Question - what's black and white and red all over? Not
necessarily a newspaper.
It could be a cow hide tanned by Southland man Adam Cowie,
who established his own business about three years ago after
working in a tannery for many years.
Mr Cowie, from Animal Skin Tanning Services Ltd, had skins
for sale at the Southern Region Dairy Expo at Clydevale last
The event, organised by the Clutha Valley Lions Club,
attracted a wide variety of exhibitors, selling everything
from tractors and trailers to fertiliser and milking systems,
pumps and stockfeed.
Among Mr Cowie's skins, which ranged from possum through to
cow hides, was a spectacular bright red and black cow hide
which he had dyed.
As far as he knew, he was the only person in New Zealand
tanning hair-on cow hides commercially. Most cow hides were
sent overseas salted from freezing works, where they were
made into leather, he said.
Mr Cowie used to be technical manager at the Slinkskins
tannery at Thornbury and he was always being asked by hunters
and farmers if he could tan skins for them.
While that was not the tannery's core business, it made him
realise that there could be a market there and, armed with a
certificate in small business management, he decided to
venture out on his own. People sent him skins to tan and he
also processed some of his own.
''It's quite different, a bit unusual but people seem to like
what I do. I try and tell people we eat the meat, I'm just
making use of the skin as well,'' he said.
The business was building up slowly and he was getting a lot
of good feedback. He operated from a small factory in
Invercargill and employed a casual worker.
Cow hides took him a couple of months to process whereas
deer, goat and calf skins took about a month.
Tanning had ''moved on a lot over the years'' in the
chemicals that were used. While a lot of people told him how
they used to do it with kerosene and baking soda, that did
not actually tan the skin, rather it just dried it out, he
He enjoyed tanning deer skins the most ''because they're
reasonably easy to do'' while cow hides involved a lot of
Calf and cow hides seemed very popular at the moment for
interior design and often featured in home interior
He hoped to expand the business and try to get more skins
exported. He would also like to do a lot more work with
possums and rabbits. Possum skins were the hardest to acquire
''because everyone's plucking them'', Mr Cowie said.
He also sold small tanning kits for people who wanted to have
a go themselves. The kits included a DVD which showed him
outlining the process.
Members of the South Otago-Clinton Young Farmers Club were
embracing a black and white theme, appropriate for a dairy
expo, by having a coloured sheep and a white lamb -
appropriately named Mary - in a guess-the-weight competition.
The club, which boasted about 35 members, organised lots of
different social occasions, including a ball every second
year. It also ran a quiz in August in Clinton and, last year
raised about $5000 for the Cancer Society running it.
President Andy Wells, a sheep and beef farmer from Clinton,
joined the club about three years ago when he moved south
from Canterbury. He thought it would be a good chance to meet
The range of occupations among members was diverse and, along
with farmers, included builders, teachers and vets. There was
a good mix of both males and females, he said.
Craig Moffat, a sheep farmer from Te Houka, joined in 2004
when he returned home from Lincoln University. His father,
Graeme, had helped restart the club in earlier years while
his grandfather, Arthur, was a former South Otago district
Mr Moffat was second in last year's Otago-Southland regional
final of the Young Farmer Contest. He enjoyed the social
aspect of Young Farmers, he had met a lot of people, had many
new experiences and had learned much, he said.
Emma MacDonell, a shepherd from Clinton, said she enjoyed
being involved with ''like-minded people'' while Emilee
Noone, originally from Waikouaiti and who is training to be
an early childhood teacher, said all the girls she had got to
know around the area were through Young Farmers.
The club was trying to find trophies from the ''old days''
and reinstate them for competitions such as dog trials,
speech-making or debating.
They were always looking for new members and would love to be
able to start up another club in the region.
Outram dairy farmer Denis Aitken was giving a demonstration
entitled the Perfect Cow, a presentation that he has
delivered throughout the country.
Mr Aitken's grandparents were dairy farmers on the Otago
Peninsula while his father Laurie was also a dairy farmer.
While he originally fancied being a vet, he later decided to
go sharemilking on the home farm on the Taieri and he and his
wife Judy later bought that farm. Since then, they have
bought eight other properties, mostly on the Taieri but
including a large farm at Middlemarch which was used as a
run-off for cows in the winter.
Sons Andrew and James were both now dairy farming on the
Taieri, while daughter Jacqui is a PGG Wrightson dairy
representative based in Outram.
Mr Aitken described himself as ''chief worker'' for his sons
who were responsible for the day-to-day management of the
farms. He also did a night shift for them during calving.
He said there was never any compulsion for them to enter the
industry. In fact, Andrew was a mechanic by trade and James
ran nightclubs on the Gold Coast for nine years.
It was their choice to go farming, although he admitted he
was ''pretty proud'' they had all followed the family
Mr Aitken spent three years as president of the New Zealand
Holstein-Friesian Association in the mid-1990s and spent nine
years on the council.
He was now chairman of the TOP (Traits Other than Production)
advisory committee for the animal evaluation unit.
The Aitken family reared a lot of bulls for the dairy
industry and they had exported cattle to Venezuela, China and
Through the dairy industry he had travelled extensively
around the world and attended the World Holstein-Friesian
conference in Canada late last year.
The Aitken family has two Holstein-Friesian studs - Andrew
has Broomfield, and James has Airdrie, which was named after
the area where Mr Aitken's great-grandparents came from in
Scotland, where they had Ayrshire cattle.
Stud breeding was more of a deep interest in the cow
families. There was not enough emphasis put on the female
line, which he rated as more important than the bull.
Membership of the Holstein-Friesian association had grown as
people realised the value of a good quality cow.
Asked about the quality of dairy cows in New Zealand, Mr
Aitken said matters to do with udders had been improved but
there was work to do in the lifespans of cows to make them
last one or two more lactations.
That would be done by having a correctly constructed cow,
with the right feet and legs and with strength and capacity.
Mr Aitken, who had no plans to retire from the industry, had
seen a lot of changes over the years, although he reckoned
his father had probably seen more. Laurie Aitken (93)
recently visited and when he saw a new electronic drafting
system was ''just blown away''.
While he believed the future of the dairy industry would
always be bright, one of his biggest frustrations was that
there were more people studying art and design in New
Zealand, than agriculture, he said.