Huge drop in NZ spring lamb numbers

21:26, Sep 05 2013
A spring lamb.
FEWER AROUND: Beef+Lamb NZ predicts two million fewer lambs born in New Zealand this spring because of the recent drought.

This year's North Island-wide drought has taken a chunk out of New Zealand's sheep and cattle numbers, according to the latest figures.

This spring's lamb crop is expected to be 2 million lambs fewer – down 7.7 per cent to 24.4m – and only 18.6m lambs will be slaughtered for export.

The Beef+Lamb New Zealand Economic Service's annual stock survey confirms what many predicted. Many farmers were forced by the drought to reduce ewe and beef cow numbers because of a lack of feed. The result will be fewer lambs and calves born this spring.

The export cattle slaughter is forecast to decrease 2.7 per cent to 2.2m head in the coming season.

Beef+Lamb's chief economist Andrew Burtt said pregnancy scanning results in the North Island were hit by the drought's affect on ewe condition at mating.

"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 30.94m at  June 30, compared to 31.26m a year earlier.

Burtt said 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 9.52m, while South Island ewe numbers were almost static at 10.69m.

"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 3.69m, from 3.73m 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."