Lamb numbers down 2 million

Widespread drought last season will mean an estimated two million fewer lambs this spring.

The Beef and Lamb New Zealand Economic Service's annual stock number survey has been released and confirmed what many predicted - lamb numbers were expected to be down 7.7% to 24.43 million head.

The export lamb slaughter for 2013-14 was expected to be 18.6 million head, a decrease of 8.5%, and export cattle slaughter was forecast to drop 2.7% to 2.2 million head.

Drought conditions affected ewe condition at mating and scanning results were variable across the North Island, the service's chief economist Andrew Burtt said.

''We're expecting lambing percentages to be down by up to 20 percentage points in the regions worst hit by drought in the north.

''The South Island fared better and scanning results were down only a few percentage points - and that's against last season, which was favourable in the South,'' he said.

Nationally, the lambing percentage was expected to fall by six to seven percentage points, following two season of record lambing performance due to favourable conditions.

In Otago and Southland, scanning results were variable, but overall there was a decline of up to five percentage points.

Spring lambing conditions would be a key factor determining the final lamb crop, which would be reviewed in November when Beef and Lamb New Zealand's lamb crop survey was completed.

Overall, sheep numbers were down 1% to 30.94 million head at June 30 this year, compared with 31.26 million a year earlier.

Breeding ewes in the North Island decreased by 2.7% to 9.52 million and increased by 0.5% to 10.69 million in the South Island.

In Otago, breeding ewes increased 3.2% but they decreased 2.2% in Southland, in part reflecting the expansion of dairying.

A 6.3% increase in total beef cattle in Otago was made up of sizeable increases in the number of breeding cows and other cattle, offset by a decrease in weaner cattle on hand.

The large increase in other cattle reflected farmers holding trading cattle at June 30, whereas there was a marked decrease in 2012 when good pastoral conditions supported earlier finishing.

In Southland, where the beef cattle herd was small, the 8.4% increase in beef breeding cows underpinned an overall 4.6% increase in total beef cattle.

Nationally, the number of beef breeding cows at 1.05 million head was down 0.5% on the previous year.