Drought means two million less lambs expected

Lamb Crop 2012, B+LNZLast season’s North Island drought has dented New Zealand’s sheep and cattle numbers and this spring’s lamb crop is expected to be two million lambs less – down 7.7 per cent to 24.43 million head.

The Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Economic Service annual stock number survey confirms what many predicted, following the recent prolonged and extensive drought. The survey provides the country’s sheep and beef sector with a prediction of the productive base of livestock for the 2013-14 season.

While both sheep and cattle numbers fell – one percent and 1.3 percent respectively – it is the lamb crop that reflects the drought’s impact most significantly.

Export lamb production for 2013-14 is expected to be 18.6 million head, a decrease of 8.5 percent and the export cattle production is forecast to decrease 2.7 per cent to 2.2 million head in 2013-14.

B+LNZ Economic Service chief economist, Andrew Burtt says the drought conditions affected ewe condition at mating and, consequently, scanning results were variable across the North Island.

“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 one percent to 30.94 million head at 30 June 2013, compared to 31.26 million a year earlier.

Burtt says breeding ewe numbers were also down one percent overall, but the numbers in each island moved in opposite directions. “Ewe numbers in the North Island decreased by 2.7 per cent to 9.52 million, while South Island ewe numbers were almost static (+0.5 percent) at 10.69 million.

“Hogget numbers reflected a similar pattern – back 1.3 percent overall, but down 3.5 percent in the north and up one percent in the south.”

Meanwhile, cattle numbers fell 1.3 per cent to 3.69 million head at 30 June 2013, from 3.73 million 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.”

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