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1 July 2003

Livestock at Start of Season

“Sheep numbers eased 1.0 per cent to 39.15 million head in the year to 1 July 2003”, said Rob Davison, Executive Director of ‘MWI Economic Service’ as he released the results of a recently completed survey of livestock numbers on hand at the start of the 2003-04 farming

“This was the fifteenth consecutive year sheep numbers have declined”, said Rob Davison, and went on to note that sheep numbers have now declined in 20 of the last 21 years. Sheep numbers peaked at 70.3 million head in 1982.

Mr Davison noted that dry conditions during the summer and autumn of 2003 were a major factor behind the decrease. “Sheep profitability has been good in recent years, driven by good demand for our lamb and mutton products in overseas markets. Low or declining prices for dairy, beef and venison have made the rebuilding of sheep numbers even more attractive. Unfortunately, extremely dry conditions in southern regions of the North Island have meant this was not possible this season”, said Mr Davison.

“The Taranaki-Manawatu region showed the greatest drop (-3.4%) in sheep numbers followed by the East Coast North Island region (-1.6%)”, said Rob Davison. “These were the regions hardest hit by drought during the summer and autumn periods”. In all other regions, sheep numbers declined by less than 1.0 per cent.

Ewe numbers and lamb outlook

“Breeding ewe numbers went down less than total sheep”, said Mr Davison. “This reflects efforts by farmers to protect the breeding capacity of the flock despite the adverse conditions. Breeding ewes were estimated to be down 0.7 per cent to 26.54 million head. This is the lowest total of breeding ewes since 1955 (48 years).”

“Ewes in the drought regions were mated in lighter condition than last season, but elsewhere ewe condition was good. This gives rise to expectation of lower average conception rates, and this has largely been confirmed by early scanning results”, said Rob Davison. “At this
stage, we estimate the lambing percentage will be around 119 per cent, although the final result will depend on the weather at lambing time. This is the second highest lambing percentage on record, but is still 4.5 percentage points below last season’s record.”

“On this basis, the lamb numbers in the coming spring are estimated to be down 1.4 million head on last season’s total to 31.7 million head. Lamb numbers are expected to be lower in both islands”, said Mr Davison.

The actual lamb crop will be reported from a separate survey at the end of lambing.

Beef cattle

In contrast to sheep, beef cattle numbers showed a small increase (+0.9%) over the 12 month period to 30 June 2003 to total 4.54 million. This was the third consecutive year of increasing MWI Economic Service Embargo until 1:00 am 1 August 2003 Improving Meat and Wool profitability beef cattle numbers following a significant decline in the period from 1995 to 2000. However, even after this increase, beef cattle numbers remain well below their “recent” peak of 5.18 million head in 1995.

Some of this increase was unintentional due to slaughter delays in the South Island meaning that some cattle were still on hand at 30 June that would normally have been slaughtered earlier in the season. This saw South Island beef cattle numbers lift 1.5 per cent to 1.17 million head.

North Island beef cattle numbers lifted 0.7 per cent to 3.37 million head, with a decrease of
3.0 per cent in the Taranaki-Manawatu region being offset by increases elsewhere.

Beef breeding cow numbers were stable in the North Island, but increased strongly (+7.0%) in
the Marlborough-Canterbury region. This largely reflects herd rebuilding from recent


For more information, contact Meat and Wool Innovation - Economic Service:

Rob Davison Executive Director 04 471 6034
Brian Speirs Chief Economist 04 471 6035

Regional: Boyd Weir District Officer, Hamilton 07 839 0286
Doug Syme Senior District Officer, Napier 06 835 4629
Rex Williams District Officer, Feilding 06 323 4857
Bevan Whitty District Officer, Christchurch 03 366 9031
Richard Farquhar District Officer, Dunedin 03 489 9173


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