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Lamb Numbers Show Modest Recovery

03 December 2014

NEW ZEALAND - The widespread drought of two years ago continues to have an impact on sheep and beef farming, with Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s (B+LNZ) Lamb Crop 2014 survey indicating only a modest improvement in numbers tailed this spring.

At an estimated 25.8 million lambs, the figure is up 1.2 per cent on the previous spring. However, last spring was the second smallest lamb crop in nearly 60 years.

B+LNZ Economic Service chief economist Andrew Burtt said this season’s crop was still feeling the impact of the significant drought that affected most of the North Island and parts of the South Island in 2012-13.

“The drought meant there was less feed available in the lead-up to mating and ewes were consequently lighter than optimal weights when the ram went out,” he said.

“This was particularly the case in the North Island. However, this season spring weather was better than average, which helped lamb survival, and the average lambing percentage across the country was a respectable 124 per cent.”

The number of lambs born to hoggets was up significantly – 7.7 per cent – to 1.2 million. Hoggets are generally mated several weeks later than mixed-age ewes and feed levels improved over this period, increasing both the condition of individual hoggets and the number of head farmers put to the ram.

The residual impact of the drought is even more pronounced when the lamb numbers are split by island. Numbers were up 5.5 per cent in the North Island, when compared to the drought-affected lamb crop of 2013, which was the smallest for the North Island since records began.

Ewe lambing percentages were up across all regions, with a 7.1 percentage point lift on the East Coast, to 123.7 per cent, which is noteworthy because the East Coast represents about 25 per cent of New Zealand’s sheep flock.

In the South Island, 2.6 per cent fewer lambs were tailed. With overall lambing performance virtually identical to 2013, the figure of 13.4 million head was a direct result of fewer breeding ewes, due to land use changes to dairy and dairy support activities, particularly in Southland.

Across the country, fewer lambs are expected to be processed during 2014-15, compared to 2013-14. The number of lambs available for export in the current season is estimated at 19.95 million head, compared to 20.3 million head last season – a drop of 1.9 per cent.

But Mr Burtt says the background reasons are positive. “Farmers are holding on to lambs, so they can rebuild sheep numbers, particularly in the North Island.”

The average carcase weight is expected to increase slightly – by 0.7 per cent – to 18.4kg, as a result of slightly lower stocking rates and an expected “normal” season.

B+LNZ’s annual Lamb Crop survey covers more than 500 commercial sheep and beef farms, which are statistically representative of New Zealand’s population of commercial sheep and beef farms.

TheMeatSite News Desk

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