NZ’s beef cattle herd up 2.8 percent, sheep flock down three percent

New Zealand’s beef cattle herd increased by 2.8 percent to 3.7 million during the 2015-16 season – the same time as the country’s sheep flock decreased three percent and now totals 28.3 million.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ Ltd)’s latest stock number survey shows that the 2015-16 year has been an exceptionally trying farming season with facial eczema in the North Island and widespread climatic challenges in other parts of the country particularly, North Canterbury.

Cros Spooner, chief operating officer, BLNZ Ltd
Cros Spooner: the largest contributor was an increase in weaner cattle numbers in many regions.

B+LNZ chief operating officer, Cros Spooner says the 2.8 percent increase in beef cattle numbers follows a 3.3 per ent decline in the 2014-15 season.

The largest contributor to the increase in beef cattle numbers was a lift in weaner cattle across many regions, up 8.2 percent as farmers responded to good returns. The exception to the increased weaner numbers trend was on the East Coast of the North Island, which experienced dry weather conditions, Spooner said.

“There was a continuing decline in the beef breeding herd, down by 1.6 percent and reflects the trend to more flexible cattle systems.  This reinforces the need for better integration with the dairy industry, particularly with genetics which is a key area of focus for B+LNZ.”

Spooner says breeding ewe numbers fell across all regions of New Zealand.  They were down by 3.1 percent overall – but the largest drop was in Marlborough and Canterbury (-6.5 percent) due to the ongoing drought conditions.

“North Island ewe numbers decreased 2.9 percent to nine million with drought conditions and facial eczema a significant cause. South Island numbers dropped 3.3 percent to 9.5 million also affected significantly by drought. Reducing capital stock numbers is often the least preferred option for farmers so it does reflect a very challenging year.”

Spooner says the national hogget flock is also down on last year.

“Hogget numbers decreased 3.0 percent to 8.9 million, but the fall was most dramatic in the North Island – down 6.9 percent. On the East Coast, some of the decrease was driven by a reduced lambing percentage in spring 2015 and the influence of dry conditions forcing destocking in autumn 2016. In Taranaki-Manawatu, lambs were finished earlier, in response to the conditions, leading to fewer head on hand at season- close. Marlborough and Canterbury hogget numbers increased by 4.8 percent with higher numbers of bought in trade hoggets held at season end.

“Ewe condition and scanning results have been variable across New Zealand and the lamb crop is expected to be down by 2.9 percent, to 23.3 million – 0.7 million fewer than last season. This is the result of several factors, including fewer breeding ewes and higher empty rates which will reduce lambs born to ewes mated.”

Spooner said many farmers would want to have more stock on-hand at this time of year, however a combination of dairy farmers rearing more replacements themselves (normally grazed on sheep and beef farms), climatic conditions that have led to early sales of stock, lower pasture covers in some regions and in some cases a shortage of available of replacement stock, are all factors.  The challenge for farmers will be maximising the performance of animals on-hand and secondly as farming conditions allow finding profitable stock classes to restock with.

B+LNZ will be working with its regionally-based Farmer Council to provide relevant information to assist farmers with these decisions. This includes a significant focus on proactively managing the ongoing impact of last season’s facial eczema outbreak.

B+LNZ Economic Service is recognised as the best source of statistical information for the New Zealand sheep and beef sector. It carries out a stock number survey annually. The latest survey figures are for the year to 30 June 2016.  Read the full report at

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