NZ sheep and cattle numbers move in opposite directions

11 August 2016

The 2015-16 production season in New Zealand (NZ), which runs from October to September, was a particularly challenging one for producers, with tough climatic conditions and associated management issues across the country, according to Beef + Lamb NZ.

In the latest Stock Number Survey, Beef + Lamb NZ report that, as at 30 June 2016, the NZ beef cattle herd increased on the year before, while sheep and lamb numbers were lower.

The NZ beef cattle herd increased by 2.8%, or 0.1 million head, to 3.65 million head for 2015-16. This rise follows a 3.3% decline in 2014-15, however, and was reportedly driven largely by strong returns relative to those for sheepmeat. The main mover within the herd, contributing to the overall increase, was a greater number of weaner cattle on hand in all regions – except the East Coast of the North Island, which experienced dry weather.

For the year to 30 June 2016, total sheep numbers were down 3% on the previous year, to 28.25 million head. NZ’s breeding ewe flock declined 3.1% year-on-year, to 18.48 million head – with all regions of the country recording lower numbers. According to Beef + Lamb NZ, the reduction in breeding ewes on hand is reflective of older ewes being culled, transitions towards cattle enterprises, tough seasonal conditions and related management issues.

The number of hoggets on hand in NZ fell 3% year-on-year in 2015-16, to 8.93 million head. This was due to a combination of factors, including storms during lambing in 2015 on the East Coast, producers opting to sell early in preparation for dry conditions during El Niño, as well as good climatic conditions in some areas allowing lambs to be turned-off sooner.

With fewer breeding ewes on hand, the NZ lamb crop for 2015-16 is estimated to be 2.9% lower than the previous year, at 23.33 million head (note that Beef + Lamb NZ release their annual Lamb Crop Survey at the end of lambing in November). Although there are reports of positive scanning results in the South Island, weather conditions during lambing will ultimately have the largest impact on the final lamb crop. 

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