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Farming in Katikati
Owen Henry remembers the early days of farming in the Katikati district, a time before tractors and machinery when cows were milked by hand and the whole family had to help to keep the farm.

left: Owen Henry's grandparents Thomas and Martha Henry started farming in Katikati in 1884. What would they make of the district and modern farming methods now?
Farming in Katikati started for the Henry' family in 1884 with Thomas and Martha Henry. They were followed by their son George, his sons Ross and Owen then by Keith and Shane, Owen's sons. Shane is still growing kiwifruit on one piece of the original block.

Farming in the early Katikati Vessey Stewart settlement was described by some as paradise because everything they planted grew to a great size. The reason for this prolific growth was that over the many years of rotting fern and scrub Katikati had been made into a giant compost heap. This fertility unfortunately didn't last, so consequently some farmers had to leave their land because of poor returns. It was at this time the Henry's took up their first 100 acres to continue with the struggle. Thomas and young George worked for the County Council to supplement income while the daughters milked the cows. Martha looked after new mothers and their babies in the district, in this struggle with the land. Other hardships continued until the arrival of Mr George Alley who is credited with introducing fertiliser to the area and discovering that cattle were lacking in cobalt. The dreaded bush sickness never actually reached Katikati. The bush sickness came after native bush was felled, left to dry then burned with no manure used to ward off the disease. The Katikati land being fern and tea-tree was spared that method.

above: Haymaking with a stacker and two horse gate sweep. The gate sweep gathered the hay and pulled it to the stack. Once done, one side was uncoupled and pulled around to be hooked up to start again. This photo was taken on the Henry family farm. The trees at top left still exist today.
All the land would have been worked by horses and sometimes by bullocks. One method of sowing grass was to sow the seed by hand then herd a mob of cattle round and round the paddock to bed the seed in. The river flats were always a great place for growing the crops in the early days in Katikati and in one instance my Grandfather grew a crop of pumpkins but just as they were ready for harvesting, down came the rains, up came the river flooding the river flat. The pumpkins went floating past the town ending up on banks and other flat areas. Some even ended up in the markets in Waihi. Katikati produce was always in demand in the gold mining town of Waihi and in many cases was the livlihood of many of the early settlers.

During the 1939-45 war Katikati land - through the efforts of Mr Arthur Honeyfield - once again became a prolific grower of vegetables to feed American troops in the Pacific. Onions grew to the size of saucers, carrots grew until they split, cabbages and pumpkins were the size that you needed a wheelbarrow to carry them.

Today our land could be called Kiwifruit Forest with flower growing of every variety giving the colour and strawberry plants going to local and many other parts of New Zealand to give Katikati the sweetness of life.

Our district has gone from mainly dairying, sheep and cattle, pigs and poultry to a lesser extent, to one of the many ventures mentioned above.

Dairying of which I followed in my father's footsteps has changed from milking the cows by hand to milking machines driven by engines or in some cases by water wheel to electric power. Home separation of the cream stopped when whole milk collection started first in 20 gallon cans then later on by tanker. In most cases this was the end of rearing pigs. In my father's case he threw his hat in the air when the last pig went off the farm.

The way the cows were milked has changed over the years from massaging the cow's udder before putting the milking cups on, then stripping by hand into a bucket after the cups came off. These days one man puts the cups on and a cup removing device takes them off at the end of the milking cycle enabling him to milk 1000 cows in one hour without too much effort.

left and above: Then and now. The Fergie tractor and sicklebar mower. Aerial fertiliser spreading on the Henry farm with the Kaimais behind.
Haymaking over the years has gone from growing oats which were cut with a scythe then put into sheaves to dry in stook before threshing to separate grain from chalf. Hay was stacked with a pitch fork before the advent of the hay stacker. All of this was done in the horse age. When the first stationary balers and the tractors that drove them came to Katikati many a horse bolted out of the paddock, but sooner or later they learnt to work alongside them. However, the horse was soon to disappear from the hay field with the coming of all the modern machinery.