Cattle numbers up – sheep numbers down

New Zealand’s beef cattle herd increased by 2.8 per cent to 3.7 million during the 2015-2016 season. And at the same time the country’s sheep flock decreased three per cent, now totalling 28.3 million.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s latest stock number survey shows the 2015-2016 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 NZ 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 2014-2015 season. 

The largest contributor to the increase in cattle numbers was a lift in weaner cattle in 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, says Cros.

“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 NZ.”

Ewe numbers

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 – by 6.5 per cent – due to ongoing drought conditions.

“North Island ewe numbers decreased 2.9 per cent to nine 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.”

The national hogget flock is also down on last year. “Hogget numbers decreased three 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 percentage in spring 2015 and the influence of dry conditions forcing destocking in autumn 2016,” says Cros.

“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.”

Maximising performance

Cros says 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.

Beef + Lamb NZ will be working with its regionally-based farmer council to provide relevant information to assist farmers with these decisions. This includes a significant focus on proactively managing the ongoing impact of last season’s facial eczema outbreak.

Beef + Lamb NZ’s economic service carries out a stock number survey annually. The latest survey figures are for the year to June 30, 2016. Beef + Lamb NZ’s Economic Service is recognised as the best source of statistical information for the New Zealand sheep and beef sector.

Read the full report at:


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