Lambing numbers down after challenging farming year

There were 357,000 fewer lambs tailed this year than in 2019.
There were 357,000 fewer lambs tailed this year than in 2019. Photo credit: Getty

Lambing numbers were down 1.5 percent this year, after drought conditions brought challenging conditions for farmers in some parts of the country.

The total number of lambs tailed in spring this year was 357,000 head fewer than in spring 2019, when 22.9 million head were tailed, according to the latest Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Lamb Crop Outlook report.

The lower number was attributed to drought conditions in the North Island.

B+LNZ's chief executive Sam McIvor said in light of the drought, the numbers were impressively high.

"Although the average lambing percentage is slightly lower, it is worth noting that 2019 was a high performing season," McIvor said.

"Despite the challenges of 2020 including drought and COVID-19, sheep farmers demonstrated why they are the world’s best, their resilience and the agility of their farming systems has meant they’ve performed outstandingly and this should be a real point of pride for our sector."

According to the report, sheep and beef farmers achieved a near-record 130.3 percent lambing percentage. This means 130 lambs were born per hundred ewes. That was just lower than spring 2019, where a percentage of 131 was achieved.

The total number of lambs tailed in the North Island fell 4.8 percent (546,000 head) to 10.8 million head. Restricted feed supplies at mating resulted in lower pregnancy rates when scanning was completed. However, the severity of the impact of the autumn drought on the lamb crop was partially offset by excellent climatic conditions at lambing, the report said.

The worst-hit region was the East Coast, where the total lamb crop fell 10 percent.

In the South Island the total number of lambs increased by 1.6 percent (189,000 head) to 12.1 million head.

Based on the figures, B+LNZ said the number of lambs processed for export in the 2020-21 season is expected to decline 4.5 percent, from 19.1 million head last season to 18.2 million head.