Export lamb production down for 2013-2014, but better than might be expected

Lamb Crop 2013Export lamb production is estimated to be down by five percent this season, says Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ). Predicted higher average carcase weights will not be enough to offset an estimated drop in lamb numbers following last year’s drought for the 2013-2014 export season. 

B+LNZ’s latest Lamb Crop 2013 report confirms that the number of lambs tailed overall across New Zealand is down – by 4.7 per cent – compared with last spring.

A total of 25.5 million head were tailed – 1.3 million fewer than 2012 – making the current lamb crop the second smallest in nearly 60 years. Only 2010-11 was lower.

Burtt says the lamb crop figure is actually higher than many may expect, given the impact of last season’s drought on ewe numbers and ewe condition at mating.

“We’re seeing good lamb thrift compared to last year – thanks to lower stocking rates and favourable pasture growth in most regions. If pasture continues growing at current rates, it could trigger early store sales from regions that are traditionally summer dry.”

When analysed by island, the North Island lamb crop is down 7.4 per cent and the South Island down by 2.3 per cent.

The smaller lamb crop impacts on export processing numbers, which are expected to drop 6.8 per cent to 19.5 million head, making 2013-14 the third lowest export lamb total since 1960.

“However, the average export lamb slaughter weight is expected to increase 2.3 per cent to 18.4 kg, due to lower stocking rates and more available feed. This per-head weight increase won’t be enough to offset the drop in numbers and we still expect total lamb production to be down by approximately five percent,” says Burtt.

The national ewe lambing percentage was 120.8 percent – down 3.8 percentage points on last year’s record 124.6 per cent. Again, the North Island took the biggest hit – down 5.8 percentage points to 117.6 per cent. The South Island’s 123.6 percent represented a fall of only 2.1 percentage points.

Burtt says a noteworthy feature of spring 2013 was the significant decrease in the number of hoggets mated. “Many farmers opted to limit the numbers of hoggets put to the ram, due to the tight feed situation at mating and hogget weights. The result is only 1.13 million lambs from hoggets – a 17 percent drop.”

Unsurprisingly, mutton processing numbers are expected to be well back on last season, down 20 percent to 3.3 million. This reflects the drought-driven high cull of ewes during 2012-13.

The lamb crop survey covers about 500 commercial sheep and beef farms, which are statistically representative of New Zealand’s commercial sheep and beef farms.

More information: Lamb Crop 2013 (PDF, 387KB).

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