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New Zealand and its wool

New Zealand

New Zealand is an independent South Pacific nation, about the size of Japan or Italy, with a population of 3.6 million people. Its nearest neighbour is Australia, 2,400 kilometres to the northwest.

Its people are mainly of British and indigenous Maori descent, with growing Polynesian and Asian populations.

The country enjoys a temperate climate and moderate rainfall, with grasslands that grow year-round in the north of the North Island and for most of the year elsewhere. Ryegrass and clover pastures are the engine for much of the New Zealand economy and a healthy natural feedstock for the country's sheep flocks.

New Zealand wool

New Zealand is the world's second largest wool producer. It produces all main wool types – fine, mid-micron and crossbred – but has a special role as the world's largest producer and exporter of crossbred wools. Crossbred wool is used mainly in interior textiles such as carpets, upholstery, furnishings, bedding and rugs. It is also used for handknitting yarn, knitwear and in blankets. Mid-micron and fine wools are used for hosiery, suitings and fashion apparel.

A micron is one millionth of a metre and is the standard measurement of textile fibre diameter. Typical New Zealand wools are strong, white and uniform, with low levels of black fibres, seeds, soil and other contaminants.

Sheep breeds

British colonists first successfully introduced sheep to New Zealand in the early 1800s. Today, New Zealand has around 46 million sheep. There are six main sheep breeds, and about 30 breeds in total. Farmers keep breeds that best suit their type of farmland and the climate in their region.

The Merino, for instance, is favoured in the alpine grasslands of the South Island's Southern Alps. Halfbreds and Corriedales are bred on the foothills and plains east of the Alps.

Romneys, Coopworths and Perendales are typical of the 'crossbred' breeds, used for meat and wool production on the hill country sheep farms elsewhere in New Zealand.

This page will take you to descriptions, photos and statistics on most of the sheep breeds in New Zealand.

New Zealand Sheep Numbers by Breed
  30 June 19841 30 June 19891 30 June 19961 30 June 19991  
Breed Number of sheep (million) % of total flock Number of sheep (million) % of total flock Number of sheep (million) % of total flock Number of sheep (million)² % of total flock ² % change from 1989–1999
Romney 27.7 40% 27.7 45% 27.5 58% 25.1 55% -9.3%
Coopworth 13.5 19% 7.6 13% 4.9 10% 7.3 16% -45.9%
Perendale 10.6 15% 4.8 8% 3.1 7% 1.9 4% -82%
Corriedale 3.8 5% 2.7 4% 2.6 5% 3.7 8% -2.6%
Merino 1.4 2% 2.5 4% 3.3 7% 2.3 5% 64.3%
Halfbred 2.5 4% 2.3 4% 1.8 4% 0.9 2% -64%
Other 10.4 15% 13.0 21% 4.2 9% 4.5 10% -55.8%
Total 69.7 100% 60.6 100% 47.4 100% 45.7³ 100% -34.3%

1. Official figures from Statistics New Zealand breed survey.
2. Estimated by Meat and Wool Economic Service of New Zealand.
3. Statistics New Zealand's Agricultural Production Statistics to June 1999.

According to Statistics New Zealand's Agricultural Production Statistics from June 1999, there were 30.4 million breeding ewes in June 1999, 3.1 million fewer than at June 1996.

New Zealand Sheep Numbers by region
  Actual 1999 1 Estimate 2000 2 Estimate 2001 2 % change from 2000–2001
Breed Breeding ewes (m) Hoggets (m) Total sheep (m) Breeding ewes (m) Hoggets (m) Total sheep (m) Breeding ewes (m) Hoggets (m) Total sheep (m) Breeding ewes (%) Hoggets (%) Total sheep (%)
Northland / Waikato /BOP 3.855 1.824 5.868 3.903 1.667 5.651 3.810 1.752 5.640 -2.4 +5.1 -0.2
East Coast 6.485 3.313 10.059 6.600 2.950 9.800 6.650 2.790 9.670 +0.8 -5.4 -1.3
Taranaki / Manawatu 3.071 1.424 4.651 3.023 1.437 4.612 3.015 1.394 4.565 -0.3 -2.9 -1.0
North Island 13.411 6.561 20.577 13.526 6.054 20.063 13.475 5.936 19.875 -0.4 -1.9 -0.9
Marlborough / Canterbury 7.743 3.469 12.102 7.635 3.632 12.223 7.040 3.060 11.000 -7.8 -15.7 -10.0
Otago 4.337 1.468 6.263 4.480 1.384 6.318 4.435 1.279 6.190 -1.0 -7.6 -2.5
Southland 4.873 1.704 6.738 5.170 1.444 6.775 5.170 1.380 6.707 - -4.4 -1.0
South Island 16.953 6.641 25.103 17.285 6.461 25.316 16.645 5.719 23.867 -3.7 -11.0 -5.7
Total 30.364 13.202 45.680 30.811 12.515 45.379 30.120 11.655 43.742 -2.2 -6.9 -3.6

1. Statistics New Zealand Agriculture Survey 1999
2. Meat and Wool Economic Service of New Zealand estimates

Sheep farms

Most New Zealand sheep farms are owned by families who live and work on their farms. Many farms have been in the same family for several generations.

There are also a number of farms owned by Maori trusts, farming traditional tribal lands.

A typical family-owned sheep farm is 200-300 hectares in size and runs about 2,500 sheep and usually some cattle.

There is a trend toward larger farms, owned by companies, farming families and Maori Trusts, which are managed as agribusiness operations. These farms typically run 6,000–10,000 sheep, cattle and often deer.

There are also many mixed farms where small flocks are run alongside arable crops and deer.

Livestock graze pastures all year round and rarely need supplementary feed, apart from hay and forage crops. These are normally only fed in colder regions during winter when pasture stops growing.

Sheep farmers have a busy life, protecting their flocks from pests and disease, protecting the environment and managing pastures. Feeding sheep the right amount at the right time of year is essential for optimum wool growth, lamb production and animal health.

At 5.4 kg of wool per head and up to 80 kg a hectare, New Zealand sheep farmers are the world's most intensive wool producers.

Shearing

Wool is shorn from live sheep, using electric clippers similar to those used by hairdressers. A few minutes after the process begins, the sheep are back grazing in their pastures.

Shearing is often done by contractors or by farmers and their families. It involves strenuous, skilled physical work. Working in a purpose-built farm woolshed, a good shearer can shear as many as 300 sheep a day.

To achieve this level of skill requires specialist training. New Zealand shearers, wool handlers and wool classers are trained by WoolPro and are sought after by sheep farmers around the world.

Shearing may be carried out once a year, twice a year (second-shearing) or three times every two years. Climate, insect pest control, management requirements and prices for different wool types will all have a bearing on the shearing policy a farmer adopts.

After the sheep are shorn, the good fleece wool is separated from short and stained wool.

The different wool types are then pressed into separate bales weighing up to 200 kg.

These are sent to a wool facility where they are tested for yield, diameter (micron), presence of extra matter such as seed heads and colour before sale. After being sold, the wool is scoured (washed) to remove wool grease and dirt, before being tested again. It is then sent for manufacture to mills in New Zealand and overseas.

 

 

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