It’s less than 20 years since New Zealanders had more than 20 sheep each – there more around 70 million sheep and only 3 million people.
The human population has risen to more than 4 million and the ovine population is now around half what it was at its peak so we now have fewer than 8 sheep each.
Meat and Wool New Zealand’s latest survey records a total sheep population of just 33.14 million.
The ewe population has dropped 3.4% in the past year to 22.7 million, the lowest since 1951-52. The number of hoggets dropped 2% to 9.4 million.
The decline in numbers was casued by drought and dairy conversions. But in spite of fewer ewes and hoggets this season’s lamb crop is expected to increase 2.1% to 27.81 million.
Beef cattle numbers also dropped. There were 40.7 million of them at the end of June, 1.7% fewer than last year.
The fall in numbers while demand for lamb remains firm should give farmers reasonable prices this season.
But price rises based on falling supply aren’t nearly as good for the long term health of the meat industry as those based on increased demand.
Falling numbers will also focus attention on the problem of excess capacity at freezing works.