Beginnings of a dairy giant
Dairy farmers line up outside the Pukekura creamery in 1905
In 1885 the Fencourt Land Company built a butter factory at Hautapu which housed a refrigeration plant and two large Alfa Laval separators. The factory was taken over by Watt and Hally in 1889 who continued to make butter and cheese as well as operate a bacon factory.
Cambridge Co-operative Dairy Company was formed in 1901 and purchased the Hautapu factory for 2,068. At the time there was only one milking machine in the district, a Laurence Kennedy machine installed on W.N. Sturges' farm at Pukerimu. Dairy farmers hand-milked around eight cows an hour, and many did 28-30 cows each milking. By 1907, milking machines were coming into general use.
In its first year, the company manufactured 83 tons of butter and made a payout to its suppliers of 8.895d per pound of butterfat. The company expanded, opening skimming plants at Roto-o-rangi in 1903, Tamahere in 1904, and others over the following years. As home separators became available, farmers separated cream from skim milk on the farm, which meant they only had to transport about one-tenth the previous volume to the butter factory.
In 1914 the company switched to cheese production and in 1918 became interested in dried milk powder. After a few disastrous attempts it finally produced powder in 1921 only to stop production almost immediately as it proved unprofitable.
World War II brought considerable demand for butter and cheese. By 1951, after operating for 50 years, butter production increased to 2,044 tons per year, as well as 2,170 tons of cheese.
Across town in 1886, Henry Reynolds established a butter factory at Pukekura and the factory started the famous Anchor brand a year later. Reynolds built eight new creameries and exported to England before he was bought out by the New Zealand Dairy Association.
William Goodfellow set up the Waikato Valley Co-operative Dairy Company which later merged with the Thames Valley Co-operative Dairy Company and the New Zealand Dairy Association in 1919 to form the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company. The country's largest co-operative, with its genesis in Waipā, today operates under the name Fonterra.
Edited excerpts from the book 'Waipa Home of Champions: Celebrating 150 Years'. Written and produced by historians Richard Stowers and Kingsley Field.