Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 June 2010

New Zealand’s Diminishing Sheep Flocks

I took this picture in Central Otago, New Zealand, in the early autumn of 2010. They are Merinos and they are on their way to be shorn for their fine fleece. They are what they eat: grass – brown grass. Brown grass = brown sheep! Dun brown is the usual colour of Central Otago.

These Merinos are on the side of a hill. The paths along which they are walking while grazing are contour tracks made by sheep over many years. Sheep hate walking up hills so they walk round them. Much of the soil erosion of these hillsides is caused by sheep contours; rain gets into the terraces, breaks them down and causes landslips.

Thirty years ago there were over seventy million sheep in New Zealand now there are just over thirty million. Thirty years ago, for every one human there were twenty-three sheep; now there are eight. The reason is that farmers haven’t been able to make much money from sheep meat and wool so they’ve switched to dairy cattle farming which is far more rewarding.

If sheep ever get to be more valuable than cattle, farmers will switch back again. Per capita, sheep are becoming more valuable because there are fewer of them but it all takes time.


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By Don Donovan