Stock rates indicate tough season

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New Zealand’s beef cattle herd increased by 2.8% to 3.7 million during the 2015-16 season but the sheep flock decreased 3% to 28.3 million, Beef and Lamb New Zealand’s latest stock number survey shows.
Beef and Lamb New Zealand chief operating officer Cros Spooner said the 2.8% increase in beef cattle numbers followed a 3.3% decline in the 2014-15 season.
The largest contributor to the increase in cattle was a lift in weaner cattle across many regions, up 8.2% as farmers responded to good returns.
‘‘There was a continuing decline in the beef-breeding herd, down by 1.6%, and reflects the trend to more flexible cattle systems,’’ Mr Spooner said.
‘‘This reinforces the need for better integration with the dairy industry, particularly with genetics, which is a key area of focus for Beef and Lamb New Zealand,’’ he said.
South Island ewe numbers dropped 3.3% to 9.5 million, also affected significantly by drought.
‘‘Reducing capital stock numbers is often the least preferred option for farmers so it does reflect a very challenging year,’’ he said.
Mr Spooner said the national hogget flock was down on last year. Hogget numbers decreased 3%to 8.9 million.
Otago-Southland hogget numbers decreased 1.6% to 2.24 million.
Otago recorded a decrease of of 2.5% and Southland 0.4%.
In Southland, the number of hoggets was similar tothe previous year’s, with slightly fewer ewe hoggets balanced by a lift in trade hoggets on hand.
Otago Southland Meat Workers Union president Daryl Carran said while the decrease in sheep numbers had lessened, it was still trending down.
There were 1.5 million fewer lambs processed in Southland from 2007 to 2012, he said.
That drop in lamb numbers equated to the loss of about 500 seasonal meatworkers’ jobs.
The dramatic decrease was the result of changed land use, mainly the increase in dairy, he said.
Survey results showed ewe hoggets retained in the previous season did not translate into increased breeding ewe numbers this season.
The decrease in the number of ewes mated in Otago was 1.6% and in Southland 1.4%.
Ewe condition and scanning results had been variable throughout New Zealand and the lamb crop was expected to be down by 2.9% to 23.3 million, 0.7 million fewer than last season.
This was the result of several factors, including fewer breeding ewes and higher empty rates.
Mr Spooner said many farmers would want to have more stock on hand at this time of year, but a combination of dairy farmers rearing more replacements themselves (normally grazed on sheep and beef farms), climatic conditions that had led to early sales of stock, lower pasture covers in some regions and, in some cases, a shortage ofreplacement stock were all factors.