Reduced breeding inventories lower NZ lamb crop

Friday, 2 September 2022

Stock numbers

The total number of sheep in New Zealand was largely unchanged from a year ago, based on the latest data from Beef + Lamb New Zealand. As of 30 June, total flock numbers were up 0.2% to 25.8 million. The breeding ewe flock recorded a 1.4% contraction to 16.1 million, while the number of hoggets rose by 3.2% to 8.8 million. Ewe numbers fell across all regions, but particularly in drought-stricken areas where de-stocking has been more widespread.

A combination of fewer breeding ewes, and mixed scanning results following dry conditions at tupping, put the 2022/23 lamb crop at 22.4 million, down 0.8% from spring 2021. How the weather behaves heading in the spring will be crucial to how the lamb crop develops. Read the latest forecast from the Ministry for Primary Industries here.

Beef cattle numbers fell 0.9% in the year to 30 June, totalling 3.9 million head, with the number of breeding cows down by 1.1%. The spring 2022 calf crop is expected to be 1.2% smaller than a year ago, with a smaller cow herd and generally poorer cow condition due to dry weather.


In the year to July, New Zealand sheep meat production stood at 274,200 tonnes, down 3% compared to the same period a year ago. Fewer lambs and adult sheep have been processed in that time (-2% and -3%, respectively), while carcase weights have been slightly lighter on average.

Beef production fell by 6% in the same period, to 452,300 tonnes. Fewer prime cattle (steers, heifers and bulls) have been processed year-on-year (-5%; -51,000 head), while fewer cows have also come forward (-9%; -77,000 head).

Meat trade

From January to July (inclusive) New Zealand exported 249,000 tonnes of fresh and frozen sheep meat, 8% (21,600 tonnes) less than the same period a year ago. This has been largely driven by lower shipments to China, marginally offset by increases to the EU (plus the UK) and several Middle Eastern and Asian countries. 

New Zealand fresh and frozen beef exports have also fallen during this time, down 7% year-on-year to 300,000 tonnes. A 25% fall in shipments to the US has been the main contributor, with less beef sent to many other countries including Switzerland, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia. Conversely, shipments have risen to China, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia, but not enough to outweigh losses.

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