Lamb drop 2m down because of drought

September 6, 2013

The impact of last season’s drought in the North Island has taken a siginifcant toll on stock numbers.

Last season’s North Island drought has dented New Zealand’s sheep and cattle numbers and this spring’s lamb crop is expected to be 2 million lambs less – down 7.7 per cent to 24.43 million head.

The Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Economic Service annual stock number survey confirms what many predicted, following the recent prolonged and extensive drought. The survey provides the country’s sheep and beef sector with a prediction of the productive base of livestock for the 2013-14 season.

While both sheep and cattle numbers fell – 1 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively – it is the lamb crop that reflects the drought’s impact most significantly.

The export lamb slaughter for 2013-14 is expected to be 18.6 million head, a decrease of 8.5 per cent and the export cattle slaughter is forecast to decrease 2.7 per cent to 2.2 million head in 2013-14.

This will have a big impact on the meat industry and also on other businesses which service and supply farms including shearers and stock firms.

B+LNZ Economic Service Chief Economist, Andrew Burtt says the drought conditions affected ewe condition at mating and, consequently, scanning results were variable across the North Island.

“We’re expecting lambing percentages to be down by up to 20 percentage points in the regions worst hit by drought in the north. The South Island fared better and scanning results were down only a few percentage points – and that’s against last season, which was favourable in the south.”

Overall, sheep numbers were down 1 per cent to 30.94 million head at 30 June 2013, compared to 31.26 million a year earlier.

Mr Burtt says breeding ewe numbers were also down 1 per cent overall, but the numbers in each island moved in opposite directions. “Ewe numbers in the North Island decreased by 2.7 per cent to 9.52 million, while South Island ewe numbers were almost static (+0.5%) at 10.69 million.

“Hogget numbers reflected a similar pattern – back 1.3 per cent overall, but down 3.5 per cent in the north and up 1 per cent in the south.”

Meanwhile, cattle numbers fell 1.3 per cent to 3.69 million head at 30 June 2013, from 3.73 million in 2012. “Again, the North Island figures tell the drought story, with numbers back 2.5 per cent – with particularly large decreases in East Coast and Taranaki-Manawatu – while the South Island’s cattle numbers rose 1.8 per cent.”

The full report is at Beef + Lamb’s website.


Will the good prices last?

August 22, 2011

Last season was the best in a generation for farmers, but there is reasonable confidence that bust won’t follow the boom.

Prices aren’t likely to stay at this year’s highs but Alliance Group expects protein markets to stay strong:

Speaking in Oamaru during the company’s annual series of shareholder/supplier meetings, chief executive Grant Cuff said it was expected 2012 prices to shareholders would remain high for lamb, sheep, cattle and deer.

Indicative pricing was that lamb would remain at $100 plus and sheep at $85 plus, with cattle prices down slightly.

Sheep and beef numbers were stable worldwide, consumption of meat was increasing and there were growing sales in the East.

Uncertainty in Britain, Europe and the USA is concerning but our two most important trading partners, Australia and China, are more stronger.

A free trade deal with India would provide more opportunities.

One of the benefits of new markets in Asia is that they are interested in the cheaper cuts which aren’t popular in our traditional markets.


Australia bans live cattle exports to Indonesia

June 8, 2011

When we visited a market in Indonesia my farmer said it made him understand vegetarians.

The sights and smells were a test for even strong stomachs but we didn’t see any evidence of cruelty to animals which has led the Australian government to impose a temporary ban on the live export of cattle to Indonesia.

Live cattle export bodies say they understand why the government is banning exports to Indonesia and have undertaken to ensure the trade is reformed.

In a joint statement released on Wednesday morning, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and LiveCorp said under proposed reforms, the industry had committed to a reduction of trade to a core group of facilities in Indonesia independently accredited to meet OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) animal welfare standards.

A stringent supply chain, the rapid introduction of stunning and an ongoing review and monitoring program would ensure Australian cattle were processed only through these facilities, they said.

The ban follows strong reaction to a Four Corners expose of cruelty to animals in Indonesian slaughterhouses which kill the stock.

We visited stations in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia last year. Almost all their cattle are exported live because there were isn’t the population to sustain local meat production and the nearest export meat works are thousands of kilometres away.

The ban, even if it is temporary, will have a huge impact on the stations which don’t have alternative markets for their cattle.

But now the cruelty has been imposed they cannot keep supplying stock until the slaughterhouses the stock is sold to adopt humane practices.

Larvatus Prodeo has apost discussing this issue and links to other comment on it.


Fish oil cuts the gas

April 3, 2009

If this had been published a couple of days later I’d have put it down to April Fools Day but I think its genuine.

Scientists have found that fish oil reduces burps  in cows.

Researchers from University College Dublin found however, by adding two per cent of fish oil to the animal’s feed the amount of methane is reduced by around a fifth.

The omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oils can also help the heart and circulatory system and improve meat quality.

Speaking at the Society for General Microbiology meeting in Harrogate, Dr Lorraine Lillis, one of the researchers, said the study could help the agriculture industry cut emissions.

She said: “The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow’s gut, leading to reduced emissions.

Adding fish oil to feed for cattle in feedlots probably isn’t difficult, it may take a bit of ingenuity to get it into cattle which graze pasture as they do in New Zealand. It would also have to be done reasonably cheaply because added costs will be resisted by farmers and consumers.

Hat Tip: Fairfacts Media by email


Power mooves

March 19, 2009

Scientists have followed last year’s discovery that cattle and deer tend to orient themselves north to south when grazing, with another which shows that high voltage power lines  can put them out of alignment.

When the power lines run east-west, that is the way grazing cattle tend to line up, researchers led by Hynek Burda and Sabine Begall of the faculty of biology at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany report in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They also found that cows and deer grazing under northeast-southwest or northwest-southeast power lines faced in random directions.

