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Numbers of Coloured Sheep in New Zealand

By Wendy Allison

New Zealand is known as a country with a lot of sheep. Most of them are white but as the Association that represents black and coloured sheep breeders, we’re often asked how many coloured sheep there are here.

Registered sheep are consistently about 11% of the total number

Every year, members send in a flock return showing how many sheep they have, what breeds, and which sires were used – and this year we’ve collated this information based on the latest returns. We’ve also looked back a few years to see what changes have taken place over time.

The total number of sheep reported in 2023 was 3212, up slightly from 3101 in 2022. Of those, 356 (approximately 11%) were registered stud sheep. The chart shows the changing numbers since 2019. You can see that while the commercial flock numbers have fluctuated, the registered sheep have remained fairly stable.

Registered breeds reported include Romney, Corriedale, Merino, Polwarth, and English Leicester. Romney is the most popular registered breed at just over 1/3 of the national flock.

These five breeds have made up the stud flock for the last 5 years

In total 14 breeds were reported by members. Merino is the most common coloured breed returned, however this is largely due to the owner of the largest flock being a merino breeder. Many of the other breeds are made up of larger numbers of smaller breeders.

The next most popular breed is Corriedale/Romney cross, with Romney and Perendale next. While Corriedale/Romney is a cross rather than a distinct breed, they have their own category as they are widely popular among coloured sheep breeders.

Halfbred refers to a merino/romney cross. Merino type natives include breeds such as Pitt Island Merino, Arapawa, and Herbert. X breeds are any other cross – the majority are romney crosses but can be of any breed.

 

Looking at the numbers reported in the Flock Book over time, some trends are noticable. Among the more popular breeds (those with more than 100 sheep reported each year) we can see a steady decline in Romney, Corriedale, and Xbred numbers, with a corresponding rise in Corriedale/Romney cross sheep. This may reflect an actual change in numbers but could also be due to more breeders recognising the Corriedale/Romney cross as a distinct part of their flock. This breed is the only one that showed a noticeable increase between 2021 and 2022.

Numbers of Gotland, Polwarth, and Perendale sheep have remained fairly stable while Merinos have declined slightly.

Changes in numbers for the eight most popular breeds over time

Among the other breeds Cormo, Lincoln and Finn were present in 2019 but none were returned in 2023. English Leicester numbers have approximately halved, Texel and Halfbred numbers have remained stable, and new breeds emerging include Merino type natives and Blackshires (reported here as Wiltshire).

It should be noted that not all breeders send in a return every year and because the numbers are small, a single breeder can make a big difference to overall trends. Additionally, there are many coloured sheep in New Zealand that do not belong to Association members. We know that for example Arapawa sheep are very popular among lifestyle farmers for their hardiness and interesting colours, but this popularity is not reflected in BCSBA flock numbers, with 2023 being the first year that Arapawa and Herbert sheep were returned. Therefore it is unlikely that these numbers are a true reflection of the breed makeup of all coloured sheep in New Zealand, and it is likely that if non-member sheep were included the national coloured flock would number somewhere between four and ten times as many as shown here.

The smallest flock in 2023 is 2 sheep, the largest is 595. This is a typical lifestyle flock of Romney and Romney X sheep.
Corriedales are a popular cross with Romney, to produce a productive dual purpose animal with a fleece well suited for handcraft purposes

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