WELLINGTON, NZ – The number of lambs tailed across New Zealand is down by 4.7 percent compared with last spring, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s lamb crop 2013 report confirms. A total of 25.5 million head were counted – 1.3 million fewer than 2012 – making the current lamb crop the second-smallest in approximately 60 years. Only 2010-11 was lower.

The lamb-crop figure is actually higher than many may expect, given the impact of last season’s drought on ewe numbers and ewe condition at mating, said Andrew Burtt, B+LNZ Economic Service chief economist.

“We’re seeing good lamb thrift compared to last year – thanks to lower stocking rates and favorable pasture growth in most regions,” he added. “If pasture continues growing at current rates, it could trigger early store sales from regions that are traditionally summer dry.”

When analyzed by island, the North Island lamb crop is down 7.4 percent and the South Island down by 2.3 percent. The smaller lamb crop impacts on export processing numbers, which are expected to decrease 6.8 percent to 19.5 million head, making 2013-14 the third-lowest export lamb total since 1960.

“However, the average export lamb slaughter weight is expected to increase 2.3 per cent to 18.4kg, due to lower stocking rates and more available feed,” Burtt said. “This per-head weight increase won’t be enough to offset the drop in numbers and we still expect total lamb production to be down by approximately 5 percent.”

Meanwhile, he national ewe lambing percentage was 120.8 percent – down 3.8 percentage points on last year’s record 124.6 per cent. Again, the North Island took the biggest hit – down 5.8 percentage points to 117.6 percent. The South Island’s 123.6 per cent represented a fall of only 2.1 percentage points.
One noteworthy feature of spring 2013 was the significant decrease in the number of hoggets mated, Burtt said. “Many farmers opted to limit the numbers of hoggets put to the ram, due to the tight feed situation at mating and hogget weights,” he added. “The result is only 1.13 million lambs from hoggets – a 17 percent drop.”

Mutton processing numbers are expected to be less than season, down 20 percent to 3.3 million. This reflects the drought-driven high cull of ewes during 2012-13.