New Zealand’s beef cattle population has grown but the sheep population has shrunk:
New Zealand’s beef cattle herd increased by 2.8 per cent to 3.7 million during the 2015-16 season – same time as the country’s sheep flock decreased 3.0 per cent and now totals 28.3 million.
That’s nearly one cattle beast each and only around seven sheep per person. At peak sheep when the population was around three million we had 20 sheep each.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s latest stock number survey shows that the 2015-16 year has been an exceptionally trying farming season with facial eczema in the North Island and widespread climatic challenges in other parts of the country particularly, North Canterbury.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand Chief Operating Officer, Cros Spooner says the 2.8 per cent increase in beef cattle numbers follows a 3.3 per cent decline in the 2014-15 season.
The largest contributor to the increase in cattle numbers was a lift in weaner cattle across many regions, up 8.2 per cent as farmers responded to good returns. The exception to the increased weaner numbers trend was on the East Coast of the North Island, which experienced dry weather conditions, Spooner said.
“There was a continuing decline in the beef breeding herd, down by 1.6 per cent and reflects the trend to more flexible cattle systems. This reinforces the need for better integration with the dairy industry, particularly with genetics which is a key area of focus for Beef + Lamb New Zealand. . .
Breeding cows are in demand now and prices are reflecting that.
Spooner says breeding ewe numbers fell across all regions of New Zealand. They were down by 3.1 per cent overall – but the largest drop was in Marlborough and Canterbury (-6.5%) due to the ongoing drought conditions.
“North Island ewe numbers decreased 2.9 per cent to 9.0 million with drought conditions and facial eczema a significant cause. South Island numbers dropped 3.3 per cent to 9.5 million also affected significantly by drought. Reducing capital stock numbers is often the least preferred option for farmers so it does reflect a very challenging year.”
Spooner says the national hogget flock is also down on last year.
“Hogget numbers decreased 3.0 per cent to 8.9 million, but the fall was most dramatic in the North Island – down 6.9 per cent. On the East Coast, some of the decrease was driven by a reduced lambing% in spring 2015 and the influence of dry conditions forcing destocking in autumn 2016.In Taranaki-Manawatu, lambs were finished earlier, in response to the conditions, leading to fewer head on hand at season- close. Marlborough and Canterbury hogget numbers increased by 4.8 per cent with higher numbers of bought in trade hoggets held at season end.
“Ewe condition and scanning results have been variable across New Zealand and the lamb crop is expected to be down by 2.9 per cent, to 23.3 million – 0.7 million fewer than last season. This is the result of several factors, including fewer breeding ewes and higher empty rates which will reduce lambs born to ewes mated.”
Spooner said many farmers would want to have more stock on-hand at this time of year, however a combination of dairy farmers rearing more replacements themselves (normally grazed on sheep and beef farms), climatic conditions that have led to early sales of stock, lower pasture covers in some regions and in some cases a shortage of available of replacement stock, are all factors. The challenge for farmers will be maximising the performance of animals on-hand and secondly as farming conditions allow finding profitable stock classes to restock with. . .
The full report is here.
New Zealand’s sheep population peaked at more than 70 million in response to SMPs – Supplementary Minimum Prices – which created a mutton mountain we couldn’t sell.
A combination of droughts and the end of subsidies in the wake of Roger Douglas’s first Budget in 1984 led to a sharp decline in sheep numbers and they’ve been going down ever since.
The steep decline in stock numbers hasn’t been mirrored by a similar slump in the amount of meat produced.
Better genetics and farming methods have enabled farmers to produce more meat per sheep.
While the quantity of sheep has fallen, the quality of meat exported has improved. In the 1980s most of our meat was sold as frozen carcases. Different cuts, and improved technology which has given chilled meat a longer shelf life, have resulted in better meat which can command a higher price.
New markets have been developed and our reliance on the Uk has decreased, but even so there’s still a lot of the world which isn’t interested in sheep meat.
Falling stock numbers and increasing automation have led to far fewer jobs at meat works too and this report is likely to lead to more debate on over capacity in the industry.