmers when buying a terminal sire for dairy beef. Polled cattle were integrated into the register and such AI bulls as Minety Dollies Objective and Dingle Objective have influenced the spread of polled animals. The Meat Industry insist that no horned animals go to the works so all horned calves require dehorning.
World influences on the viability of farming, and the fashionable trend of using large exotics for cross breeding caused Devon numbers to fall drastically in the early nineties. Membership of the Association dwindled to under thirty recorded herds. Even these loyal breeders reduced the numbers of registered cows to only their better animals. Happily the last few years have seen an increase in numbers and the welcome setting up of new herds. If sustainable farming is to continue it will be the hardy, reliable, no nonsense breeds that provide the best profits and Devons are ideal for meeting these criteria. The enthusiasm for Devons in the commercial market place in 1999 shows their attributes are now being more widely recognized and augers well for the breed.