Why are New Zealanders known for sheep?

In short………because they are dam good at running them!!

Secondly – because they have put themselves in that position. But more on that later!

On completion of two weeks, 18 visits, magnificent scenery, interesting people, hugely welcoming hosts, many kilometres of car singing and great conversation, there’s one more thing I want to do……..go back!!

When it comes to knowing what goes into every kg of product produced – the kiwis have a pretty good idea. They have a mix of terrain and climates they have to work with and by breeding the right type of sheep, they are doing it very well. The dairy industry has ensured land value stay at a reasonably high level for the very productive land. This has ultimately pushed sheep production “further up the hill.” Saying this – there are sheep farmers competing with the returns of the dairy sector per kg of dry matter which is pretty exciting.

In anticipation that I could go on a little long about NZ, I’ll just touch on some of the common themes; – and this is just a snap shot!!

Product or Commodity?
Is Lamb and wool a niche? Lamb is one of the dearest proteins on the shelf and wool is one of the most expensive fibres. Lamb is also a minor protein consumed on a world scale in comparison to other protein sources, and wool is a minor player in the fibre industry. But does this make them a niche??

……..”If its a niche, then why is it still sold as a commodity”? was the response I got. Do we have a good idea of who our consumer is, why they buy and what they expect when they do buy. The NZ sheep industry has realised that long term, if they keep farming a commodity without keeping an eye on the end product and consumer trends, they may fall into the trap other livestock industries have in concentrating on farm production alone (high growth, lean meat yield) at the expense of the market.

Imagine what would happen if a product bought for high quality…….didn’t have any?? If consumers buy lamb on quality – should it not be one of the most important traits we monitor?

Farm IQ:
Is an initiative that was established to create a demand driven integrated value chain for New Zealand red meat. It involves flow of information from processor to farmer on an individual level through eID tags. Farmers can use this information to make decisions on farm to ensure they are progressing in the right direction with their management, genetics and feed – and how this affects the end product.

The beef side of farm IQ are now paying on eating quality. Up to 30cents/kg extra for the right product. With future plans to role this over into lamb, the sheep industry is in a good position to make sure we maintain eating quality WHILE increasing the production factors on farm. Ultimately, it may mean eID tags have the ability to create value on farm as well as further down the supply chain.

Industry Cohesiveness
“If I help out my neighbour, it’s not going to mean I make less” – was what someone told me when I expressed how impressed I was that NZ seems like such a cohesive country. Being a small country may allow this to happen a lot easier than Australia, but the attitude of the farmers was that by working together, the result will be a better outcome than all working individually.

New Zealand Merino have done a fantastic job at marketing the story and the quality of a specific type of NZ merino wool – ‘Icebreaker’ is one of the success stories. ‘New Zealanders are known for sheep – because they put themselves in the position’. Merino sheep producers have a market and grow a product for Icebreaker. Same goes for the meat side under the FarmIQ program, amongst others.

So what are our options? stay producing a commodity and hope it keeps meeting the market specs. Or collaborate as an industry, turn technology into an opportunity (and I haven’t even started on the DNA technology!!) and let the market drive our production goals? Maybe theres a place for both??

Some pictures below, Top – Sign on every Icebreaker supplier farm, Central Otago area. Middle – Me in my element and station Manager, Huanui high country. Bottom – Merino lambs strip grazing Kale to grow at 100g/d over winter, Central Otago.

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One thought on “Why are New Zealanders known for sheep?

  1. Every time I read your blog I can’t believe that we are related! Where do all those brains and amazing thought processes come from! So proud of you Han. Would you think of going and working in NZ and then bringing the knowledge back to Australia, (just don’t marry a Kiwi, one brother is enough haha) I know of a few who would lap it up.

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