Drought causes NZ lamb crop drop back – exports expected to reduce

Thursday, 7 January 2021

By Bronwyn Magee

The New Zealand lamb crop fell by 1.5% (357,000 head) on the previous spring* to 22.89 million head, according to the latest data from Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ). Adverse weather conditions drove most of the decline, with the North Island being heavily impacted by drought earlier in the year.

The total number of lambs in the North Island dropped back 546,000 head (-4.8%) compared to the same period last year, at 10.8 million head. A severe autumn drought contributed to this, restricting feed supplies at the time of mating. As such, pregnancies scanning results were lower. Although, favourable conditions during lambing are thought to have partially offset the impact of this, and the lambing rate was nearly as good as last year.

In the South Island, the total number of lambs grew by 1.6% to (189,000 head) 12.1 million.

Much of the fall in lamb crop was due to a lower number of lambs from hoggets, down 22% (259,000 head) compared to spring last year, at 918,000 head. Again, lower numbers from the North Island accounted for most of this decline, with the number of lambs born from hoggets down 40% compared to the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, numbers in the South Island held steady (+0.2%) at 520,000 head.

Overall, the number of breeding ewes were virtually unchanged (+0.1%) on 2019, standing at 16.8 million head at 1 July 2020, while the lambing percentage dropped back 0.7% on last year, averaging 130.3% this spring.

B+LNZ previously estimated the 2020 national lamb crop to be down 4% at 22.28 million head. However, extremely favourable conditions at lambing and good pasture quality in the North Island, have partially offset the impact of drought seen earlier in the year.

The number of lambs processed for export in the 2020-21 season is estimated to decrease by 4.5% to 18.25 million head. The number of adult sheep processed for export is estimated to decline by 10.8% to 3.15 million in 2020-21.


*Spring in New Zealand runs from September to November.

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