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Sheep Numbers Well Down

Sheep Numbers Well Down

Meat & Wool New Zealand’s Economic Service says drought and dairy expansion have had a significant impact on sheep numbers which will be down 4.3 million (-11 per cent) this year to 34.2 million.

Economic Service Executive Director, Rob Davison says the largest decline in sheep numbers is in the South Island where there are 3.0 million less sheep (-15 per cent). North Island sheep numbers are down 1.3 million (-7 per cent).

“The drought has forced the slaughter of extra capital stock and accounts for 60 per cent of the decrease in stock numbers while the dairy expansion accounts for the other 40 per cent. Included in the dairy expansion is the increase in dairy support stock that are reared on sheep and beef farms and which have also displaced sheep and beef cattle.

Mr Davison said dairy herd expansion, driven by strong global demand for dairy products and high prices had been significant, and this occurred alongside poor export lamb prices in the past three seasons.

Further compounding the situation is an increase in cash cropping at the expense of sheep numbers. This is because crop prices have increased 50 per cent or more due to international price trends. As a result farms with arable land have increased their crop areas rather than restocking with sheep.

“For the year ending 30 September 2008, the estimated lamb slaughter at 26.4 million head is similar to the previous season, but it was boosted to that level by the drought slaughter. It included ewe lambs that would normally have been kept as replacements. There were also extra lambs slaughtered due to the expansion of the dairy herd onto sheep and beef land.”

Mr Davison said this year’s adult sheep slaughter is up 31 percent on the previous year – the highest since 1988-89 - a year that was also severely affected by drought.

The high slaughter and dairy expansion impacts will mean a significant fall in the lamb and sheep slaughter next season.

“We expect export lamb slaughter to be down 6 million (-23 per cent) to 20.3 million lambs. The North Island lamb slaughter will be down 3 million (-26 per cent) to 8.4 million and the South Island lamb slaughter will fall 3 million (-20 per cent) to 11.9 million.

“The export sheep slaughter will be down 3.3 million (-53 per cent) to 2.9 million. In the North Island the slaughter will fall 1.1 million (-40 per cent) and the South Island export sheep slaughter will fall 2.1 million (-65 per cent) to 1.2 million.”

Mr Davison says over 300 new dairy farms started this spring and that had lifted total dairy cattle numbers 6.1 per cent up to 5.6 million. The South Island herd increased an estimated 170,000 (+10.4 per cent) which was up 1.8 million. The North Island herd increased 150,000 head (+4.2 per cent) to 3.8 million. These increases include the dairy support animals that are grazed on sheep and beef farms.

The dairy herd expansion is expected to continue, but at a slower rate in 2009, he said.

Meantime, Mr Davison said beef cattle numbers had decreased and were down 3.2 per cent to 4.25 million this year. The decrease was made up from a 3 per cent fall in the North Island and a 4 per cent fall in the South Island.

“Recovery from the drought is expected to be slow as the sheep and beef sector adjusts to there being less finishing land due to dairy conversion. There is also the challenge presented by significantly higher global fertiliser prices.

“We do expect though as the drought recovery occurs, lambing percentages will be better in 2009 and this will see a 10 per cent lift in export lamb production to 22.3 million in the 2009/10 year.“

Meat & Wool New Zealand’s 2008/09 Stock Number Report can be downloaded from the website


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