Thursday, November 30, 2023

In memoriam: Tony Parker, pioneering sheep breeder

Neal Wallace
One the first New Zealand sheep breeders to adopt an objective measurement to achieve genetic improvement.
Tony Parker was honoured by Beef + Lamb NZ in 2017 for his contribution to the New Zealand sheep industry.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Tony Parker, one the first New Zealand sheep breeders to adopt an objective measurement of productive traits to achieve genetic improvement, has died.

A long-time farmer from Wairunga, Hawke’s Bay, Parker had a dogged commitment to sheep improvement that began in the 1950s and was the catalyst for breeding programmes used today.

Scientist and friend Jock Allison said Parker began working with Professor Al Parker from Massey University in 1954 to develop an objective measurement process.

“It is in fact difficult to think of any person in the primary sector who has made such a meaningful contribution,” he said.

At the time Parker started implementing objective management within his flock, sheep-breeding excellence was assessed at A&P shows.

Parker was instrumental in establishing the country’s first ram selection index in 1961 and, after returning in 1965 from a trip overseas to look at sheep breeding, wrote in a published paper that “archaic methods of stock breeding” were delaying improvement in the performance of NZ sheep and cattle.

Allison said these comments ostracised Parker and his supporters from established breeders but did not dampen their efforts to adopt new breeding methods.

Two years later the NZ Romney Development Group was formed and by the mid-1970s it had 21 members screening 150,000 ewes.

Parker was a regular contributor to conferences on livestock breeding throughout NZ, Australia, Europe and the United States.

He was also the inaugural chair of the NZ Federation of Livestock Breeding Groups, instrumental in a breeding programme that eliminated footrot and was chair of the World Congress on Sheep and Beef Cattle Breeding held in NZ in 1980.

In 1983 he was a recipient of the Sir Arthur Ward Award, which recognises the successful application of research for animal production. In 2017 his contribution to the NZ sheep industry was recognised at the Beef + Lamb NZ sheep industry awards

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