Stock and station agencies played a vital role in rural communities through most of the 20th century. Many small rural towns had one or more agency stores selling an array of goods. For example, in the early 1970s in the South Canterbury town of Fairlie, there were stores belonging to Wrightson, Dalgety, Pyne Gould Guinness and Canterbury Farmers Co-operative Association, selling animal health supplies, animal feed, fencing material, fertiliser, machinery and tools, clothing and groceries.
By 2007 the town had just one stock and station store, run by PGG Wrightson.
Farmers expect their stock agents to perform a range of tasks and services. One agent even acted as a go-between for a client who wanted to get married but was too shy to propose to the woman!
Role of agents
Agents working out of rural towns service the local farming community. Some deal only with livestock, while others specialise in merchandise. In remote areas agents travelling to outlying farms and stations perform a variety of commercial and social functions. They bring in stores, mail and newspapers; keep farmers and their wives up to date with local news and gossip; report on stock, wool and crop prices; and advise on farming matters.
Stock agents provide farmers with a network of contacts through which they can buy and sell stock. Agents sort prime animals for the freezing works, and advise farmers on when and where to sell them. They sort stock into lines for sales – often a top line, a larger main line and a line of inferior animals. Agents also bring private buyers to the farm, and buy animals on behalf of other clients.
Everything must go
One of the largest clearing sales ever held in New Zealand was on Cheviot Hills Station, in Canterbury, which was bought by the government for subdivision into smaller farms. The stock firms Miles & Co., Pyne & Co., and the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Co. ran the sale of the station’s livestock and plant in 1893. It took three days, and 109,000 sheep were sold, as well as cattle and horses.
Stock and station companies organise local stock sales. Larger centres often have nearby commercial saleyards, where weekly sales take place. Smaller rural communities hold a single annual sale at local saleyards, usually in autumn, and this may be the highlight of the business and social calendar. Farmers and their families sometimes treat the event as a picnic day out, and stock firms provide refreshments for clients at the end of the day.