10 Questions with Kevin Stafford

<p><span>Kevin Stafford, editor of <em>Livestock Production in New Zealand</em></span></p>

Kevin Stafford, editor of Livestock Production in New Zealand

1. Now that it’s published, what pleases you most about Livestock Production in New Zealand?

At present the New Zealand economy depends greatly on livestock production but little is written in an accessible format for the non-farming public about the mechanisms of this industry. This book does that and I am happy that a group of interested people, mostly academics, gave up their time, worked together and wrote such a valuable and lovely book which every New Zealander should read.


2. Who are its various likely readers?

This book was not written for livestock or poultry farmers or experts in livestock production. They know about livestock production although I suppose a dairy farmer might find the chapter on poultry production interesting. I hope this book is read by people who are interested in where their food comes from. Maybe all those people who write endlessly about healthy eating should read it. Dr Libby? It was written for everyone in Auckland and Wellington who want to know how this country works, how farm animals and poultry are actually farmed. I hope the boss of MPI buys a few dozen copies for his staff and a few NGOs (RSPCA, SAFE, Greenpeace) might want a few copies. It could be read as a supplement to Country Calendar. It might not be suitable bedside reading for vegans or vegetarians. From an educational perspective, it will be a useful textbook in secondary and tertiary institutions where agriculture, animal science and human nutrition are taught.


3. What do you want them to get out of it?

People are very interested in food and this book explains how animal-based foods are produced in New Zealand. I hope they get an understanding of how complicated some aspects of livestock production are, and how it is not simple to farm animals and make a living. But also I hope readers get to understand how ruminant livestock farming in New Zealand is so unique and how innovative our farmers and animal scientists are. Our livestock is produced with minimal use of antibiotics and hormones and is generally a low chemical, almost 'organic' type of farming. We need to appreciate this.


4. Who did you draw together as your team of contributing writers?

Most of the contributors are friends of mine who I have known and worked with for many years. I hope we are still friends. Many of them agreed that there was a need for a basic livestock production textbook which would be valuable for the public and for educational purposes and volunteered to contribute, the others I coerced or charmed into doing it. I can say in truth that all the authors are busy people and thus got the job done quickly and efficiently.


5. Tell us about one new thing you learnt as your read their chapters for the first time.

I learned how chicken meat production in New Zealand is the most efficient in the world. Fans of Kentucky fried chicken should appreciate how good our chicken farmers are; maybe they should read how that drumstick is produced and when they are paying thank our poultry farmers for doing so efficiently.  


6. You are concerned that more and more New Zealanders haven’t a clue about how farmers work with livestock. Why does this matter?

I suppose I have three main concerns: one is that while people are more and more interested in where food comes from they are more and more removed from food production. This book will inform people about how animals are farmed in New Zealand, i.e. how the meat, eggs and milk we consume are produced. Secondly, people go to their computers to find out how animals are managed but much of the material on the web is American and therefore of no relevance to New Zealanders. Moreover, much of the material is put there by special interest groups which have a particular perspective on aspects of livestock production, such as welfare or the environment. This is about New Zealand farming systems and is about how it is done without any special emphasis on the social issues which surround farming. I wrote a book some years ago on animal welfare in New Zealand and there is a lot of material on the environmental impacts of farming. Thirdly, a lot of information on the web is written by experts for experts in a language which is difficult for a lay audience to understand. This book is written for everyone and is a basic text about how farm animals and poultry are managed. It is written to be easily understood and without any particular agenda beyond informing people.


7. Being the book's editor: exhausting or a pleasure?

It was a pleasure; writing a book from scratch is hard work but having others do the hard yards makes it a lot easier. All the authors are all hard working and passionate about their subjects; they are all widely published so their writing is excellent. Also as an editor you learn a lot about specific areas that you think you know about but don't really.


8. How did you find time for the book given your busy teaching, supervising and research workload?

I edited this book so it was mostly about keeping other people writing. It was not difficult or time consuming; I spent most of my time talking with the authors. As an academic I find writing and editing a pleasure, so it is never difficult to fit the things you enjoy into one’s day.


9. What’s the best time of day for you for writing?

I like to write in the early morning when I can write without disturbance. I often have ideas in the evening and dash them down first thing in the morning for development later on.


10. What are you reading at the moment?

I have just finished Babi Yar by A Anatoli, an absolutely awful description about what happened in Kiev in the early 1940s; it was not really good reading for Christmas. I am reading Sebastian Barry's new novel Days Without End; a story of an Irishman in frontier America. Barry is an Irish author who has written a few great novels; he writes the most beautiful English. Before that I read two Western Australian novels, Coming Rain written by a New Zealander Stephen Daisley (his previous novel Traitor is a brilliant New Zealand novel) and The Windy Season by Sam Carmody. I really like Irish and Australian fiction, but the pile of book beside my bed also include lots of non-fiction, especially history.