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Sheep flock down, beef herd up in latest survey

SHEEP numbers are dwindling while beef cattle are on the rise, according to Beef and Lamb New Zealand's (B+LNZ) annual stock number survey.

The survey found the total number of sheep in New Zealand decreased 0.8 percent (by 199,000 head) to an estimated 25.83 million.

Meanwhile, beef cattle numbers rose 2.5 percent to 3.98 million.

The decline in sheep numbers was across both breeding ewes, (down 0.5 percent to 16.48 million), and hoggets, which decreased 0.6 percent to 8.61 million.

An increase in the number of beef cattle was driven largely by more rising two‑year-old cattle, particularly in the North Island.

The decline in hogget numbers was most noticeable in Northland, Waikato, and the Bay of Plenty (‑6.7 percent) and Southland (-7.9 percent), where strong mutton prices encouraged greater levels of trading.

Winter and spring 2020 conditions were difficult in some regions, particularly the South Island, leading to de‑stocking of sheep prior to Christmas due to lack of feed.

Drought and dry conditions along eastern parts of the country in 2021 led to tight feed conditions for many farmers.

Flooding in Canterbury at the end of May 2021 significantly impacted a number of farms with losses of feed on hand and a shortage of grazing options.

The clean-up from this flood event will last for many months for some farmers. It came at the end of a difficult drought and was followed by a cold snap and snowfall.

The lamb crop is expected to be 1.6 percent higher nationally.

The modest increase in lamb crop was based on ewe body condition and pregnancy scanning results at the time of surveying farmers, and depended on favourable weather conditions in spring, B+LNZ economic service chief economist Andrew Burtt said in a statement.

“Strong mutton prices have encouraged farmers to sell ewes and hoggets this season and in some areas climatic conditions have forced farmers' hands.”

The outlook for beef prices was less certain, and although overall beef cattle numbers were up at June 30, B+LNZ forecasted a slight decrease in calves from sheep and beef farms this spring, Mr Burtt said.

The most recent analysis means that, since 2000, the total number of sheep in New Zealand has declined by nearly 40 percent — from 42.3 million to 25.8 million — and the number of beef cattle has decreased by 5 percent — from 4.2 million to 4 million.

Another factor B+LNZ was closely monitoring was the effect of sheep and beef farmland being converted to forestry, Mr Burtt said.

“We expect there will be a turn-off of capital livestock as land set aside for afforestation is planted — a process that takes some time — and this will be reflected in future livestock decreases.”

— NZ Herald