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 Milk Solids: A Photographic Survey of Taranaki Dairy Factories

Ron Lambert, Senior Researcher at the Taranaki Research Centre in Puke Ariki undertook a challenging and time-consuming task - to find and record the dairy factories of Taranaki before they were all lost to time, weather and development.
His efforts mean that  we now have a record of the 111 survivors - some now abandoned and disregarded - of Taranaki’s cheese and butter-making industry which has played a huge part in the social and economic scene in Taranaki for the last 130 years.
Since the factories closed, many have been reused as farm storage, dwellings, transport hubs, agricultural machinery firms or fertilizer storage. There is also a museum, a possum products factory, our regional council head-quarters and a bacon factory.

Click on a pinpoint on the map see the image and full location of the dairy factory.


View Milk Solids in a larger map


The Taranaki Dairy Industry

The co-operative system – where groups of local farmers set up and ran their own dairy factory – was slow to be adopted in Taranaki. Instead, privately-run (proprietary factories) held sway for a decade or so in the 1880s and 90s.
By the 1890s, a number of successful co-operatives had been established and took over many of the private factories.
The first factories were small wooden buildings that soon outgrew the increasing milk supply from the ever-growing herds and improved pastures. Following World War I, a second generation of larger, reinforced concrete factory buildings proudly began appearing along Taranaki’s highways and by-ways.
The Taranaki industry, along with Otago/Southland’s, concentrated mainly on making cheese rather than butter. This required whole milk and meant that farmers needed to deliver it easily and quickly to a local factory, so factories proliferated along the highways and bye-ways of both regions.
By the late 1930s the number of co-operatives and their branches – about 120 – was at its greatest extent. From then on, amalgamations began to whittle away the smaller factories as roads and transport improved.
Many of the larger complexes had substantial additions and alterations – especially during the 1950s and 60s – when the industry was undergoing major changes due to amalgamation, expansion of their product range and upgrading to hygiene standards demanded by European and UK markets.
In 1963, the south Taranaki co-operatives amalgamated to form Kiwi Co-operative Dairies which, in 1992, merged with its north Taranaki equivalent – Inglewood-based Moa-nui Co-operative. This merger consolidated Taranaki’s dairy industry on the Whareroa factory south of Hāwera.
The giant continued to expand and, from 1996, took over dairy companies in South Island and eastern North Island.
Then, in 2001, the Waikato-based New Zealand Dairy Group and Kiwi Dairies merged to form Fonterra – one of the world’s largest dairy companies,

Some Statistics 


"It is history now, of course. The rotting timbers and black-stained concrete of factory walls are littered about the countryside. The lawns, once so carefully tended when occasionally the vats were 'slow', are now waist-deep in cocksfoot. The 'making' rooms no longer echo to the shouts of the boys in action, the bang of hoops and the crash of presses. The only sound is the clatter in the wind of the odd loose sheet of iron covering the rooms full of hay."

 Ray Tinsley, The Cheese Punchers' Ball, 1985

Dairy Factories in 1933


 Northland, Auckland, Waikato, King Country and Bay of Plenty - 102 factories

Taranaki – 120 factories

Wellington, Manawatu, Wairarapa and Horowhenua – 75 factories

Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne – 28 factories

Nelson, Marlborough and Westland – 26 factories

Canterbury – 24 factories

Otago and Southland – 86 factories

(NZ Journal of Dairy Science and Technology)

Factories/Branches Demolished

Ararātā Co-op

Eltham Co-op - Wingrove Branch

Hāwera Co-op - Fraser Road Branch

Kohi Co-op

Melrose Co-op, Meremere

Midhirst Co-op - Te Pōpō Branch

Midhirst Co-op - York Road Branch

North Taranaki Co-op - Waipapa Branch

Pembroke Co-op

Stratford Farmers’ Co-op - Skinner Road Branch

T L Joll Co-op - Mangawhero Branch

T L Joll Co-op - Ōtakeho Branch