Know the numbers – NZ sheepmeat production outlook

25 October 2017

Livestock numbers

As of June 30 2017, New Zealand (NZ) sheep numbers totalled approximately 27.3 million head, back 0.9% year-on-year, according to NZ’s New Season Outlook. The decrease was driven by fewer breeding ewes in most regions, but somewhat offset by a rise in total hogget numbers. This was particularly evident on the east coast where farmers have been retaining ewe hoggets, contributing to the overall lift in hogget numbers.

For the year-to-30 June 2017, breeding ewe numbers eased 1.9% year-on-year, to 17.8 million head.

The number of lambs marked in spring 2017 is estimated to total 23 million head, back 1.3% on spring last year – reflecting a lower number of breeding ewes. Lambing rates are expected to be similar to 2016, subject to any adverse weather conditions.

Lamb exports

For the 2016-17 season (October to September), the estimated volume of NZ lamb exports was 296,000 tonnes shipped weight (swt), down 2.5% from the previous year, mostly the result of a smaller lamb crop. Total lamb export receipts were estimated to reach NZ$2.7 billion, an increase of 4.5% for the year ending September 2017.

For 2017-18, the volume of lamb exported is projected to increase 0.5% year-on-year, to 297,000 tonnes swt. The increase is due to a slight lift in projected lambs available for slaughter, despite expectations that this will be partially offset by lighter carcase weights. Lamb meat export receipts are expected to reach NZ$2.56 billion, up 1.3% on the season prior.

Mutton exports

Mutton exports in 2016-17 are estimated to have decreased  5.1% on the year prior, continuing the downward trend of the last few seasons. Limited mutton availability from Australia and New Zealand – the two largest sheepmeat exporting nations – has heightened competition. Total receipts for mutton exports are anticipated to be up by 3.2%, to more than NZ$500 million, underpinned by stronger meat prices.

New Zealand mutton exports for 2017-18 are projected to decrease 9.1%, to 72,000 tonnes swt. The total value of mutton exports is projected to reach NZ$507 million, back 4.1% year-on-year.

 Lamb and mutton production

The national flock is expected to stabilise, as competition for land with the dairy sector and recent dry conditions subside.

For the year ending September 2018, the number of lambs processed in export-approved sites are forecast to increase 1.1% year-on-year, to 19.4 million head. The projected growth reflects the reduced proportion of ewe replacements being retained compared with previous years as the national flock stabilises. Carcase weights are forecast to average 18.5kg/head, a slight reduction (-0.6%) from last year. The greater number of lambs processed is anticipated to offset lighter carcase weights and increase production by 0.5% to 358,000 tonnes carcase weight (cwt).

For the year ending September 2018, average carcase weights for mutton are expected to settle on 25.3kg, back by 1.1%. As a result, mutton production is forecast to total 83,100 tonnes cwt for the 2017-18 season. This will be the fourth consecutive year that mutton production has declined, easing more than 20% since 2013-14. 

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