A brief outline of
sheep farming in New Zealand
The first Sheep were landed in New Zealand by Captain Cook in 1773. The Sheep population grew to 70.3 million in 1982 but has now declined to 43.1 million due to declining profits compared to other types of farming.
That represents 12 sheep for every person in New Zealand
There are 36,000 flocks of Sheep with an average flock size of 1400.
The main breed farmed in New Zealand are Romney, an English breed. They are largely dual purpose wool/meat animals and their wool is predominantly strong. New Zealand is the world's largest producer of crossbred (stong wool) contributing 25% of the world's total. This is two and a half times as much as contributed by China, the next most significant producer of strong wool. This type of wool is used mainly in interior textiles such as carpets, upholstery, furnishings, bedding, and rugs. It is also used for handknitting yarn and blankets.
New Zealand is a world leader in agricultural research and advisory services. Pastoral agriculture is practiced throughout New Zealand with beef cattle predominating in the Far North, dairying in Waikato and Taranaki, and Sheep farming with cattle in the hills and in the south of the North Island. In the South Island sheep farming is the main form of pastoral agriculture with a sprinkling of beef cattle farmed in the high and hill country and wetter flat areas and some dairying on the flat land of both coasts.
Livestock are rarely housed, but feeding of small quantities of supplements such as hay and silage can occur, particularly in winter. Grass growth is seasonal, largely dependent on location and climatic fluctuations but normally occurs for between 8-12 months of the year. Stock are grazed in paddocks, often with moveable electric fencing around the farm. Lambing and calving are carefully managed to take full advantage of spring grass growth.
Grasslands have been developed to the extent that the best sheep farms can carry up to 25 sheep per hectare throughout the year.
A short insight into 4 New Zealand Sheep Breeds
The Romney, which originally came from the lowland of England, is New Zealand’s most popular breed. When introduced to New Zealand during the 1850’s it was farmed on the wet lowland regions. However, as the bush was cleared and farms developed on the steep hills of the North Island, it was found that the Romney was ideally suited to this new and quite different environment. The breed changed to suit its new surroundings to become, over the years, a distinct breed - the New Zealand Romney. Today 25 million Romney graze the hills producing both meat and wool. Its wool, which can reach a length of 18cm, is course and creamy in colour. It is an ideal carpet wool and is also used in other hard wearing materials such as furnishing fabrics blankets, and knitting yarn for heavy sweaters.
During the 1930s and 40s Dr Francis Dry, a scientist at Massey University conducted a series of experiments on Romney sheep. He found that some Romneys carried a powerful gene which produced a long course straight fleece. The fleece was also "hairy" or heavily medulated - an excellent property for giving carpets lots of bounce or resilience. Dr dry found that this "hairiness" factor was passed on from one generation to the next so, with careful breeding, he was able to build upa flock of hairy sheep - the Drysdale. Today carpet makers pay a premium for this wool which grows so long, 20 - 30 cms, that the sheep are usually shorn twice a year. A fleece is heavy, about 6 kgs, and the wool is a chalky white colour. There are more than 200,000 Drysdales in New Zealand and unlike their Romney cousins, both rams and ewes have horns.
The Perendale was developed in New Zealand over 40 years ago by Sir Geoffrey Peren, a professor at Massey University. He crossed the Cheviot and Romney to get the best qualities of both breeds. Since 1960 the Perendale has become very popular and now just over 5 million Perendales graze the steep hard hill country of New Zealand. It is such a hardy breed many farmers used Perendales to break in new areas of land. Perendales are known as easy care sheep. They are easy to muster, make very good mothers, and will thrive on poorer feed. Perendales are a dual purpose breed as they are kept for both their meat and wool. Their wool is finer than most cross breed wools and will grow between 10 and 15 cm long during a year. A Perendale grows between 3.5 and 5 kg of wool a year. The white Perendale wool is very popular with knitters. It has exceptional spring which means that knitted garments will keep their shape longer and carpets wont flatten easily.
The Merino is the oldest and most numerous breed in the world. It is thought to have come from Spain or North Africa. The Merino was New Zealand’s first sheep and today there are just over 2 million of them. Most Merinos are found in the rugged South Island hill country, where it is the only breed to thrive on the high altitude pastures of native grass. Merinos stay in mobs and move quickly. Despite a heavy fleece, they are fairly small and hardy which means they survive the cold. Merinos have a very dense fleece - about 50 million fibres - nearly three times as many as other breeds. The wool is very fine and soft and although the outside of the fleece looks grey, inside it is quite white. The wool is 6.5 to 10cm long and has close wrinkles or "crimps". A Merino grows 3.5 to 5 kg of wool every year. All rams and some of the ewes have horns. Merino wool is made into very fine fabrics for men and women’s fashion wear. It is even made into billiard cloths.