Where have all of the ewes gone?

By Iain Hyndman

Contracts are being offered to carry ewes through to March/April in an unusual move by companies.
Contracts are being offered to carry ewes through to March/April in an unusual move by companies.

The North Island at least appears bereft of sheep at a time of year travellers would expect to see them dotted around paddocks in numbers.

Independent Whanganui livestock commentator David Cotton said his holiday drive through the central North Island revealed lambs and ewes had been replaced by rolls of silage and baleage.

"Driving up the Parapara and then on to Taupo there were just no lambs to be seen," Mr Cotton said.

"And out the back of Taupo where in the past there was nothing but sheep breeding units, there were no sheep - there was nothing but paddocks full of silage and baleage for all the dairy and dairy support that has replaced all those breeding units.

"I hear paddocks were also bereft of lambs in Hawke's Bay as well."

The lack of ewe numbers is relatively easy to explain given the large numbers slaughtered through the facial eczema epidemic and drought conditions that prevailed last year.

"In fact, it's extremely unusual there is no backlog of ewes to be killed," he said.

"Normally there is a really large backlog, I can't recall when there hasn't been.

"It has caused something of an anomaly actually.

"Companies have offered a contract price to pay farmers carrying ewes through until March/April. That unusual demand should underpin the bottom end of the upcoming ewes fairs.

"Numbers at those ewe fairs would be down this season you would think, but with lambs at $5/kg and wool prices down why would you want to breed another 1000 or so?

"There is a lack of confidence out there."

Conversely, Mr Cotton said the store cattle markets appeared buoyant with the schedules for the first full week of processing since the Christmas/New Year break holding up well as companies strive to honour their own supply contracts.

Meanwhile, there appears to have been a slight lean back to dairy grazing.

"Two years of bad payout prices forced dairy farmers to close their cheque books and stop grazing out, but there seems to be a lift again with confidence returning.

"But many farmers will only be returning back to square one after those bad years, so we can't get too carried away."

- The Country

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