Drift to dairying cuts sheep numbers

Last updated 05:00 15/08/2014

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Southland's sheep and beef stock numbers continue to drop as more farmers turn to a more lucrative dairy industry.

Beef + Lamb's annual stock number survey, released this week, shows dwindling sheep numbers across the country and points to the South Island as the main contributor to lower numbers.

In Southland, the continued land use change towards dairy and dairy support activities has pushed sheep numbers from 4.4 million to 4.1 million, 5.4 per cent lower than last year and lower than almost every other region.

Federated Farmers Southland provincial president Russell MacPherson said the changes were market driven.

Where possible, farmers were making the choice to convert to dairy because that was the system returning the most profit, MacPherson said.

The survey, which is used to predict the meat and wool production for the 2014-15 farming and meat export years, paints a downward trend for the Southland sheep and beef industries.

The report says dairy conversions and dairy support activities continue to contribute to shifts in land use from sheep and beef farming to systems, which also incorporate grazing dairy heifers, wintering dairy cows, and selling grass (cut and carry systems) to help manage feed surpluses on existing sheep and beef farms.

This has contributed to the displacement of sheep and beef cattle, particularly on traditionally intensive finishing farms in Southland.

However, it is not all doom and gloom for the traditional sheep farmer.

The outlook for the 2014 lambing season is positive compared to last year. Ewe conditions and feed supplies were strong at mating this year.

South Island scanning results were on a par with 2013 and better than long-term averages.

The beef breeding cow herd in Southland is small at 61,000 head but increased by 2000 head on the previous year.

However, the large percentage increase was offset by the decrease in the number of weaner cattle, down 10.4 per cent.

MacPherson said while the past 25 years had resulted in a big move from sheep farming on flat land, there would always be a sheep and beef industry in Southland.

The numbers may be lower, but lamb weights had increased dramatically over time as a result of smarter farming involving genetics.


2013-14 CHANGES

Southland ewes to ram down 5.6 per cent

Total hoggets down 4.8 per cent

Total sheep down 5.4 per cent

Breeding cows/heifers up 3.6 per cent

Total weaners down 10.4 per cent

Total beef down 3.4 per cent 

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