New Zealand sheep numbers increased by 2.6 per cent and beef cattle numbers rose by 1 per cent for the year to June, Beef and Lamb New Zealand said.

This partly made up for the 4.4 per cent decline in sheep numbers and a 2.6 per cent decline in beef cattle the year before, Beef and Lamb's Economic Service executive director, Rob Davison said.

Beef and Lamb's annual stock number survey, which establishes the productive base of livestock for 2012-13, showed that while sheep numbers were up, most of the increase came from stock carried over for slaughter in July-September.

Breeding ewe numbers at 20.61 million were almost static (up 0.6 per cent) on the previous June, when ewe numbers fell 6.0 per cent to a low of 20.49m.


Strong mutton prices earlier in the year encouraged a high slaughter of cull ewes for the second year in a row. The offset to this was a high retention of ewe hoggets last July, Davison said in a statement.

He said early expectations were that the 2012 lamb crop could be up on last spring by 1 million lambs (up 4 per cent).

Beef cattle numbers increased 1 per cent to 3.88 million, partly reversing the 2.6 per cent decline for the previous year.

North Island beef cattle numbers increased 3.6 per cent with increases in both the beef cow herd and weaner cattle numbers.

The South Island beef herd in contrast decreased 5.7 per cent. "This decrease came from earlier slaughter due to good seasonal conditions so that fewer cattle were on hand at 30 June 2012, coupled to pressure from alternative land uses that include dairy grazing," Davison said.

The Economic Service estimates the total dairy herd increased by 3.2 per cent, with part of this increase a carry-over of older cows in the North Island due to favourable growing conditions.