Summer of Stats part 9 – Down and up on the farm

By Guest Author 02/02/2010

The final in a Statistics New Zealand series about the numbers in our world

Let the sheep jokes end! The people are catching up. There are now fewer than eight sheep to every New Zealander. This is a far cry from the good old days when one of the few things foreigners knew about New Zealand was the sheep-to-people ratio.

Sheep numbers are well below their peak of over 70 million in the early 1980’s, when there were 21 sheep to every person. They are now at their lowest level since 1950. Despite increases in lambing percentages, including more twins and triplets, the national flock is down to 34.1 million, evenly split between the North and South Islands. The largest sheep population is still in Canterbury, closely followed by Manawatu-Wanganui.

Between 2007 and 2008 sheep numbers decreased by 11 percent, the largest fall recorded since numbers peaked in 1982. In recent years, drought, market conditions and competing land uses played a significant role.

As most New Zealanders who venture out of the city have noticed, dozens of farms have converted to dairy. There are now more than 5.6 million dairy cattle in the national herd. With 1.7 million cows, Waikato has the largest number, followed by Canterbury with 830,000, almost 300,000 more than in 2002.

Beef cattle numbers are slightly down on recent years. The national beef herd as been between 4 and 5 million over the last 25 years and is now at 4.1 million.

In total, there are more than twice as many cattle in New Zealand than people. Someone somewhere must be revising the jokes.

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