New Zealand's Sheep Flock Down after Weather, Disease Impacts
August 19, 2016

New Zealand's beef cattle herd increased by 2.8 percent to 3.7 million during the 2015-2016 season, at the same time as the country's sheep flock decreased 3 percent and now totals 28.3 million, according to Beef + Lamb New Zealand. Beef + Lamb New Zealand's Chief Operating Officer Cros Spooner said breeding ewe numbers fell across all regions of New Zealand. They were down by 3.1 percent overall - but the largest drop was in Marlborough and Canterbury (-6.5 percent) due to the ongoing drought conditions.

"North Island ewe numbers decreased 2.9 percent to 9 million, with drought conditions and facial eczema a significant cause," Spooner said. "South Island numbers dropped 3.3 percent to 9.5 million, also affected significantly by drought. Reducing capital stock numbers is often the least preferred option for farmers, so it does reflect a very challenging year."

The national hogget flock is also down on last year.

"Hogget numbers decreased 3 percent to 8.9 million, but the fall was most dramatic in the North Island - down 6.9 percent," Spooner said. "On the East Coast, some of the decrease was driven by a reduced lambing percentage in spring 2015 and the influence of dry conditions, forcing destocking in autumn 2016.

"Ewe condition and scanning results have been variable across New Zealand and the lamb crop is expected to be down by 2.9 percent, to 23.3 million - 0.7 million fewer than last season. This is the result of several factors, including fewer breeding ewes and higher empty rates, which will reduce lambs born to ewes mated."

Spooner said many farmers would want to have more stock on hand at this time of year - however, a combination of dairy farmers rearing more replacements themselves (normally grazed on sheep and beef farms), climatic conditions that have led to early sales of stock, lower pasture covers in some regions and, in some cases, a shortage of available replacement stock, are all factors.

The challenge for farmers will be maximizing the performance of animals on hand and secondly, as farming conditions allow, finding profitable stock classes to restock with.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand said it will be working with its regionally based Farmer Council to provide relevant information to assist farmers with these decisions. This includes a significant focus on proactively managing the ongoing impact of last season's facial eczema outbreak.

Reprinted in part from