Bitter weather conditions around New Zealand during the past two weeks prompted a large spike in lamb and calf deaths, but the season is on track to reflect five-year averages.
Wallace Group chief executive Graham Shortland said from the Waikato storms in the North Island about two weeks ago and in Otago and Southland a week ago had taken a "fairly significant" toll on lambs and calves.
"Up until then it had been a very average year [for dead animal collections]," he said.
Despite the spikes, Mr Shortland predicted stock losses would most likely reflect averages of the past five years, although losses this season were slightly higher than a year ago.
Wallace Group collects and process well over 1 million cows, calves and lambs annually, which includes several hundred thousand calf skins from the meatworks. Farmers are paid for the stock collected.
A week ago, as cold snow-bearing fronts roared across Southland and Otago, Federated Farmers predicted the bitter winds had the potential to push lamb losses up, but they were well below expectations for most.
Mr Shortland said in the upper South Island there had been no major weather events during lambing and collection numbers were "average".
However, across the lower South Island, weather events in Otago and Southland had "significantly" driven up lamb and calf deaths. Nationally, Wallace Group would annually expect to process more than 25,000 cattle hides, and the skins of more than 600,000 calves and up to 450,000 lambs, or slinkskins. At the height of the season, more than 400 people were employed, Mr Shortland said.
While cowhide processing was year-round, the calf and lamb "season" was generally from about July through to October.
The venture has five skinning and rendering operations: one in the North Island and four in the South, plus two tanneries, in the Waikato and Christchurch.
About 25% of the tannery production was casualty calves and cows, with the balance being hides from meat-processing plants. The company also processes calf skins into parchment, which are dried then exported and used by traditional Jewish rabbi for Torah scrolls and other documents.
Mr Shortland said almost 100% of the hides were exported to several Asian and European destinations, but mainly China and Italy, while the carcasses were rendered down into fertiliser.
Only a small percentage of skins, mainly slinks, were sold domestically, he said.
In July last year, Wallace Group extended its Southland operations, opening a processing site in Mataura, and expected to be hiring about 20 seasonal contractors and 30 seasonal staff.
Mr Shortland said at the time it was good news for the local economy, with about two dozen contractors required for slink lamb and calf collection, plus the 30 staff for processing.
Yesterday, he confirmed the Mataura plant was operating at capacity.
"We were running at capacity for calving, and now [again] with the peak of lambing," he said.
- Wallace Group is a 50:50 private family-owned company, formed between Wallace Corp and Farm Brands last June, and is one of the country's largest animal collection, tanning and rendering operations.