The t-shirt which proclaimed New Zealand’s ewenique – 60 million sheep can’t be wrong is well out of date with the national flock now down by more than a third from that number according to Meat and Wool New Zealand’s report on the year to June 2008.
Breeding ewes dropped by 9.5% from 26.063m to 23.59m; and total sheep numbers declined 11.2% from 38.461m to 34.150m. This is the lowest number of breeding ewes since 1952 and the lowest total of sheep we’ve had since 1050.
The estimated lamb crop was 31.836m in June last year and declined by 13.4% to 27.599m. Hogget numbers are estimated to have decreased 16.2% with a drop in the North Island of 7% and 26.6% in the South,
The sharp drop in numbers is attributed to concerns about the profitability of the sheep industry, last season’s drought and more attractive alternative land uses, especially dairy and dairy support.
Ewe condition at mating was poor because dry weather led to inadequate flushing feed and consequently lower rates of conception.
Scanning shows a lot of variability but the decline in ewe and hogget numbers mated and a lower expected lambing percentage is expected to lead to a decline in the total lamb crop of 4.2 million or 13.4%.
Beef cattle are estimated to have decreased by between 0.3and 19.6 per cent although this was partially offset by herd rebuilding in Gisborne and of Hawke’s Bay.
These figures will be sobering reading for the meat industry. Kill numbers are expected to be down by 9 million in total throughout New Zealand. To put that into perspective a plant like Alliance’s Pukeuri works would kill about 2 million sheep a season.
That would indicate that closing of freezing works has not finished. However, Frogblog draws a long bow in concluding summer’s bbq chops are at risk because of dairy conversions. The 34 million sheep left will still provide enough chops and sausages.
The Frog is also wrong in asserting:
It’s funny how short term economic decisions, like the mad rush to industrial dairy, have long term economic, environmental and social consequences like climate change, water pollution and, it seems, diet.
There is nothing short term or purely economic about the decision to convert from sheep farming to dairy. It is a huge investment which is not undertaken lightly and has to be for the long term.
There are many positive social consequences from dairying which requires more staff and so leads to an increase in population, a boost in school rolls and the creation of jobs in servicing and support which flows on to rural towns.
Dairying doesn’t automatically lead to water pollution either. Regional Councils are taking a very strict approach to breaches of consent and the pollution of waterways and there are a lot of proactive approaches to safeguarding the environment from farmers, irrigation companies and dairy companies.