Sheep dwindle, but beef on rise

The national beef herd is up but the sheep flock is down — hoggets ‘‘substantially’’ in Southland, a survey shows.

The national sheep flock was down 0.8% — about 199,000 animals — to an estimated 25.83million, while beef cattle numbers rose 2.5% to 3.98million, a Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s annual stock number survey shows.

The number of breeding ewes fell 0.5% to 16.48million, and hoggets were down 0.6% to 8.61million.

Southland hogget numbers ‘‘decreased substantially’’ by 7.9%, the report says.

The proportion of ewe hoggets run-with-ram was slightly lower in Southland and slightly higher in Otago, compared with last season.

Some farmers decided to stop mating hoggets to reduce workload. In Otago, more hoggets that reached target weights were mated to fill the gap left by reduced ewe numbers.

A national increase in beef cattle was driven largely by more rising 2-year-old cattle, particularly in the North Island. However, beef numbers fell 4.5% to 464,000 in Otago-Southland.

B+LNZ Economic Service chief economist Andrew Burtt said 2020 winter and spring conditions meant feed shortages in some areas, particularly the South Island, leading to de-stocking of sheep before Christmas.

However, if this spring was favourable, the national lamb crop was expected to be up 1.6%.

Since 2000, the number of sheep in New Zealand has dropped nearly 40% from 42.3 million to 25.8million. The number of beef cattle in the same period is down 5% from 4.2million to 4.0million.

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