Beef + Lamb NZ’s stock survey lists the national sheep flock as 27.34 million head at the conclusion of the 2016-17 fiscal year, back 0.9% year-on-year. This decrease predominantly consisted of breeding ewes, which dropped in numbers by 1.9% to 17.8 million head.
In the North Island, slow flock rebuilding and the continuing flock decline in the hill country has driven decreases. Meanwhile, a shift to less labour intensive farming options, combined with drought in the South Island has fuelled a decrease in numbers and some producers have not yet rebuilt flocks to pre-drought levels.
In contrast, hogget numbers increased by 1.7%, to 8.71 million head, on the back of producers retaining more hoggets for ewe replacement and a reduction in trade hoggets. In the South Island, there was an increase in hoggets retained over winter 2017, due to limited finishing ability on some farms and producers wanting to take advantage of good feed supplies.
NZ’s beef cattle herd increased by 100,000 head (or 2.8%) , to 3.63 million head in 2016-17, with a 5% increase in weaner cattle numbers being a key factor. A greater number of weaners were also carried over, arising from high cattle prices and good pasture conditions.