Good farm management delivers steady flow of lamb exports for coming year

// International Trade

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s (B+LNZ) Lamb Crop 2021 report estimates a slight increase in the lamb crop for spring 2021 as sheep and beef farmers achieved an impressive lambing percentage of 131.9 percent. Favourable conditions from mating through to lambing for most of the country led to an overall increase in lambs tailed.

image of jumping lamb


The report, produced by B+LNZ’s Economic Service, measures lambing performance and forecasts lamb and sheep exports for 2021-22.

B+LNZ’s Chief Economist Andrew Burtt says despite the ongoing implications of COVID-19, the outlook is positive and a testament to the resilience of New Zealand farmers.

“The impressive lambing percentage, combined with promising lamb prices and positive global demand for lamb and sheep meat result in an overall positive forecast that should give farmers confidence.”

The number of lambs processed is forecast to increase 1.0 percent to 18.5 million head, although average carcase weights may be slightly down on 2020‑21. Farmers reported variable lamb growth rates attributed to colder, wetter weather in October for some regions and feed supply being tight for some farms.

B+LNZ’s Economic Service estimates the number of lambs tailed in spring 2021 increased by 0.6 percent or 129,000 head on the previous spring to 22.7 million head. With a slight decline in breeding ewe numbers, down 0.5 percent, 22.7 million lambs tailed in spring 2021 compares with an average of 24.6 million head over the previous 10 years.

The number of lambs tailed in the North Island increased 1.4 percent (146,000 head) to 10.6 million head. Conditions were favourable for most of the North Island this year, apart from the East Coast where dry conditions continued to impact feed supplies and ewe condition. Breeding ewe numbers were down in the northern North Island, remained steady on the East Coast and increased in Taranaki‑Manawatu.

The total number of lambs in the South Island was effectively unchanged (-17,000 head, -0.1%) at an estimated 12.1 million head. Across the South Island the number of ewes to ram decreased apart from Southland where ewes mated increased by 2.6 percent.

The number of lambs from ewe hoggets increased 3.7 percent to 957,000, equivalent to 4.2 percent of total lambs and driven by increased numbers mated in the North Island.

The average lambing percentage was 131.9 percent, 1.2 percentage points higher than in spring 2020 and equivalent to a record high reached three seasons ago in spring 2018. This means 132 lambs were born per hundred ewes, compared with an average of 126 over the prior 10 years.

An increase is forecast in the number of lambs processed for export in the first quarter of the 2021‑22 season (from October to December). The total number of lambs processed for export in the 2021‑22 season is expected to increase 1.0 percent from 18.3 million head in 2020‑21 to 18.5 million head.

The number of adult sheep processed in the 2021‑22 season is expected to decrease 9.5 percent from 3.8 million head in 2020‑21 to 3.5 million head. This result is driven by farmers seeking to maintain or recover ewe numbers.

Early season pricing for lamb is well ahead compared to 2020, which has lifted farmer confidence. Farmers see positive market signals and international demand for lamb and sheep meat, and expect that farmgate prices will gradually ease as the season progresses. The underlying fundamentals remain solid according to B+LNZ’s New Season Outlook 2021-22 (PDF, 1.9MB), which was released in October, notwithstanding major challenges including global uncertainty of COVID‑19 variants, pandemic-related disruption to supply chains, increased freight costs and a global labour shortage.

B+LNZ’s Economic Service Lamb Crop survey is of farmers in its Sheep and Beef Farm Survey, which covers a statistically representative sample of over 500 commercial sheep and beef farms across New Zealand.

The B+LNZ Lamb Crop 2021 report (PDF, 444KB) is available on the B+LNZ website. 


For more information, please contact B+LNZ’s Communications Advisor Abigail Delaney on 027 290 9891 or B+LNZ’s Chief Economist Andrew Burtt on 027 652 9543.