Friday, October 21, 2011

Australia, New Zealand, U.S. and the E.U. Are Producing Fewer Sheep

Though global sheep numbers have remained fairly stable since 1960, with inventories remaining close to 1.1 billion throughout the period, sheep numbers in some of the major sheep-consuming and export-oriented producing countries declined steadily. Australia and New Zealand, the largest exporters of lamb and mutton globally, have seen drastic declines, with inventories falling by 17 and 18 percent, respectively, in the last 5 years. The European Union (EU) and the United States—major consumers of high-value lamb—have seen declines in their sheep numbers as well. Much of the decline in these countries’ sheep inventories stems from an underlying long-run decline in demand for raw wool and low returns for wool relative to returns from prime lamb production and other farm enterprises.

source: usda [pdf]


  1. Great chart.

    Prices for lamb and wool are now very high, so the sheep industry in the US is scrambling to rebound. However, feedlot operations which became popular in the Midwest especially are having trouble even at high meat prices.

    New Zealand decline started in mid 1980s following a change in farm subsidies and dairy has been taking over from sheep. Australia has been hit hard by drought. And until recently a relatively strong dollar made imports from those countries fairly cheap, which undermined the prices domestic producers could realize.

    It is a slow process to rebuild global sheep numbers as ewes only give birth to about 1.4 lambs per year.

  2. Jason
    Do you agree that sheep have a higher carbon footprint than beef? I've seen 45% higher due to smaller animal size for meat production.

  3. The study you refer to Kay was done on a couple of very specific production systems in the US, including a Midwest feedlot operation. I don't question the methods of the researcher, but don't know if it extrapolates well to the world.

    I do know that US sheep are decades behind genetically. Whereas modern breeding methods have improved feed conversion efficiency in cattle, hogs and poultry, the US sheep industry has not yet applied these same techniques.

    A huge opportunity does exist to improve the situation here. Bring in animals (or their sperm) from New Zealand where they have been very successful improving sheep genetics, and they mainly use pasture forage too.