New Zealand’s cattle herd grows 2.8%

Beef + Lamb New Zealand says that during the past year, New Zealand’s beef cattle herd increased by 2.8 per cent – to 3.6 million head – while the decline in the sheep flock slowed sharply as sheep numbers recovered in key regions after drought and other challenges.

The annual stock number survey conducted by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ)’s Economic Service highlights the continued growth in beef production, as farmers move towards livestock that are less labour-intensive and currently more profitable.

Andrew Burtt, B+LNZ chief economist, nods to higher cattle numbers and indications of the sheep flock rebuilding after several years of drought and natural disasters.

The largest contributor to the increase in the number of beef cattle was a five per cent lift in weaner cattle numbers, reflecting the high cost of buying older cattle as replacements, and good grass availability. Meanwhile, the size of New Zealand’s beef breeding cow herd did not change, B+LNZ Economic Service chief economist Andrew Burtt says.

Burtt says the number of breeding ewes fell in most regions of New Zealand – and by 1.9 percent overall. The exception was in Marlborough‑Canterbury, where there was a small increase (+0.3 percent) following the prolonged drought.

“Ewe numbers decreased 2.6 percent to 8.7 million in the North Island, while South Island numbers dropped 1.1 percent to 9.1 million. The decrease in the North Island reflects residual effects of last year’s facial eczema outbreak. However, nationwide there has been more emphasis on retaining ewe hoggets, which indicates some rebuilding of the flock is occurring.”

Consequently, the national hogget flock is up on last year.

“Hogget numbers increased 1.7 per cent to 8.7 million, largely due to replacement ewe hoggets being retained on the East Coast to build up flocks, and an increase in Marlborough-Canterbury to take advantage of the improvement in feed supplies after a number of difficult years caused by drought and natural disasters.

Burtt says ewes were in good condition at mating, and going into winter, due to feed availability.

“Pregnancy scanning of ewes reveals good pregnancy rates in the North Island, but the later season as a result of climatic differences means it’s difficult to generalise about the South Island.”

Despite the small decrease in the number of breeding ewes, the lamb crop is expected to be up 1.1 percent – to 23.5 million – 0.3 million more than last season. “This is the result of several factors, including continued improvements in productivity by farmers leading to better ewe lambing percentages, good feed supplies and a lift in the number of ewe hoggets mated.”

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