When Bruce McKenzie was told he would be receiving a Queen’s Birthday honour he thought it was a hoax.
McKenzie, who was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the cattle industry in the latest honours, received an email before the country went into lockdown making him aware of the honour that was coming his way.
He didn’t believe it.
“I thought someone was having me on so I didn’t reply. In the end I contacted Parliamentary Services to find out if it was authentic or not.”
Through the family business, Maungahina Stud, just out of Masterton, McKenzie has been at the forefront of genetic development in the primary sector for the last 50 years, embracing technological advancements.
He pioneered the import of different livestock breeds as well as material such as frozen embryos and semen to improve herd quality.
Early on he imported live bulls, six Herefords from England and another six from Canada, but moved away from that because of the cost.
The idea has always been to improve frame score, to give NZ cattle a bit more size with a focus on improving female lines.
Historically, the stud was predominantly Hereford but McKenzie helped refine the Charolais breed, creating the Red Charolais.
In the last decade, with the help of his son Mark who took over the day-to-day running of the business in 2007, he has been responsible for introducing the Canadian Speckle Park breed to NZ, which has proved its value in terms of quality and yield increase.
“They’ve been brilliant, getting great results. They suit this country particularly well. There’s been huge demand from the dairy industry.”
Maungahina, where McKenzie was born and bred, has been in the McKenzie family for 113 years.
The fourth generation of the family to farm the property, he says cattle breeding is in his blood.
“It’s been my passion, it’s almost bred into you. If you want to be a breeder you have to have that passion otherwise you just wouldn’t do it.
He’s pleased Mark and Mark’s daughter Molly both feel the same way.
“This place has been in our family for a long time. It’s great to know what we’ve been doing is going to carry on.”
As a young man McKenzie had the choice of going to Lincoln or to a Hereford stud in England for two years.
He’s pleased he chose the latter.
“I worked on the top Hereford stud in the world, doing all the show circuits.”
Expanding his focus back in NZ in the early 1980s he imported deer genetics from Europe, setting up a fallow deer stud after going to Sweden buy two stags along with six hinds from England.
At the time hunting parks wanted good heads and he saw a chance to provide them through having the right genetics.
McKenzie’s cattle knowledge enabled him to become a leading judge at major events in NZ, Australia, Canada and Britain, something he got a lot of enjoyment from.
He was recently the first non-Angus breeder to be asked to judge at Australia’s national Angus sale.
Judging not only requires knowledge and being able to quickly assess stock attributes, it requires plenty of care.
“You have to learn to be diplomatic, which can be hard when you’re judging shows and sales.
“You can’t make derogatory comments, you have to find something positive to say about each class.
“It can come down to what you don’t say just as much as what you do.”
To help younger generations of cattle judges he has taken part in coaching schools organised by the Royal Agriculture Society.
“It was putting them through what they should be looking for and how to talk about different classes.”
While honoured to be recognised McKenzie regrets his late wife Jennie is not around to be part of it.
“I’m sorry that she’s not here to see it because she is a big part of this award. She always travelled with me and was a very important part of the operation.”
Despite the flurry of media attention he’s had in recent days McKenzie’s focus is on the stud’s 75th bull sale, to be held on-farm early next month, a little later than usual because of covid-19.
The annual sale has been a regular feature in this life, having missed only one while he was in England, attending them in his very early days in a bassinet.
Others in the primary sector to be recognised in the latest honours
Officer, NZ Order of Merit
Murray Powell, for services to wildlife conservation and the deer industry
Member, NZ Order of Merit
Murray Dawson, horticulture
Jeremy Hill, dairy industry and scientific research
Vincent Petersen, veterinary profession
Noel Sheat, ploughing and the community
Queen’s Service Medal
Melva Robb, rural communities and women
Marie Taylor, horticulture and nature revegetation