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Sheepnet visits New Zealand to exchange knowledge and experiences

11 June 2018
Type Media Article

SheepNet is an EU funded project on sheep productivity and involves the 6 main EU sheep producing countries (Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Romania, Spain and Italy) and Turkey. Ewe productivity (number of lambs reared per ewe joined) has been static for the past few decades. Recently SheepNet National Facilitators visited New Zealand with the aim of exchanging knowledge and experiences on how to improve ewe productivity.

New Zealand produces 0.47 million tonnes of sheep meat annually and is the world’s second largest sheepmeat exporter. The EU accounts for 44% of the total value of New Zealand lamb exports, the main markets within the EU being UK, Germany, Netherlands, France and Belgium.  Outside of the EU China, USA, Canada and Saudi Arabia are the biggest markets.

 Currently there are a total of 27.6 million sheep of which 18.1 million breeding ewes. Whilst the number of sheep in New Zealand has declined by 52% since 1990 the amount of sheep meat produced has only fallen by 8% due to an increase in lamb carcass weight and a higher number of lambs reared per ewe joined.

 The SheepNet team visited a number of farms. The ewe flocks are large and lamb outdoors. Mean flock is approximately 2800 ewes. Ewes are out wintered on crops (e.g. turnips, kale) and extended (deferred) grazing. To control internal parasites producers normally use products containing a combination of active ingredients. Many of sheep farms have a beef cow enterprise to grass after the sheep. There is a growing interest in dairy sheep due to new markets, investment and product diversification.  

 SheepNet will hold its next transnational workshop in Sardinia next November. Stakeholders who are interested in participating can register on line on the SheepNet website.

 Ewe productivity (number of lambs reared per ewe joined), which has been static for the past few decades, is a combination of reproduction success, embryonic and lamb survival and litter size. SheepNet is an EU funded project on sheep productivity and involves the 6 main EU sheep producing countries (Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Romania, Spain and Italy) and Turkey.

 Recently SheepNet National Facilitators visited New Zealand with the aim of exchanging knowledge and experiences on how to improve ewe productivity.

 New Zealand sheep industry

The number of sheep in New Zealand has declined by 52% since 1990. However, the amount of sheep meat produced has only fallen by 8% due to an increase in lamb carcass weight and a higher number of lambs reared per ewe joined. Currently there are a total of 27.6 million sheep of which 18.1 million are breeding ewes. The mean weight of lamb carcass is 18.4 kg. The number of lambs reared per ewe joined is 1.28.

 New Zealand produces 0.47 million tonnes of sheep meat annually and is the worlds second largest sheepmeat exporter exporting 97% of their sheep meat production. The value of the sheep meat industry is approximately NZ$2.8 billion (€1 = NZ$1.72). Currently 98% of lamb is exported as cuts and only 2% in carcass form. The EU accounts for 44% of the total value of New Zealand lamb exports, the main markets within the EU being UK, Germany, Netherlands, France and Belgium.  Outside of the EU China, USA, Canada and Saudi Arabia are the biggest markets.

 New Zealand is the third largest producer of wool in the world and produces 9.5% of world production.  

 Farm visits

The SheepNet team visited a number of farms during their visit. A summary of the farms visited is as follows:

  • New Zealand ewe flocks are large and lamb outdoors. Mean flock is approximately 2800 ewes.
  • Romney is the most common breed of sheep. Romney and composite breeds incorporating Romney (Perendale, Coopworth) account for approximately 82% of the ewe population. Merino and Corridale (a composite breed incorporating Merino) account for approximately 8% of the ewe population.
  • During our visit producers were receiving NZ$7.50/kg lamb carcass and NZ$2.80/kg wool.
  • Many parts of the country were experiencing severe drought.
  • Target body condition score of the ewes at mating is between 3 and 3.5.
  • Some flocks have scanned litter sizes and number of lambs reared per ewe up to 2.4 and 1.7, respectively.
  • Ewes are over wintered on crops (e.g. turnips, kale) and extended (deferred) grazing.
  • Lambs are treated for internal parasites using products containing a combination of active ingredients.
  • Many sheep farms have a beef cow enterprise to graze after the sheep.
  • There is an interest in dairy sheep and this sector is increasing due to the development of new markets, investment and product diversification. Lambs are artificially reared on dairy sheep farms.

 SheepNet will establish durable exchange of existing scientific and practical knowledge, innovative technologies and best practices which improve sheep productivity among farmers, advisors, consultants, researchers and other stakeholders.

 SheepNet will hold its next transnational workshop in Sardinia next November. Stakeholders who are interested in participating can register on line on the SheepNet website.

 SheepNet is open to all EU countries, stakeholders, sheep producers. For further information: