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Lamb numbers and exports down says Meat & Wool NZ

Media Release

21 November 2008

Embargoed to 6am Monday 24 November 2008

Lamb numbers and exports down says Meat & Wool New Zealand

Meat & Wool New Zealand’s Economic Service says drought and dairy expansion have reduced this year’s lamb numbers to 27.3 million. This is a drop of 4.7 million or 15 per cent fewer than last spring.

Economic Service Director, Rob Davison says the decrease from last spring is due to a smaller breeding ewe flock, a drop in the number of lambs born per ewe, and fewer lambs from ewe hoggets.

“The breeding ewe flock was down 9.5 per cent to 23.6 million because of drought and displacement of sheep as a result of rapid dairy expansion and increased crop areas. The ewe lambing percentage (the number of lambs born per 100 ewes) also fell from 118 to 113 per cent, reflecting drought conditions in many regions. Lastly, the number of lambs from ewe hoggets was down 46 per cent to 0.6 million due to drought and the light condition of hoggets in the autumn.”

Mr Davison says the lamb survey numbers collected by Meat & Wool New Zealand Region Managers showed a big decline in the North Island. The ewe lambing percentage was down 7.3 percentage points to 105 per cent, lamb numbers were down 2.1 million to 12.2 million (-14.5 per cent), and the number of lambs from hoggets was down 50 per cent to 290,000.

“Northland-Waikato-Bay of Plenty experienced the largest decrease in lamb numbers of any region in New Zealand. The drop of 25.3 per cent to 3.1 million lambs reflects the severity of the drought in the region and its flow-on effects to lamb production.

“For similar reasons, lamb numbers in Taranaki-Manawatu were down 21.2 per cent to 2.8 million.”

In the South Island, the ewe lambing percentage was down 3.1 percentage points to 120.7 per cent and lamb numbers were down 2.6 million to 15.1 million (-14.8 per cent). The number of lambs from hoggets was down 42 per cent to 232,000.

“Marlborough-Canterbury recorded the biggest decrease of any region in breeding ewe numbers (-14.8 per cent),” says Mr Davison. “This was due to dairy expansion onto sheep and beef farmland, drought and continued low lamb prices last summer and autumn. This influenced farmers’ decisions to replace sheep with increased crop areas.”

“Coupled with this, the breeding ewe lambing percentage was down 3.8 percentage points to 117.4 per cent, largely due to dry conditions. The net result was a drop of 1.4 million lambs to 5.9 million.”

Otago-Southland lamb numbers were down 1.28 million to 9.2 million. Intensive Southland finishing farms experienced poor conditions during lambing and their lambing percentages were down 7.0 percentage points on last spring.

Mr Davison says export lamb numbers are estimated to fall 6.15 million to 20.36 million, a decrease of 23.2 per cent. This revised forecast confirms earlier estimates made by the Meat & Wool New Zealand Economic Service following scanning, which predicted a drop in the export lamb slaughter of 6 million.

“This is because last year a large number of lambs were slaughtered when normally they would have been retained to replace older ewes. The main reasons for this were the rapid dairy expansion which displaced sheep and lambs, drought, increased cash crop areas and farmers’ need for cash.”

However, Mr Davison says heavier lamb carcase weights this year are expected to provide some off-set to the large decrease in export lamb numbers.

“Lamb carcase weights are estimated to be up 7.5 per cent on last year to 17.7 kg. Production on a carcase weight basis is therefore predicted to fall 17.5 per cent to 361,000 tonnes.”


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