. . . The new study adds weight to the animals responding to magnetic effects, since power lines also produce a magnetic field. And the effect was most noticeable close to the power lines, declining as the magnetic field of the electric lines was reduced by distance.

Wind and weather can also affect which ways cows choose to face, but without such factors about two-thirds of them tended to align north-south when away from power lines.

Dairy sheds are often built near overhead lines because it makes connecting to the power cheaper. I wonder if this means aligning the shed so the cows stand the way they tend to orient would  have an influence, making them more or less happy and productive?


Virtual cows mimic real ones for methane study

January 19, 2009

Lincoln University scientists have recreated the digestive system of cows  to help them study the production of methane so that they can then look at ways to reduce it.

Almost every aspect of the cow’s digestive system has been reproduced.

Food and saliva are added to the cow’s “stomachs” and the end result is perhaps inevitable.

“As the materials ferment you end up with what we call the poo jars. That is as technical as an engineer would want to get,” says Wood.

Methane gas emissions are monitored.

“Every time the little unit here flicks, we count the flicks for the amount of gas produced,” says Wood.

Surprisingly, the methane that cows release comes from an unexpected source.

“Cows don’t fart methane. 99% of the methane comes from their mouth.”

The collection of tubes,  jars and pumps have been named Myrtle, Buttercup, Jesse, Ethel, Daisy and Boris.

I don’t think the gender of the animals makes a difference to gas production so the use of the word cows rather than cattle won’t be relevant to the study, but just for the record I think Boris is probably a bull.


NZ poorly served by Kyoto negotiators

November 20, 2008

The Emissions Trading Scheme is seriously flawed  and must be deferred engineer John de Beuger says.

There isn’t much low-hanging fruit left to pick when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.

We already have a high percentage of hydro renewables, and because our animals are free-range and grass fed (not corn fed in feed lots), our agriculture is close to world-best practice.

We can certainly improve in transport, but this will cost.

With no other country even thinking about carbon footprints during the current financial crisis, why are we so hellbent on cutting our throats? This country was very badly served by our Kyoto negotiators.

Take two simple examples – exporting logs and mowing the lawn.

If two ships, one with imported oil and the other with export logs, pass each other outside the Port of Tauranga, under current Kyoto rules we get dinged for both – because we are going to burn the oil, and we have cut down the trees.

Compare this with an oil tanker passing a coal exporter outside Sydney harbour.

Under current Kyoto rules, Australia doesn’t get dinged for exporting coal – which is the main global warming culprit.

Meanwhile New Zealand cops it for exporting plantation forestry trees, which are good news for the planet.

To show how truly stupid the Kyoto Protocol is for food-exporting countries like New Zealand, agricultural consultant Robin Grieve has calculated that mowing a lawn with a motor mower is six times better for the environment than letting sheep graze it. (The environmental impact of sheep, as defined by Kyoto, is 19.65kg carbon-equivalent compared with a lawn mower’s 3.107kg of carbon – i.e., a sheep is 6.3 times worse for the environment than a lawn mower.)

It gets worse. The methane emissions of livestock have been seriously misrepresented because, over time, pasture grass is carbon neutral – whether it is eaten or not.

Grass grows in the spring and summer, and dies back in the autumn after flowering.

If it isn’t eaten, then depending on the decay process, it releases the CO2 it absorbed during its growth back into the atmosphere.

If cattle eat the grass, and live for several years before being slaughtered, they are acting like trees in the sense of temporarily storing carbon that would have been emitted by decay if they hadn’t eaten the grass.

During digestion, a cow discharges methane equivalent to one-third of the carbon consumed, while the other two-thirds is stored in their body until they end up on a hook at the works.

Cows are thus temporary carbon sinks – a simple truth that one might have thought was self-evident to the Kyoto negotiators.

Carbon credits should accrue to grass-fed meat producers, not penalties.

But no, we are dinged for the methane cattle emit because our negotiators misunderstood something as simple as the carbon life cycle of grass.

Under current rules we will be penalised for our agriculture – as well as achieving an own goal by exporting our energy-efficient production to Asia, where the predominant source of energy is coal.

If other countries are not prepared to sacrifice their livelihoods, why should we? In Canada, Stephen Harper has just been re-elected after reneging on Canada’s Kyoto Protocol commitment over synthetic crude oil.

Extracting the dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands leaves a footprint three times greater than normal crude.

Similarly, in the wake of the global credit crunch, any resolve in Europe to make meaningful emission reductions is crumbling by the day.

Although the European Union ETS only covers about 40% of European emissions, they are fearful that the cost of emission reductions will force energy-intensive industry to exit Europe and set up in parts of the world where there will be no carbon charge.

Never mind about China – they will cheat anyway.

The rules affecting agriculture under the Kyoto Protocol are wrong.

With the agricultural sector being so important to our economy, it is clear that Kyoto 2 seriously needs sorting out.

That’s why deferment of the current ETS is essential.

Act New Zealand’s insistence on setting up a special select committee to investigate the mess is correct.

We can’t afford to get it wrong.

As a small player in this fraught business, it is ridiculous for New Zealand to be a leader – rather than a follower.

It would be lunacy for John Key to adopt a scheme that is so obviously flawed, and shoots us in the foot for no environmental benefit whatsoever.

Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in our economy yet we’re the only country to include it in our Kyoto commitment. The looming economic crisis may well help us because because if other countries put their economies before their Kyoto commitments, many of which will do little or nothing to improve the environment, we will be able to renegotiate our commitments too without being penalised.

We’ve been very poorly served by past negotiations but we can take some comfort from the knowledge that the new Minister for Climate Change negotiations, Tim Groser, has both the will and skills to ensure we’re better served in negotiations from now.


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