WELLINGTON, N.Z. — This year’s record lambing percentage increased lamb numbers to 28.9 million, up 1.7 million or 6.2% from the 51-year low experienced last spring, according to Meat & Wool New Zealand’s Economic Service. Although lamb numbers are still well below the 32.8 million average of the decade to 2007, excellent spring lambing weather brought some recovery, said Rob Davison, Economic Service director.

"This year’s lambing percentage of 124 lambs born per 100 ewes was a record for the country and well up on last spring which had a drought-affected low of 113 lambs born per 100 ewes," he added.

Offsetting the improved lambing percentage was a decrease in the breeding ewe flock of 3.6% due to drought and expansion of the dairy herd.

Meat & Wool New Zealand region managers collected lamb survey numbers showing the North Island’s ewe lambing percentage was 117.5, up 12.7 percentage points on last year, but partly offset by a 3.3% reduction in breeding ewes.

"At 13.1 million, the North Island’s total lamb numbers were up 1.1 million [9.2%] from 2008’s drought-affected low. A total of 430,000 or 3.3%were lambs from hoggets," Mr. Davison said. "The South Island’s ewe lambing percentage was 129.1%, up 8.5 percentage points on 2008. Like the North Island, this was partly offset by a 3.8% decrease in breeding ewe numbers. As a result, at 15.8 million the South Island’s lamb numbers were up 6.2% on last year. Within this total 540,000 or 3.4%of lambs were from hoggets, which is an increase on last spring of 162,000."

With the New Zealand lamb crop up 1.7 million, the number of lambs available for export markets is estimated to increase by 1 million to 23.5 million, a 4.4% rise on last year, Mr. Davison said. This number is still 6% below the average export lamb availability in the years from 2000-01 through to 2007-08. The remaining 700,000 lamb increase will be kept for flock replacements.

Although lamb production may be up on last year, Mr. Davison said the current exchange rate is a concern. "Last year’s lamb crop generated NZ$2.8 billion [$2 billion] in export receipts," he added. "This year we will have higher production and steady offshore market prices, but the current exchange rate is around 17% higher than last year.

"If exchange rates and export prices remained the same as last year, lamb would generate NZ$2.9 billion ($2.1 billion) in export receipts in 2009-10," he continued. "But if the current higher exchange rates prevail, lamb export receipts will reduce to NZ$2.5 billion [$1.8 billion], a drop of NZ$400 million [$290 million] despite lamb production increasing 3.5%."