WELLINGTON, N.Z. – An increase in the number of dairy cows has been the major factor driving reduced breeding ewe numbers and lowered lamb and mutton export production for 2009-10, claims Rob Davison, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s economic service executive director.

For the year ended June 30, 2009, Statistics New Zealand official breeding ewe numbers were 2.2% (480,000 head) lower than previously estimated and the number of dairy cows was 3.1% (140,000 head) higher than expected, Davison said.

“Almost 70% of the decrease in breeding ewe numbers and almost all (96%) of the dairy cow increase occurred in the South Island,” he added. “The flow on effect of this and other factors has been the 5.5% drop in export lambs slaughtered to mid June 2010 [-1.0 million].

“We now estimate the 2009-10 export lamb slaughter for the year ending Sept. 30 to drop 4.5% from last year to 21.5 million head,” he continued. “This is significantly different – 2 million less than our December 2009 forecast. The export mutton slaughter is expected to be virtually unchanged from our December 2009 forecast and drops an estimated 10.1% to 3.6 million head on last year.”

The export beef slaughter is estimated to decrease 3.9% to 2.25 million head, virtually the same as the December 2009 forecast, Davison said.

“For cattle, the decrease reflects a high slaughter in 2008-09 due to the increased turn-off of cull dairy cows,” he added. “The decline in beef breeding cows in 2007 and 2008 also limits the number of prime cattle available this year. However, we expect some rebuilding of cattle herds in the previously drought affected regions.”

Beef + lamb New Zealand’s Economic Service survey of stock numbers on hand at June 30 is currently underway and due for completion on July 22. Livestock on hand in mid-winter form the productive base for the 2010-11 production outlook.