6 Aug 2009

Sheep numbers drop by 2.8%

3:09 pm on 6 August 2009

Drought and dairy expansion have continued to take their toll on New Zealand's sheep population.

An annual stock survey by Meat and Wool New Zealand's Economic Service shows sheep numbers have fallen by a further 2.8% in the past year. That is on top of an 11% decline the previous year.

The drop reduces the national sheep flock to a little over 33 million, fewer than half the 70 million sheep New Zealand had when numbers peaked in the early 1980s.

Economic Service executive director Rob Davison says the latest decline in sheep numbers has been in the North Island.

He says the east coast of the North Island, which has about one quarter of the country's sheep flock, has had three successive years of drought.

Mr Davison says the final stages of dairy expansion into sheep and beef land have also played a part in the drop in sheep numbers.

The livestock survey shows beef cattle numbers have also fallen in the past year, by 1.7%, to fewer than five million. In contrast the national dairy herd grew by almost 3%, most of that increase occurring in the South Island.