Lamb Crop 2016: Worth $2.5bn, but fewer lambs, higher lambing percentage predicted

New Zealand lamb exports are predicted to be worth around $2.5 billion this season. Estimates suggest 2.7 percent fewer lambs will be available for export in 2016-2017, but there will be a higher lambing percentage, Beef + Lamb NZ’s recently released Lamb Crop 2016 suggests.

The B+LNZ Economic Service has been crunching the numbers at the end of this season’s first quarter from October to December.

It estimates that around 23 percent of the total season’s lamb processing will happen in the first quarter, which is down on the last season, it says. This means, overall, the number of lambs processed in the first three months of the 2016-2017 season is expected to be down by a total of 4.43 million head, down 11 percent on 2015-2016.

Andrew Burtt, B+LNZ chief economist. Picture B+LNZ.
Andrew Burtt.

“The key driver of reduced first quarter slaughter is a smaller lamb crop from fewer breeding ewes, combined with improved feed conditions overall, encouraging lambs to be held on-farm for weight gain,” explains B+LNZ chief economist Andrew Burtt.

Accordingly, export lamb slaughter over the full season is estimated to decrease 2.7 percent to 19.35 million head compared with 2015-2016, a decline of 0.53 million.

“This is underpinned by fewer breeding ewes, partly offset by a lift in lambing percentage leading to a decrease in the overall number of lambs tailed.”

Average carcase weight is expected to remain static at 18.4 kg.

“Lamb export receipts for 2016-17 are estimated at $2.5 billion, slightly down on the previous season,” says Burtt.

Mutton slaughter is estimated to decrease by 5.6 percent to 3.6 million. “This follows three successive years of high off-take, which resulted from drought conditions and profitable returns for beef,” the Lamb Crop 2016 report says.

It also shows the average lambing percentage across the country was up 2.1 percentage points in Q1 – a remarkable performance given the challenges of the previous season. There were 123 lambs born per 100 ewes, which was achieved because ewes were in good condition, there was enough spring feed, and more lambs were born from hoggets.

Burtt says the report estimates 23.7 million lambs were tailed this spring. They came from a breeding ewe flock that was down 3.1 per cent on last year.

“The smaller ewe flock occurred with the shift towards cattle production and the impact of facial eczema in North Island regions.

“Farmers read the climatic signals and made decisions early and the lamb crop result reinforces the impact of those management decisions.”

In North Island regions, lamb numbers were affected by the impact of facial eczema on breeding ewe condition and numbers and wet climatic conditions which hindered lamb growth rates, Burtt said.

Lamb numbers in South Island regions were slightly ahead of last season, due to good climatic conditions, improved lamb thrift and a lift in ewe lambing percentages. These factors combined to offset a decrease in breeding ewe numbers.

Burtt says over the whole country, there was a 1.3 per cent drop – or 0.3 million fewer lambs than last year. In the North Island, 11.3 million lambs were tailed – down 0.3 million on last year, but up on 2013’s tally. Meanwhile, 12.4 million lambs were tailed in the South Island.

The Lamb Crop 2016 survey covered 500 commercial sheep and beef farms, which are statistically representative of New Zealand’s commercial sheep and beef farms.

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