Sheep flock spirals to 1943 low

Sheep are being pushed back to the hill country as numbers fall to dairying.
Tony Benny

Sheep are being pushed back to the hill country as numbers fall to dairying.

The national sheep flock has shrunk to 1943 levels of below 30 million.

Statistics NZ's latest count had the flock at 29.8 million sheep by last June. Numbers had fallen by 3 per cent with 983,000 fewer sheep from the previous year.

This coincided with the dairy cow herd increasing  3 per cent over the same period to just under 6.7 million. Most of the increase had come from the South Island with 148,000 more cows and heifers, while numbers were up by 67,000 in the North Island.

The trend falls in line with many sheep and beef farms being converted to dairy operations over the last decade.

Statistics NZ agriculture statistics manager Neil Kelly said the last time sheep numbers were below 30 million was in 1943. The main dairy cattle increases had come from the key dairying regions of Waikato, Canterbury, and Southland, he said.

Sheep numbers fell more in the North Island - down 596,000 - than the south The North Island had  14.4 million sheep and the south 15.4 million,

Manawatu-Wanganui and Otago have the largest regional flocks of 5.3 million followed by Canterbury (5 million), and Southland (4.3 million). Canterbury, however, had the highest fall, down 255,000 (5 per cent).

China and the United Kingdom remained key destinations for lamb exports with 94,000 tonnes of lamb to China and 60,000 tonnes to the UK.

The South Island dairy herd had been increasing since 2005 and accounted for 40 per cent of the national herd, compared with 27 per cent in 2005

Southland led the cow spike with 85,000 more dairy cattle - up 14 per cent - followed by Waikato and Manawatu-Wanganui. 

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The national beef cattle herd of 3.7 million was back by 29,000 from 2013.

The deer herd decreased 7 per cent, to 958,000 - falling below the one  million mark for the first time. Deer numbers peaked at 1.8 million in 2004, but this has been falling since 2009.

The results were from an agricultural production survey carried out by Statistics NZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

 - Stuff

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