Remarkable lambing performance in challenging year

// B+LNZ

Despite COVID-19 related processing restrictions and a widespread drought in the first half of 2020, sheep and beef farmers achieved a near record 130.3% lambing percentage.

Sheep family


This is the finding of the Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Lamb Crop Outlook report for 2020 that measures the lambing performance and forecasts lamb and sheep exports for 2021.

This was only slightly lower than spring 2019 where 131 percent was achieved.

Lamb and sheep export volumes, however, are expected to be more significantly impacted by the follow-on impacts of the drought, due to lower animal weights and the retention of sheep for breeding to rebuild stock numbers.

“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,” says B+LNZ’s Chief Executive Sam McIvor.

B+LNZ’s Economic Service estimates the number of lambs tailed in spring 2020 decreased by 1.5 percent or 357,000 head on the previous spring to 22.9 million head. Most of the decline occurred in the North Island as a result of drought conditions.

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

The number of lambs tailed in the North Island declined 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. The severity of the impact of the autumn drought on the lamb crop was partially offset, however, by excellent climatic conditions at lambing. The most severe impact was in East Coast, with the total lamb crop for the region down 10 percent.

In contrast, the total number of lambs in the South Island increased 1.6 percent (189,000 head) to 12.1 million head. Otago was the major driver of the lift in the South Island, recording an increase in total lamb crop of 3.9 percent.

The number of lambs from ewe hoggets also fell, as fewer ewe hoggets were mated and conception rates were adversely impacted by drought, particularly in the North Island.

The average lambing percentage was 130.3 percent, 0.7 percentage points lower than in spring 2019. This means 130 lambs were born per hundred ewes, compared with an average of 124 over the prior 10 years.

The lower number of lambs tailed is expected to reduce the number of lambs processed for export in the first quarter of the 2019-20 season – from October to December. The total number of lambs processed for export in the 2020-21 season is expected to decrease 4.5 percent from 19.1 million head in 2019-20 to 18.2 million head.

The amount of lamb produced is expected to decrease 4.7 percent due to a combination of fewer lambs and a slightly lower average carcase weight.

The number of adult sheep processed in the 2020-21 season is expected to decrease 10.8 percent from 3.5 million head in 2019-20 to 3.2 million head. The sharp decline is driven by a 16.3 percent decline in the North Island as sheep farmers recover after the number of breeding ewes sold in 2020 was higher than expected because of drought.

From a market perspective early season pricing has been warmly received by farmers, and though there is uncertainty related to international economic conditions, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and more latterly shipping logistics, the underlying fundamentals remain solid according to B+LNZ’s New Season Outlook 2020-21, which was released in October.

The  average export values are expected to be supported by the positive market fundamentals – there’s strong underlying demand for meat – and meat from safe and natural farming sources like New Zealand. Prices forecast at similar levels, or slightly above, five-year averages,” says McIvor.

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.

The B+LNZ Lamb Crop 2020 report is available on the B+LNZ website.


For more information, please contact: Beef + Lamb New Zealand Economic Service’s Chief Economist Andrew Burtt on 027 652 9543, or Communications Advisor Abigail Delaney on 027 290 9891.