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Sheep in New Zealand

Sheep in New Zealand

Like the kiwi in its many manifestations, another icon of New Zealand is the humble sheep.

To many people, particularly the older generation, the first two things that spring to mind when thinking about New Zealand are New Zealand lamb and New Zealand wool.

Captain Cook first brought sheep to New Zealand in 1773, but the poor things apparently ate poisonous plants and died. Later importations by others were more successful.

The first frozen meat was exported from New Zealand to Britain in 1882. Wool was the mainstay of the economy until the price of it plummeted in the Wool Shock of 1966, forcing New Zealand to diversify.

Sheep in New Zealand
There are over 26 million sheep in New Zealand

It was once said there were 20 times more sheep than people in New Zealand. This is no longer true. Let's look at the statistics. In 2007, there were 39 million sheep, which works out at only 9 sheep per person. In 2017, that was down to 7 sheep per person. And in 2019 there were 26.7 million sheep vs a human population of 5.04 million, for a ratio of 5 sheep to every Kiwi.

The sheep population of New Zealand is decreasing whereas the human population is increasing slowly mainly due to immigration from Asian countries.

Land use is changing with land previously used for sheep farming now taken up by vineyards, kiwifruit orchards and lost to urban development.

Sheep shearing is without doubt the most physically demanding agricultural job in New Zealand. Before the shearing of the saleable wool comes dagging, which is the task of cutting off just the feces-encrusted wool on the sheep's hindquarters.

Sheep in New Zealand
Sheep first came to New Zealand with Captain Cook in 1773

Types of Sheep

The New Zealand Romney is the most common breed, accounting for over 60% of all sheep in New Zealand. Other breeds include the Corriedale, New Zealand's first breed, the Drysdale, Perendale, and the Coopworth.

The wool of the Romney and Drysdale breeds is particularly suitable for carpet-making.

New Zealand and its sheep
New Zealand and its sheep


Visitors can experience the history and culture of sheep farming at Sheepworld near Warkworth. There is a sheepdog show, shearing, a shop selling woollen and sheepskin products and a café.

Visit them at (website in English, Chinese, Korean & Japanese)
Tel: (09) 425 7444

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