Lost sheep and cattle

17 July 2002

There is rising concern over the reducing supplies of stock being presented for slaughter which has resulted in shortages of lambs, sheep and cattle. Nick Nicholson of the Wool Exporters Assocation has suggested that sheep numbers could be 36 million rather than the 44 million estimated. And wondering if there is as much stock on farms as had been forecast earlier in the year, John Loughlin, chief executive of the country's biggest meat exporters, Richmond Meats, blames a lack of up-to-date data. The last government census was carried out in 1999. But livestock numbers were badly hit by droughts in 2000 and 2001, causing farmers in both North and South islands to cull stock numbers heavily. However, Rob Davison, chief executive of the Meat and Wool Boards Economic Service, says: 'You can't simply lose eight million sheep. They've got to be out there somewhere. And they haven't been slaughtered.' Davison is sticking to his estimate that there were 44 million sheep at the start of the season last July, a fall of 3.1% on the drought-stricken previous season. This includes an allowance for an 8% drop in sheep numbers in Marlborough and Canterbury, the provinces worst affected by drought. He estimates that cattle numbers rose by 2.3% this season to 4.78 million and that the dairy herd was up 3.4% to 4.49 million. However, Davison contends that a greater number of cattle will be retained for fattening and breeding. Davison estimates that 180,000 fewer cattle will be sent for slaughter in the twelve months to June 30. Dairy cows that would otherwise be slaughtered are being held back to stock 55 new South Island dairy farms. He says there are a number of explanations for the apparent disappearance of so many animals. Firstly, a rebound in the industry means that farmers are under no pressure to sell their stock. Secondly, a poor summer with too much rain and too little sun affected grass and pasture quality and is causing farmers to hold back stock until they are in optimum condition. In April the lamb kill was running 11.9% behind last year and 9% behind for mutton and 3.4% for beef. The aftermath of the drought is still apparent, with a forecast 2% fall in the number of lambs to be slaughtered this season (25 million) and a 12% drop in sheep (4.1 million).

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