Milking the herd for 96 years
When visiting a milking shed along the West Coast, or anywhere in New Zealand, many farmers will swear by their ‘Direct Supply milking machine.’
Read Industrial, formally known as Direct Supply and L Read and Son Ltd has manufactured and installed milking machines to New Zealand’s dairy industry for 96 years.
“A lot has changed in the farming industry since my grandfather invented Direct Supply, and a lot has changed since I started working here,” said Noel Read. Now 76, Noel has worked for the family business since he was high school aged, helping his dad and grandfather.
As the name suggests, John Read’s business model was to supply direct from the factory to the farm. With the company based in Christchurch, delivering to farms on the Coast meant an adventurous journey over the Southern Alps, either through Lewis or Arthurs Pass.
“Back in the day, to get to the Coast, you had to cross the ford in the Waimakariri River at Bealey. The local pub owner would tow you through with his horses and charge for the privilege,” says Noel.
“One day, my grandfather tried to drive through the river but got stuck. The pub owner was happy to help but charged him double the crossing tariff.”
This wasn’t out of the usual for the pub owner, who was known for his pranks. Noel remembers hearing stories of the owner loosening rocks in the riverbed so he could charge to pull someone out.
“My Father Leo, rather than driving through Arthurs Pass, would drive his car on to the train at Springfield to cross the pass, and then drive off at Otira,” explained Noel.
Given the fun of getting to the Coast, visits were generally longer than a couple of days. In Noel’s experience, hospitality on the Coast is unmatched anywhere else in the country.
“Usually you would stay with the farmer and his family while you were installing or maintaining the machines. Farmer’s wives would always put on the best spread; jam and scones for morning tea, pies for lunch, afternoon tea and then a beautiful roast for dinner. It was always a pleasure to go on a trip to the other side of the hill.”
When Noel started, they typically installed six – eight cow – Walk Through milking systems. This is small fry compared with systems in place these days.
It is now common for Read Industrial to install up to 100-cow rotary systems. This is reflective of the massive expansion the dairy industry has experienced in the past 20 years.
“The Coast has not experienced the same type of dairy expansion that we have seen over here in Canterbury. Most of the farms are still around the 400-cow herd size, while in Canterbury we see herds of between one and two thousand.”
Noel has handed the reins of Read Industrial over to his sons Philip and Steven. Steven runs the operations and manufacturing side and Philip runs the sales and farm services side.
“Unlike the old days, we don’t do as many trips over to the Coast for sales, as we have agents in Hokitika and Westport. We still go over for occasional maintenance and installation, but our trips can be much shorter,” said Philip.
In the past 96 years, Read Industrial has dramatically expanded. From the garage of John Read’s house to a six-acre section in Rangiora with more than 45 staff. Some of our parts are still hand cast and finished using some of the original time-honoured techniques. However, most are now machined on state-of-the-art CNC machines ensuring accuracy and keeping up with demand.
Noel shows no signs of slowing down or moving away from the machines. While he admits, he is more familiar with the old styles of machinery; he still helps make decisions on what machines the business needs.
Read Industrial will continue to move from strength to strength as it remains one of the last New Zealand owned and operated milking machine manufacturers.
“We have loved working with farmers from the Coast for the past almost 100 years and look forward to seeing what the next 100 years bring.”