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Drop in breeding ewes in NZ after dry year

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Breeding ewe numbers in Otago and Southland have dropped 1.5% to 6.09 million head, the latest Beef + Lamb New Zealand stock number survey shows.

Numbers were down 1.6% in Otago, where the most significant decreases were evident on Central Otago high country properties, reflecting dry conditions, and 1.4% in Southland.

Overall, the country’s sheep flock decreased 3% in the year to June 30, to 28.3 million, while the beef cattle herd increased 2.8% to 3.7 million.

The survey showed 2015-16 had been an “exceptionally trying” farming season, with facial eczema in the North Island and widespread climatic challenges in other parts of the country, particularly North Canterbury.

Breeding ewe numbers fell across all regions and were down 3.1% overall, with the largest drop in Marlborough and Canterbury, down 6.5%, due to ongoing drought conditions, B+LNZ chief operating officer Cros Spooner said.

Hogget numbers nationally were estimated at 8.93 million, down 3%, which was largely due to declining ewe numbers, poor weather conditions during lambing for the North Island’s east coast, and dry summer conditions in parts of Otago.

Otago-Southland hogget numbers decreased 1.6% to 2.24 million head.

Ewe condition and scanning results had been variable across New Zealand and the lamb crop was expected to be down by 2.9% to 23.3 million — 700,000 fewer than last season.

That was as the result of several factors, including fewer breeding ewes and higher empty rates which would reduce lambs born to ewes mated.

Scanning in Otago reports were the same as or better than the previous year, with ewes generally being in good condition.

The exception included parts of Clutha which were affected by a dry autumn.

The feed position for most regions was well set up for a good lambing, the exceptions being East Coast, Marlborough-Canterbury and parts of Otago that were affected by drier than desirable conditions leading into winter.

The 2.8% increase in beef cattle numbers followed a 3.3% decline in the 2014-15 season, Mr Spooner said.

The largest contributor to the increase was a lift in weaner cattle across many regions, up 8.2%, as farmers responded to good returns.

There was a continuing decline in the beef breeding herd, down by 1.6%, reflecting the trend to more flexible cattle systems.

That reinforced the need for better integration with the dairy industry, particularly with genetics, which was a key area of focus for B+LNZ, Mr Spooner said.

Beef cattle numbers in Otago increased 3.1% to 230,000 head, while Southland remained almost static at 170,000.

Calving percentages were expected to be the same or up on the previous year for most regions, with the exception of Marlborough-Canterbury where tough climatic conditions were expected to affect results.

In Otago, the total number of calves born was expected to be higher due to a lift in the breeding herd.

Despite that, there remained some cases of particularly high empty rates due to a lack of feed before mating in 2015, the survey said.

Source: Otago Daly Times NZ

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